Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Repetition of History?

The question of whether or not the White House is now pursuing "designs on Iran" is larger than the sound-byte scale of most American media coverage. So we should all acknowledge a debt of thanks to Bernhard Zand for the extended analysis he filed from Dubai for SPIEGEL ONLINE. With my own interest in narrative analysis, I see this as a situation in which we are obliged to assume that all of the narrators are unreliable (which is often the case when the dispute is really contentious and clouded by excessive ideology). Zand provides a nice summary of this position:

Iran and Iraq's neighbors in the Gulf have watched this diplomatic escalation with understandable concern. They don't trust Iran's expansionist foreign policy -- including its secretive nuclear program -- or the American strategy in Iraq. Different versions of three basic scenarios have circulated on the opinion pages and blogs of the region for the past weeks. First, an imminent US military strike. Second, a unilateral Israeli attack like the one on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. Or, third, the scenario everyone hopes for -- that one of the two antagonists, preferably Iran, will back down before the war of words degrades into violence.

What makes Zand's analysis particularly interesting, however, is the way in which he includes Israel among those unreliable narrators:

Mohammed Al Naqbi at the Gulf Negotiation Centre in Abu Dhabi also believes Israel, not the United States, is preparing for war. He says the process is long past the stage of psychological warfare. "Everything is in place, from the US point of view, for a war most probably this time on Iran," says Naqbi, adding that the US administration is "sleepwalking" to its next conflict. He expects military operations to begin in March or April, shortly after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presents its next report, and in time for Admiral William Fallon, the new head of US Central Command, to get acquainted with his job.

I was particularly struck by the choice of that progressive verb "sleepwalking." While I do not recall Barbara Tuchman using the verb explicitly, that verb captures her own position in The Guns of August on how Europe basically blundered its way into the First World War. We are thus once again up against Marx' reading of Hegel on the repetition of history, except that, in this particular situation, it is far too grim to think of the repetition as farce!

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