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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Thu Feb 6 11:00:24 2003
Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2003 16:43:03 -0600 (CST)
From: Progressive Response <irc@irc-online.org>
Subject: [PR] Powell, State of the Union, Korea, CAFTA, Iran
Article: 151295
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

http://www.fpif.org/progresp/volume7/v7n03.html to view an HTML-formatted version of this issue of Progressive Response.

Iran: The next target?

By Paul Rogers, The Progressive Response, Vol. 7, no. 03, 5 Feburary 2003

(Editors Note: Excerpted from a new Outside the U.S. Commentary available in full at http://www.fpif.org/outside/commentary/2003/0301iran.html .)

President Bushs State of the Union address comes as near to a declaration of war on Iraq as is possible without the guns beginning to fire. It rehearsed all of the reasons for an attack relating to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, made no mention of oil, and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to go to war with minimal international support if need be.

The speech was significant for two other reasons, involving the war on terror and Iran, respectively. First is George Bushs affirmation that there are direct and compelling links between the Saddam Hussein regime and al Qaeda, with evidence on this promised in the next few days. The connection between terminating the Iraqi regime and fighting the war on terror is crucial in obtaining domestic support for war on Iraq, even if it is likely to cut little ice across much of the rest of the world.

Within Iraq there is a small paramilitary group called Ansar al-Islam, loosely linked to al Qaeda, which is active in the north of the country. This group has the tacit support of the regime but it is marginal in Iraq as a whole. More generally, al Qaeda has shown virtually no interest in Iraq until very recently, for the obvious reason that Saddam Husseins Baath party runs a secular regime of a kind that is anathema to al Qaedas aims for the region.

This makes it highly implausible that substantial links exist between the regime and al Qaeda. In turn this suggests that the equivalent of the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964, which enabled the U.S. to engage more forcibly in Vietnam, may provide a suitable pretext for U.S. onslaught on Iraq.

The second point about the State of the Union address has been largely neglected in immediate commentary but tells us a lot about the longer-term U.S. plans for the region. It concerns President Bushs extensive mention of Iran, which almost went as far as to imply that Iran would become an immediate focus of attention once Iraq was made safe.

The war with Iraq will certainly be intended to destroy the Saddam Hussein regime, but its much more significant purpose is to consolidate power in a fractious yet strategically crucial region. If the regime is terminated by U.S. military force in the coming months, then there will be an immediate military occupation while some degree of stability is ensured, leading to a regime in Baghdad that is a client of Washington. At that stage, many of the U.S. occupying forces may well be withdrawn, but we should also expect the rapid development of an extensive and permanent U.S. military presence.

A consolidated and substantial military presence in Iraq has, in Washingtons eyes, several major advantages. It ensures the security of Iraqi oil for the long term, it limits dependence on a potentially unstable Saudi Arabia and it increases the security of Americas closest ally in the region, Israel.

Moreover, it makes it abundantly clear to Iran that the United States is the controlling power in the region. This is important because of Irans remarkable combination of oil reserves, massive gas reserves (second only to Russia), potential control of the Straits of Hormuz, a burgeoning population and a geographical location at the heart of south-west Asia. >From the Bush administrations point of view, dominating Iran in this way is therefore a perfect answer to controlling an unstable yet crucially important region.

The dominant view from Tehran is likely to be that U.S. forces pose a threat extending right through the Persian Gulf in the shape of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and, even more significantly, right up Irans long western land border with Iraq.

It is more or less guaranteed that this new proximity of U.S. forces will cause serious concern in Tehran, with three probable effects. First, it will bolster support for the more conservative elements, particularly among the clerics. Secondly, it will allow an opening for Russia to expand its influence in the country.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significant of all, it will almost inevitably increase Irans desire to develop its own strategic deterrent, based largely on missiles and chemical and biological weapons. This will be seen as an absolute necessity in the face of U.S. power in the region, even if it risks a further confrontation.

There is one further factor in all of this—the role of European states. France, Germany and other western European countries have worked quietly and persistently to improve relations with Iran. Moreover, their connection with the country is free of the embittered historical memories that remain from the U.S. role in the overthrow of Mossadeq in 1952 and the embassy siege of 197980.

The possibility that regime termination in Iraq could then lead on to a confrontation with another part of the axis of evil, Iran, is something that would cause real concern in Europe. It may well be that the real crisis in EuropeanAmerican relations will eventually come not over Iraq, but over Iran. The gravest long-term consequence of the strategy outlined in the Presidents State of the Union address is, therefore, that war with Iraq is not the end of U.S. ambitions in the region, but only the beginning.