Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wallerstein on the fuite en avant

Commentary No. 203, Feb. 15, 2007
"Bush's Headlong Rush Into Iran?"

The French have an expression fuite en avant, which the dictionaries translate as "headlong rush." But the translation loses the real meaning. A fuite en avant is something one does when one is in a losing situation, and one hopes to salvage it by doing more of the same or worse, thereby creating a situation in which one hopes people will feel they have to support you. Is this what Bush intends to do in Iran?

We know two things about the Bush regime. Its position in Iraq is impossible and is now very widely contested even in the United States. The call for withdrawal grows daily and coming from everywhere. And we know that, since 2001, the neo-cons and Cheney have been pushing for a military attack on Iran with the objective of regime change. So, this could be the moment.

The United States has sent its fleet into the region, and placed an admiral known for his competence in sea-air attacks in charge. The United States is issuing statements virtually daily about alleged Iranian misdeeds. In short, the United States is saber-rattling. Furthermore, a very large number of people seem to take this very seriously. Three of the highest-ranking retired United States military have publicly warned against the folly of attacking Iran. So has Zbigniew Brzezinski, who scarcely qualifies as a dove. So have countless politicians and diplomats from around the world. But Cheney has made it clear that the United States government will do what it pleases, no matter how many the opponents, or who they are.

Will anyone support the United States in such an adventure? Very few indeed. Not the United States Congress, although Bush and Cheney may be counting on the fact that it is harder for the Democrats to oppose them on Iran than on Iraq. They will have the support of the Israeli government. And they seem to be counting on the support of the Saudis. But this is to misunderstand the Saudi position. The Saudis are of course concerned to limit Iranian pretensions to hegemony in the region as well as to contain the possibilities of Shia militancy in Sunni-dominated states, and first of all in Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis also have made it clear that a military attack on Iran will harm rather than help Saudi political objectives. Saudi active mediation of the Hamas-Fatah dispute in Palestine indicates they are seeking to distance themselves clearly from United States strategy in the Middle East. And in Europe even the British are voicing their distaste for the idea of an attack on Iran.

So, let us suppose that, despite all this, Bush and Cheney decide to make their headlong rush into war, their fuite en avant to try to salvage their disastrous situation. What would happen, and why would they do this? What would happen seems clear. An air attack on Iran will not achieve the objective of dismantling the Iranian nuclear program, although it may damage it. Sending in troops, if the United States could find any to send in, would lead to a very high United States death toll. The Iranian government would be strengthened politically - at home and throughout the Islamic world. The Russians and the Chinese would de facto support Iran.

And worst of all for the United States, those in Iraq it considers its closest allies would start calling quite vociferously for the United States' immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has already started down this road. Nobody in Iraq, nobody, wants the United States to attack Iran, and nobody emotionally sides with the United States on this question.

Now Cheney is an intelligent politician, and he can see all this, I think. If so, why would he be pushing nonetheless for war? Could we entertain the idea that creating an even greater disaster for the United States seems to him the best option available for achieving his real political objectives?

Cheney (and Bush) know that they will control the United States government only for two more years. After that, they don't know who will be in power, but they have every reason to doubt it will be their clones. The last thing they want is a peaceful transfer of power to anyone who might dismantle what they have constructed and try, even try, to move the United States back to where it was - domestically and internationally - in the Nixon to Clinton years.

They are looking forward to increasing, not decreasing, internal strife in the United States. They are looking forward to further dismantlement of the civil liberties framework, one that was never perfect but did afford some constraints on governmental power. They are looking forward to further regression in the arena of social rights. They are looking forward to a darker United States in a darker world.

Can anyone stop them? Possibly. There is the now widespread and quite vocal resistance within the armed forces. For the first time in my lifetime, I have seen speculation in the press about a military coup. I doubt it would occur, but the very speculation shows how extensive are the misgivings. And there is the resistance of the politicians who are essentially for the most part moderate centrists whose major concern is to keep their elected positions and who blow with their constituents' wind. Will this be enough? It is hard to tell, but we shall see more clearly in the next two to three months.


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