Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the Verge of World War III?

Increasingly, it looks as if the question is not If but When. And the question is about a preemptive attack on Iran, seeking to destroy their capability for developing nuclear weapons.
Back in February a group of U.S. Senators pledged, “If President Barack Obama feels the need to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, Congress will back him.” Last Saturday (Sept. 22), the U.S. Senate, by a 90-1 vote, passed that non-binding resolution.
The Huffington Post headlined their news story about the Senate resolution, Senators Offer License To Strike Iran Nuclear Program.” The resolution, however, “specifically states that it should not be interpreted as an authorization for the use of military force or a declaration of war.”
Nevertheless, on September 11 Secretary of Defense Panetta said on CBS's “This Morning” program that “the United States has the capability to prevent Iran from building an atomic bomb.” He added, “We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons.”
Preemptive attacks, though, can go either direction. According to a September 24 story on NBCNews, “Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it was sure the Jewish state [was] preparing to attack it, a senior commander of its elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying on Sunday.
“Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made the comments to Iran’s state-run Arabic language Al-Alam television, according to a report on the network’s website.”
The same story goes on to say that “Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division, said any attack on Iranian soil could trigger ‘World War III’” (emphasis added).
Talk about World War III is probably a hyperbolic way of talking about the volatile situation in the Near East. But those who think that a preemptive strike on Iran, with or without U.S. approval and/or cooperation, will be a soon-finished affair (another Six Day War) are probably greatly mistaken.
If an obscure YouTube video can spark angry attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and elsewhere, what would a pre-emptive attack on Iran do? Assuming that a quick strike on Iran’s nuclear plants destroyed their intended targets quickly, which is by no means a certain assumption, why would we possibly think that would be the end of the matter?
I have been somewhat worried over the last few months that the President would launch, with Israel, an attack on Iran. Somewhat cynically, perhaps, I thought that was a possibility partly because it would increase the likelihood of the President’s reelection.
If the President is not reelected, there is a strong likelihood that an attack on Iran will be launched much before this time next year. The Republicans have long been critical of the President’s lack of support for Israel—and vocal in their willingness to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by military means.
As far back as the Republican presidential primary debates last November, Romney declared, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”
Even though it would probably not lead to World War III, I strongly believe that a preemptive attack on Iran would be a grave mistake. One of the many reasons I will be voting for Obama again in November is because I think that such an attack would be considerably less likely with him as President.
Note: I found “What if Israel bombed Iran?” in the 9/21 Washington Post to be a quite thought-provoking op-ed article; you can access it here.


  1. My esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky who often comments sent this e-mail a few minutes ago:

    "I agree, Leroy. These developments are scary. Americans had better consider the consequences carefully."

  2. One PBS pledge week trick is the golden oldie concert. A while back I watched an aging Barry McGuire cranking out "Eve of Destruction." Well, it has been a very long eve. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) has made world war much less likely, although obviously not impossible. What small countries should worry about is the mutual part. If large parts of the Middle East were wiped out in a giant fireball, I suspect many would miss the oil more than the people. There would be a lot of hand-wringing, but the world would go on. There would be serious political and economic shock waves, but ten years later and a century later the rest of the world would be limping along. The same might not be true for the Middle East.

    We know Israel and Pakistan already have nuclear weapons. One or two others might have a few. Significant conventional forces exist in the area. The combined damage could be the most destructive war in history. If outside powers jump in and take pot shots at each others allies in the area, it could get worse. If Russia helped Iran repel an Israeli attack, what would we do? Or if the US attacked Iran and Russia retaliated by directly bombing Israel? Using WW I logic, this would lead to WW III, but, as I said, MAD says we stop.

    The US and Russia have fought several proxy wars in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan. Yet they have avoided the kind of all-out escalation that lead to WW I. I would expect similar prudence out of China. Barring a serious misstep, the great powers will not get in direct nuclear war with each other. So in the end, remnants of the Middle East could do like the Armenians, who every few years launch a retaliatory strike against Turkey for the genocide of so many years ago. That is not much of a future for the cradle of civilization. One would hope that not only in Moscow and Washington, but also in Tehran and Jerusalem, cooler heads would prevail.

    Taking this back to the US election, this overall picture puts a great burden on the American Jewish community. Both parties listen carefully to this community. While much smaller than the Evangelical community that so fervently supports Israel, the Jewish community has a special responsibility. The Evangelical model of apocalypse envisions Israel as a fatted calf being readied for the slaughter. They expect Armageddon. They want Armageddon. That includes the almost total destruction of Israel, and the conversion of the 144,000 survivors to Evangelical Christianity. This is the Evangelical ticket to the Second Coming. I would be worried if that was my primary ally. I believe this would be a good time for each American Jew to sit down and commune with his or her inner Elijah. Is it time to say something to the government of Israel, and through it, to America?

    1. Craig, I hope your scenario with the MAD doctrine stopping us short of WW3, as I hope Bill McKibben’s 350.org stopping us short of runaway climate change, come true. Between foreign policy threats and environmental threats, I am getting more and more resigned to the notion that big disasters are in our future.

      For instance, have you read about solar flares?


      All this is why I am so interested in the thesis of Rebecca Solnit’s
      “A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster”:

      Can we develop resiliency to the extent we can cope with these impending disasters?

    2. Craig, thanks for your noteworthy comments.

      It always seemed ironic to me that we long had a security system called MAD. But I guess it has to be said that it "worked."

      For that reason, I don't see why a policy of containment can't be considered for Iran. Since Israel has nuclear weapons, how can the U.S. condemn Iran for developing similar weapons for its defense? Wouldn't the "balance of power" be similar to what we saw during the Cold War?

      As you say in the last part of your comments, there is more going on in the support of preemptively destroying Iran's nuclear project that meets the eye on first glance. Its link to the eschatological ideas of Christian fundamentalists makes this whole scenario more frightening.

  3. Bob Hanson, a Thinking Friend in Wisconsin, sent the following comments by e-mail (after having trouble, as some others have had also, posting directly on the blogsite):

    "Increasingly, it looks as if the question is not If but When.
    "The same story goes on to say that 'Hajizadeh, who heads the Guard’s aerospace division, said any attack on Iranian soil could trigger "World War III”' (emphasis added)."

    "The two statements from this fine fearful essay set me to thinking that I must live in a hope, naive as it might be, that this can get worked out in some way.

    "At the same time, with the killing mentality of Israel and the anger this has created from Palestine and its friends, at least they say they are friends, it might be more their own agenda. Anything could happen.

    "As the Buddha teaches through those who have followed that path for over 2600 years, living in the moment, we do not rely on our future plans, expectations or desires. Whoever is President will not be able to do what they think is right completely but will need to lead our country and the world through groups like the UN, NATO and others. I vote for Obama to do a better job of that.

    "I cannot believe Romney could run a company with the way he walks around with his shoes in front and back as if he fears and is unable to handle diversity as he has shown again and again. He and his rich friends will do damage we cannot imagine.

    "This has more to do with leadership and the ability to think on your feet than a certain plan like "they will not have a bomb if I am president." That is naive.

    "Some of us think we are wrong not to look at a one state solution, Real healing and trust come when folks learn to live and work together for peace and not depend on walls and violence to 'keep the peace.'"

    "Thanks, Leroy, for another thoughtful piece.

  4. Here's A LINK to an opinion piece by David Ignatius about "Lessons from an Iranian war game." The simulation he's reporting on is probably a good description of why and how such an encounter would escalate. “Small miscalculations are magnified very quickly.”

    1. Clif, thanks for sharing this most interesting article.

  5. Here is the bulk of an e-mail received this morning from a Thinking Friend:

    "Ahmadinejad is a rogue who could well bully his way into the presidency again, as he did last time. He is not trusted by any country in the area with the possible exception of Syria and maybe northern Lebanon.

    "But if the waiting game (diplomacy) is used to wait him out, would anything change? Bush and Clinton played that game with North Korea and it did not work.

    "With new weaponry, it is possible to take out just the nuclear facilities with minimal collateral damage . . . . A surface penetrating missile with a micro-nuke (not the big atomic bombs designed to take out cities) which could take out a hardened, secure underground facility. This would not be needed for above ground facilities. NATO should consider doing this as a joint mission with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey.

    "I would favor taking out their uranium/plutonium facilities and helping to replace those with thorium salt reactors (no military side uses). Both the US and China have these functional facilities. As a side note, the US should seriously consider switching to these – 10 times more efficient than uranium, can’t melt down, short half-life, fuel readily available, no military cross usage."

  6. I asked Thinking Friend Michael Westmoreland-White, who has a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics, to read and comment on this blog posting. Here is his reply, first posted on Facebook and copied here with his permission.

    "I think you are right about the consequences of such an attack and, like you, I find the Senate resolution worrying. Since 9/11, Democrats have become almost as hawkish as Republicans.

    "But I am not convinced that Pres. Obama has ANY plans to attack Iran. I especially don't think he would do it unilaterally. He's just as aware as you are of the powder keg--which is why he's stiff-arming Bibi Netanyahu.

    "Panetta has also said repeatedly (as have officials from the Israeli spy agency, Mossad) that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and is years away from one. If they found otherwise, I think the President would go to the UN Security Council and to the Arab League and drum up multi-lateral support for action. I think this would be easier than you might think.

    "Iranians are not Arabs, but Persians, and not liked in much of the Middle East.

    "The problem will not quietly go away, and we need to think of ways for transformative nonviolent intervention.

    "But I do not think an attack is imminent. Americans are tired of war--more than either party realizes."

    1. Michael, I much appreciate you taking the time to read and then to respond to this blog posting.

      I hope you are right in thinking that an attack is not imminent. And many Americans are, no doubt, tired of war.

      But there are still loud voices, of politicians and of ordinary citizens, calling for "taking out" Iran's nuclear development plant. They do not necessarily think that will lead to war, but that possibility must certainly be considered highly likely.

  7. Truett Baker, a Thinking Friend in Arizona (and a retired Baptist pastor) sent the follow comments by e-mail along with permission to post them:

    "You have touched on a sensitive and volatile subject, and quite frankly, I would like to put it into the back of my mind and pretend that this talk of war is too premature or even histrionic.

    "It defies reason in my mind to believe that any nation in today’s world would be foolish enough to use nuclear weapons against another nation, particularly the U.S. It would be national suicide and for what reason?

    "I am adamantly opposed to a preemptive strike by the U.S. It would be morally wrong and politically devastating. I thought we had learned our lesson on that in Iraq. If any military action is initiated, it must be a combined effort through the U.N.

    "It appears to me that some elements in our society are encouraging war and that troubles me. Is the preemptive notion that by destroying Iran’s nuclear capability, we will maintain the peace? Do we plan on destroying every rogue nation that comes up with nuclear capability? And what responsibility do other nations have in supporting peace in the world?

    "I am quite weary of American arrogance illustrated by our telling other nations what they can and cannot do when no harm is expressed toward America by their action."

  8. I am not as discouraged today as I was when I posted on this blog yesterday. I thought the President's speech at the U.N. yesterday was very good, and encouraging. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's U.S. speech today was also an encouragement.

    In comments posted above, a Thinking Friend wrote, " . . . if the waiting game (diplomacy) is used to wait him out, would anything change?" I certainly am hopeful that it would.

    At any rate, I remain fully convinced that the United States, and the world, is potentially far better off with Obama being in office as President for the next four years rather than the country being led by Romney/Ryan, who are supported by many people who want use a preemptive strike to "take out" Iran's nuclear developing capability.