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Bush running out of options for Iran

Nick Fickling
Nick Fickling
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President George Bush visited Paris last week and mentioned Iran, voicing his support of European diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop uranium enrichment. Bush went further than the Europeans would, mentioning that if diplomacy doesn’t work then “all options are on the table.” Presumably, that is a thinly veiled threat of the use of force by the United States in the future.

This has me thinking back to my high school days when, working on a project about China, I wrote to the Chinese Embassy requesting a copy of Mao’s little red book. They sent me one; indeed they sent me a large cardboard box containing hundreds of the wretched things, one for each pupil in my school.

Mao’s use of the phrase ‘paper tigers’ has stuck in my head, sad person that I am. Looking up the Mao quote I find: “All reactionaries are paper tigers. In appearance, the reactionaries are terrifying, but in reality they are not so powerful. From a long-term point of view, it is not the reactionaries but the people who are really powerful.” By ‘reactionaries’ Mao was referring to the United States and Western imperialism, very much using the term “reactionary” in the way it originated in revolutionary France, referring to those who wished to preserve feudalism or aristocratic privilege against republicanism.

Today we have Ahmedinajad railing against the United States and Europeans, and already stating firmly that he intends to reject European diplomatic overtures and continue uranium enrichment. It sounds as if our president’s threat of escalating matters, perhaps to include military action, is in the offing? But really, are such threats by Bush credible?

The U.S. armed forces in Iraq are stretched, Bush is currently pleading with NATO allies to up the numbers of troops they have in Afghanistan, so things cannot be too peachy there either. The United States is suffering with high oil prices and any strike on Iran, a major producer, is likely to cause another spike in the cost of gas, diesel, heating oil, food and products. To a consumer like the United States, that will be painful and is likely to get voters to side with Obama come November, so politically it makes little sense.

Is the implied threat by Bush of even the slightest concern to the Iranian regime? If we attack Iran, the world is unlikely to be supportive of a U.S. president and people who recently, recklessly and unnecessarily invaded Iraq when all diplomatic efforts had not been exhaustively explored. The world is unlikely to smile on actions that would raise their gas, food and retail prices. The Muslim world will rally behind Iran and it is likely that recruits for suicide bombings will rise, as will martyrs willing to go to the Afghan/Pakistan border to “fight the imperialists.”

The new Pakistani government is likely to come under greater pressure to distance itself from the United States and the same will be the case in other Muslim nations.

Any hope of resolving the Palestinian crisis will be put on the back burner. All this will take us further away from success in the original goal of capturing Osama bin Laden and, to cap it all, with higher gas prices the Iranians will get more per barrel, even if by some fluke U.S.-led sanctions are strengthened.

So what am I trying to say? In the 1960s, Mao was incorrect to call the United States a “paper tiger” for, rightly or wrongly, the United States had the economic, diplomatic and military power and influence to force change using any one of those levers.

Today I sense that, although Ahmedinajad is not actively calling the United States a “paper tiger,” he is right to be thinking that Bush’s posturing is empty rhetoric by a “paper tiger” of a leader devoid of options.

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at fickling@vail.net or editor@vailtrail.com.


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