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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nonbelievers in the 'existential threat'


LONDON — When Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon was chosen to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in March 2007, many analysts didn't shy away from reaching a seemingly clear-cut conclusion: the Bush administration was preparing for war with Iran and had selected the most suitable man for this job. Almost exactly a year later, as Fallon abruptly resigned over a controversial interview with Esquire Magazine, we are left with a less certain analysis.

Fallon was the first man from the U.S. Navy to head the Central Command. With the U.S. Army fighting two difficult and lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and considering the highly exaggerated Iranian threat, a war with Iran seemed inevitable, albeit one that had to be conducted differently.

Echoing the year-old speculation, Arnaud de Borchgrave of UPI wrote (March 14) that an attack against Iran "would fall on the U.S. Navy's battle carrier groups and its cruise missiles and Air Force B-2 bombers based in Diego Garcia."

Fallon is a man of immense experience, having served equally high-profiled positions in the past (he was commander of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 2005 to March 2007). The Bush administration probably saw him further as a conformist, in contrast to his predecessor Abizaid, who promoted a diplomatic rather than military approach and who went as far as suggesting that the United States might have to learn to live with an Iranian bomb.

Fallon's recent resignation may have seemed abrupt to many, but it was a well-orchestrated move. His interview in Esquire depicted him as highly critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iran. The magazine described him as the only thing standing between the administration and their newest war plan.

Moreover, his resignation and "Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' handling of the same is the greatest and most public break in the Bush team's handling of preparations for war against Iran that we are ever likely to see," wrote respected commentators and former CIA analysts Bill and Kathy Christison (March 12).

"Gates has in fact publicly associated himself with the resignation by saying it was the right thing for Fallon to do, and Gates said he had accepted the resignation without telling Bush first."

Fallon's resignation represents a bittersweet moment. On one hand it's an indication of the continued fading enthusiasm for the militant culture espoused by the neoconservatives. On the other hand, it's an ominous sign of the Bush administration's probable intentions during the last year of the president's term. The 63-year-old Fallon would not have embarked on such a momentous decision after decades of service were it not for the fact that he knew war was looming, and — having considered the historic implications for such a war — chose not to be the pulling trigger.

Unlike the political atmosphere in the U.S. prior to the Iraq war — shaped by fear, manipulation and demonization — the U.S. political environment is now much more accustomed to war opposition, which is largely encouraged and validated by the fact that leading army brass are themselves speaking out with increasing resolve.

Indeed pressure and resistance are mounting on both sides. Those rooting for another war are meeting stiff resistance by those who can foresee its disastrous repercussions. The push and pull in the coming months will probably determine the timing and the level of a U.S. military adventure against Iran, or even whether such an adventure will be actualized. (One cannot discount the possibility that as a token for Israel, the U.S. might provide a middle-way solution by intervening in Lebanon, alongside Israel, to destroy Hezbollah. Many options are on the table, and another Bush-infused crisis is still very much possible.)

In an atmosphere of hyped militancy, Fallon's resignation might be viewed as a positive sign, showing that the cards are not all stacked in favor of the war party. Nonetheless, it is premature to indulge in optimism. Prior signs indicated a serious rift among those who once believed that war is the answer to every conflict. Yet that didn't necessarily hamper the war cheerleaders' efforts.

In December one would have thought a war against Iran was totally out of the question. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) — an assessment composed by all American intelligence agencies — had concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that such a program was still frozen. The reaction of the "bomb-first-ask-questions-later" crowd suggested that such an assessment was pure nonsense.

Since then, Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has sung the tune of "bomb Iran" — literally — and Israel's friends continue to speak of an existential threat Israel faces due to Iran's "weapons" — never mind that Israel is itself a formidable nuclear power.

According to Borchgrave, McCain's close friend Sen. Joe Lieberman, invoking reports of clandestine Iranian explosives being smuggled into Iraq, has called for retaliatory action against Tehran. He and many others warn that Israel faces an existential crisis. One Iranian nuclear-tipped missile on Jerusalem or Tel Aviv could destroy Israel, they argue.

In fact, Lieberman and other Israeli supporters need no justification for war, neither against Iran, nor any of Israel's foes in the Middle East. They have promoted conflicts on behalf of that country for many years and will likely continue doing so, until enough Americans — from the Fallon-like to ordinary people — push hard enough to restack their government's priorities.

An attack on Iran doesn't seem as certain as war against Iraq once was. Public pressure, combined with courageous stances taken by high officials, could create the tidal wave needed to reverse the seemingly determined war efforts. Americans can either allow those who continue to speak of "existential threats" and wars of a hundred years to determine and undermine the future of their country — and subsequently world security — or they can reclaim America, tend to its needy and ailing economy, and make up for the many sins committed in their name and in the name of freedom and democracy.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).


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