[C]onsider the possibility that all-out regional war is the optimal outcome for American interests. An Israeli strike on Iran that achieved even limited success - a two-year delay in Iran's nuclear weapons development - would arrest America's precipitous decline as a superpower.Compared to that, the probable consequences of an Israeli attack don't look so bad:
Absent an Israeli strike, America faces:
A nuclear-armed Iran; Iraq's continued drift towards alliance with Iran; An overtly hostile regime in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood government will lean on jihadist elements to divert attention from the country's economic collapse; An Egyptian war with Libya for oil and with Sudan for water; A radical Sunni regime controlling most of Syria, facing off an Iran-allied Alawistan ensconced in the coastal mountains; A de facto or de jure Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the Kingdom of Jordan; A campaign of subversion against the Saudi monarchy by Iran through Shi'ites in Eastern Province and by the Muslim Brotherhood internally; A weakened and perhaps imploding Turkey struggling with its Kurdish population and the emergence of Syrian Kurds as a wild card; A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan; and Radicalized Islamic regimes in Libya and Tunisia.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest loser in the emerging Middle East configuration, and Russia is the biggest winner. Europe and Japan have concluded that America has abandoned its long-standing commitment to the security of energy supplies in the Persian Gulf by throwing the Saudi monarchy under the bus, and have quietly shifted their energy planning towards Russia. Little of this line of thinking will appear in the news media, but the reorientation towards Moscow is underway nonetheless.
From Israel's vantage point, the way things are now headed is the worst-case scenario. The economic sanctions are a nuisance for Iran, but not a serious hindrance to its nuclear ambitions. When US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey intoned on August 30 that he "did not want to be complicit" in an Israeli strike on Iran, he was stating publicly what the Pentagon has signaled to Tehran for the past six months. The US wants no part of an Israeli strike.
This remonstrance from the Pentagon, along with the State Department's refusal to identify a "red line" past which Iran would provoke American military action, amounts to a green light for Iran to build an atomic bomb, Israeli analysts believe.
The ripple effects are what America's foreign policy establishment fears the most. The vision shared by the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations, albeit with some variation, of a Middle East dotted with democratic regimes friendly to the United States would pop like a soap-bubble. What ripples would ensue from a successful Israeli strike on Iran?War can have unpredictable side effects and unintended consequences that cannot even be imagined, but the current state of affairs vis-a-vis the Muslim world cannot continue. Thanks in part to feckless administrations, both Democrat and Republican, in Washington, we are losing the peace, such as it is. A war may be our only hope.
Iran probably would attempt to block the Straits of Hormuz, the gateway for a fifth of the world's oil supply, and America would respond by destroying Iranian conventional military capabilities and infrastructure from the air. This would add to Tehran's humiliation, and strengthen the domestic opposition.
Iran's influence in Iraq and Syria would diminish, although Iran's supporters in both countries probably would spill a great deal of blood in the short run.
Hizbollah almost certainly would unleash its missile arsenal at Israel, inflicting a few hundred casualties by Israeli estimates. Israel would invade southern Lebanon and - unlike the 2006 war - fight without fear of Syrian intervention. In 2006, the Olmert government restricted the movements of the IDF out of fear that the Syrian Army would intervene. Syria's army is in no position to intervene today.
There is a possibility, to be sure, that Syria would launch chemical and biological warheads against Israel, but if the Assad government employed weapons of mass destruction, Israel would respond with a nuclear bombardment. In this case deterrence is likely to be effective. Iran's influence in Lebanon would be drastically diminished.
Stripped of support from its Iranian sponsor, the Alawite regime would fall, and Syria would become a Saudi-Turkish condominium. Ethnic butchery would go on for some time.
Egypt would be cut off from financial support from the Gulf States as punishment for its opening to Iran. The domestic consequences for Egypt would be ugly. The country is almost out of money; some of its oil suppliers stopped deliveries last August, and Egypt's refineries lack funds to buy oil from the government.
Cairo well might become a radical Islamic state, a North Korea on the Nile, as I wrote in this space last month (see North Korea on the Nile Asia Times Online, August 29, 2012.) But the consequences of such a devolution would be limited. With Iran neutralized , Egypt would be less of a threat to Saudi Arabia. It might become a threat to Libya and Sudan. That is unfortunate, but what have Libya and Sudan done for us lately?
In the absence of an American leadership willing to assert American strategic interests in the region, Israel well might save the United States.
In the long view of things, there is not much cause for optimism about the Muslim world. It contains two kinds of countries: those that can't feed their children, like Egypt, and those that have stopped having children, like Iran, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia. Muslim nations seem to pass directly from infancy to senescence without stopping at adulthood, from the pre-modern directly to the post-modern, as I wrote in my book Why Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too).
Turks have just 1.5 children per family, like the infecund Europeans, while Turkish Kurds have four or five children. That makes the redrawing of the map of Turkey inevitable sooner or later. In a generation, Iran will have an inverted population pyramid like the aging industrial countries, but without the wealth to support it.
There is no reason to expect most of the Muslim countries to go quietly into irreversible decline. All-out regional war is the likely outcome sooner or later. We might as well get on with it.