John Zavesky: War, What Is It Good For

By John Zavesky
Special to

If the events of this week are any indication of “things to come” this country is racing headlong into a war larger than the U.S. has encountered in over sixty years. Monday Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University, receiving the harshest, ill-mannered introduction ever given to any speaker. The following day President Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations and declared Iran’s nuclear program a “closed issue.”

The Senate’s response to the Iranian President’s whirlwind tour of the Big Apple was to pass the non-binding amendment to the Defense Authorization bill currently in the Senate. The amendment calls on the State Department to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as “a foreign terrorist organization.” The House passed similar legislation last week.

Senator Jim Webb, (Dem.-VA) was one of only 22 who hard the courage to vote against the Senate Amendment. Webb said “… the language is too open-ended, and could be construed as Senate authorization to use force against Iran.”

One section of the amendment reads: It is the Sense of the Senate … that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies.

Webb went on to say, “This proposal … is Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream. It’s not a prescription for success. At best, it’s a deliberate attempt to divert attention from a failed diplomatic policy. At worst, it could be read as a back-door method of … gaining congressional validation for action without one hearing or without serious debate.”

Not to be outdone by all the media attention going on in the U.S. Israel stepped up to the plate with its own news bomb. Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that IDF forces will mount a full-scale military operation into Gaza. What else could be expected when Israel declared Gaza a “hostile entity” last week? You either let it go at name calling or you call the hostile entity’s hand. In this case Olmert is setting out to finish the job Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin started sixty years ago, a systematic eradication of Palestinians from Palestine.

All this saber rattling and it is only Wednesday, folks. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and think long and hard what a military confrontation with Iran and Syria could and would bring. Ironically the same week that all this bellicose rhetoric is going on back and forth Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The War premiered on PBS. Unfortunately while the ratings numbers are high it is being watched by about fifty-percent fewer households than the groundbreaking Civil War series.

If ever there was a time when Americans needed to bone up on their history and see what a major war is like the time is now. WWII affected nearly everyone on the planet, hence the title, “World War.” Americans were the most fortunate participants in that conflict, in that we only suffered casualties. Outside of Hawaii we did not suffer the loss of civilian life and property damage that Europe, Japan, China and Russia did.

This is precisely why we have acted so arrogantly ever since winning that war. While the EU may be dragged along as the “Coalition of the willing,” with the exception of Germany you don’t see any of their leaders sticking their chins out and saying, “Bring it on.” Those folks had two major conflicts on their real estate in the last century. They continue to have terrorist attacks while with the exception of 9/11 the U.S. cruises along relatively unscathed.

No sooner had the ink dried on the peace treaties of WWII than we were engaged in a Cold War with Russia and a police action in Korea against the Chinese and North Koreans. The same year the conflict in Korea ended the CIA led coup by Kermit Roosevelt toppled the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. Overthrowing an elected leader, setting up the Shah’s puppet government that coincidentally used poison gas on his own people, not to mention regularly tortured them, just might be a reason for Iranians not to have the warmest of feelings for the U.S.

Even with Viet Nam, the last major conflict the United States was involved in, the United States proper did not suffer civilian casualties or loss of property. Since then we have roamed from Panama to Grenada from Afghanistan to Iraq like Clint Eastwood riding into town taking names and deposing leaders we once supported, but now don’t fit into our foreign policy agenda.

The western may be dead as a film genre, but Americans love their cowboys with their six-guns blazing. How else to explain Reagan and George W.? Americans also suffer from collective amnesia and a total lack of historical perspective. It was Israel who sold arms to the government of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was Reagan and Bush Sr. who cut the backroom deal with Iran to wait until after the 1980 presidential election to release the Embassy hostages in return for bargain basement prices on American arms. This became the basis for the Iran-Contra Affair. This is a subject the mainstream media has suddenly forgotten like most Americans.

That isn’t difficult to understand when the president of one of this country’s most prestigious universities demonstrates to the world that Americans truly are rude, crude and ignorant. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger showed the world with his introduction of President Ahmadinejad that we have about as much class as Stanley Kowalski. Bollinger removed all doubt that we are ignorant when he made the statement, “the holocaust is the most documented event in human history.” That means the life of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Julius Caesar and a whole lot of other folks came in second. It also means that there is more documentation, and hence greater importance put, on Hitler’s life than Jesus or Gandhi. That is just plan ridiculous. It would be one thing if President Bush made such a statement. We have come to expect the ridiculous to flow from his mouth like an Iranian oil well. It is something altogether different when such absurd statements are made by a university president.

The Democrats have crumbled like any spineless creature would when attacked. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton retreated faster than a speeding bullet when Giuliani accused her of being soft on MoveOn’s “General Betray Us” ad. Well over half the Democrats voted for Joe Lieberman’s amendment reclassifying the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization. This is the height of arrogance. How would the U.S. react if Mexico decided to reclassify our National Guard a terrorist group and use that as a pretext to declare war? For over the past months our fleet has been in the Persian Gulf often coming within spitting distance of Iranian ships. With the Lieberman Amendment now passed how difficult will it be for a Gulf of Tonkin Incident as a pretext to a full engagement of hostilities with Iran?

Syria would undoubtedly be brought into the fray as would battle weary Lebanon. It remains to be seen if Egypt and Saudi Arabia would decide to join in a Pan-Arab unity against belligerent American and Israeli armed forces. What is certain to happen is a massive destabilization of the world’s economies. China has trade agreements with Iran and is dependant upon Iranian oil for their burgeoning industrialization. France may be talking tough at the moment. This is undoubtedly a reaction to our “freedom fries” campaign. France has trade agreements with Syria. An all out war is a no win situation for the French as well as most of the E.U. The coalition of the willing was primarily staffed by Americans and the British. Even though Tony Blair is special envoy to the Middle East if the place blows up Blair won’t have much to envoy and there is a new man at 10 Downing with different priorities.

An all out war would mean opening multiple fronts. We are barely handling the job in Iraq and Afghanistan at the present. This would mean either fighting a war with conventional weapons, which would require re-instituting the draft in order to fill the numbers required. The second option is bombing Iran with nuclear weapons. Oddly enough both Democrats and Republicans are currently jockeying for position on who has the biggest huevos and would be willing to nuke a member of the Axis of Evil. No further evidence is needed that the right Americans aren’t watching Ken Burn’s film.

Either way a major military campaign in the Middle East is a lose/lose proposition for all. In 1942 the country was able to literally turn on a dime and go from manufacturing cars and other products to building aircraft and the machinery of war. At a former Ford plant they rolled a new bomber off the assembly line every sixty-four minutes, twenty-four hours a day. We are unable to achieve such feats today because we no longer have the steel industry we once had. Nearly all of our manufacturing has been outsourced to China. We may have the Stealth bomber but the switch for the cloaking device is made in Taiwan.

The U.S. would certainly experience many more terrorist attacks. America’s borders are currently as porous as a sieve. If poor Latinos can make it across the border on a daily basis it would stand to reason that a well trained operation could get in as easy as crossing over in a Ford Ranger at San Ysidro. We haven’t experienced a war that can leave 20,000 civilians dead in a single engaement like France experienced as the Allied forces made their way toward Paris. We haven’t experienced the complete destruction of entire cities. It is because of this fact that we have lived for the last sixty-two years with the feeling of invincibility. History has proven that no nation is invincible no matter how great an empire it wrought.

Sheer hubris and cowardice propel this country closer to a conflict where we are sure to reap the whirlwind. A conventional war will cost thousands of lives both military and civilian. A nuclear war is unthinkable. It would be a pyrrhic victory at best. W.C. Fields once observed that when countries go to war the leaders of each country should battle it out with socks stuffed with bullshit; would that be the case. Unfortunately with the recent hard-line tactics the White House, Capitol Hill and Israel’s Kennest have taken it will be young men and women in uniform who will do the dying.

With few exceptions most wars have been driven by profits. This has been made abundantly clear in Iraq. Lining up to confront Iran will be no different. Contrary to what the mainstream media puts out Iran, like Iraq, presents no direct threat to any American. Neither country has the fire power to reach our soil. Oil Company and no bid contractor profits are not worth one life of an American, an Israeli or an Iranian. Life is far too precious. Thirty-seven years ago Edwin Starr sang War, what is it good for? The answer remains resoundingly the same today; absolutely nothing.

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