WASHINGTON, July 17, 2013 — Contrary to dominant thinking in Washington, Iran poses no immediate threat to the U.S. In fact, our Middle Eastern allies, eager to have America do their fighting for them, wildly inflate the supposed threat from Iran.
The U.S. is a global military superpower that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Iran, by contrast, is a third-rate military power with an economy that is one forty-fifth the size of the U.S. economy. This is hardly a formidable threat.
The recent election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has been called “a major potential opportunity” to revive diplomacy and “resolve” longstanding tensions. Unfortunately, America’s purported friends don’t want rapprochement.
The U.S. has built up various alliances in the Middle East since WWII in order to fulfill a larger strategy of controlling the flow of oil and preventing the emergence of another power in the region that would threaten U.S. dominance.
In the course of building these alliances, Washington has signed security agreements with these countries, promising to subsidize their militaries and come to their defense. In essence, this makes their problems our problems.
Our closest allies in the region, Israel and the Arab Gulf states, hate Iran for a variety of strategic, cultural, religious, and ideological reasons. As a result, they have hyped the threat of Iran and frightened Americans into thinking the Islamic Republic poses an existential threat to America.
In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned us that Iran is “building ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) to reach the American mainland in a few years,” adding that, “they’re getting closer and closer to the bomb,” and “they have to be stopped.”
The problem here is that Netanyahu is exactly wrong. In reality, the current consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and has made no decision as to whether to pursue the bomb.
“Recent assessments by American spy agencies,” the New York Times reported last year, “are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier” and this “remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.”
Nevertheless, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials continue to go on national television and contradict U.S. intelligence findings in order to scare Americans into seeing Iran as more of a threat than it is.
It is worth noting that Netanyahu was equally sure of the trumped up threat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In 2002, he testified to Congress that, “there is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons.” He was wrong on that too.
Hyping the Iranian threat serves Israeli purposes because Iran is the one state in the region vehemently and vocally opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, a position that yields it considerable “soft power” throughout the Muslim world.
Even if Iran did have a nuclear weapon, the notion that they would use it in a first strike against Israel is absurd in the extreme (the same goes for Iranian missiles that might be able to reach “the American mainland”). Such action would prompt nuclear retaliation from both Israel and the United States and end in the complete dissolution of the Iranian regime, a fate no power-hungry government desires.
As the renowned international relations theorist Kenneth Waltz explained in Foreign Affairs last year, “Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, Iranian policy is made not by ‘mad mullahs’ but by perfectly sane ayatollahs who want to survive just like any other leaders.”
And Israel isn’t the only U.S. ally hyping the Iranian threat. As revealed by classified State Department cables leaked to WikiLeaks, the Saudi King “has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear program,” at one time even advising the U.S. to “cut the head off the snake,” a comment many considered to be an ill-concealed metaphor for regime change.
Saudi Arabia’s gripe with Iran is different than Israel’s. The Saudi regime, along with their counterparts in the other Sunni Arab Gulf states, are wary of the Shiite Persian Iran because it represents a check on their geo-political dominance in the region.
But like Israel, America’s Arab allies are trying to get Washington to foot the bill for their own militaristic agendas. A U.S. war with Iran would not only be unnecessary and illegal; it’s contrary to America’s interests and would destabilize the entire region.
In an exhaustive report compiled last year, a group of former government officials, national security experts and retired military officers concluded that even a “surgical strike” on Iran’s nuclear facilities would prompt large-scale Iranian retaliation that would spark an uncontrollable regional war.
Moreover, the report explained, such an attack would motivate Iran to restart its nuclear weapons development – a decision, remember, that U.S. intelligence agencies say has not yet been made. From the Iranian perspective, if they had a nuke it would at least deter the U.S. and Israel from attacking them again.
After a decade of disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and strategic failure throughout the Middle East, not to mention the powder keg of the sectarian civil war in Syria, the U.S. would have to be deranged to take the advice of its Middle Eastern allies and launch a war on Iran.
America’s Founding Fathers warned against exactly the type of complicated and dangerous “entangling alliances” that the U.S. now has in the Middle East and all over the world. George Washington’s farewell address warned against the new nation developing such attachments to others, arguing that we would be in “some degree a slave” to our alleged allies.
“… a slave to its animosity or to its affection,” he said, “either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
The U.S. doesn’t need to continue to militarily defend nefarious Arab dictatorships and an Israeli state prone to war. We should relinquish our imperial control over the oil-rich Middle East and save ourselves the trouble of getting goaded into one unnecessary war after another.
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