Wednesday, July 25, 2007

US and Iran: Alea Jacta Est

The political fortunes of President Bush are in a decline. Anger over the inability to pursue a "winnable war" in Iraq is finding a focus on the President himself. Across the board there are signs of widespread disapproval of his leadership. The numbers have never been this bad, not even when Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had their little cigar party.

The Iranians are in a major internal fuel crunch after their refineries shut down for lack of adequate spares. The US unwillingness to sell the spares provoked the Iranians to push the envelope. The Iranians are now attempting to break the Bretton Woods Agreement. There is more than just talk of trading oil in Yen instead of the Dollar. The choice of the Yen is remarkable, of all the countries that they could have chosen, the Iranians picked the one country that the US nuked. No prizes for guessing what the Iranians are counting on...

In response to this, the US has moved by arresting arms merchants that are supplying Iran with US spares. It requires only the slightest bit of imagination to ask how it is that anyone, especially a Pakistani in the post 9-11 world, can purchase US made F-14 parts and sell them to Iran without anyone noticing before now. When you consider that Iran is the only country other than the US to use the F-14, one would think that the private export of any F-14 parts outside the US would attract attention automatically. Please read between the lines to get the rest.

US based pension funds, managing the retirement monies for some five major US states have decided to dump their investments in Iranian companies. By dumping their stock, the US based pension funds are merely falling into line with Congressional guidelines on trade with Iran, but the market analysis suggests that this move wil cause the value of key Iranian companies to drop and a run on the Iranian markets is not out of the realm of possibility. And all this while various Bush Admin. mouthpieces are going to great lengths to say Iran is the cause of the violence in Iraq and that a stay in Iraq is absolutely essential to keep Iran in check.

Escalations like this are not uncommon between nations that have strained relations. It is also possible to use an escalation to create an atmosphere of fear that perpetuates your brand of leadership. However this is a very very very slipperly slope and escalations of this nature are very hard to control.

A direct attack on US currency by Iran is an invitation to others like President Chavez of Venezuela to try the same thing. If President Chavez does this, other major players in South America like the Cocaine Lords or Meth Kings will be tempted to seek out avenues for similar opportunities. There is no way the US financial sector will ignore the implications of the Iranian action.

It is now a race to see if President Bush can put Iran out of action before the US financial leaders - the real bosses of the American economy - start calling in his own loans.

So as the great Emperor once said on the shores of the Rubicon, "Alea Jacta Est"

There is however a few technical problems to which I find no easy answers.

The US armed services have traditionally required a decade or so to recover from a particularly bloody engagement. The 2001-2007 period has seen something in the range of 15-20,000 American casualties (if you include servicemen, "private" contractors, special forces etc...) This is a high number per year, comparable to the numbers from the Vietnam War. That war left the US out of high-casualty combat operations for a decade after the end of hostilities.

The current level of troop commitments do not permit the deployment of an additional 300,000 troops needed to secure Iran after the Islamic revolutionary regime has been deposed. It is possible that such troops could be raised from Hispanic immigrants, but that would require dealing with the highly complicated immigration issue which frankly no one has the political capital to really craft manageable conflicts out of. Hispanic speakers are a sizable minority in the US but less than 1% of the political class in the US even speaks spanish, many of these people actually cling to the notion that somehow speaking English is the key to maintaining their social status. Unlike the blacks who were brought as slaves, the Hispanics are free migrants, they have no history of communication with their American "owners" nor are they willing to sacrifice their culture to accept that of their "masters". The communication gap is severe, this makes managing conflicts very troublesome.

Alternatively, troops from Iraq could be sent to pacification operations in Iran, but then pacification of Iraq itself would have to rely solely on private armies. It may be possible to recruit such armies out of US prison populations or even perhaps Iraqi ones, however their effectiveness in pacification operations remains open to debate. Lacking even rudimentary discipline, it is quite likely they will create more problems then they solve and questions will remain over their controllability. The US will be very thinly spread on the ground and I really doubt that the military in its current state of mind will want any more of that.

Even if we assume that the Iraqi oil reserves are "donated" the US military effort on Iran. It will still create pricing pressures on oil. There is no way that any major oil company will not want to use that kind of environment for indulging in price speculation and it is difficult to see India or China or Japan or even Europe reacting positively to higher oil prices. There are any number of things that these nations can do to make life difficult for Americans, but even if they simply accept the rising oil prices as a fact of life, the Americans still have to deal with a global inflation in oil pricing. That degrades the effectiveness of the US strategic fuel reserves to act as an anti-inflationary bulwark. The run on the dollar will begin shortly afterwards.

Please remember all this has to be done while ensuring that General Musharraf is propped up, an increasingly difficult proposition in the present times. Sure I know many Americans do not understand the importance of Musharraf, or perhaps do not appreciate what will happen if they try to stop caring about Musharraf's survival... but surely the Adminstration does not share this lack of awareness. Surely they above all else know what sorrow the slightest shift in General Musharraf's loyalties can bring.

All these are fairly sensible seeming reasons for anyone not attempt stunts with Iran. However people, or nations do not always act sensibly. What remains in such a situation, apart from the mountains of dead, is the indelible implication of sensless behaviour, imprinted on the minds of billions, something no propaganda campaign can truly erase. In short it will cost the earth and then some to whitewash this even in the US controlled media.


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