Seumas Milne or Ahmadinejad? Guardian warns attacking Iran would be ‘criminal aggression’

Cross posted by Anne, who blogs at Anne’s Opinions

Float in Dusseldorf featuring Ahmadinejad

Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne, per George Galloway and other political fellow travelers, never met a dictator he couldn’t love and whose opposition to anything Western is visceral.

His latest column, Feb. 21, asserts that an attack on Iran would be an act of criminal stupidity. 

A US-Israeli stealth war [against Iran] is already raging on the ground, including covert assassinations of scientists, cyber warfare and attacks on military and missile installations. And Britain and France have successfully dragooned the EU into ramping up sanctions on Iran’s economic life-blood of oil exports as a buildup of western military forces continues in the Gulf.

Any of this could easily be regarded as an act of war against Iran –

If an attack is launched by Israel or the US, it would not just be an act of criminal aggression, but of wanton destructive stupidity. As Michael Clarke, director of the British defence establishment’s Royal United Services Institute, points out, such an attack would be entirely illegal: “There is no basis in international law for preventative, rather than pre-emptive, war.”

However, Clarke does not make clear, as with Milne’s broader commentary, the difference between pre-emptive and preventative.


Preemptive: of or pertaining to preemption…taken as a measure against something possible, anticipated, or feared. 

Preventive; deterrent: a preemptive tactic against a ruthless…rival.

And as I have pointed out before, preemptive attacks are indeed legal in the face of not only imminent attack but also expected and threatened attack:

The proliferation of WMDs by rogue nations gave rise to a certain argument by scholars concerning preemption.  They argued that the threat need not be “imminent” in the classic sense and that the illicit acquisition of these weapons, with their capacity to unleash massive destruction, by rogue nations, created the requisite threat to peace and stability as to have justified the use of preemptive force. NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for WMD, Guy Roberts cited the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1998 US attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (identified by US intelligence to have been a chemical weapons facility) and the 1981 Israeli attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak as examples of the counter-proliferation self-help paradigm. Regarding the Osirak attack, Roberts noted that at the time, few legal scholars argued in support of the Israeli attack but notes further that, “subsequent events demonstrated the perspicacity of the Israelis, and some scholars have re-visited that attack arguing that it was justified under anticipatory self-defense.” Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, American forces captured a number of documents detailing conversations that Sadaam Hussein had with his inner sanctum. The archive of documents and recorded meetings confirm that Hussein was indeed aiming to strike at Israel. In a 1982 conversation Hussein stated that, “Once Iraq walks out victorious, there will not be any Israel.” Of Israel’s anti-Iraqi endeavors he noted, “Technically, they [the Israelis] are right in all of their attempts to harm Iraq.

Note what was said about Israel’s attack on Osirak, the international condemnations and the later reversal of opinion (not that Israel ever received an apology for the original condemnations).

The threats emanating from Iran, with its parades of missiles engraved “Marg bar Israel” (Death to Israel), the regime’s Holocaust denial, the determination of Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map (yes, he indeed did say it many times) – not to mention its permanent proxy war against Israel conducted by Hezbollah and Hamas – all amount to viable motivations for a legal pre-emptive attack, whether by Israel, the Western allies, or a coalition of them all.

Again, Milne:

Such a capability wouldn’t be the “existential threat” Israeli politicians have claimed. It might, of course, blunt Israel’s strategic edge. Or as Matthew Kroenig, the US defence secretary’s special adviser until last summer,spelled it out recently, a nuclear Iran “would immediately limit US freedom of action in the Middle East”. Which gets to the heart of the matter: freedom of action in the Middle East is the prerogative of the US and its allies, not independent Middle Eastern states.

Milne’s dismissal of Israel’s concern about an existential threat is characteristically Guardian: Detached moral posturing far removed from the crisis being discussed. He is not the one sitting here in the Middle East waiting for bombs to fall on his family.  And, of course he does not care that Israel’s strategic edge would be blunted.

Anything that would weaken Israel is good as far as he is concerned, and similarly supports the potential that a nuclear Iran would limit US freedom of action in the Middle East.

It is biased and ideologically driven “journalists” like Milne who suffer from the real failure of imagination – those who cannot imagine the dire straits the civilised world will find itself in if Iran develops nuclear weapons, and who refuse to see the disastrous implications, some of which are already being played out today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also seems egregiously detached from the moral lessons learned from the 20th century’s previous wars:  That when despotic regimes threaten destruction they usually carry out their threats.

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