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When will they ever learn?

February 26, 2012

NEVER, it seems. When we all sang the song “Where have all the flowers gone?” immortalised by Joan Baez in the Sixties, we were too young to realise how easily manipulated people really are.

Today, as the world prepares for yet another war – this time against Iran – we already seem to have forgotten the lessons of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Never mind that Bush and Blair stand totally exposed for their lies: currently some 85 per cent of all Americans believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, even though their own National Intelligence Estimate clearly asserts that Iran is not, in fact, doing any such thing.

At the time Bush and his neocon cabal began beating the drum for attacking Iraq, a large majority of Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks. This is despite the fact that the Iraqi dictator systematically hunted down all extremists. Such is the power of the media and the primeval appeal of patriotism that people seem to lose their ability to reason when a critical mass begins believing that their nation is under threat.

One would have thought that a mere decade after they were hoodwinked into going to war, the American people would have acquired a healthy scepticism for what their leaders and opinion makers tell them. A group of US senators has moved a resolution calling for the Obama administration to use force to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Now capability is a long way from actually possessing a nuclear arsenal. Many countries have this capability, but have chosen not to manufacture these weapons. Israel has a large, albeit undeclared, nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal which is barely even mentioned in the mainstream western media.

For the last few weeks, hardly a day has gone by without a newspaper article or a TV story about when and how Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. At a time when the world economy is balanced on a knife edge, we have the very real prospect of a pointless war that sends the price of oil through the roof, and precipitates a global financial meltdown.

Israeli leaders have shrewdly concluded that in an election year, President Obama’s hands are tied to a great extent: if he tries to restrain Israel, he will immediately give his Republican opponent ammunition. Democratic candidates have traditionally been portrayed as being weak on defence. The last thing Obama needs is to reinforce this stereotype. Even though he has tried to burnish his macho image by the successful SEAL raid that rid us of Osama Bin Laden, and his robust drone campaign that has killed scores of terrorists, he is still vulnerable to the charge of being indifferent to Israeli security concerns.

It is no coincidence that hawks like the Israeli prime minister and defence minister are peddling the line that Iran’s key nuclear facilities will be invulnerable after a few months as they will be moved deep underground. This self-serving estimate is currently providing the momentum for an immediate attack. In an election year in the US, the Israelis have even more opportunities to use force without American interference.

And yet, Americans have more to lose than any other country by an attack on Iran. A sudden, huge rise in oil prices will strangle the country’s anaemic economic recovery. If it is seen as helping the Israelis, its many military and economic assets in the region will be targeted by an enraged Iran. And while Iran will be heavily outgunned in such a conflict, it will inflict a lot of pain on its adversaries.

In a recent interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said categorically that he did not consider the Iranian nuclear programme a threat. He went on to say that an Israeli attack would “not be prudent”.

As ever, opinion in Israel is divided. Indeed, a poll there last year showed that around 65 per cent of all Israelis favour a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, even though they would have to give up their sizeable arsenal. In a recent editorial, the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz suggested that the country should heed friendly voices advising caution.

But the heightened tension in the Gulf has caused the US to position more ships and aircraft there. This has been matched by bellicose statements from Tehran. There’s a moment at which sabre-rattling hastens conflict, and we seem to be approaching this point. When large military forces mobilise, it doesn’t take much to set them fighting.

Sadly, neither side seems to want to sit down and talk. The glare of publicity is another trigger: Iranian tough talk is matched by chest-thumping speeches in Tel Aviv. The truth is that Iran finds itself very isolated. With Syria in turmoil, its Hamas and Hezbollah proxies do not retain the deterrent edge they once had. And while Russia and China will not permit an anti-Iran UN Security Council resolution to pass, neither will they provide any military support in case of an Israeli attack.

According to American estimates, Iran stopped its weapons programme in 2003. A recent IAEA report suggests that while Iran has boosted its enrichment capacity, and some of its plans could have military applications, it is not currently anywhere close to having a nuclear device. For weapons grade uranium, it needs to be enriched to over 90 per cent. Iran is currently at around 20 per cent, sufficient for energy purposes.

So why this rush to war? Clearly, Israel feels that if Obama is re-elected – and his chances look very good currently – he might press it to make concessions for a lasting peace with Palestinians. This would push Iran to the backburner, and deprive Israel of a chance to seriously weaken their implacable foe for a generation by launching a war that would drag the Americans along.

Another popular anti-war song from the Sixties was “Blowin’ in the wind”, and one line in it asked: “How many deaths will it take/ Till he knows too many people have died?”