Attacking Iran via South Ossetia
Could the conflict between Russia and Georgia be the excuse the Bush administration has been looking for to bomb Iran?
An editor I once worked for told me that when his parents and grandparents discussed the day's news over dinner, they would inevitably finish by asking each other: "Is it good for the Jews?"
"Whether it was a war or an earthquake or men landing on the moon, it would always come down to that," he recalled. "They saw everything through that lens."
This year, I've developed a comparable pathology. I am terrified that the Bush administration is going to attack Iran sometime before it leaves office on January 20. Whenever there is a new tremor in Washington or the wider world, I ask myself: Does this make an American strike against Iran more or less likely?
So it is with the recent dustup in Georgia. I fear it has increased the chances that the United States will bomb Iran.
If there is a single principle that underlies the Bush-Cheney view of the world, it is that all countries must accommodate American interests and none may be allowed to emerge as what the 2006 Quadrennial Defence Review called a "near-peer power". This is a recipe for conflict, since many countries will naturally try to increase their power whether or not the US wants them to.
"Let Hercules himself do what he may," that insightful geo-strategist William Shakespeare observed, "the cat will mew, and dog will have his day."
Russia's day is once again dawning. That is not necessarily bad. A multi-polar world shaped by balances and equilibrium is, in the end, safer and more secure for everyone.
This view, though, is abhorrent to the Bush administration. It remains caught in the post-cold war fantasy that America's brief "uni-polar moment" can last indefinitely.
In recent years, the Bush administration has sought at every turn to challenge Russian interests. It has worked to cut Russia out of energy pipelines, expand Nato up to Russia's borders, build missile defence bases near those borders, promote the independence of Kosovo and encourage former Soviet states like Georgia to spit in Russia's strategic eye.
This approach worked while Russia was prostrate. It was inevitable, though, that Russia would eventually begin to re-emerge as an influential power. Now it has.
Washington protested Russia's crushing of Georgia with howls of outrage. President Bush declared with a straight face that "bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."
Mouthing such pious hypocrisy is about all the US can do to reverse Russia's recent gain. The US and Russia need to cooperate on a host of strategic issues, and Georgia is not a vital interest to the US. The logical thing for the US to do now would be to take this hit and move on.
President Bush and vice-president Cheney, however, may have another idea. I'm reading their minds, and this is what I fear they are thinking:
"We're on our way out of office. The way things look now, the last confrontation between us and the bad guys will have been one that they won. We can't let our term end that way. This can't be the last word. We have to go out in a blaze of glory. Where should we set off that blaze? Iran, of course. No country has taunted us more relentlessly. By bombing Iran, we will send the world a defiant farewell message: Forget Russia - We Still Rule!"
For years before the September 11 terror raids, a clique of millenarian ideologues in Washington had been urging a US attack on Iraq. The raids gave them their excuse. Now I fear the same may be happening with Iran. Georgia could be the excuse.
American policy toward Iran has for decades been shaped by emotion, not rationality. Emotions are now running hot in Washington. Iranians have nothing to do with the Russian invasion of Georgia. I hope they do not soon have to pay a bloody price for it.