In two recent posts, “You’re right. Both Tel Aviv and Riyadh play us like violins” and “The other Tom’s Sunday column,” Tom Barnett appears to lay the groundwork for supporting, or at least being indifferent to, a war on Iran. I don’t mean to say that Tom has a secret agenda, or even that he embraces the logical result of his thinking. Nonetheless, the conclusion that naturally flows from his writing is a command to opponents of offensive operations against Iran: take it easy.
Working backwards, Barnett seconds New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s call for a 9/12 President. The 9/11 emergency, so goes the argument, is over. This is because emergencies are ruled by terrorists, but policy is ruled by states. We are in this for the long haul. This means getting back to normal, and letting the American system that works so well in generating wealth and happiness function. National security will take care of itself, as it always has, because we are the biggest and best country on the block.
But earlier, Tom notes that the Israeli and Saudi governments are manipulating our policy towards Iran. While the Jewish and Wahabi States are not fans of each other, both fear the rise of Iran more than they fear each other. So both advocate, using whatever means they can, for an American strike on Iran.
What a 9/12 President would do is obvious: attack Iran.
Barnett has opposed war with Iran before on the grounds that it would wreck the “big bang effect” caused by the Iraq War. I assume, that when Tom appears to endorse ludicrous ideas (like Friedman’s line of “I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling GuantÃ¡namo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans”), Barnett is actually America’s governmental infrastructure (especially when it comes to national security) is sufficiently readjusted to the point where just playing for time makes sense. (America famously used the playing-for-time strategy in the Cold War.)
But if we are now playing for time, that means allowing the instability in the middle east to unfold as it will. It means that we no longer need a president who focuses on those problems, but one who allows our response to do the work for him. The rise of Iran surely is a consequence of the take-down of Iraq, as is the push-back from Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Of course, it was dysfunction in the Sunni Arab world that led to 9/11. But Iran’s been deeply involved in the Sunni Arab system since 1980, at the latest. The Iranian government is just as much part of that violently dysfunctional systems as Iraq’s Saudi Arabia’s, or Syria’s. A “9/12” President would treat the middle east as just another part of the world, and if our two closest allies in any region are threatened by a rogue enemy, would he act as an ally does or think deeply about what that means for transformative, systemic, change?
The former, of course.