Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Iran and Perpetual War: Kissinger, Dempsey, and Dagan

In March 2003, I wrote letters to a few members of Congress where I basically said the the War in Iraq was a bad idea. I argued it was unsound legally and logistically. Although many people to this day still overlook the legal issues surrounding the War in Iraq during the Bush presidency, some are taking an earlier and more aggressive stance regarding new declarations of war during the current Obama presidency. As for the logistical wisdom of the War in Iraq, most people probably agree it was a mistake or at least we got dragged into supporting it under false pretenses. All these revelations put into focus the psychological, physical, and mortal losses that have occurred in Iraq - on both our side and theirs.

I share this story because I am amazed as I hear many people call for a second pre-emptive war in less than 10 years - this time in Iran. Pre-emptive wars certainly require a great deal of necessity if they are even ever legitimate. I do not think we (or even Israel) have reached that level of necessity. I especially consider two sets of questions as this discussion unfolds.

One, have we reached a point in human history where perpetual war has become inherently necessary? In other words, is our seemingly pathological need for war natural? I do not think so. Although war has a natural role in human life, that role is not perpetual. It is in the very nature of war that it should come into necessity and then fade out of necessity - similar to how individuals have arguments which eventually come to an end (even if they end violently). A world with perpetual war is neither natural nor beneficial to the average person.

So the question becomes, two, why are we in a state of perpetual war? Perhaps we are slowly lurching towards a third world war; and the last 11 years is simply a build up of tensions. Perhaps the answer to the first question is wrong; and perpetual war is the new norm due to population dynamics or some other factor. Perhaps we are simply being manipulated. But why? And by who? A candidate theory is that arms producers and international bankers want more war to sell arms and lend money to all sides of modern conflict.

This theory (T1) deserves careful analysis, which is beyond the scope of this blog. But I wanted to share the idea because, with perhaps two exceptions, I have yet to come across peer-reviewed academic literature or writing from a respected academic in the last 50 years that addresses the subject. Those two possible exceptions are the research of Antony Sutton and Carroll Quigley. I have also read quotes from authentic and informed sources such as Smedley Butler, Douglas MacArthur, and, of course, Dwight D. Eisenhower. But for the most part the subject has remained understudied perhaps for obvious reasons. In truth, perpetual war, if such a state of affairs has emerged, likely has many causes each of which merit attention.

But I digress. Although I can't decisively address the nature of perpetual war here, I can consider the intelligence of a war in Iran as it looks today.

One of my current favorite mainstream sources of news analysis is Fareed Zakaria's Global Public Square (GPS) on CNN. For the time being, I find Zakaria's analysis above average.* As of March 11th, Zakaria has actively editorialized against a war in Iran. He has made several useful observations: 1) Iran has no nuclear weapons, 2) evidence of a desire to possess a nuclear weapon is ambiguous, and 3) evidence that a nuclear Iran will create a nuclear domino effect in the Middle East is weakened by the counter-factual cases of North Korea and Israel.

Although this sunday Zakaria interviewed former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who shared a somewhat aggressive perspective on Iran, the Sunday before last Zakaria interviewed US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, which had a different tone and content.

The Dempsey interview was revealing in that it illustrated that, despite aggressive political rhetoric, we have unusually analytic, wise, and prudent-thinking people involved in the highest levels of military, which is no surprise. Dempsey made at least three rather interesting points: 1) the Iranian regime has yet to clearly demonstrate the desire to weaponize its nuclear capabilities, 2) "the Iranian regime is a rational actor", and 3) most revealing, it's "not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran."

Dempsey also said that sanctions, international cooperation, diplomacy, and our own military preparedness are working to impact Iranian decision-making. It is unknown whether or not this is true. But time and only time will tell. And although time brings risk so does premature war. A third interview sheds additional light on the question of timing.

On 60 Minutes this sunday Lesley Stahl interviewed former Israeli Defense Forces officer and former Director of Mossad Meir Dagan. The interview proffered several insights. According to Dagan, 1) Iran and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are rational actors albeit in a non-Western sense, 2) the risks of a "regional war" are significant, and, most incredibly, 3) military attacks can only delay the "Iranian nuclear project".

Taken together Dempsey and Dagan paint a calculated picture where the call for war is premature. I am reminded of the Orwell quote: "All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting."

It should be noted that this entire discourse might in its own clever fashion provide the political drama that ushers in the alleged need for war. Just by talking about it, we will inevitably experience it, which returns us to the question of manipulation. Some have called this pattern one application of the Hegelian Dialectic or the problem-reaction-solution process. At this stage we are simply defining what the problem will ultimately look like. It is, unfortunately, a predicable exercise with a predicable outcome. But in having an awareness of the process, we anneal ourselves against the fear, stupidity, and the herd tendency in humanity that might lead us to a possibly unnecessary war.

* Zakaria did a report last March comparing the United States with other countries, focusing on education outcomes, economic growth, life expectancy, innovation potential, and more. It was called "Restoring the American Dream: Getting Back to #1". From my perspective, it was a rare and accurate assessment of American economic and social trends and big picture questions - rare for mainstream media that is.

Some of the analysis was done by Dr. Hans Rosling using Gapminder software, which Rosling helped to develop. It is a very cool tool to better understand how the world has been evolving over the last 200 years. The Zakaria piece is really worth watching because it cuts to the marrow of where we are as a society and provokes questions as to how we may have ended up in the socio-economic situation in which we find ourselves and how to bring about a new generation of innovation, investment, and development.

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