Russia warned on Saturday against “any attempt to use the Security Council … to promote the idea of regime change” in Iran. On the same day, the USS Eisenhower carrier strike force entered the Persian Gulf, joining two other carrier groups already steaming off the Iranian coast. Two paraphrases of William Shakespeare occur to me: The Russian doth protest too much, and Frailty, thy name is Tehran.

It is silly to portray the United States as a declining imperial power. The US set out to stabilize Iraq, and instead plunged it into civil war, precisely as I predicted three years ago. [1] Suppose instead that the US had set out intentionally to plunge Iraq into civil war. How easy would that have been? Iraq is an empire in miniature, a multi-ethnic-and-confessional changeling created by French and British imperialists in their own image. Like Iran, where Persians comprise just half the population, and Syria, an ethnic and religious farrago ruled by an Alawi clique, Iraq suffers the centrifugal faults of empire without, however, enjoying the imperial advantage of rewarding one’s own people by oppressing others.

On the other hand, the word “decline” hardly begins to describe what is happening to the leftovers of imperial design in the Middle East, including the wanna-be Persian Empire. It is just as silly to reject a preemptive act on Iran on the grounds that the Persian nation would rally behind the radical regime of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Nations rally behind winners, not losers. If you don’t believe me, ask Nicholas II of Russia or Kaiser Wilhelm II.

No doubt the three US carrier groups stand off the Iranian coast in the hope of frightening Iran into nuclear compliance, not with orders to attack. Intentions are not always the best predictor of outcomes, however. Daggers drawn tend to draw blood.

The Iraq war has been a disaster for US objectives, but not for US interests. Two years ago I predicted, “The United States will in some form or other attack Iran while it arranges the division of Iraq.” [2] A Kurdish republic in Iraq’s north would be a loyal US ally, as well as reminder to the Turks that America’s friendship is not to be trifled with. A Sunni entity in central Iraq would be a miserable and impoverished affair. The oil-rich south with its Shi’ite majority would present a problem to the US if Iran could project sufficient influence there, but the United States can prevent this by destabilizing Iran.

Recent events have unfolded with a sickening inevitability. Only one of my predictions seems to have gone awry: I believed that Washington would attack Iran prior to the November election in the US. [3] This now appears unlikely, as the administration of President George W. Bush is sticking to its story about democracy and stability in Iraq, however threadbare it has become. By imposing a ceasefire and a token peacekeeping force in Lebanon, permitting Iran to resupply its Hezbollah proxy, Washington showed how much it wanted to keep the lid on the kettle for the time being. In one respect, America’s election-inspired policy has succeeded, for the price of oil has collapsed and along with it the price of gasoline for US consumers. Such arrangements, though, cannot last very long.

It is embarrassing to read the musings of American strategists about their supposed options in Iraq. In an October 20 essay in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Eliot Cohen listed as candidates for “Plan B” the following: (1) ask Iran and Syria to help, (2) withdraw, (3) send in more US troops, (4) let the civil war proceed with US troops sheltered in secure bases, (5) put a military strongman in charge, and (6) partition the country. “All of the options for Plan B are either wretched to contemplate or based on fantasy,” concluded Cohen.

In fact, there is another option, namely to stop treating the conflict as an Iraqi matter and extending it to the whole region, first of all by attacking Iranian nuclear installations, and second by destabilizing Iran. Regime change as such may be a fantasy, but keeping the Iranians busy with problems inside their own borders is not. Widening the conflict is just what the US could not do in Vietnam without risking war with Russia or China.

Syria, Iran’s main ally in the region, would be caught up in the whirlwind. Hezbollah could not stand by while its main sponsor came under US fire. Even a limited US attack on Iranian nuclear capability would blow up the ceasefire on the Israel-Lebanon border. This time Israel would advance to the Litani River (which Washington reportedly forbade last summer). Syria most likely would be drawn into the war. Even if it were not, the movement of a million Shi’ite refugees into Syria, including many Hezbollah fighters, would make the tenure of the Alawite regime in Damascus slippery.

Israel failed to suppress Hezbollah in July for two principal reasons. First, the Israel public was not ready to accept the thousand or so casualties required to retake the Litani River. Second, the US was not willing to permit Israel to dismantle Hezbollah capabilities, which would have involved (as I wrote at the time [4]) the expulsion of a good deal of the local Shi’ite population and the destruction of hundreds of civilian homes used to launch short-range rockets at Israel. With so much political capital sunk into the mirage of Lebanese democracy, the United States did not want to upend the country. Having convinced Hezbollah that no force on Earth will take them on, Washington will have to find a way to uproot them.

US policymakers, I wrote this March, “are deep in denial, or, as the case may be, deep in the Tigris. Like or not, the US will get chaos, and cannot do anything to forestall it. My advice to President George W. Bush: When chaos is inevitable, learn to enjoy it. Take a weekend at Camp David with a case of Jack Daniel’s and Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest.” [5]

As for the Persians: they have been rather a nuisance since Thermopylae in 480 BC, and it is time that someone taught them a lesson.

1. George W Bush, tragic character, November 24, 2003.
2. Bush, Marshal Foch and Iran, September 21, 2004.
3. Bush’s October surprise: It’s coming, April 11, 2006.
4. Fight a democracy, kill the people, July 25, 2006.
5. How I learned to stop worrying and love chaos, March 14, 2006.

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