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David Miller: America Goes Alone

David Miller Online

America Goes Alone

Despite the fall of the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, the United States is determined to push on with its war on terrorism. The past few days have seen members of the Bush Administration criticise the efforts of Iran and North Korea in preventing terrorism and Mr. Bush has labelled the two states and “Axis of Evil”. Despite the obvious risks, it is of no surprise that the United States is prepared to take aim at these two states. North Korea has long been a thorn in the side of the US with its nuclear arms and missile programme while Iran has been considered the leading sponsor of terrorism since the end of the Cold War. There appears to be scores that Washington wishes to settle with both states and the question has now arisen as to whether they will be targeted in the war on terrorism.

Attention has been diverted from Iran with the rise to prominence of Osama bin Laden. Prior to the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa in 1998, Iran was firmly placed at the top of the State Department’s list of states that sponsor and promote terrorism. Iran was accused of not only operating a campaign of assassination against dissidents but also of sponsoring groups that where opposed to the Middle East peace process such as Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad. The US maintained that Iran has developed the “terror option” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and that Tehran had used terrorism as a means of exporting this revolution across the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

Iran is believed to be using various government agencies in this regard, such as the Ministries of Intelligence and Foreign Affairs and has developed the network through mosques, cultural groups and individual militants worldwide. This image as a terrorist sponsor and rogue state was not helped by the Salman Rushdie affair and the death sentence imposed on him by Iran remains in place to this date.

The issue that arises in 2001 is whether there is an opportunity for Iran to step into the breach left by bin Laden and become the number one terrorist sponsor once again and if Washington feels that Iran has done so, what actions can it afford to take? Over the weekend Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran of not closing its border with Afghanistan and allowing terrorists to enter its territory and seek sanctuary there. These comments come only weeks after a ship containing arms allegedly supplied by Iran was intercepted and destined for the Palestinian Authority.

If Mr. Rumsfeld is correct and the Iranians are providing shelter for an al-Qaeda force on the run from Afghanistan then perhaps the opportunity has presented itself for Iran to use its terrorism network to promote its foreign policy agenda once again. Over the past few years the Iranian regime has softened in comparison to that of Khomeini and in recent years has not appeared to be concerned with exporting the Islamic Revolution abroad. However the discovery of the weapons shipment would indicate that Iran has by no means been sidelined. If one accepts what Mr. Rumsfeld is saying then Iran could become a threat once again.

The problem the US is facing each time is seeks to expand its war on terrorism is that it runs the risk of alienating allies and widening a conflict that could easily extend beyond its capabilities. There is constant talk that Somalia will be targeted along with Iraq and now the Bush Administration is verbally taking aim at Iran and North Korea. These countries are already the targets of sanctions and if evidence is produced that shows these countries are supporting terrorism it is difficult to see what steps the US can take.

The military option cannot be ruled out however it does not appear to be a realistic option. Public opinion in the US is still in favour of a war against terror but it is unlikely to support any action against a state such as Iran. Such a move would certainly spell the end of the support and sympathy the US has throughout the Middle East and it would be looked upon as overstepping the mark. It would also have the potential to draw other moderate states into the conflict and would upset the military balance in the region.

If the claims made by the Bush Administration concerning Iran and terrorism are true then best policy that the US can implement is one of containment and to use the support it currently has in the Middle East and the rest of the world to apply pressure to Iran to cease from supporting terrorism as would be advisable in the case of states such as Iraq and North Korea. The United States government would not have the support internationally or domestically to launch a military offensive against Iran despite the strong rhetoric. Washington must hope that Iran does not use this to its advantage and use terrorism as a foreign policy tool once again.

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