The United States appears determined to have a serious confrontation with Iran, and on Tuesday this week, President George W. Bush dramatically raised the tension between the two states with an extraordinary speech warning of a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East if Iran gets nuclear weapons. He also, more chillingly, prepared the way for possible military action by announcing that he had "authorised our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities".

While it might be that this hardening of Bush's position is part of a larger plan designed to force Iran to back down from confrontation, this seems unlikely. The rhetoric that Bush used indicated how he welcomes the opportunity to enforce his views on Iran. It was horribly reminiscent of the kind of language he used about Saddam Hussain's Iraq before the invasion.

There is no sign of any readiness to compromise with Bush's demands from the Iranian side. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been determined to go his own way for months, and he has the backing of his supporters. Ahmadinejad is a former member of the Revolutionary Guards, and although he is the most prominent former guardsman in politics, there are others in parliament, and in many other spheres including business and government service. They form an informal network of people who are determinedly conservative and ready for confrontation. The present government's weakness is its economic performance and confrontation over a matter of national pride suits the government's policies, as well as acting as a popular distraction from Iran deep economic woes.

However likely a military confrontation might be, it is not likely to last long. The United States would not want to get itself stuck in a long drawn out conflict, on top of its existing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is far more likely to use only air strikes to hit sites that it thinks contain Iran's nuclear operations. Such strikes might well invite retaliation from Iran, causing continuing incidents. But Iran might well seek to portray itself as the aggrieved party, and ask for the international community's sympathy and support, particularly since the United Nations will not support Bush given the recent breakthrough with the deal the IAEA has planned with Iran, and Bush is not likely to have any substantial allies in his adventure in Iran.

After Iraq it is hard for any country to believe the Bush administration's claims or share its aims in the Middle East.

Nuclear work

Whether any action from Bush's administration stops or delays Iran's nuclear programme, Iran is likely to continue nuclear work in some form or other. Nuclear technology has spread through the world with 31 countries running large nuclear power stations, according to a report in the Economist, and at least 15 others have said that they need nuclear power capability. Not all these states want nuclear weapons but if there is a major reactor, then it is possible to enrich the available material and develop a weapons programme. In Iran's case, what is driving Bush is the knowledge that conventional deterrence will not work well in containing any future Iranian military nuclear capability.

In an interesting paper from the Washington Institute, titled Deterring the Ayatollahs, Michael Eisenstadt argues with other authors that it would be hard to almost impossible to enforce effective deterrence on a nuclear Iran.

While supporting the present idea of sanctions, and hoping that the leadership in Iran wants to avoid isolation, the paper does not really offer much hope of success for a diplomatic solution. But if Iran got nuclear weapons, it does not foresee a very effective deterrence programme, since factional control of weapons would weaken the institutional fear of retaliation which is the heart of any deterrence programme. In addition, the United States would probably not have much international support for long term sanctions, and it is much weakened in the region after its failures in Iraq.

If confrontation will not succeed, and long term deterrence will not work, it is necessary to adopt a different route and work to mutually recognise what any state's legitimate requirements are and agree them.

The US has been happy to do deals and work with several new nuclear nations, including India, Pakistan and North Korea. It should extend the same logic to its relationship with Iran.

Your comments

The US has transformed from a policy of giving a helpful hand to one of bullying aggression. It began with rejection of a genuine offer to try Bin Laden in an Islamic Court of Justice. This arrogance and air of invincibility began a crusade without end. The gift of all gifts to Bin Laden elevated him to a respected leader rather than a common criminal. The "War on Terror exposed as 'catch cry' without meaning. Only an imbecile would have done this without any regard to consequence. Iraq followed. Any strike against Iran would destroy Bush and the US. The question being: "does he care?"
L. Anderson
Posted: August 30, 2007, 07:27

George Bush toppled Saddam Hussein to cut off his 25.000 dollars death benefit to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and use Iraq as a base to cower Syria and Iran into submission. The unexpected toughness and ingenuity of the Iraqi insurgency foiled his plan, and emboldened the Iranians who know see the US is exactly what the late Mao Tse Tung used to call it: " A paper tiger." Pat Buchanan, Nixon's Press Secretary, writes elsewhere today that the Israeli lobby pushes Bush to attack Iran in order to maintain the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, as this writer has predicted in past commentaries. There are three questions that beg for an answer today: 1) Who controls the US foreign policy? 2) Who will benefit most from a US attack on Iran? and 3) Can the US achieve a clean-cut goal by attacking Iran, or will end up with another fiasco like Iraq, more wounds to nurse, and an elevated Muslim hostility worldwide?
Posted: August 30, 2007, 07:15

At no surprise, let the world watch, as Americans turn another blind eye to the Bush administration, as he leads our once great country, to complete failure, and possible destruction.
Kansas City,USA
Posted: August 30, 2007, 05:52

There is hardly any comparison between a plural and democratic country like India and hard line states like Iran, Pakistan or North Korea. Iran needs to be rational and try winning friends outside the periphery of Middle East even before contemplating about a long-term nuclear program. Threatening the outside world and continuing to hold a completely hard line Islamic view is not how one should think about nuclear ambitions. There will be many more and not just the USA who would desire either to see Iran being transformed into a moderate nation or being stopped before it acquired full-fledged nuclear capabilities.
Posted: August 30, 2007, 01:11