All The Perfumes of Arabia

In last week's column I wrote about the very real possibility that George Bush and Dick Cheney will make a preemptive bombing strike on Iran before they skedaddle out of office - you know, because all their other ideas have worked out so well. In case you don't remember the column, it ended with this: Bomb Iran? No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!

Although Bush has been making speeches demonizing Iran - an almost certain sign that we're going to attack - we hear very little about it in the American press.

The New York Times on Sunday, for example, politely reported "an intense and continuing struggle between factions within (Bush's) administration over how aggressively to confront Iran." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pushing for diplomacy, the Times said, while Cheney "advocates a much tougher view."

In Europe, however, people are screaming. Last month, according to the Associated Press, French president Nicolas Sarkozy sparked debate in Paris by saying the world had "a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran." This week the French foreign minister tamped down the rhetoric and emphasized the need to "negotiate, negotiate, negotiate without respite."

Meanwhile, in what UN officials described as an attempt to halt an "out of control" drift to war, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei said, "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons."

According to former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who has strong connections and much experience in the Middle East, the U.S. cannot possibly effect Iranian regime change by bombing, while the risks are enormous. "Many of the potential targets are in populated places, endangering civilians both from errant bombs and the possible dispersal of radioactive material," he wrote recently in The New York Review of Books. "The rest of the world would condemn the attacks and there would likely be a virulent anti-U.S. reaction in the Islamic world. In retaliation, Iran could wreak havoc on the world economy (and its own) by withholding oil from the global market and by military action to close the Persian Gulf shipping lanes.'

Meanwhile, I have started getting e-mails from people all over the world who share my fears that the U.S. will drop a few bombs just because it might make Bush and Cheney momentarily feel good.

"Hello Joyce," wrote Dave Bawden from South Africa. "I can only sympathise with you all in that I would put money on it that Dubya will bomb Iran just for spite and then it will really be Armageddon for us all, I'm afraid! The warning lights are flashing like a Saturday Night Fever disco. Sad Regards..."

Many terrified Muslims wrote to me. I even heard from Tehran, from television news producer Shohelia Ghodsi.

"Joyce I read your article and I must say it is very scary," Ghodsi wrote. "We all knew that something like this could happen , and that U.S. after attacking Iraq, Iran will be next... Bush wants to attack, so he will. I guess no one can stop him now, right? At this moment I don't even know how to end this e-mail!"

A man describing himself as a "Swiss resident of the island of Cyprus" wrote: "As a European who knows the USA quite well, I find it utterly incredible - and I mean simply beyond belief, that at least several hundred full-time professionals of both parties could serenely pursue their party's goals for the after BushCheney, when there may not even ever be a real after BushCheney."

A man in Canada wrote, "Heard today that the gorilla is near to extinction. We are emptying the oceans of fish. And yet the majority of citizens just go about their mindless pursuits while the rest of us twist in the wind. What kind of species are we ?... Let's just hope that we can come out of this nightmare one day. Let's hope that after this we will have the luxury of being able to live in a world where the US participates rather than annihilates. Let's hope the end of it all is not as near as it now appears."

From Arctic Norway, a man wrote: "Somehow, the Bush administration almost seems suicidal, not in the sense of killing themselves actually, but in the sense of making sure that they destroy the USA economically, militarily, constitutionally, and any other way they can. It is stunning that so many people just go about shopping and watching TV as though this has nothing to do with them."

Iran, South Africa, Norway, Canada, Cyprus - it's astonishing how widespread the fear of Bush/Cheney has become. Yet nothing seems to be able to stop this next dreadful war. In fact, the best I've heard is that American won't bomb Iran - we'll have Israel do it for us. Then Iran will bomb Israel, and we'll go around the merry-go-round once again.

In times like this, Leonard Cohen's song "Everybody Knows" runs through my head: "Everybody knows the dice are loaded/Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/Everybody knows that the war is over/Everybody knows the good guys lost.... Everybody knows that the deal is rotten/Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton/For your ribbons and bows/And everybody knows."

But the final word about a possible strike against Iran - and the potential start of World War III - comes from Shakespeare. It's when Lady MacBeth, sleepwalking, says: "Out damn spot! Out... What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? ...Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!"

Joyce Marcel is a journalist and columnist based in Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through And write her at

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