Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fear of A Muslim World?

From Flickr user Luke Robinson

I read Seymour Hersh's October 8th story in the New Yorker warning of an ascending view within the Bush Administration that a confrontation with Iran is a possible, even necessary, strategic initiative. An excerpt:
In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran. “Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people,” Bush told the national convention of the American Legion in August. “The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased. . . . The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops.” He then concluded, to applause, “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.
There is no level at which I understand such a set of actions as being a good idea, and at a personal level, if America were to act out against Iran without material provocation, I believe that I would have to leave the country, as the government's behavior, and our complicity in its acts, do not reflect any value or ideal that I cherish about America.

I say this as someone who, in 2003, could at least intellectually rationalize the invasion of Iraq as a massive geo-political gambit - one that has clearly failed. Not that I ever supported or believed in the war -- I thought it was wrong to begin with. But the "domino theory" at play in the build-up to the war, however divorced from reality, could, at least, be sophistically pursued to a logical end.

Not so any action against Iraq. We are militarily incapable of sustaining an engagement with Iran, and more so, I would expect opening a second front for our current armed forces might materially impact our capacity for preserving our national security (of course, I'm not expert in this). Strategically, attacking Iran will do nothing to dismantle the terrorist networks who may actually act out through violence in the short term. In the long term, entering a conflict with Iran will only reaffirm the impression, through the Muslim world and well-beyond, into much of the developing world, generally, that America is a capricious and violent power which carries neither logic nor empathy into its engagements with the non-white rest of the world. As has happened in Iraq, it will beget more antipathy for America, and "create" more terrorists. While saber-rattling may be happening in France and the UK, as well, such actions will no doubt strain the credibility of the US with the other international actors who are growing in importance, like China, India, or Brazil. Truthfully, these exercises in short-sighted bravado will leave a legacy of distrust, which we had only recently come close to mending in the aftermath of Vietnam and our fiascos in Latin America.

So what drives this? Honestly, I am confused, and, although this is rampant speculation, I am reminded of a conversation I was party to with some Indian relations and their friends in an out-of-the-way rental hall (for a baby shower) one afternoon last month in New Jersey. In this conversation, a lone young man, eating a plate of Indian food, rattled on about how "the Democrats were all corrupt," and "Bill Clinton was an idiot, would you rather live under Clinton's presidency or Bush's!" and "George Bush is the only guy who has the fucking balls to stand up to the Muslims!" All of this fairly insane ranting was informed, as far as I could tell, by an over-healthy dose of right-wing talk radio, a misguided machismo, a belief that Republicans were more likely to not tax this guy's money, and rooted in the very complex relationship that some Indian Hindus have with Muslims, derived from the particular political and cultural experiences of India. From this incoherence, one theme struck me, in the form of the somewhat apocryphal argument that became a reprise: "Do you know what the number one name for a baby in Engalnd is? Mohammmed!"

Is this the rub? Are we really enacting a war of civilizations? Is there a fear at work, at some conscious or sub-conscious level, of a Muslim world? Are we not at war with "the terrorists," or "radical Islam," but simply the whole of Islam itself? Not because we are in opposition to it, or it to us, but simply because it is not us?

Rampant speculation, I know, but as the perversity of our political discourse heightens, and as a truly fateful political act looms, I don't really know what else to think...


karsten said...

I told you my theory already. Really we will have to go to war with Iran so that certain markets like arms and private security can continue to expand. Hence fostering the clash of civilizations is good business.

Also this will really stain the military's reputation. They will continue to lower recruiting standards and to confront the soldiers with longer stints of duty and crazier situations, and given the "clash of civilization" mentality you can be sure that we will abuse local populations in the Middle East in remarkable new ways.

I am sorry for you. Are you thinking about moving to Berlin?

Ritik Dholakia said...

Well, I guess I'll take that old Dean Wareham line on this one: "You've got your theories, and I've got one, too." Fostering war certainly is good business, I just don't think that business is really the driving factor behind all of this.

I appreciate your sympathies, though. You got out before it was fashionable. Smart move.

I'm thinking Buenos Aires or Mumbai. Sort of.

karsten said...

Maybe as a half-hearted compromise you could move to Puerto Rico.

Anyway I wasn't quite clear on what your theory was. Is it your contention that if we do invade Iran, it will be motivated purely by racism? By the racism of the masses, or of the Republican base, or of Cheney himself? Or that Cheney, who has given all indications of loving only money and power, actually is motivated by ideological concerns about the fate of Western civilization? Or that Bush is, to our surprise, actually at the helm of state, and out of Christian fundy-ism actually intends to launch a Crusade? You seem to be suggesting generally that the real underlying cause of the war on Iraq and the pending war on Iran is just that we don't like those people over there. This was used to generate support for the war, but the effectiveness of this rhetoric of "let's go fuck them up over there" has been steadily waning since 9/11.

What do Arabs in America say when they're filling out forms? Are they "causasian", or is there a separate category for "Arab"? Or are they "Asian"?

Ritik Dholakia said...

Of the choices you've given me, this is the closest:

"Or that Cheney, who has given all indications of loving only money and power, actually is motivated by ideological concerns about the fate of Western civilization?"

I'll try to expand in a follow-up post...