While Canadians agonize over the quagmire in Afghanistan, few people are looking at what the Harper government will do if George Bush finds a rationale for military action against Iran. That he wants to do so is clear; that he needs to do so is driven by the polls, which show the Republicans are in danger of losing control of the Congress in the November elections. The war president needs another war.
The machinery of lies and distortions that led to the Iraq war has been cranked up for eventual action against Iran. Whether the U.S. and its Middle East ally, Israel, are actually foolish enough to attack Iran remains to be seen. But just what Canada will do if that happens is a question that needs to be asked before the fact, not after.
Americans never take easily to foreign wars—they prefer their consumerism to be uninterrupted by the heavy thinking required to decide about attacking a country they can’t even find on a map. It almost always takes a convincing package of lies to get them onboard: in the first Gulf war, it was Iraqi soldiers dumping babies out of incubators; the second Iraq war needed a whole series of whoppers.
Iran is no different. The first order of business was to demonize Iran’s fundamentalist Shia president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, portraying him not just as dangerous but as a madman. This is the goal behind the myth that on October 26 last year he called for “wiping Israel from the map”. The Manchester Guardian, in an article on June 2, 2006, took the trouble to have a Farsi translator look at Ahmadinejad’s infamous speech. He said no such thing. He was actually quoting from a statement by Ayatollah Khomeini, that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” pointing out that the U.S.–backed Shah’s regime in Iran didn’t last forever.
Ahmadinejad was not making a military threat. Only by portraying him as a madman willing to risk nuclear annihilation (by Israel and/or the U.S.) could this claim be made credible. In fact, according to American historian and journalist Gareth Porter, the Bush administration refused numerous opportunities to talk with Iran, beginning in 2001. These conciliatory overtures—on nuclear development and on recognizing Israel—were rejected out of hand.
The Bush administration ignored them because diplomacy does not fit its permanent “war on terror”.
The U.S. Congress is just as compliant on Iran as it was on Iraq. In mid-September, it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, wrote a letter attacking a U.S. House of Representatives committee report on Iran’s nuclear capability as “outrageous and dishonest”. According to the IAEA, the congressional report falsely stated that Iran is making weapons-grade uranium at a secret enrichment site. It also accused the IAEA of maintaining a policy “barring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program”.
Let’s get past the lies, distortions, and war-mongering of George Bush and Co. and look at what Iran is actually doing. First, Iran has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium to three percent—the concentration needed for nuclear power. No intelligence agency claims that Iran is making weapons-grade uranium (83-percent concentration). Even U.S. experts—including National Intelligence Director John Negroponte—have said recently the country could not make even a single, crude nuclear weapon until five to 10 years from now. David Albright, a former UN WMD inspector, stated: “Iran’s gas-centrifuge program is moving unexpectedly slowly. The program was expected to be much further along by this point.”
But if Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons—and it may well be—why would it do so? To attack Israel and ensure nuclear incineration by Israel’s 200 atomic and hydrogen bombs? No, Iran would seek such weapons for the same reason others have: to deter a nuclear attack. And Iran just happens to be surrounded by most of those powers: Israel, Pakistan, India, China, and Russia—not to mention the U.S.
Will George Bush actually attack Iran? Will Israel? No one can answer these questions with any certainty. But Time magazine last week had possible war with Iran on its cover (“What War With Iran Would Look Like: [And How to Avoid It]”) and revealed U.S. military communiqués and manoeuvres that led it to conclude “the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran.”
Would Stephen Harper blindly support George Bush? The prime minister’s approach to foreign policy is dangerously shallow. His extension of Canada’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan was made with no reference to history or, it seems, to any calculation of the potential consequences. Harper’s eagerness to please Bush was revealed in his answer to a reporter’s question about Iran after Harper’s recent speech to the UN General Assembly: “[Iran] is the biggest single threat the planet faces.”
This leaves little doubt where the prime minister stands.
Such military support would be catastrophic for the Middle East and Canada, and its repercussions would reverberate for decades. Bush believes he is fighting a war of civilizations, a belief with terrible potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In such a war there will be no room for nuance.
If we are with Bush, we will be seen to be against Islam, with all the attendant consequences.
Ironically, it is with respect to Iran that Harper could actually play a positive role. Pollsters say Harper’s quest to improve Canada–U.S. relations has hurt him because he is seen as simply too close to Bush. He could use this close relationship to try to influence the U.S. away from war. Regrettably, Harper doesn’t want to influence George Bush. He wants to follow him.