Professor Anatol Lieven gets desperate

Monday, July 7, 2008 6:38 AM

I am wondering why Professor Anatol Lieven makes a point (below) of calling upon Britain to prevent an attack on Iran, instead of appealing directly to Washington to come to its senses. After all, Whitehall is a sideshow. The days of the Raj are over, thanks in large part to Winston Churchill and FDR. The torch has been passed, or grabbed. Supposedly the lone surviving "Superpower" is Washington, and Tel Aviv is its close "ally". Shouldn't a "Superpower" be the one to call the shots and cool down an "ally" if that “ally” has gone haywire? Let me read the article again.

I'm still confused. Lieven’s bright idea is that London inform Washington that British troops will bug out out of Afghanistan in the event Israel attacks Iran. No rhyme or reason, no morality or logic, just a power play to snap Washington out of it. Fine. Does Lieven actually think that Dick Cheney and George Bush Jr. give a damn about Afghanistan? Why should they? There's nothing there to give a damn about. As I may have written somewhere, only one in 500 Americans could pinpoint Afghanistan on a world map, and G.W. would be among the 499 who couldn’t. 

Lieven intones:"From the moment that Israeli munitions fall on Iran, all hope of stabilizing Afghanistan on western terms will be lost. From then on, every British soldier who dies in Afghanistan will die for nothing." Here's a flash for Lieven: the first British soldier who died in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century died for nothing. In the present conflict with the Taliban, every British and American soldier who dies there dies for nothing, no matter if Tel Aviv bombs Iran or not. Let's stop kidding ourselves, or trying to kid each other. 

The curious circumstance of urging Whitehall to pressure the White House to pressure Tel Aviv to call off an attack, instead of appealing directly to the White House and the Washington foreign policy establishment to act in their own best interest and short-circuit such an attack--it just seems utterly desperate. It indicates that Lieven believes that Tel Aviv, not Washington, is in the driver’s seat.

My guess is that Lieven concludes (a) the White House, as run by Dick Cheney and his sidekick, Bush Jr., is beyond all reason. This is indeed possible. And further (b), that even if Cheney/Bush were not beyond all reason, the odd co-Presidency of the "lone surviving Superpower" would still be incapable of stopping Tel Aviv from having its way.

Lieven does not spell it out, but that is the inescapable implication. To solve this dilemma, Lieven urges Whitehall to intervene in favor of sanity. But that’s a stretch. Professor Lieven is certainly aware of something called the U.S. "The Israel Lobby", but he fails to mention the elephant.

In this regard, have you heard a peep out of the "liberal" Democrats in Congress on the topic of an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran? Why are they not speaking out? Has any of them suggested--for the sake of humanity, sanity, our troops in Iran and our sailors and flyboys in the Persian Gulf, not to mention the price of oil and other considerations--that Tel Aviv stop all these irrational, bellicose threats to bomb Iran?

Heard a peep out of B. Obama or N. Pelosi on that subject lately, or ever? You won't. So Lieven comes up with a solution to cure the very sick American patient: have “Little England” intervene and slap the patient to his senses. It just shows how desperate certain thoughtful men have become in these bizarre times.




Britain must act to prevent

an attack on Iran

By Anatol Lieven  // Published: July 6 2008


All the evidence suggests that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would be a disaster for the greater Middle East, for the world economy and for western security. It would not even benefit Israel, which is adequately protected by its own nuclear deterrent. On the contrary, by creating new links between Sunni and Shia extremism, it would worsen Israel’s long-term chances of survival. Finally, as last week’s remarks by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, indicated, an attack is strongly opposed by the US military. They would bear the first brunt of Iranian reprisals, since the US would rightly be held jointly responsible by Iran, and US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are far more open to Iranian-sponsored attack than is Israel itself.

The British government can stop this nonsense. All that it needs to do is make clear to the US administration, initially in private but in public if necessary, that the consequence of an attack would be complete British military withdrawal, not only from Iraq but from Afghanistan as well.

Israel must have US acquiescence to launch an attack since by far the easiest route for one lies over US-controlled Iraq. By starting the withdrawal of most of the Nato forces from Afghanistan, British withdrawal would throw an immense new burden on the US military, strip the Afghan operation of its international legitimacy and almost certainly wreck it altogether.

For these reasons, this is not a step that, as a friend of Afghanistan, I would ever advocate, were it not for one blindingly obvious fact: that a US-backed Israeli attack on Iran will in any case doom our enterprise in Afghanistan to irretrievable failure. From the moment that Israeli munitions fall on Iran, all hope of stabilising Afghanistan on western terms will be lost. From then on, every British soldier who dies in Afghanistan will die for nothing.

Or rather, they will die for nothing in terms of achievable policy objectives. They will die as British regular soldiers have always died, for pride of service and loyalty to comrades and to regiment, and for this they will deserve the highest honour. A British government that leaves them to die in a hopeless cause would, on the other hand, deserve no honour at all.

All this stems from the simple truth that Afghanistan is not an island and cannot be saved in isolation. To east and south it is bordered by Pakistan, whose government is deeply equivocal towards the western military presence and the administration of President Hamid Karzai. The Pashtun population of Pakistan along the border is hostile to the western military and provides not just safe havens for the Taliban but a considerable share of its manpower.

To the west, Afghanistan is bordered by Iran, its most important trading partner. In failing to enlist active Iranian help in Afghanistan, the west has already lost its best chance of success in developing that country. If Iran’s present watchful attitude becomes outright hostility and full Iranian support for the Taliban, then western-backed Afghanistan will be surrounded on three sides by enemies, as Soviet Afghanistan was in the 1980s.

At present, according to informed western sources, Iran’s strategy towards the Taliban has been to open lines of communication but provide only symbolic amounts of aid. After all, so hostile were relations between Taliban Afghanistan and Iran that the countries almost went to war in 1998, and Iran supported the US overthrow of the Taliban after 9/11. Today, however, Iran has positioned itself so as to increase its help to the Taliban greatly if it is attacked by Israel and the US.

The Karzai administration is aware of all this, which is why all its leading elements are opposed to an attack on Iran and have done their utmost to improve relations with Tehran. This is also the strategy of the government of Iraq. If the US not only sweeps aside these views but allows Israel to cross Iraqi airspace, it will have ripped away even the façade of Afghan and Iraqi national sovereignty.

The British establishment supports the “special relationship” in large part because it believes that closeness to Washington allows Britain to “punch above its weight” in the world. Much of this belief is mythical. The issue of an Israeli attack on Iran, however, is one where a British government really can have a decisive effect and has a categorical duty to do so.

The writer is a professor at King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008