I’ve been procrastinating again. I haven’t wanted to write about the possibility of a war between the United States and Iran; frankly, I haven’t wanted to think about it, either. There are some possibilities that are so colossally terrible and stupid that the mind instinctively avoids getting anywhere close to them.
And so I’ve wilfully ignored reports that Dick Cheney and the rest of the Bush Administration’s neoconservative cabal are pushing for this war, and I’ve discounted warnings by such respected academics as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that America’s powerful Israel Lobby is doing the same. I’ve clung to the hope that Bush is only bluffing, that the armada he’s sent to the Persian Gulf and his decision to label Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “terrorist organization” are only pressure tactics.
When the Boston Globe reported in May 2007 that the United States has been using the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group (ISOG) to destabilize the Iranian regime, I told myself that this was simply geopolitical business-as-usual for the world’s only superpower, no different than the other acts of subversion it’s carried out throughout the Middle East for many decades now. Most of all, I’ve avoided thinking about how appealing this attack, and the slender chance it offers for some kind of victory, must be for an administration whose catastrophic failures in Iraq have left it with nothing left to lose and that’s convinced itself that Iranians would topple their own regime the moment the bombardment began.
It’s possible that the administration is simply conducting a kind of psychological warfare, and that Iran won’t be in ruins when Bush leaves office. After seeing the public reaction to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United States in late September 2007, however, I’m beginning to wonder. Granted, his views are blatantly misogynistic and homophobic and he’s a bit of a buffoon, but he doesn’t deserve to be demonized. The man was even prevented from placing a wreath at Ground Zero in Manhattan, even though Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11, and even though Iranians expressed their sympathies for the victims with candlelight vigils and a moment of silence at a major soccer stadium. We’ve seen this kind of hysteria before. It appears that America is once again coming down with a war fever, and this could facilitate an attack on Iran.
Fortunately, there is a way to bring the public’s temperature down. The best remedy remains the truth, and it could be very effective here, as the warmongers’ case is founded upon such blatant lies.
We’re told that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier who has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and that Iran is months away from developing nuclear weapons that could unleash another genocide upon the Jewish people. We’re told that a war with Iran would be in the world’s best interests, as it would restrain a dangerous rogue power.
In fact, Ahmadinejad has never denied that the Nazi genocide killed six million Jews. Examine his words carefully: in December 2006 he said “’In the name of the Holocaust they have created a myth and regard it to be worthier than God, religion and the prophets.” He is using the word “myth” in its academic sense, as a story used to illustrate a cultural ideal and to provide a meaningful context for human behaviour. Myths can easily be made from actual historical occurrences. For example, the pioneers’ settlement of the American west clearly took place, but it’s been shrouded in myths of manifest destiny, rugged individualism, and the triumph of civilization over primal chaos. These myths have been used to conceal, minimize, or justify the genocidal injustices that the settlement process inflicted upon American Indians. Similarly, a compelling case can be made that the Nazi genocide has been turned into a myth that has been used for unpalatable purposes.
Consider, for example, the reluctance of so many Zionists to concede that the 1915-1917 Armenian genocide, in which over 1.5 million Armenians were systematically slaughtered, is comparable to the Nazi genocide. In a 2001 interview with the Anatolia News Agency, Shimon Peres said that “we reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.” On March 5 2002, Rivka Cohen, the Israeli ambassador in Yerekan, said that while the Armenian genocide was a “tragedy”, the Nazi Holocaust was “a unique phenomenon, since it had always been planned and aimed to destroy the whole nation.” In early 2007, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith International, and the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs, delivered to the US Congress a written request from the Jews of Turkey asking that America refuse to recognize the Armenian genocide.
In The Great War for Civilization (Alfred A Knopf, 2005), respected war correspondent Robert Fisk writes that the Zionist strategy is to “(dissociate) the Armenian Holocaust from the Jewish Holocaust, creating a uniqueness about the Jewish experience of persecution which no other ethnic group (is) to be permitted to share.” In other words, Zionists have turned the Holocaust into a myth, just as Ahmadinejad has claimed. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s belief that this has been used to justify the brutal occupation of Palestinian land and to silence Israel’s critics is a position that is firmly supported by the work of Jewish scholars like Michael Neumann, Norman Finkelstein, and Noam Chomsky. Ahmadinejad’s claim that for Zionists this myth has overtaken Judaism’s traditional mythology is undoubtedly a mean-spirited overgeneralization, but his central point remains valid.
So, no, Ahmadinejad is not a Holocaust denier, but did he threaten to “wipe Israel off the map?” It’s true that in October 2005 Ahmadinejad gave a speech in which he quoted Ayatollah Khomeni’s remarks about the Israeli government: “Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world.” This might sound like a call for genocide, but the context of this quote indicates otherwise.
Ahmadinejad referred to other regimes that have been “wiped off the map,” such as the Shah’s, the Soviet Union’s, and Saddam Hussein’s. There was no genocide when the Shah’s regime fell or when the Soviet Union collapsed, and there’s no reason to think that a genocide would accompany the collapse of the Zionist regime in Israel. For instance, it could be replaced in the same way as South Africa’s Apartheid regime: the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories could be granted full Israeli citizenship in what is referred to as a “one-state solution.”
It’s important to remember in all of this that Ahmadinejad is condemning Zionism rather than Judaism, a distinction supported by members of Iran’s Jewish community. Ciamak Moresadegh, the chairman of the Tehran Jewish Committee, was quoted by the Christian Science Monitor on April 27 2007 as saying: “If you think Judaism and Zionism are one, it is like thinking Islam and the Taliban are the same, and they are not.” He went on to say that “We have common problems with Iranian Muslims. If a war were to start, we would also be a target. When a missile lands, it does not ask if you are a Muslim or a Jew. It lands.”
If Ahmadinejad doesn’t want to cause another Holocaust, then why is Iran so eager to obtain nuclear technology? The answer is simple: Iran desperately needs nuclear power to meet its growing energy demands. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it has a perfect right to this power. It’s true that this would make it possible for Iran to produce nuclear weapons, but there is no guarantee that it would do so. There are forty countries that have signed on to the NPT that can make the material needed for a nuclear weapon, including Egypt and Algeria. These countries have decided that they’ll only make these weapons as a form of deterrence if they’re immediately threatened by a hostile nuclear power. As military historian Gwynne Dyer writes in The Mess They Made (McLelland and Stewart, 2007), Iran simply wants to be the forty-first. In any case, the CIA reports that Iran is ten years away from being able to make any such weapon, by which time Ahmadinejad will probably be out of office. Not that this matters much, since the Iranian president, unlike his American counterpart, is neither the head of state nor the commander in chief, functions performed by the position of supreme leader currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Having said this, Iran can make a persuasive case that it needs a nuclear deterrent. Iran is currently in the crosshairs of two nuclear powers. Israel, a country that has never signed the NPT, has hundreds of nuclear weapons, it’s constantly threatening Iran with pre-emptive attacks, and, according to Seymour Hersh, members of Mossad have been active in Kurdish areas of Iran. The United States, the country with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, has not only stated that it would support any Israeli aggression against Iran, but it may well launch such an attack itself.
If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it’s very unlikely that it would use them to pre-emptively attack Israel, as Iran knows full well that it would be incinerated by Israel’s retaliation.
Finally, let’s consider whether the world would benefit from a war with Iran. An aerial bombardment would certainly create a humanitarian catastrophe, but Iran could defend itself. The US military lacks the manpower to occupy Iran, so Iran could quickly strike back. In a February 22 2007 article for the Georgia Strait entitled General Could Halt Iran Foray, Gwynne Dyer wrote that “Iran could flood Iraq with sophisticated weapons and send volunteers to help the fight against US forces there. It could throw international markets into turmoil by halting its own oil exports. It could try to close the entire Persian Gulf to tanker traffic (with a fair chance of success) and throw the entire world economy into crisis. And any further US air strikes would simply harden Iranians’ resolve.”
Not only would a war with Iran be ethically unjustified, its consequences would be disastrous for everyone. This wouldn’t be a quagmire like Iraq: it would be black hole whose event horizon could quickly spread across the entire world. It would be colossally stupid and colossally terrible, and I still don’t want to think about it.