One major problem with writing political commentary is that it’s often difficult look at something that seems … well, crazy … and find a rational explanation for it. It’s easier to just write off what looks like craziness as craziness and move on. But in the real world, there is in fact method to most people’s madness. This applies even to politicians who have apparently gone off their badly-needed psychiatric meds.
So, when a global empire which has come to grief in Asian land wars twice in one decade appears to be going all-out to get itself into a third such war — this time with a country more militarily advanced than, and with three times the population of, either of the locations of the previous two debacles, and at least tentatively allied with three world powers (Russia, China and India) — one must resist the temptation to jump to a conclusion along the lines of “okay, so, US President Barack Obama has gone completely off the deep end. Fruit loop. Nutter. To the booby hatch with him.”
The difficulty in avoiding such a conclusion should be obvious: Open war between the US and Iran is a crazy idea, and not just mildly so. It goes well beyond “dumb as a box of rocks” and easily pings the “murderously insane” range. Not only is it crazy at the level of military strategy, it’s completely disconnected from reality in terms of putative casus belli: Every even semi-objective assessment of Iran’s nuclear program indicts the claim that Iran’s government is either close to producing a nuclear weapon or especially interested in doing so.
In order to explain Obama’s indisputably insane actions without concluding personal insanity on his part — that is to say, in order explain a sane man’s insane position — we have to place him in the iron grip of an institutional insanity reaching back more than half a century.
And hey … that’s something we can do.
Since World War Two, that segment of America’s political class which we’ve since come to know (thanks to Eisenhower) as “the military-industrial complex” has been in the driver’s seat. The military exigencies of that war put it there; the post-war national security state was created to keep it there.
The primary activity of the US government since 1941 — first due to those military exigencies, and later as a matter of policy — has been to ongoingly transfer as much wealth as possible from the pockets of America’s productive class to the “defense” establishment.
And it’s a big business. The direct transfers, not counting the stuff hidden in line items other than “defense,” are the US government’s single biggest budget item, coming to about 25% of federal spending. Big business indeed, and keeping that big business in business requires a constant diet of “wars and rumors of wars.”
As long as the Soviet Union held out, that was a fairly easy order to serve up: Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and so forth, with “Cold War” filling the gaps. But since 1990, the “defense” establishment and its political shills have had to drum up new bogeymen on an ad hoc basis to keep the government contracts coming in for new guns, new bombs, new aircraft, new bases to build and newly destroyed cities to re-build.
Their approach comes down to a prescription attributed to neoconservative “foreign policy specialist” Michael Ledeen: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”
Unfortunately, those crappy little countries tend to be more trouble than they’re worth. Sure, they reliably turn into long-term quagmires, but the profit margins quickly become petty cash. Who wants to run mess halls and PXes for occupation troops, when the big money is in replacing expensive consumables like large bombs (and if the enemy is helpful, the very expensive aircraft which carry them)?
With the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles winding down, America’s military-industrial complex is tired of “crappy little countries” and on the lookout for a big score. And their friends in government, who have staked their careers on 70 years of constant “pro-defense” propaganda, are happy to help them find one.
Enter Iran: Plenty big and sophisticated enough to knock down some US aircraft — hell, maybe even a carrier or two! — but probably not powerful enough to land a few divisions on the Maryland shore and burn Washington. It has all the makings of a long, expensive conflict, with 30-odd years of mutual belligerence to help the pill slide easily down the American electorate’s throat. Exactly what the doctor (Doctor Strangelove, that is) ordered.
What could possibly go wrong?