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Dunsmore: Dangerous Obsession

01/13/12 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) Even as America is engrossed in presidential politics, tensions are building with Iran. Yet as commentator and retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore notes, the dangerous escalation of the dispute with Iran is being eclipsed by coverage of the current presidential campaign.

(Dunsmore) Who’s up - and who is down? Which candidate is lying and who says so? Seemingly hourly public opinion polls are among the entrails being examined by the best and brightest of the national and international news media, with an intensity worthy of the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi. As they gushed over the small-town quaintness of the New Hampshire primary, reporters and commentators sometimes out-numbered actual voters at campaign events by as much as ten to one.

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, the new most important places on the planet are South Carolina and Florida, where the next two presidential primaries take place. But before the next no-news-but-primary-news obsession returns, let me bring you up to date on happenings in the outside world, where the United States and Iran have been spoiling for war, or so it might seem.

You’ll recall, of course, that relations between Washington and Tehran turned sour when Iran became a theocracy in 1979 and adopted terrorism as a political strategy. More recently, to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons - which it certainly appears to be doing - four rounds of economic sanctions have been imposed by the United Nations Security Council.

There have been mysterious assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists – including one this week; sabotage of its uranium centrifuges; unexplained explosions at a missile site that killed a senior missile commander; and persistent threats of Israeli air strikes on its nuclear facilities. Right now the European Union is working on an embargo against Iranian oil imports - and there is a new American law that may penalize those who buy Iranian petroleum.

These measures are causing havoc in the Iranian economy, and its government is definitely feeling domestic political pressure. Apparently, that’s why it has tentatively agreed to restart talks on its nuclear program, which Turkey has agreed to host.

But the regime is also ratcheting up the crisis by defiantly holding war games in the Persian Gulf and threatening to blockade the Strait of Hormuz - the choke point in the Gulf through which virtually all Middle East oil shipments must pass. Such action could double the current one hundred dollar a barrel price for oil, dealing a major blow to the world economy. Meantime, just this week Iran sentenced an Iranian-American to death for allegedly working for the CIA.

The U.S. has strongly denied the allegation and condemned the death sentence. As for the Iranian blockade of the Persian Gulf, General Martin Dempsey, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “Yes they can block it.” But he added that this was intolerable for the world and quote, “...we would take action and reopen the straits.”

I don’t believe that at this point either side wants this confrontation to get totally out of hand. But in such increasingly volatile circumstances, war by miscalculation is always a very real danger.
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