Iran: Chronicle of a War Foretold?

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece Chronicle of Death Foretold, a murder is committed in defense of family honor because nobody does anything to stop two brothers carrying it out, even though they actually want to be stopped. And the careless and infantile scripts being penned by politicians in the U.S., Iran and Israel may yet have a similar outcome. Indeed, what is most remarkable about the actions of many of the key players is the extent to which they’re driven by local, self-serving agendas.

As I noted on, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owes a massive debt to those who made such a gevalt over his visit to New York: Ahmadinejad doesn’t give a toss what audiences in New York think of him, but by turning what might have otherwise been an obscure talk in a small Ivy League auditorium into a national media dog-and-pony show, the protestors allowed Ahmadinejad to grandstand for the folks back home, eliciting sympathy from even some who oppose him for the way he conducted himself in the “lion’s den.” Ahmadinejad, as we’ve proclaimed ad nauseum, does not control Iran’s foreign policy any more than Nancy Pelosi control’s Washington’s. He’s facing an increasingly difficult reelection battle in 2009, and his provocations of the West on issues such as the Holocaust are designed precisely to put him in the spotlight, and sabotage prospects for the rapprochement with Washington sought by his more pragmatic rivals. And by turning him into an “evil” rock star, the Columbia protestors ensured he got an hour-long address on national TV in the U.S. and a major boost at home.

You could argue, I supposed, that Lee Bollinger, the Columbia president who scolded Ahmadinejad at length in his introduction was also playing a form of “local” politics — after all, colleges in the U.S. are privately funded, and Bollinger needed to make very sure that donors were not turned off by the Ahmadinejad invitation.

But the more serious local politics may be neither those of Ahmadinejad or Bollinger. Almost a yaer ago, I wrote about
the danger of war with Iran being based more on Israeli domestic political calculations
and the law of unintended consequences than on a clear strategic intent. Israeli politicians across the spectrum continue to whip up hysteria — and a frenzy of expectation — by telling their people that they face imminent annihilation by Iranian nuclear weapons. More rational Israeli voices, such as former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami who argues that Israel can and should seek a grand bargain with Iran, are drowned out in the clamor for action. Instead, Israeli leaders are telling their people that 2007 is the last year for diplomatic solutions; if they can’t force an Iranian surrender by 2008 then the time has come for action. Of course, this timetable has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear progress; it’s based entirely on the remainder of the Bush Administration’s tenure.

Of course there is no imminent danger of Iran actually possessing nuclear weapons, and there’s no sound reason to believe that even if it had these, it would brandish them at Israel — which, after all, has far more nuclear weapons at its disposal and wouldn’t hesitate to nuke Tehran if it felt threatened with extinction — the Iranians are not stupid; they know this. Don’t expect to hear too much from such sensible voices as General John Abizaid, until recently the U.S. commander in the Gulf, who bluntly dismisses the hysteria, arguing that the U.S. could, in fact, find a modus vivendi with a nuclear-armed Iran.

As Ben Ami noted, “Revolutionary Iran has given frequent proof of its pragmatism” and, in fact, “it was the United States, not Iran, that conducted rigid ideological diplomacy” in the Washington-Tehran equation.

Ben Ami writes:

Iran backed the U.S. during the first Gulf war, but was left out of the Madrid peace conference. Iran also supported America in its war to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan. And, when American forces overran Saddam Hussein’s army in the spring of 2003, the encircled Iranians proposed a grand bargain that would put all contentious issues on the table, from the nuclear issue to Israel, from Hizbullah to Hamas. The Iranians also pledged to stop obstructing the Israeli-Arab peace process.

But American neoconservative haughtiness – “We don’t speak to evil” – ruled out a pragmatic response to Iran’s demarche.

Iran’s mood changed by the time America’s entire Middle East strategy had gone adrift, but the grand bargain remains the only viable way out of the impasse. This would not be achieved, however, through an inevitably imperfect sanctions regime, or by America’s resort to Cold War logic aimed at breaking Iran by drawing it into a ruinous arms race. Iran’s growing regional influence does not stem from its military expenditures, which are far lower than those of its enemies, but from its challenge to America and Israel through an astute use of soft power.

But the Israeli domestic political equation is worrying: Olmert has seen his own approval ratings climb out of the toilet as a result of having bombed something in Syria a couple of weeks ago. Nobody knows what he bombed, but his numbers have climbed from about 3% a few months ago to over 35% today. That’s why the scoundrels to the left and right of him, Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu, have been scrambling to claim some paternity over the mysterious Syria raid.

The Israeli electorate likes the flexing of military muscle, particularly after last summer’s humiliation in Lebanon, and even more so in the face of a steady stream of hysterical nonsense about a new Hitler on the march in the east.

The danger of Israel’s leaders’ own rhetoric painting themselves into a corner where military action becomes inevitable is reinforced by reports that Dick Cheney’s neocon jihadists have actually been planning to goad Israel into doing something this stupid, precisely in order to set off an Iranian response that would force the U.S. into a war with Iran. (Talk about a scorched-earth presidency!)

I tend to agree, though, with the assessment of Steve Clemons that the Cheney/berserk position won’t necessarily prevail — but that the posturing and rhetoric from Washington could force the U.S. into an “accidental” war (a prospect that the berserkers have actually been trying to engineer). Its domestic and internal political shape — besides the neocons around Cheney, there’s also the AIPAC warning Capitol Hill that any legislators seeking to restrain the White House from military action against Iran will henceforth be treated as anti-Semites — certainly appears to be dissuading the Administration from sending any signals to Tehran making clear that Washington has no aggressive intent. Indeed, based on what they’re hearing from Washington, the Iranians might well assume that confrontation is inevitable.

The key to avoiding a confrontation may be the U.S. military, whose opposition to such a catastrophic blunder remains steadfast. The problem, though, is that the Bush Administration has painted itself into a corner by defining a “diplomatic solution” as simply an Iranian surrender to U.S. terms on the issue of uranium enrichment. But there’s little chance of that — which may help explain the rather cynical French hysteria — nor of any new sanctions any time soon, since Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to address outstanding concerns. That’s going to leave the Cheney berserkers, and the Israeli politicians scrambling to outdo each other in satisfying the public’s expectation of action, entering 2008 with no sign that diplomacy is going to produce the only outcome short of war that they’re prepared to countenance.

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45 Responses to Iran: Chronicle of a War Foretold?

  1. shane says:

    So if we attack Iran, and Iran attacks Israel and makes efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, perhaps China then uses the opportunity to invade Taiwan, and…

  2. utica says:

    so we’re depending on the integrity of the US military?
    can anyone reccomend a nice place to emmigrate to?

  3. h. kim says:

    Tony, you missed one fact: the single biggest funder to US colleges, even private ones is the US federal government. Through all sorts of grants, direct and indirect, US government holds the pursestrings at nearly EVERY US college (except some extreme ones, such as Bob Jones U) so no college is so eager to defy Washington. That’s all the more reason for Bolling’s kowtowing performance.

  4. amir says:

    Iran is not a threat for anyone, Do you remeber a war begin by Iran i last 200 years?
    The only thing which is important to Iran,as other countries, Is the security .US and it’s allies threat iran every day.
    sancations make the west ‘s image like evil in Iranian mind
    You can not live under Sword of Damocles for ever
    the only way to solve this problem is to be fair. A win-win
    outcome can stablize the situation


  5. amir says:

    ok Ahmadinejad is not a clever guy but he is at least
    elected (also not in a fair way) but in comparsion to Parviz Mosharaf (pakistani dictator who get the power by coup) he is not a dictator
    now with this introduction see what Clumbia president said for introduction of mosharaf in 2005:

  6. chris y says:

    Nobody has satisfactorily explained to me why, if the United States attacked Iran, China, an ally of Iran, would not simply dump all the dollars it appears to be increasingly antsy about holding anyway.

    While I, as a European, might welcome the chance to visit my American relatives at half price, I can’t see that this would really be something the US government wanted.

  7. Matthew says:

    Chris: When America crashes, all those nations that have trade surpluses and investments here will crash too. The EU has a massive trade surplus with the US. The UK, in particular, is heavily invested in American home mortgages. If America goes down, so will Europe. Have you forgotten what happened to Europe after the 1929 Stock Market Crash?…..We are interconnected financially a lot more than we are interconnected politically.

  8. chris y says:

    Sorry, Matthew, the second para. was intended as a bitter joke. But I’m serious about the first.

  9. Pat says:

    I think that for anyone asking whether the Administration is aware of what war would entail, Tony is probably right about the “scorched earth” metaphor, because they’d go into any war with Iran knowing the potential scope of the consequences. It’s possible that a Chinese dollar pullout would actually make some of these dudes happy: now we have a reason to widen the war from the Middle East into China.

    I think there’s a nostalgia among these guys for WWII, but the problem is it’s WWII as they see it: lots of American heroism, but the omission of all the depravity, murder and horror.

  10. Matthew says:

    Pat: It would be a WWII with missiles that reach America. Which is to say, it would not be like WWII at all.

    These guys obviously have a suicide wish. That trait is not shared by any Americans I know.

  11. Pingback: OPINION: Stumbling into another war

  12. Don Bacon says:

    Iran doesn’t threaten anyone but the US can’t abide a challenge to its hegemony in the Middle East.

    France and Russia will be big players in this one. France is stepping in for the UK as the US poodle and Russia sees an opening, now that the US is tied down, to expand and consolidate its interests in the energy-rich Caspian basin. Putin will attend a Caspian basin conference in Teheran on October 16th, and nuclear and defense issues are sure to come up.

  13. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Burma couldn’t be better timed for Bernard Kouchner…

    After he’s warned us about the Great Persian Peril, Saint Kouchner will want to explain to us how His Holiness managed to pen an official report for the oil giant Total in 2003 that exonerated the company from slave labor charges in Burma while explaining that the presence of the oil company was the best hope for the country. He even insisted on the necessity of “engagement constructif” with the junta.

    Never mind that Aung San Suu Kyi has called the company the junta’s “biggest supporter.”

    Western companies, including Pepsi-Cola, Ericsson, Accor, Levi Strauss, Motorola, Heineken, Shell, Reebok, etc, have all left Burma.

    Total has not. Thanks, in no small part, to Kouchner: Mr human rights himself.

    Unlike Burma, Iran threatens western domination in a vital region. And, as Kouchner will be the first one to tell you, that is completely unacceptable. If Westerners don’t dominate the region, then pray tell me who is going to bring them freedom, democracy, apple pie, and eternal bliss??

    PS: Sarko asked Total not to go ahead with “new” investments. (Current ones are ok, I guess.)
    Just knowing that, the Buddhist monks will sleep better tonight, I bet — at least those who are still alive.

  14. Leah says:


    I know about the disgraceful role of international corporations in Burma, Unocal is a California -based example, and I knew about Total’s continued role, but I didn’t know about Kouchner’s. Do you have any links you could share?

    I’m also interested in any light anyone can throw on what in hell Sarko and Kouchner are up to, with their apparent support of the Bush approach to Iran?

  15. Bernard Chazelle says:

    I would agree with Tony’s use of the word “cynical.”

    Sarkozy believes he can be the dominant player in Europe or he can pursue France’s quest of independence from the US but he cannot do both. (His predecessors thought they could.) His choice (the first option) was an easy decision for him.

    Re. Kouchner, he needs to take a closer look at his job description. The role of the top diplomat is to provide authoritative language that cleans up the mess created by those around him who like to shoot from the hip.
    It is NOT to shoot from the hip and rely on those around him to clean up the mess afterwards.

  16. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Leah: I posted some links, but Tony’s spam filter is still trying to decide whether these links are spam, so it may take a while for them to appear.

  17. Qwerty says:

    Iran was almost nuked… 6 nukes were headed for Iran, and it was aborted by the military top brass!!! 🙁

  18. Shlomo says:


    If you’ll recall, Gen. Casey was opposed to the Surge back in 2006. But he was fired, and in went the troops. And then Congress was told not to “meddle with military affairs” before the new lackey’s report…

    Don’t blame PresBo for his little tirade. He kinda had to do that, or else Columbia would have never seen the light of day. It sure was bad for Iranian dissidents and reformists, but all the people outside caused the real damage, in my opinion.

    Oh yes, and–GO, MUSHARRAF, GO! GO, THAN SHWE, GO!

  19. Martin says:

    I have Israel-fatigue. And I am fed-up with excusing it.

    That country has pursued nothing but war since its1948 inception. Iran, to my knowledge, has not pre-emptively attacked another country for 2,000 years.

    Explain to me why Israel should be given any pass in the current threat of WWIII. It should re reviled. Uncategorically. And so should the high admin officlals who put Israel’s interest before those of the USA.

  20. Martin says:

    Typo: “. . .high admin officlals who put Israel’s interests before those of the USA.”

  21. Tony says:

    Bernard, I’m afraid the spam filter is working overtime, so I probably cleared it without checking, meaning links were lost let me know if you post again (email me) and I’ll look out for it

  22. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Tony: no problem. I’ll try and avoid posting links. The filter seems allergic to them.

    Leah: sorry about this. Kouchner’s report is available in English on the Total web site. (Google the obvious key words to get to it if you ‘re interested.)

    This sentence from the report seems an echo from another country further west.

    ” While the Myanmar regime deserves the criticism it has received, its opponents are much more indulgent with regard to human rights violations in other countries that they feel should not be criticized at this time. This double standard may seem very unfair to Total, but that’s the way things are.”

    Yes, soooo unfair!

  23. steve says:

    I recently read the Monday, October 1, 2007 on-line edition of the Jerusalem Post and it had an interesting article on Kouchner. Apparently he is friends with bibi N and the article predicts that France’s foreign policy will become more pro-Israel now that Kouchner is foreign minister. The article also mentions Kouchner’s support for toppling Saddam and his attitude towards Iran.

  24. Shlomo says:

    “That country has pursued nothing but war since its1948 inception. Iran, to my knowledge, has not pre-emptively attacked another country for 2,000 years.”


    The day Israel declared a state, Palestinian militants began attacking civilians. Not army outposts, civilians. So it is hard to tell whether Israel pursues war, or war pursues it.

    But regarding your claim that Israel should be reviled…there is this delusional idea circulating, that says we must support Israel in everything it does, even when it is committing state suicide with its actions. There is this other delusional idea that holds we can bully Israel into behaving as we like. News flash: it didn’t work with Hamas in Gaza, and it won’t work with the settlers in the West Bank. I hear this nonsense every week, about how if we only crush the other side into complete submission, everything will be dandy. Not true.

    We must negotiate with the Islamist extremists. We must negotiate with the Zionist extremists. And then we must somehow get them to negotiate with each other. Otherwise, it won’t matter whether Israel is divided into one state, two states, or six states. It was kill or be killed in 1948, and we see the consequences today. Stay your anger.

  25. Matthew says:

    Schlomo: Did the Palestinians begin attacking “civilians” before or after Israel began leveling dozens, if not hundreds, of Palestinian villages?

    The timing is important. If all I told you was that in October 2001 America bombed Afghanistan–and that is all I told you–you would have one impression. If I told you America bombed Afghanistan AFTER 9/11, you would have another.

  26. Matthew says:

    Sorry, Shomo, but I inadvertantly mispelled your name.

  27. Shlomo says:


    You’re 100% correct, the timing is very important. It seems to me that both happened simultaneously and were mutually reinforcing. But I don’t think we should be focusing so much on what “impression”s were made, either regarding the War on Terror or the Nakba-Independence struggle.

    I personally believe that the War on Terror’s biggest error is focusing on “impressions”: it looks like we’re doing good things if we’re bombings places terorrists live, but what we’re really doing is killing many civilians and radicalizing the population.

    Similarly, in Gaza, Israel’s policy of economic strangulation coupled with random bombing attacks gives the “impression” of efficacy; but in actuality Israel is playing into Hamas’ (or Al-Quaida’s) hands.

    Similarly, Israel and the radical settler movement have done a trillion things wrong. If we subject both of these to public and severe tongue- lashings, which sometimes are so vociferous they can be construed as antisemitic by those who are interested–this certainly gives the “impression” of effectiveness.

    But I tell you from the inside, this does not work and is playing into AIPAC’s hands. When empathy with the Palestinians is so often associated with (and sometimes overshadowed by) attacks against Israel/Judaism, an almost Pavlovian response is evoked. I mean this not in a negative way, because I think it’s human nature. But eventually, people move from association to causality, and begin to equate any empathy with Palestinians with anti-Zionism, or antisemitism.

    Moving back to Martin’s post, I understand where he is coming from and his frustration with Israel. But I hope he (and everyone else) will understand that Israelis are suffering from this as well, and that even the West Bank settlers or the IDF soldiers are good people, who believe what they’re doing is right. Ultimately, many of them would fight to the death if it came to that–and then we will have a reverse version of 1948. Leave them a way out. Do not revile them. If anything, perhaps we should pity them.

  28. Matthew says:

    Shlomo: Every nation is the result of a great crime. My nation (our nation) obviously uprooted a lot of Native Americans. We can’t change that. But we can change our behavior to their descendants today.

    I don’t hold Israel is any particular disregard. They have used violence against the native population in a very European/Western way. And, having accomplished that, they now want to move on.

    A friend wisely told me, “The Palestinians can’t go back to 1948 and the Jews can’t go back to King David.” I totally agree with that.

    I think arguing about the history is counterproductive. Instead of leading to understanding, it leads to the perpetuation of grievances.

    IMHO, we will not see peace in Israel/Palestine until the process is driven by secularists. We need people who love other people as much as they claim to love God. I don’t see much of that right now. The process is driven by those without doubt, i.e., those who are most dangerous.

  29. Michael says:

    They’re attempting to condition the American people for war with Iran. Write a letter to your newspaper. Write a letter to your Senator. Get the message out now:

  30. Ibraham Av says:


    I believe that peace will not come until both sides end the search for a ‘just’ peace. The concept of Justice is so different to each side as to make compromise almost impossible.

  31. Shlomo says:

    The only solution is a real and geniune coexistence. It is possible the cause of coexistence is marginally helped by certain political/diplomatic arrangements, but that difference is rather small. If there is a geniune commitment to coexistence on both sides, the crisis is largely over; if neither side is committed, even the most well-crafted political arrangement will lead to a bloodbath.

    Incidentally, the secularists are of minor importance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, except as civilian casualties/cannon fodder and occasional obstructionism. Religious groups are animating the conflict on both sides. Somehow, West Bank settlers must make peace with Hamas. Anything less, and we will see a vicious religiously motivated insurgency from either Palestinians or Jews. If you don’t believe Jews can do this, reflect for a while on the origin of the term “religious zealot”.

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