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Where does the Bush-Petraeus strategy lead?

"Iran remains the sole potential independent regional power with the capacity to challenge US domination in the region. So it’s not a surprise that US-Iran tension has existed for a long time and is rising."

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VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA: Senior Editor Paul Jay discusses the Petraeus report on Iraq with Phyllis Bennis.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Petraeus in some ways reveals what he thinks is the real villain of the peace, and let me play you a piece from Petraeus’ testimony.

(CLIP BEGINS)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ COMMANDER: Beyond that, on a less encouraging note, none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern in exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.

(CLIP ENDS)

Much of Petraeus’ argument actually leads to that the underlying problem is Iranian intervention, Iranian arming of fighters attacking US troops, and the whole role of Iran in the region. Isn’t this true?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: There is no doubt that Iran is a major regional player. Iran’s the neighbor of Iraq. The Iraqi government and many others in Iraq went into exile in Iran during the years of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, particularly the years that dictatorship was backed by the United States. So there’s no question that Iran has a strategic interest in the region. It has an interest in Iraqi stability. I think we have to be very clear that the reason that the United States has for so many years been so concerned about both Iraq and Iran is that historically those were the two countries of the region, the only two countries in the Middle East that had all of the prerequisites to become independent regional powers. They had money from oil, they had water, and they had large size—size of population and size of territory. No other country in the region has all three. Iraq now is under the control, under the thumb of the United States. It no longer has that independent capacity. Iran remains the sole potential independent regional power with the capacity to challenge US domination in the region. So it’s not a surprise that the US-Iran tension has existed for a long time and is rising. What is very problematic is the degree to which the United States is making the claim that the US occupation of Iraq is somehow an indigenous, legitimate component of Iraqi society, and that only Iran now stands as somehow the outsider trying to “interfere” in Iraq. If we really want to talk about who’s the foreign interference in Iraq, we have to start with the United States military. So when we look at what General Petraeus is saying today, it’s particularly disturbing that there was virtually no reference to the long-standing justification for this invasion and this occupation, the so-called global war on terrorism. The justification now is all about the danger posed by Iran. And that bodes very badly for the possibility that there actually could be an escalation of this war and expansion of this war to Iran. No longer in the guise of going after Iran’s so-called nuclear capacity, it sounds to me very dangerously as if he’s preparing a self-defense argument under Article 51 of the UN Charter that allows a military strike on the basis of self-defense when a country has been attacked. By the mere assertion, without any actual evidence, simply asserting that US authorities have determined that some of these bombs that have been used against US military occupation forces in Iraq are made in Iran, that, I’m afraid, is going to be providing a justification for them to escalate and actually use military force against Iran in complete disregard of the consequences.

JAY: Now, we know there actually have been a couple of meetings between the United States and Iran over Iraq. What have they led to? And how realistic is it to have a regional conference that would include Iran?

BENNIS: The meetings that have been held between the US and Iran have been really what I would consider fraudulent meetings. They were never designed to create a real dialog. They were limited both in terms of the level of diplomats who participated and in the agenda. They were only allowed to speak about very narrow agendas involving Iran’s role in Iraq. And they were essentially opportunities for US diplomats to go and say, “Well, I met with an Irani diplomat, and they haven’t changed their behavior.” Any regional meeting which is sponsored by the United States under these conditions is going to fail. That’s a reality. One of the things that we identify is that a regional meeting must be grounded in the understanding that the United States, while a participant because it has interests in the region, cannot be the dominant power of such a meeting. A regional conference must be based in the countries in the region, including Iran, including Syria, including Saudi Arabia, including Turkey.

JAY: If one looks at this speculatively through the eyes of the White House, it seems to me there’s a clear cut choice: it’s either a peace conference that includes Iran or an attack on Iran. The status quo clearly is not going to be able to be maintained. Through the eyes of this White House, one doesn’t see the possibility of what you’re saying, which is to cede the dominant control of such a conference. So does the logic of this lead us to thinking that there is a high likelihood of an attack on Iran?

BENNIS: I think there is a likelihood of a possibility of an attack on Iran. I don’t think that it’s inevitable; I don’t think that those decisions have been made. I think, for example, there are key corporate forces who have a great deal of influence in both political parties and in the White House and in Congress, who are very much against an attack on Iran, which under any circumstances will lead, aside from the numbers of people killed, the destruction of much infrastructure, as well as the retaliation which will necessarily be launched against the United States, whether it’s military or not. Aside from all of that, the price of oil will go up to $100, $125, $150 a barrel. That is not in the interests of most corporate forces in this country, including the oil industry. So there are many powerful forces that are talking against an attack on Iran. I don’t think that it’s at all an inevitability. The military in this country as well has been very much against an attack on Iran, knowing how it could escalate so much out of control, with military people paying a very high price in their own lives for such an attack.

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