Iran Sure Looks Big

Would it be too much to ask that the neocons at the Weekly Standard decide which country in the Middle East they want the United States to attack next? Astonishingly, in the same March 19th issue of this leading journal of the neoconservative movement can be found an article by Stephen F. Haynes critical of the Obama administration for not being bellicose enough on Iran and another by Lee Smith critical of the Obama administration for not being aggressive enough on Syria. After having waged two very long and, as it is now obvious, pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, can the neocons be serious that they want to launch two more?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Their geopolitical grand strategy calls for the United States to make the Middle East safe for Big Oil and Israel. That this project probably cannot be achieved ultimately because of a poisonous brew of religious hatreds and regimes dependent on the revenues from oil or foreign aid hardly matters. The neocons succeed politically in Washington so long as ordinary Americans can be persuaded to accept the sacrifice of their children and their taxes. In their twisted value system, political virtue consists of little more than what elites can get away with. Why not demand wars against both Iran and Syria?

The most formidable enemy confronting the neocon war party is one that it dare not confront directly: public opinion in the United States. Historical statistics show that liberal democracies have been more likely than authoritarian regimes to win their wars. There are several reasons for that but caution is certainly part of the explanation. Unlike their counterparts in authoritarian regimes, foreign policy decision-makers in liberal democracies can be held accountable at the polls for mistakes. That presents the neocons with no small problem. Although neocon rhetoric often references democratic values, an authoritarian regime here at home would be a better fit their geopolitical grand strategy. The erosion of civil liberties and the determination to restrict voting rights over the last decade is certainly consistent with efforts to drain American political life of its potential for opposition to a state of permanent war.

The shrill chorus of criticism directed at the President should be understood not as normal ambition but as displaced anger at the majority of Americans who have grown war weary. A February 27 poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion revealed that while 79% of Americans were convinced that Iran was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, only 21% wanted military action to attempt to stop them. Support for military action before there was conclusive evidence that Iran was attempting to go nuclear was shown to be tepid even among Republicans, with only 36% endorsing a preemptive attack.

If the neocons actually possessed the sort of manly republican virtue that they entertain one another by lauding, then they would lay before the American people the choice of accepting or rejecting their geopolitics and the attendant high costs. They have not done so, will not do so, and may not know how. After Afghanistan and Iraq the proper question to ask the neocons is obvious. How dare you criticize the foreign policy decisions of a president who has managed to avoid involving the country in anything as wasteful and pointless?

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John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.