Trivial Causes

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With economic troubles come political troubles, and military troubles. While the U.S. government has strongly signaled its determination to eschew a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Israeli government continues to argue in favor of a strike. Some believe that Israel will bomb Iran – with or without America – in the next ten weeks.  In the event of such an attack, Tehran is promising to retaliate against America’s bases in the Middle East. This would enlarge the war, making it a regional conflict that could involve Iran’s neighbors. Oil production would undoubtedly be disrupted for a period of days, weeks or months. Anticipating a general war in the Persian Gulf, Moscow is increasing its military strength in Armenia and Dagestan, perhaps even contemplating an invasion of Georgia.

In the Far East, China and Japan are involved in an “escalating row over territory.” China is laying claim to resource-rich islands supposedly owned by Japan. In Beijing thousands of enraged Chinese protestors took to the streets on Saturday. They shouted for war against the “Japanese imperialists.” While Muslim mobs raged against U.S. Embassies in the Middle East, angry rallies were being organized across China, probably by agents of the ruling Communist Party. Young protestors in Beijing were seen holding portraits of Chairman Mao. Some Chinese cities witnessed violent outbreaks in which Japanese-made cars were set afire, Japanese restaurants and stores pillaged.

Meanwhile, in southern Russia, a military buildup is underway which Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer predicted some months back, alleging that Russia planned to occupy Georgia in order to “de-block its military base in Armenia.” Back in 2008 the Russian Army invaded Georgia. Even though the invasion was halted by the pleas of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia still controls strategically sensitive chunks of Georgian territory which would facilitate the reintegration of Georgia into the Empire. According to the Turkish Weekly for Sept. 15, Russia is planning “military exercises” (Kavkaz 2012) in its Southern Military District. Georgian officials say the exercises pose a threat to their sovereignty and NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen agrees. On Sept. 6, during a visit to Georgia, Rasmussen praised Georgia’s contribution to NATO’s war effort in Afghanistan (as the Georgians are sending two battalions of troops).

Voicing concern about NATO’s support for Georgia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned that NATO has “failed to learn its lessons from the tragic events that took place in the South Caucasus in 2008, and continues to encourage Tblisi.” Lukashevich doesn’t see how Georgia’s membership in NATO would promote anyone’s security. The Georgians want revenge on Russia, he hinted darkly, and are manipulating NATO.

As it happens, Georgia is not the only country threatened by Moscow’s buildup. In the ongoing territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, things are heating up. Last June U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that a “much broader conflict” could occur if Azerbaijan renewed the war with Russian-supported Armenia. Already the Turks have closed their border with Armenia in support of their ethnic compatriots in Azerbaijan. At the same time Russia continues to operate a military base at Gyumri, Armenia, and is ready to defend Armenian sovereignty. According to a June 19 report from RIA Novosti, Russia intends to double the number of contract military personnel at its Gyumri base by the end of 2012. At present the Gyumri base is home to S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and MiG-29 fighters that can reach Iranian airspace.

Since Russian military intelligence enjoys a great reputation, there is reason to suspect increased Russian deployments to Armenia and Dagestan have more to do with an impending Israeli strike on Iran. The destabilization of Iran might require a large-scale south-bound Russian military move. Such a move would require Georgian and Azerbaijani compliance. And Russia appears to be preparing for such a move.

The Russians probably have access to Israeli plans. They know the Israelis are seriously contemplating a strike. After all, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been distributing preparedness brochures along with gas masks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that diplomacy has failed. According to the Jerusalem Post of August 31, “[Netanyahu] got into a diplomatic shouting match with U.S. Ambassador Don Shapiro over U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program….”

While Israeli intelligence officials have reportedly argued against a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Defense Minister Ehud Barak favors such an attack because, as Prime Minister Netanyahu argues, “Time is running out” and “Dark forces from the Middle Ages are raging against us.” While U.S. President Barak Obama is working to dissuade Netanyahu from military action, the Israeli PM appeared on American television to warn that Iran is six to seven months away from possessing nuclear weapons. When asked whether he thought Republican candidate Mitt Romney would take a firmer stand on Iran, Netanyahu replied that he would not be "drawn into the American election.” He was not worried about the “American political calendar but the Iranian nuclear calendar.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Israeli leader warned, “You have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late.” Later on he added, “It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

Doing his part to fan the flames of conflict on Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the Israeli government. According to Ahmadinejad, “The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations…. Confronting Zionists will also pave the way for saving the whole humankind from exploitation, depravity and misery.” Last month the Iranian leader referred to the Zionist regime as a “cancerous tumor” that must be “cut out.” Meanwhile, in Beirut, Lebanon, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah made a televised speech in which he said that Islam’s missile forces could make “the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zionists into hell.”

For many decades the world has avoided a catastrophic war. Today, however, it may not be possible to avoid it much longer. The global economy is fragile at the moment, and a large conflict would only make things worse. And there is something else about conflict that everyone should consider; namely, once it begins, there is no telling how destructive it will be, or how far it will spread. One might say, under the circumstances, that we are living in a glass house. Once the stone-throwing begins, the whole structure is imperiled. But why would supposedly rational people throw stones? Combine the logic of military mobilization with fear of inaction and nations can be propelled into senseless slaughter as happened in 1914. Disputes over relatively small bits of territory can escalate into a world-wide conflagration, as happened in 1939. Julius Caesar once said, “In war trivial causes produce momentous events.” Today it seems we have many trivial causes.

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About JR Nyquist

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