Friday, May 11, 2007

Bluster and bombast

By Michael J.W. Stickings

More hot air:

Vice President Cheney, visiting a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, vowed today to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and "dominating" the region, and he pledged that U.S. forces would keep open the sea lanes that carry about 20 percent of the world's oil trade.

In a speech to sailors and Marines aboard the USS John C. Stennis about 20 miles off Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Cheney also said the United States must "persevere" in Iraq and declared that Americans "will not support a policy of retreat."

Such fearmongering. Such warmongering.

Let's look at a few points here:

1) How exactly does Cheney intend on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and dominating the Middle East? One good guess: military action -- which would likely only worsen the situation by strengthening the extremists in Tehran; stoking Iranian nationalism, which is already strong; pushing Iran to accelerate its nuclear program; compelling Iran to seek even closer alliances with regimes hostile to the U.S.' alienating the U.S. even more not only in the Middle East but around the world and in the international community; encouraging Iranian-sponsored and other terrorism against U.S. interests in response; cutting off possible diplomacy and negotiation thereafter; and -- and this is key -- endangering the existing democratic movement in Iran.

As Reza Aslan said on The Daily Show last night, there is a viable and extensive democratic movement in Iran -- "the civil and democratic institutions at the grassroots level..." And as Jon Stewart pointed out, nationalism is incredibly strong in Iran. The bluster and the bombast from Cheney and others only "[pushes] them over to the other side," the side of the extremists. These democratic institutions need to be nurtured, but "leaving Iran alone" could "create the kind of society we want them to create". The bluster and the bombast also prompts the extremists to "clamp down on these democratic institutions," all "in the name of national security". In other words, more Cheney, more Ahmadinejad. They need each other, they feed off each other, and they both make everything much, much worse.

Instead of threatening Iran, and instead of "leaving Iran alone" entirely, it would be wise to talk directly to Tehran, to tell the Iranians they're not about to face some massive shock-and-awe campaign from the skies, to show them that the U.S. is willing to compromise. This would be the best way to slow down and possibly control Iran's nuclear program, as well as to build up the democratic movement that, in the long run, will moderate Iranian politics, lessen the threat Iran poses to the region, and bring Iran and the U.S. closer together.

2) Oil, oil, oil. Whether he meant to or not, Cheney revealed what so much of this is really all about.

3) What does it mean to "persevere" in Iraq? The war has been going on for over four years. The British are pulling out. There is no "coalition of the willing" anymore. The "surge" is providing only the illusion of success, and limited success at that. The Iraqi government is on the brink of collapsing. Sectarian violence continues all around the country, surge or no surge. And so on and so on. Plus, the American people have turned on the war. So have many in Cheney's own party. And many more are set to turn over the next few months. Republicans hardly want to run on Iraq in '08. So what does "persevere" mean? To keep on with a status quo that is getting nowhere? So it would seem.


4) When Cheney talks of "retreat," he is, obviously, smearing the Democrats, which is what Republicans do so well. He might as well have used the word "surrender". But of course the Democrats aren't proposing retreat or surrender, nor are Americans being asked to support either. Withdrawal -- phased withdrawal, with some U.S. forces remaining in Iraq and close by -- is not retreat. The policy being proposed -- and, admittedly, there are multiple variations of it -- emerges from recognition that the war is no longer winnable through military action, or at least through the sort of military action that has failed to meet its objectives since the fall of Baghdad (because those objectives, notably a peaceful and democratic Iraq, could never be met through such military action). Put another way, the policy is recognition that Iraq would be better off not being occupied by the U.S.

But Cheney -- like Bush, like the warmongers generally -- thinks in terms of violence, the infliction of pain. This is why he wants the Iraq War to continue as is, why he seems to support military action (or, for now, the threat thereof) against Iran, why he has approved of the use of torture, and why his politics involves beating his opponents.

Cheney and his kind have inflicted enormous damage on America and on the world. They will continue to do so until they are finally driven from power altogether.

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