The origins of the Great War of 2007 – and how it could have been prevented (Niall Ferguson, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of secularisation that was emptying Europe’s churches.

Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy, there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals.

The ideological cocktail that produced ‘Islamism’ was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a ‘myth’. The state of Israel was a ‘disgraceful blot’, he had previously declared, to be wiped ‘off the map’.

Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran’s nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America’s closest regional ally.

Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad’s ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran’s were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran’s contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.

Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them.

‘We will cut them until Iran asks for mercy’ (Massoud Ansari, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Deep in the lawless triangle connecting Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, eight terrified Iranian soldiers are being held hostage by a Sunni group that is vowing to “slaughter” them if Teheran does not bow to its demands.

“We will chop their heads once our deadline is over,” Abdul Hameed Reeki, chief spokesman of the Jundallah or Brigade of God group, told the Sunday Telegraph, slowly drawing an index finger across his neck to demonstrate the seriousness of his intent.

The deadline for the men is tomorrow.

The emergence of a fanatical Sunni group operating inside Iran’s south-eastern border poses a startling new threat to the country’s Shia clerical regime.

There are too many holes in Mr. Fergusons scenario to pick them all apart–perhaps two will suffice. First, as WWI and WWII demonstrated, socialists were only too happy to go to war each other because ethnicity and other distinctions were more important to people than some imagined ideological unity. Similarly, the Shi’ites hate the Sunni and Persians the Arabs and vice versa and so on and so forth far more than they all believe in some kind of Islamism. Only a handful of Westerners have been killed by Islamists over the past thirty years, but Muslims killed each other by the hundreds of thousands in the Iran-Iraq War. If Iran ever were to get nukes it would be most likely to use them on Sunni Arabs, not Jews or Europeans. Second, as nearly all our wars of the past hundred years demonstrate, it doesn’t much matter that the American people aren’t eager for war–if the President starts one they’ll go along until it’s done. And in the case of Iran, where all we seek to do is destroy its nuclear facilities, they won’t even have a chance to weigh in. It’ll be over in one fell swoop.

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