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Bill Polk"s analysis on Iran and the ME Crisis

Bill Polk"s analysis on Iran and the ME Crisis

This message from Bill Polk follows up on the analysis by Ray Close
distributed earlier.

Dear Friends,


I have just received the following remarks from Ray Close.  Ray was
for many years the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, so one of the
most senior men in the CIA, with the rank of a four-star general,  and
a man with many years of experience all over the Middle East.  His
mother and father (who was a doctor) both taught at the American
University of Beirut, where they were friends of mine, so Ray grew up
speaking Arabic.  I don't always fully agree with his positions,  but
I certainly respect him,  his knowledge and his experience.  He is a
hard-headed realist.  So his worries about the course on which we seem
to be embarked are very disturbing.


As you know I have long been alarmed by the likelihood of an American
repeat of Iraq in the far more difficult case of Iran.  I expected an
American, Israeli or joint American-Israeli attack to come before now.
As I read the omens, I thought it was likely last March. Seymour
Hersh, who has extraordinary sources in the Pentagon, confirms in this
week's <italic>New Yorker </italic>Ray's contention that we are now in
a count-down mode on Iran.


What Ray does not go into here are the following:


1) <italic>the non-monetary costs of such a move </italic> --
<underline>casualties in Iran would be far higher than in
Iraq.</underline>   We don't really appreciate yet how high they
actually are in Iraq.  In addition to the nearly 2,600 dead are over
18,000 wounded of whom about half are permanently crippled; in
addition are the psychologically damaged, about 40,000 last year alone
and whose who will develop cancer or other secondary effects from, for
example, depleted uranium shells.  <underline>Our relations with other
countries would be severely damaged.  </underline> Particularly  China
which is deeply dependent on Iranian oil, but also on other countries
where all polls, press reports and diplomatic/intelligence analyses
indicate that empathy toward (or even understanding of) America have
been replaced by fear and even hatred.  And, of course, in Iraq where
we are relying on the 15 million Shiis, co-religionists of Iran, to
enable us to form a sufficiently stable regime to get out with some
dignity.  An attack on Iran would almost certainly enormously
intensify the guerrilla war in Iraq.  It would make a solution to the
Israel-Lebanon conflict far less likely.  And it would spill over into
the Gulf where the oil-producing shaikhdoms are privately but
absolutely terrified of the consequences for them.  <underline>It
would likely further damage our own social fabric and polarize our
politics;</underline>


2) t<italic>he chances of success or failure</italic>.  We misjudged
or failed to judge these in Vietnam and Iraq just as the Russians
failed in Afghanistan.  In Iran we would face a massive and almost
certainly unwinnable guerrilla war;


3) the depth of the commitment:   we would have to follow up an
attack, as in Iraq, with a major role in post-attack Iran and some
form of occupation in a bitterly hostile country would undoubtedly
last for many years;


4)  <italic>the effects on world energy flow </italic>by our military
action or Iranian retaliation: predictably, it would involving pulling
c. 5% of the world's flow of oil (Iran's production)  off the world
market, possibly disrupting oil production and processing in Saudi
Arabia (whose oil is produced in the Eastern Province whose population
of 2 million people is religiously allied to Iran) and the Gulf states
(which are closely associated with Iran).   Oil experts tell me we
could anticipate an immediate rise of price to c. $125/barrel and an
eventual rise far higher.  Some even predicted $300/barrel.  It has
been estimated that <underline>each $5 rise in the per barrel price
cuts the US national income by $17 billion</underline>.  Oil is now
close to $80/barrel so a rise of, say $40 a barrel, would cost America
c. $680 billion.   Any figure beyond that does not bear even imagining;


5) <italic>the economic costs to America</italic>.  On the much
smaller case of Iraq, our direct "out of pocket" expenditures for the
invasion and occupation, according to the Congressional Research
Service,  will amount to about $700 billion.  Nixon's Commerce
Secretary and now chairman of the Blackstone Group Peter Peterson has
calculated that the cost of keeping two divisions operational in  Iraq
is $2 billion a week -- the cost per annum is more than the GNP of New
Zealand!   In Iran we would need far more troops than in Iraq.    To
ease the pain of these costs, in FY 2004, we borrowed $540 billion
abroad.   So far we have not felt the full impact.  And these are not
the total costs. According to the most complete study (made by Nobel
laureate economist Joseph Steiglitz and Linda Blaine) the real costs
will be between $1 and $2 trillion.  Iran predictably would be some
multiple of this;


6) <italic>the long-term effects</italic>.  These would include
pernicious and dangerous effects on our own society; a massive
disruption of Iranian society and, as I mentioned, an intensification
of the Iraq conflict; a further alienation of America's overseas
friends and almost undoubtedly a major escalation in incidents of
terrorist attacks on American targets at home and abroad.  After all,
the world's 1 billion + Muslims already believe we are the enemy and,
having no formal means of effective military action, they will strike
out with the only weapon they have, terrorism;



7) <italic>what the alternatives are:</italic>  in policy as in
business, one must always search for and carefully consider
alternatives before making decisions.   We are being told that there
are only two -- <underline>give in </underline>to Iran, particularly
on the nuclear issue, or <underline>go to war </underline>with Iran.
If we stop there, then we will go to war.

<underline>

</underline>    <underline>However, there is a third alternative which is
not being discussed.  It has two aspects:


</underline>    <underline>First, the nuclear aspect</underline>.  We
should use our great power and skill to push for regional nuclear arms
control.  My friend Sy Hersh who has far better contacts than I in the
Israeli military tells me that Israel will not accept this.  With all
respect, I disagree.  The Israelis are intelligent.  And such a move
would be in Israel's own best interests because (a) it has the
strongest conventional army in West Asia and one of the strongest in
the world.  It does not need nuclear arms.  (b) as I discussed with
the Israeli general staff, and they reluctantly agreed, Israel does
not have any feasible targets for nuclear weapons except, possibly, in
Iran; and (c) having itself 400-600 nuclear weapons and not having
joined the relevant IAEA pacts, it is almost forcing its neighbors to
acquire nuclear weapons.  Sooner or later, and probably sooner, Iran,
Egypt, Saudi Arabia,  perhaps Uzbekistan and eventually even Iraq,
will follow Pakistan (which is now expanding its program), India,
China and North Korea.  Thus, <underline>Israel's nuclear program will
create a nuclear danger to it.</underline>   And to us.  Therefore, it
is to Israel's interest and ours to put our emphasis on arms control.
What Israel and the Bush administration are doing now is a recipe for
eventual nuclear war.  That would be a world catastrophe.  As you
know, I speak with some experience on this from my involvement in the
Cuban Missile Crisis.


   <underline>The second aspect is resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian
(and now Lebanese) conflict. </underline> We cannot go back to earlier
times although we need to be aware of them to understand both the
Israeli and Arab fears and angers; but we  must realistically evaluate
the current issues.  Israel is hated and feared throughout the area.
Ultimately, it must find means to accommodate itself to its
neighborhood.  It is now moving in the opposite direction.  What is
needed is rather too complex to discuss fully here, but let me assert
that a modus vivendi is achievable in a way that could meet enough --
even if certainly not all -- the needs of both Arabs and Israelis.  It
must begin with ending what even Israelis, including the foremost
Israeli strategic thinker, have termed its colonialist, racist policy
toward the Palestinians and pull back enough to allow them to have the
sine qua non for peace, a nation-state.  It cannot occupy territory
illegally without inflaming hatred and it cannot murder opponents
without retaliation or destroy a neighboring country without creating
whole echelons of new enemies, yet it is doing each of these things.
Its policy is not only morally reprehensible but, even worse, it is
self-defeating.  It is now heading in the wrong direction and would be
very foolish to "stay the course."  I believe that Israelis can be led
to see this and, with proper guidance and perhaps incentives, can be
led to adopt a wiser policy.


Bill


William R. Polk

williamrpolk@post.harvard.edu

669 Chemin de la Sine

F-06140 Vence France

fax: +33-493 24 08 77
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