As tensions mount between the U.S. and Iran, it's worth keeping in mind that no one in the international community believes a word we say. At this point, the Bush administration might as well nominate discredited New Republic scribe Stephen Glass to be secretary of state.
But as we contemplate our second illegal, unprovoked, 21st century war, this time against Iran, that lack of credibility is going to be the least of our problems. Four years into the Iraq war, as even rabid supporters of the invasion are starting to wish they took the blue pill instead of following Morpheus down the rabbit hole, there isn't a single piece of the case for invading Iraq that withstands even casual scrutiny.
Now that former Rumsfeld stooge Douglas Feith dubbed by retired Gen. Tommy Franks as "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth" admitted that the Office of Special Operations basically made up the link between Iraq and al-Qaida, our credibility isn't just shot. It's firebombed.
That firebombing may be relevant now that we've got a deadlock over sanctions in the U.N., carrier groups steaming to the Middle East and high-level accusations against Iran coming from senior Bush administration officials. Condoleezza Rice could personally find Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad setting off an IED along a Baghdad highway and still not convince anyone that the Persian Menace is behind the violence in Iraq.
It's not clear if all this bluster is the prelude to an air assault or just a means of credibly threatening the Iranians. The two sides may be involved in a sophisticated game of what Thomas Schelling called "brinkmanship" or what normal people call "blithely risking thousands of lives for sport." Someone should spend $40 at the game store and let these guys take out their frustrations on a few rounds of Axis & Allies.
Even if Iran is sending arms and advice to the insurgents, attacking makes no sense. For one thing, Iran isn't some putrefying Baathist tyranny with a military ready to lay down its weapons and disappear into the sand dunes. The Iranians actually have a capable military ready and willing to defend the homeland against an attack. It's not a military that could withstand a prolonged assault from history's most formidable power, but the Iranians won't fold like a piece of cheap origami.
More importantly, the Iranians have the capability to send the entire region into chaos virtually overnight. By pulling their oil off the market and sinking ships in the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, Iran could precipitate a global depression that would make the Bush recession look like a bad night at the casino.
The U.S. can ill afford to send a region already teetering on the brink of chaos into full-blown crisis. Not with the bulk of the Army still tied down in Iraq and the treasury sending out a hollow echo of bankruptcy. To paraphrase Aliens, what are we going to do, fight them with bad language?
And as much as the attack on Iraq had very little legitimacy in the international community, an assault against Iran would have even less. Saddam Hussein's regime had at least committed crimes worthy of invoking the Genocide Convention or at the very least a special prosecutor. The Iraq war was a catastrophic strategic mistake, but Hussein's regime truly deserved its demise.
The Iranians may be repressive and they may say things about Israel that even Ann Coulter wouldn't say about Democrats, but the Persianofascists have never started a war, dropped atomic bombs on innocent civilians or spent 40 years enabling the defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions about Israel. Those are things only the United States can do.
Even if we find explosives marked "Made with care in Tehran" littering the streets of Basra, war with Iran would be a disastrous calamity. On the other hand, these guys didn't get to be the most reviled and distrusted administration since Herbert Hoover by making the right decisions at the right times, so it might be best to hunker down and expect the worst.
David Faris is a frequent Slant contributor.