The war machine propaganda is now in high gear to mobilize what public opinion remains to be swayed into supporting a war against Iran. The WMD threat against Iraq was demonstrably false to begin with, and Scott Ritter pretty much shredded it. He was in turn shredded by a system that had already made up its mind to go to war on any pretense. So this effort may also be in vain, if the decision has already been made to fight Iran. But I won’t be accused of not trying. In my book “The Land of the Free” I outlined a scenario where American debt to China could precipitate an international crisis. Here I want to outline one that could emerge from an attack on Iran.
In the first place, let’s discuss the concept of WW III. Broadly speaking, it would involve a direct conflict between the world’s superpowers, the USA, Russia, China, where the confrontation gets out of control and a massive nuclear attack is launched, followed by a counter-attack that leaves a large part of the developed world utterly desolate and over a billion people dead. This is something that was avoided during the cold war, as both the USA and USSR were acutely aware of each others’ every move. They walked on tiptoes to try to prevent the nightmare scenario, both aware of the others’ devastating nuclear arsenal. Even during the Cuban missile crisis, cooler heads prevailed, though not by any reassuring margin. This has led the world into complacently thinking that reason will always prevail in a potentially nuclear confrontation. Yet we don’t have to search history too far to find a scenario where reason did not prevail, even though the outcome was the suicide of the previous societal order.
World War I had no villain nation and no hero nation, only victim nations, some worse than others. In the century before the Great War, there had been general peace in Europe since the time of Napoleon. The Crimean War was the exception that foreshadowed modern warfare and cautioned against its power to inflict mass casualties. In the USA, the War Between the States served the same cautionary role. In 1913, the thought of a total war involving most of Europe was out of the question. The aristocratic societies of Europe had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Most of the monarchs were related to each other, so nobody thought a war could put their collective reigns to an end. Alliances emerged that were supposed to guarantee the peace by making the stakes of war too steep to contemplate. So it can’t be denied that all parties understood that if war broke out, it would engulf all of Europe. The stalemate produced an uneasy peace that appeared it would last. So what happened? It comes down to contingency planning.
The Germans had calculated that in any war, they would have to carry the bulk of load for the triple alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Italy was in no shape to fight, and Austria-Hungary could not count on its disparate ethnicities to fight under its flag. So the German tactical plan had to make quick work of its enemies in the west in order to conserve its fighting strength to face the danger of Russia, which would be slow to mobilize but formidable in its strength thereafter. The Schlieffen Plan was developed to address this situation, and the structure of the alliances was such that Germany felt it was the only way to fight a war with a chance of victory. Remember, they did not expect a war. They thought the alliances themselves would ensure peace. Then came Sarajevo.
What happened in July of 1914 was that war started on auto-pilot. The responses were pre-programmed, and once in motion, it was impossible to stop. Commitments, threats, all previous statements had to be backed up with action or exposed as worthless. Nobody was willing to say “I was just kidding”. So when Gavril Princip shot Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which was an ally of Russia. Automatically, the Schlieffen plan kicked in, because Germany’s ally was now at war with Russia’s ally. Germany would have to fight Russia eventually, so she had to assume that Russia’s allies France and England would fight also. Germany’s first move therefore was to start fighting against France. Think about that for a second. A Serb shot the Austrian heir, so Germany invades France. Absurd, isn’t it? But it was perfectly logical at the time, when understood in terms of the alliances and the Schlieffen plan.
One last point about WW I. The alliances were known, but the Schlieffen plan was secret. It’s only with 100 years of history that it is crystal clear how everything developed. At the time, it would have happened in a fog to anyone but the German top brass.
Iran today is facing encirclement by the United States that named it 10 years ago as a country comprising the “axis of evil”, and that has in the past overthrown its democratic government to install the Shah. It is justifiably afraid, and it observed that North Korea, also on the “axis” has at least pretended to have nuclear weapons, and it was not invaded. By contrast, Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons, and he was invaded. So Iran has a rational reason to pursue nuclear weapons, whether or not it is true that it is in that pursuit. It is enriching Uranium to 20%, which is more than they need for a simple reactor, but far less than the 96% needed for a bomb. So in principle, whether or not they produce a bomb, it is in their interests to make it seem as though they were, to deter attack. Until they achieve demonstrable breakthroughs in that endeavor, their only other means of deterring attack is to use their strategic location at the Strait of Hormuz.
20% of all the oil traded in the world passes through the narrow strait at Hormuz, and if it were cut off, the price of oil would surely top $200 per barrel, and probably higher. Further, much of that oil is bound for China, whose supply would be seriously disrupted even if they bid more for oil than the market price. It would be fair to say that such a disruption in oil flow would constitute a mortal wound for China’s manufacturing economy, high on materials costs relative to labor costs.
Israel is the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, and whether or not they are America’s vassal or America’s master (arguments exist for both, and I’m neutral on the issue), their supremacy in the Middle East would be compromised by a nuclear Iran, and not because of any direct threat. If Iran were to produce a modest sized nuclear arsenal (they could not produce a large one. Israel only did so by access to American isotopes), they could threaten a retaliatory strike against Israel, but not a credible first strike. Israel could “wipe Iran off the map” a lot more than vice-versa. Tehran is in a valley, and it contains nearly the totality of the non-oil economy of Iran. Destroying that city would leave little but desert. And with the overwhelming size of Israel’s arsenal, it would be easy to do so. So attacking Israel first would be utter suicide for Iran. Ironically, the threat to Israel is not Iran, but Saudi Arabia.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter enemies of long duration. There is the Sunni-Shia split, and the Saudis are constantly threatened by the Shia majority in their eastern, oil-rich provinces. If Iran acquired nuclear weapons, their warheads would probably not be aimed at Israel, but at Saudi Arabia. It might even be said, with some credibility, that American opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions is driven more by the Saudis than the Israelis.
The Saudis would have no alternative but to acquire nuclear weapons of their own, to balance the Iranian threat. But once they did, they would no longer be so dependent on the American military umbrella, and could act independently. Israel would be more insecure, but more significantly, America would lose control of the world’s oil distribution. That is worth more than money, because the threat of turning off the spigot represents real power.
Now that we’ve laid out some of the regional interests, let’s intertwine them some. China can’t allow the Straits of Hormuz to be closed. It means death of the current system and probably the regime. No doubt China has spoken to Iran and asked politely if they would not mind disregarding their threat to close the strait. “Would you mind saying ‘I was only kidding'” is the way the request would come across. Iran would of course say “talk to the Americans. If they don’t attack us, we won’t close the strait, but we need that credible threat to protect ourselves.” The Chinese won’t get anywhere with this tactic, and will conclude that indeed they have to speak to the Americans. Failing there, they will make a credible threat against America. I don’t know what that would be, but I can be sure it would be something drastic. Something to make America think twice about attacking Iran. The USA may convince themselves the threat is a bluff, since it would be met with nuclear retaliation from America, and “nobody would risk that”. But like with WW I, even though the act may be suicidal, once the process starts, it becomes impossible for a nation to say “I was only kidding”. The credibility of threats has to bee substantiated. So you could have a situation where a terror attack against Israel causes the US and China to exchange nuclear salvos, if Israel goes after Iran in the process. Saudi Arabia could also be a trigger for events in the region, and its society is rife with problems, the Wahhabi sect utterly disgusted with the ruling class and its corruption, waiting for its chance to seize power. Meanwhile the disposessed Shiites in the eastern provinces are waiting for a chance to get their due.
There are multiple ways that things could tangle themselves and involve the US and China, and I have not even discussed Russia. It is increasingly encircled by the US and is bristling over this. Witness the way they reacted when Georgia moved against South Ossetia during the 2008 Olympics. Having an American client state on their southern frontier might be a step too far for them. But the point is that when something happens, these considerations and countless unknown others will quickly result in an auto-pilot conflict that happens quicker than anyone can really think it through. In a hundred years, working by candle-light, maybe historians will piece together all the interlocked pieces that worked to produce the catastrophe, but we can’t see it all. I’ve outline some possible pieces that appear obvious to me, but rest assured there are many others. The region is too important for there not to be.
Update Jan 15: China is threatening WW III if Iran is attacked. So it evolves as is now inevitable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-3xeP7NFRE
You’d think this would stop matters, wouldn’t you? But the blood lust from the neocons and associates is now so high I can’t see how they can stop things. It’s on auto-pilot…