By Boris Volkhonsky
On Monday, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. and Israeli military had decided to postpone a large-scale missile defense exercise scheduled for April 2012. The official reasons for the postponement were not disclosed, but many analysts point out that the decision was taken in order not to aggravate tensions with Iran.
This unusually “dovish” announcement came against a background of mounting propaganda aimed at forcing Iran to step back on its nuclear program. A swift look at American and global media shows that it has become the number one topic. Sanctions, and Iranian promises to take countermeasures and block the Hormuz Trait. The U.S. military’s response that such a move would be retaliated with full might by the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Killing of Iranian nuclear scientist, speculations of a covert war by Israel and the U.S. already going on and targeting individuals involved in the nuclear program, and Iran’s claims that it has uncovered a CIA conspiracy. Constant threats coming from Israel that it will strike Iran if international sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear development.
The question is what the whole flood of belligerent statements is aimed at. Obviously, it has not significantly shaken the stance of other global players not involved directly in the U.S. – Iran standoff. Despite desperate attempts by the U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, China has de facto rejected the demand that it should reduce oil imports from Iran. And even the U.S.’ closest ally in Asia Pacific, Japan only vaguely promised that it would try to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil, but in due time.
But one must remember that for the U.S., foreign policy has always been a matter of domestic importance. And despite the belligerent rhetoric, now that the campaign for November elections is gaining momentum, too many in the right-wing camp take this opportunity to picture Barack Obama as too soft on Iran. As The New York Times wrote on Monday, “The escalating American confrontation with Iran poses a major new political threat to President Obama as he heads into his campaign for re-election, presenting him with choices that could harm either the economic recovery or his image as a firm leader.”
So, the choice is clear – it is either a new war which would sink the U.S. economy even deeper than was done by the two previous wars waged by George W. Bush, or a risk to lose the status of world leader which no American president is ready to face. Hence, the longer the threats hover in the air, the more chances remain that the ultimate loss of a superpower status does not happen during Obama’s tenure.
Definitely, this is not something his Republican rivals would like to be outside observers to. GOP candidates are competing with President Obama and with each other in trying to sound as threatening as they can. The obvious champion among them is Rick Santorum, who went as far as to state that the U.S. should not have condemned the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist, thus making it clear that if he is elected president, the policy of authorized assassinations will continue at full sway. And in a lecturing manner, he tries to present himself as the only candidate capable of deterring Iran. Vote for me, “if you’re looking for someone who has some understanding and knowledge and has had success in trying to shape Iran policy, someone who has that experience to be commander in chief and has the ability to go out and look at and lecture on that country,” quotes him The Washington Post, adding that “Rick Santorum is running for president but his campaign speeches sometimes sound like he’s working toward [university – B.V.] tenure.”
What all this competition in belligerency amounts to is the feeling that a military action is inevitable. “Only the blind do not see that the US government is preparing to attack Iran,” wrote a prominent American political scientist and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term Paul Craig Roberts. He also notes that Washington’s propaganda has been met with success – half of the American public support a military attack on Iran. But what is it fraught with?
“If the missiles aren’t launched, Americans would wake up the next day a bankrupt third world country. If the missiles were launched, few Americans would wake up,” writes Professor Roberts and concludes, “Stop watching television. Stop reading newspapers. Stop spending money. When you do any of these things, you are supporting evil.”
In fact, much of what is going on resembles an old saying “Dogs bark but the caravan goes on”. But what remains unclear is whether the barking dog will bite this time or will it shut up according to yet another saying.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies