Tony Blair’s repetition of claims that the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been necessary to prevent terrorism and effective in reducing the threat from it is not supported by the facts. His claims that war on Iraq was necessary to stop a WMD threat is equally empty, whether or not Iraq had any WMDs, as are his claims that ‘military action’ against Iran to produce ‘regime change’ would reduce extremism and prevent a nuclear threat.
Saddam proved in 1991, when he did have WMD, that he wouldn’t risk nuclear retaliation by using them. American generals and Israeli military historians are among those who say the Iranian government’s past behaviour shows it’s no more likely than Saddam was to invite it’s own nuclear annihilation by starting a nuclear war.
Why the war in Afghanistan is not the way to prevent terrorist attacks
The 9-11 hijackers all trained in Germany and then at flight schools in the US. Many different people and organisations from FBI agents and flight school trainers to a member of the Taliban all the information necessary to prevent the attacks. This information included who the hijackers were, where in the US they were training, that they were planning to hijack civilian airliners to use as ‘flying bombs’ to crash into buildings and that likely targets were the World Trade Center (already hit by a truck bombing in 1993) and public buildings in New York, the White House, CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia ; and the Pentagon and that by August 2001 an attack was imminent within weeks at most.
Those sources of information included US intelligence briefing documents given to President Bush, a Library of Congress report to the US National Intelligence Council, some CIA agents, several different FBI agents in multiple warnings, a US military intelligence unit and an American flight school trainer, the Egyptian government, German intelligence and even the then Taliban foreign minister who (correctly) feared that if Al Qa’ida carried out it’s attacks it would bring the US military down on the heads of the Taliban.
In almost every case superiors ignored the warnings and ordered those involved to take no further action; in many cases they also instructed those involved not to inform other US government agencies.
On September 11th two of those four sets of buildings named as likely targets by these multiple reports– the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - were hit in exactly the predicted way – with hijacked civilian aircraft. FBI agents who had identified some of the flight school trainees as Bin Laden’s people in August 2001 and asked for arrest warrants had their requests refused and their reports were not passed on by their superiors.
So when the Bush administration boasted that there had been no successful attacks since 9-11, their bluster was designed to hide the fact that if they had been at all competent in pooling and acting on the intelligence they had, September 11th could probably have been prevented. It also ignored the fact that the Iraq war led to two terrorist attacks on it’s allies – the Madrid and London bombings – again showing that these wars made no-one any safer.
At no point in a decade of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan have NATO or the Afghan government controlled the whole territory of either country. So if the aim is to prevent terrorist groups being able to train in either of them it can’t be achieved through military force.
After 9-11, overthrowing the Taliban may have been necessary, but bombing the whole of Afghanistan, killing over 3,000 civilians in the first 6 months alone, was not , never mind systematic torture and killing of prisoners, many of whom were not involved in any violence and had no involvement with Al Qa’ida or the Taliban.
Saddam had shown he wasn’t willing to risk a nuclear counter-strike by using WMDs
Whether Iraq had WMDs or not was always an irrelevant question as after the 1991 Gulf War, in which Saddam had dozens of chemical warheads for his scud missiles but only used conventional warheads, it was clear he was deterred from using WMDs on nuclear armed states or their allies for fear of nuclear retaliation.
This fact was recorded by Professor Joseph Nye (the head of the US Political Science association) and Professor Robert Keohane, in their book ‘After the Storm’, though they claim that why Saddam didn’t use these weapons is a ‘mystery’ (1).
I’d have thought two Professors of political science with a background in international relations might, between them, be able to figure out that governments don’t use WMDs if the response might be their own nuclear annihilation, but it seems not.
As Condoleezza Rice put it in an article written during the 2000 US Presidential election ‘if they ["rogue states"]do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration’ (2).
The one argument that invading Iraq was effective is that it brought Al Qa’ida to focus on killing Americans and Iraqis in Iraq, where they were easier targets than in a now more alert US – and where Al Qa’ida could blend in more easily in appearance and dress. The cost in lives and suffering was so vast though, that improving security and intelligence sharing in the US would surely have been more effective and saved far more lives.
Invading Afghanistan and Iraq not only failed to address the actual problem, but gave Bin Laden exactly what he wanted. The USSR’s military suffered it’s Vietnam in Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s aim was to do the same to the US as the Mujahedin had to the Soviets. While Bin Laden is now dead, Al Qa’ida could have been defeated far more easily without three full scale wars – in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq – and without the huge numbers of deaths caused.
The US National Security Strategy of 2002 stated that “The events of September 11, 2001…opened vast, new opportunities.” (see page 28)
The Bush administration saw September 11th as a huge opportunity to achieve the policy aims successive US governments had always had – securing an export pipeline for the oil reserves of former Soviet republics that avoided Iranian and Russian influence or control; and securing US control of Iraq’s oil reserves, which it had lost after the 1991 Gulf War (an aim of Bush and his political allies well before 9/11), plus those of Iran, which it lost control of with the overthrow of the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979 (3).
The Evidence that Iran’s rulers don’t want national martyrdom through nuclear war either
- directly or by proxy
There will be no ‘threat’ posed by Iran developing nuclear weapons, if it does so, either, for the same reason – it won’t use them.
In 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war in which the US and most of the rest of the world was arming and funding Saddam against Khomeini’s Islamic government in Iran, a US warship – the USS Vincennes – entered Iranian waters and began exchanging fire with Iranian ships. This was as part of Reagan’s policy of protecting Iraqi oil tankers, while claiming that Iraqi attacks on Iranian oil tankers were “legitimate”. The Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner, leading to the death of hundreds of civilians. Khomeini vowed revenge, but the Iranian government and military interpreted the shooting as a sign that US military forces were joining the war on the Iraqi side. This was an opportunity for national martyrdom if they wanted it. Instead the Ayatollahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards persuaded Khomeini to make peace (4) – (8).
This was one of the actions which has persuaded people like former US General John Abizaid (a George W Bush appointee) and Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld that we can live with a nuclear Iran, which would want nuclear weapons for the same reason our governments have – as a deterrent against attack (9) – (10).
The only use of nuclear weapons by one government on another was at the end of World War Two when the US was the only government to possess any.
There has been no example of a nuclear armed state using nuclear weapons on another nuclear armed state – not even by Pakistan’s military governments, which have had a strong Islamic ideology since General Zia’s dictatorship in the 1980s ; and which has feared Indian military attack on many occasions.
There are plenty of examples of states getting nuclear weapons as deterrents though.
The US developed and proposed the use of new ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons under the Bush administration, with Iran the favourite target. The Obama administration has not ruled it out. Israel also has plans for nuclear strikes on Iran (ostensibly to “take out” Iran’s nuclear programme) (11) – (13).
Van Creveld wrote in 2004 that Iran’s government would be crazy not to want a nuclear deterrent given repeated Israeli and US threats of ‘military action’ and the US invasion of both it’s neighbours – Afghanistan and Iraq . He also pointed out that there had been repeated claims that Iran would have developed nuclear weapons in a few months or years for at least 15 years at that point – and all had proven false (14).
Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld
The US government claimed Iran would have a nuclear weapon within 12 months in August 2010. This is one of an endless series of claims that Iran will have nuclear weapons by a certain date, delivered over decades, none of which has ever come true. So far it seems to be yet another example of calling ‘wolf’ – when the wolf doesn’t exist and would be used to deter an attack rather than carry one out even if it did exist.
It’s not even certain whether Iran will develop nuclear weapons given religious rulings banning their stockpiling and use as un-Islamic and immoral by Iran’s ‘Leader’ Ayatollah Khameini, Khomeini’s successor (15).
The Ahamadinejad “wipe Israel off the map” quote was a wilful mistranslation in which he actually said he hoped "the regime that rules over Jerusalem will be eliminated from the pages of history" and clarified that he meant "Israel will be wiped out soon the way the Soviet Union was" (i.e by its own population overthrowing its government). This can hardly be interpreted as a threat of nuclear war, especially since a similar possibility was raised more recently by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he said that if a two state peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians could not be negotiated an Apartheid style struggle ending in a binational state with Jews a minority would probably result (16) – (18).
The phrase Ahmadinejad used has also been used every year on ‘Al Quds’ day by Iranian politicians since the 1979 revolution. Using it is more a tradition and an attempt by politicians to associate themselves with Khomeini (who first said it) as the Islamic regime’s founder than anything else (19).
That's apart from the fact that Iranian Presidents, unlike American Presidents, are not the Commander in Chief of their country's military in theory or in practice and would never have a finger on the nuclear trigger even if Iran did develop nuclear weapons and even if he did want to use them on Israel (20) – (21).
Iranian missile tests are constantly reported as if they are unprovoked threats. In fact they are usually an attempt to deter threats of attack, as when Iran launched long-range missile tests in 2008 after Israel carried out military exercises with hundreds of aircraft openly saying they were preparations for possible attacks on Iran.
The serious threat of nuclear attack is from the US and Israel against Iran if Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons and if American and world public opinion falls for the hype.
No government has ever armed terrorist groups with WMDs or nuclear weapons either because that would be risking committing national suicide by proxy – and even that terrorist groups they can’t control might turn those weapons on them.
The idea that Hezbollah or Hamas, each of which have been elected to government and been willing to form coalitions with other parties, are some ‘end of the world’ cults that would happily bring nuclear destruction down on their own heads and those of their people to destroy Israel is also ridiculous (22) – (23).
The Risks of Action – chaos caused by war makes it easier for terrorists to operate and get WMD materials
The Blairites and the neo-cons argue that we have to make sure though – that, as Cheney put it, if there’s a one per cent chance of something so terrible happening we have to treat it like a 100% certainty. This sounds like it’s a ‘safety first’ policy. In fact it’s the most dangerous and irrational course of action, because going to war carries it’s own risks and they are serious and could result in creating the problems they are meant to prevent – including that in the chaos following ‘regime change’ weapons and even WMDs or nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorist groups or people who might sell them to them (as explosives, nuclear materials and chemical weapons components did in Iraq); that they are able to operate far more easily in that chaos; and that they may get converts across the world as a result of civilian deaths and torture of Muslims in the wars involved (24) – (27).
In 2005 Iraq's deputy minister of Industry Sami al Araji reported that “equipment capable of making parts for missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear arms was missing from 8 or 10 sites that were the heart of Iraq's dormant program on unconventional weapons”(28)
Some may suggest a proxy war, as in Libya, using a few special forces on the ground along with Iranian rebels and NATO air power. Libya is at great risk of becoming another Somalia already though.
Iran already has armed Kurdish, Arab and extremist Sunni rebel groups along with the Mujahedin E Kalq. Any overthrow of the regime by force would not only cause heavy civilian casualties and risk civil war, but if Iraq is any guide might well involve a new government running it’s own US trained torture and death squads no better than those of the Ayatollahs.
In Libya, where supposedly we had “learned the lessons” of Iraq and “avoided mistakes” made there some weapons stores were not secured any more than they had been in Iraq – and as in Iraq – no-one knows who now has many of these weapons. Reports from UN agencies based on unidentified sources say chemical and nuclear stockpiles have been secured in Libya. Let’s hope so. The previous “confirmation” by the International Criminal Court that Saif Gaddafi was under arrest and on his way to the Hague turned out to be false (29) - (30).
These are all the dangers that war is supposedly meant to avert – but going to war is far more likely to create them than to prevent them, while the much derided option of “doing nothing” about them carries far less risks in reality.
(1) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992), ‘After the Storm' , Madison Books , London , 1992 , - pages 211-216
(2) = Rice, Condoleeza (2000) in Foreign Affairs January/February 2000‘ - 'Campaign 2000: Promoting the National Interest' http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20000101faessay5-p50/condoleezza-rice/campaign-2000-promoting-the-national-interest.html - cited in Chomsky, Noam (2003) 'Hegemony or Survival' , Penguin Books , London & NY 2004, pages 34 & 260 citing Mearsheimer, John & Walt, Stephen (2003) in Foreign Policy Jan/Feb 2003
(3) = CNN 10 Jan 2004 ‘O'Neill: Bush planned Iraq invasion before 9/11’, http://articles.cnn.com/2004-01-10/politics/oneill.bush_1_roomful-of-deaf-people-education-of-paul-o-neill-national-security-council-meeting?_s=PM:ALLPOLITICS
(4) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006 - pages 170-174
(5) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition - pages 231-233
(6) = Freedman, Lawrence (2008) ‘A Choice of Enemies : America Confronts the Middle East’, Orion, London, 2008, chapter 10, Pages 194-206 of hardback edition
(7) = Newsweek 13 Jul 1992 ‘Sea of Lies : Sea Of Lies : The Inside Story Of How An American Naval Vessel Blundered Into An Attack On Iran Air Flight 655 At The Height Of Tensions During The Iran-Iraq War-And How The Pentagon Tried To Cover Its Tracks After 290 Innocent Civilians Died’, http://www.newsweek.com/id/126358
(8) = NYT 15 Jul 1988 ‘Iran Falls Short in Drive at U.N. To Condemn U.S. in Airbus Case’,
(9) = Forward – The Jewish Daily – 24 Sep 2007 ‘The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran ’,http://www.forward.com/articles/11673/
(10) = CNN 18 Sep 2007 ‘Retired general: U.S. can live with a nuclear Iran’,http://articles.cnn.com/2007-09-18/world/france.iran_1_nuclear-weapon-nuclear-program-nuclear-fuel?_s=PM:WORLD
(11) = Independent 02 Oct 2007 ‘US plan for air strikes on Iran 'backed by Brown'’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-plan-for-air-strikes-on-iran-backed-by-brown-395716.html
(12) = guardian.co.uk 06 Apr 2010 ‘Barack Obama's radical review on nuclear weapons reverses Bush policies’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/06/barack-obama-nuclear-weapons-review
(13) = Sunday Times 07 Jan 2007 ‘Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1290331.ece
(14) = NYT 21 Aug 2004 ‘Sharon on the warpath : Is Israel planning to attack Iran?’,http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/21/opinion/21iht-edcreveld_ed3_.html
(15) = CNN 10 Aug 2005 ‘Iran breaks seals at nuclear plant’, http://articles.cnn.com/2005-08-10/world/iran.iaea.1350_1_uranium-conversion-natanz-enrichment?_s=PM:WORLD
(16) = Guardian Comment Is Free14 Jun 2006, ‘Lost in Translation’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jun/14/post155
(17) = Iranian Television Broadcasts President Ahmadinezhad's Interview With French TV "Exclusive interview" with Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad by David Pujadas of French TV's TF2 Channel on 22 March 2007 – recorded Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 Sunday, March 25, 2007 (reproduced as second item below article on Professor Juan Cole’s website at http://www.juancole.com/2007/06/ahmadinejad-i-am-not-anti-semitic.html
“(Ahmadinezad) Let me ask you this question: where is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics now? Was it not wiped off (the map)? How was it wiped off? We have a totally humanitarian solution for Palestine. We have said that all the Palestinians should take part in a free referendum so as to end the 60 year old war. The outcome is clear from now. It is because of the same outcome that America and Britain are refusing to yield.
(David Pujadas) Let us clarify everything. Do you really wish to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? Do you have a plan for this job or are you in fact making such a prediction?
(Ahmadinezhad) Look, I told you the solution. I think the people of Palestine also have the right to determine their own fate. Let them choose for themselves, the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims. That is, all the Palestinians who belong to that land can participate in the referendum. I think the outcome of such a referendum is already clear. We saw what happened in last year's elections (when they voted for HAMAS).”
(18) = Guardian 30 Nov 2007, 'Israel risks apartheid-like struggle if two-state solution fails, says Olmert', http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,2219485,00.html
(19) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran - Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, Times Books, New York, 2006, (hardback edition)
(20)= Hauser Global Law School Program (New York University School of Law) Mar 2006, 'A Guide to the Legal System of the Islamic Republic of Iran' by Omar Sial' , http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/iran.htm
(21) = Time magazine 20 Apr 2006‘Iran President's Bark May Be Worse than His Bite', http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1185293,00.html
(22) = Harik, Judith Palmer (2005), ‘Hezbollah : The Changing Face of Terrorism, I.B. Tauris, London & New York, 2005 paperback edition
(23) = Hroub, Khaled (2006), ‘Hamas : A Beginner's Guide, Pluto Press, London, 2006 paperback edition
(24) = Times 28 Oct 2004 ‘350 tonnes of high explosive looted in Iraq’,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article498870.ece
(25) = AP 31 Oct 2004 ‘2nd Site With U.N.-Sealed Arms Was Looted, Inspectors Report’,http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/31/international/middleeast/31chemical.html
(26) = Washington Post 11 May 2003 ‘Iraq nuclear sites reportedly looted’,http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-05-11/news/0305110454_1_nuclear-bomb-looted-iraq
(27) = AP Worldstream 31 Oct 2004 ‘Iraq Looted Chemical Site’, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-101900373.html
(28) = NYT 13 Mar 2005 'Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says', http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/international/middleeast/13loot.html
(29) = guardian.co.uk 02 Sep 2011 ‘Libya warned smugglers are looting Gaddafi's guns - West fears heatseeking surface-to-air missiles will fall into terrorists' hands’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/02/west-warns-smugglers-looting-libya-arms
(30) = AP foreign 07 Sep 2011 ‘UN watchdog says Libyan chemical weapons secure’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9834687