Vice President Dick Cheney struts in front of an F/A-18 fighter jet aboard the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. The Stennis is part of a carrier group sent to the region in order to intimidate, and perhaps bombard, Iran.
Continued war in Iraq is a tragedy. Having the conflict spread to Iran would be a disaster. No one can claim to possess a crystal ball showing the future. There are many who, when confronted with the potential for conflict with Iran, choose to brush these warnings aside, noting that such a conflict would be madness, and that the United States currently lacks the resources to fight a war with Iran. Such wishful thinking borders on irresponsible foolishness. If the headlines from this month tell us anything, it is that war with Iran is very much a possibility. The Bush administration has been actively planning war with Iran since the fall of 2004. Since that time, several windows of opportunity have presented themselves (most recently in spring 2007), but the Bush administration found itself unable to pull the trigger for one reason or another (the Navy’s rejection of the presence of a third carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf scuttled the spring 2007 plans).
The administration always heeded the justifications for aborting an attack, primarily because there was time still left on the clock, so to speak. But time is running out. Israel has drawn a red line across the calendar, indicating that if Iran has not pulled back from its nuclear ambitions by the end of 2007, military action in early spring 2008 will be inevitable. The attack on Syria by Israel sent a clear message that attacks are feasible. The continued emphasis by the Bush administration on Iran as a terror state, combined with the fact that the administration seems inclined to blame its continuing problems in Iraq on Iran, and not failed policy, means that there is no shortage of fuel to stoke the fire of public opinion regarding war with Iran. Add in the “reality” of weapons of mass destruction, and war becomes inevitable, regardless of the veracity of the “reality” being presented.
The antiwar movement in America must make a strategic decision, and soon: Contain the war in Iraq, and stop a war from breaking out in Iran. The war in Iraq can be contained simply by letting war be war. There is no genuine good news coming out of Iraq. There won’t be as long as the United States is there. As callous as it sounds, let the war establish the news cycle, and let the reality of war serve to contain it. The surge has failed. Congress may not act decisively to bring the troops home, but it is highly unlikely that Congress will idly approve any massive expansion of an unpopular war that continues to fail so publicly.
Iran, however, is a different matter. Congress has already provided legal authority for the president to wage war in Iran through its existing war powers authority (one resolution passed in 2001, the other in 2002). Likewise, Congress has allowed the Bush administration to forward deploy the infrastructure of war deep into the Middle East and neighboring regions, all in the name of the “global war on terror.” The startup costs for a military strike against Iran would therefore be greatly diminished. Sustaining such a conflict is a different matter, but given current congressional reticence to stand up to a war-time president, it is highly unlikely any meaningful action would be taken to stop an Iranian war once the bombs start falling. And we should never forget that Iran has a vote in how this would end; once it is attacked, Iran will respond in ways that are unpredictable, and as such set in motion a string of cause-effect military actions with the United States and others that spins any future conflict out of control.
The highest priority for the antiwar movement in America today must be the prevention of a war with Iran. The strategic objectives should include getting Congress to repeal the war-powers authorities currently on the books, thereby forcing the president to seek new congressional approval for any new war. Likewise, a concerted effort must be undertaken to counter the disinformation being spread by the Bush administration and others about the nature of the Iranian threat. Every action undertaken by the antiwar movement must be connected to one or both of these strategic objectives. This is not the time for one-off sophomoric newspaper advertisements, but rather for sustained action focused on generating congressional hearings and public debate across the entire spectrum of American society. From the colleges and universities to the churches and on to the public square of small-town America, public information talks, presentations and panels must be held. Communities should flood local media outlets with requests for coverage and appeal to regional media to run stories. Mainstream media will follow. Demonstrations, if useful at all, must be focused events linked to an overall campaign designed to facilitate a strategic objective.
We all should remember the fall of 2002. Many felt that there was no chance for a war with Iraq, especially once U.N. inspectors made their return. In March 2003, everyone who thought so was proved wrong. The fall of 2007 is no different. There is a sense of complacency when one speaks of the potential for a war with Iran. But time is not on the side of those who oppose conflict. If nothing is done to change the political situation inside America regarding Iran, there is an all too real possibility for a war to break out in the spring of 2008.
Sadly, there really is no alternative for the antiwar movement: Put opposition to the war in Iraq on the back burner and make preventing a war with Iran the No. 1 priority, at least until the national election cycle kicks in during the summer of 2008. If a war with Iran hasn’t happened by then, it probably won’t. And the national debate on Iraq won’t be engaged until that time, anyway. A war with Iran would make the current conflict in Iraq pale by comparison, and would detrimentally impact the whole of America, not just certain demographics. As such, it is critical that we all put aside our ideological and political differences and focus on the one issue which, if left unheeded, will have devastating consequences for the immediate future of us all: Prevent a future war with Iran.
A former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served under Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Scott Ritter worked as a chief inspector for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq from 1991 until 1998, helping lead the effort to disarm Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He is the author of several books, including “Iraq Confidential” (2005, Nation Books), “Target Iran” (2006, Nation Books) and “Waging Peace” (2007, Nation Books). “Target Iran,” with a new afterword by the author, has just been released in paperback by Nation Books.