Skip to comments.Iranian Alert - December 3, 2004 [EST] -- Rumsfeld warns Iran making 'a lot of mistakes'
Posted on 12/02/2004 11:12:55 PM PST by DoctorZIn
Top News Story
Rumsfeld warns Iran making 'a lot of mistakes'
Thu Dec 2, 7:08 PM ET
Politics - AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iran was "making a lot of mistakes" but said any action to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons was a call for President George W. Bush (news - web sites) and other leaders to make.
Rumsfeld was asked in an interview with Fox News television whether the United States could allow Iran to become another North Korea (news - web sites), which is believed to have nuclear weapons.
"The Iranians are making a lot of mistakes, let me just put it that way," Rumsfeld said.
Earlier, he said Bush has decided to work through the Europeans and the United Nations (news - web sites) to put diplomatic pressure on Iran to give up nuclear program.
"And what one has to do at that stage is continue to put pressure on them, and it's up to the countries of the United Nations to decide what kind of steps they may or may not want to take," he said.
Asked what the odds were that the United States would have to confront Iran militarily, Rumsfeld said, "I guess those are calls for the president ... or for other leaders of other countries to make."
He noted that Iran had a large population of young people and women who were dissatisfied with Iran's clerical rule.
"That is not a stable situation," he said.
"My hope is that over time we will see a shift in that country, just as we saw a shift from the shah to the ayatollah. It happened almost overnight," he said.
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December 02, 2004, 8:18 a.m.
The End of the Lefts HistoryThe world has moved on.
The hysterical reaction of the Western Left to the reelection of President George W. Bush is not just a primal scream from politicians and intellectuals deprived of political power. The violent language, numerous acts of violence, and demonization of Bush and his electorate the same as that directed against Tony Blair in Britain, Jose Maria Aznar in Spain, and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy portend a more fundamental event: the death rattle of the traditional Left, both as a dominant political force and as an intellectual vision.
For the most part, the Left only wins elections nowadays when their candidates run on their opponents platform (Clinton and Blair) or when panic overwhelms the political process (Zapatero and Schroeder). Under normal circumstances, leftists running as leftists rarely win, proving that their ideology the ideology that dominated political and intellectual debate for most of the last century is spent. When their ideas were in vogue, leftist advocates took electoral defeat in stride, as they were confident that their vision was far more popular because far more accurate than their opponents view of the world. History and logic were on their side. But no more. Incoherent rage and unbridled personal attacks on the winners are sure signs of a failed vision.
Ironically, the Lefts view of history provides us with part of the explanation for its death. Marx and Hegel both understood that the world constantly changes, and ideas change along with it. The world they knew and successfully transformed was a class-bound society dominated by royalty and aristocracy. They hurled themselves into class struggle, believing it to be the engine of human history, and they fought for liberty for all. Successive generations of leftists preached and organized democratic revolution at home and abroad, from the overthrow of tyrants to the abolition of class privileges and the redistribution of both political power and material wealth.
In true dialectical fashion, they were doomed by their own success. As once-impoverished workers became wealthier, the concept of the proletariat became outdated, along with the very idea of class struggle. Then the manifest failure and odious tyranny of the 20th-century leftist revolutions carried out in the name of the working class notably in Russia, China, and Cuba undermined the appeal of the old revolutionary doctrines, no matter how desperately the Left argued that Communist tyrannies were an aberration, or a distortion of their vision.
Thus the ideology of the Left became anachronistic, even in western Europe, its birthplace and the source of its historical model. But the biggest change was the emergence of the United States as the most powerful, productive, and creative country in the world. It was always very hard for the Left to understand America, whose history, ideology, and sociology never fit the Lefts schemas. Even those who argued that there were class divisions in America had to admit that the "American proletariat" had no class consciousness. The political corollary was that there was never a Marxist mass movement in the United States. Every European country had big socialist parties and some had substantial Communist parties; the United States had neither. Indeed, most American trade unions were anti-Communist. As Seymour Martin Lipset and others have demonstrated, the central ideals of European socialism which inspired many American leftist intellectuals were contained in and moderated by the American Dream. America had very little of the class hatred that dominated Europe for so long; American workers wanted to get rich, and believed they could. Leftist Europeans and the bulk of the American intellectual elite believed that only state control by a radical party could set their societies on the road to equality.
The success of America was thus a devastating blow to the Left. It wasnt supposed to happen. And American success was particularly galling because it came at the expense of Europe itself, and of the embodiment of the Lefts most utopian dream: the Soviet Union. Even those Leftists who had been outspokenly critical of Stalins "excesses" could not forgive America for bringing down the Soviet Empire, and becoming the worlds hyperpower. As Marx and Hegel would have understood, the first signs of hysterical anti-Americanism on the Left accompanied the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The resurgence of American economic power and the defeat of the Soviets exposed the failure of the Left to keep pace with the transformation of the world. The New York intellectual who proclaimed her astonishment at Reagans election by saying, "I dont know a single person who voted for him," well described the dialectical process by which an entire set of ideas was passing into history.
The slow death of the Left was not limited to its failure to comprehend how profoundly the world had changed, but included elements that had been there all along, outside the purview of leftist thought. Marx was famously unable to comprehend the importance of religion, which he dismissively characterized as the "opiate of the masses," and the Left had long fought against organized religion. But America had remained a religious society, which both baffled and enraged the leftists. On the eve of the 2004 elections, some 40 percent of the electorate consisted of born-again Christians, and the world at large was in the grips of a massive religious revival, yet the increasingly isolated politicians and intellectuals of the Left had little contact and even less understanding of people of faith.
Unable to either understand or transform the world, the Left predictably lost its bearings. It was entirely predictable that they would seek to explain their repeated defeats by claiming fraud, or dissing their own candidates, or blaming the stupidity of the electorate. Their cries of pain and rage echo those of past elites who looked forward and saw the abyss. There is no more dramatic proof of the death of the Left than the passage of its central vision global democratic revolution into the hands of those who call themselves conservatives.
History has certainly not ended, but it has added a new layer to its rich compost heap.
Ideological gulf inflames Iran
IT TAKES a lot to unite the Iranians, but National Geographic magazine has pulled it off. Everyone from the most devout mullah to the most fervent moderniser is unanimous in a furious response to what was perceived as a perfidious attack on the countrys proud civilisation and long history.
The crime? The magazine added the words Arabian Gulf in brackets beneath Persian Gulf on a map to label the body of water that divides Iran from its Arab neighbours.
The American-owned magazine has been banned from sale in Iran pending a correction of the map and its reporters are barred from visiting the Islamic republic. We will not accept the use of the term Arabian Gulf, which is contrary to United Nations documents, Hossein Khoshvaght, the Iranian Culture Ministrys head of foreign press affairs, said.
Under the headline Persian Gulf Forever, the hardline Tehran Times fulminated that National Geographics refusal to use only the waterways historic name was an unscientific and politically motivated measure. It detected the influence of the US Zionist lobby and the oil dollars of certain Arab governments behind the parenthetical aside.
The official outcry has been echoed in cyberspace, which has become a haven for liberal journalists and commentators after the hardline judiciary closed scores of reformist publications in the past four years. Keeping the worlds most vital oil waterway Persian is a national touchstone and a highly emotive issue.
Iranian bloggers at home and abroad orchestrated an eye-catching web action on the Google search engine. A search for the words Arabian Gulf triggers a spoof message: The Gulf you are looking for does not exist. Try Persian Gulf. In a parody of the text that usually appears when a webpage does not exist, it advises users to read some history books.
National Geographic refuses to back down. The publication recognises Persian Gulf as the primary name but says: It has been the societys cartographic practice to display a secondary name in parentheses when use of such a name has become commonly recognised. The society does not attempt to make judgments about the validity of such claims but accurately to acknowledge the existence of conflicting names.
Not that I've paid much attention, but I don't recall hearing that usage. Do you think "the society" is playing games?
A Shift? Uh, yeah, we'll call it a "shift", heehee. Give the mullah's the shaft, and bring on the shift. Iran's leaders want to spread their mullah-madness world wide. God help these Iranians who understand the "preciousness" of real FREEDOM. Look at the Iranian FReeper who is fleeing for his life. That is wonderful that he's okay, but the poor soul has had to leave loved ones behind, not knowing if he will ever see them again. BRING ON THE SHIFT! And I pray that this one too, happens, to quote Rummy, "almost overnight."
"Give the mullah's the shaft, and bring on the shift"
On a personal note, Thanks so much for all your support.
The Gulf You Are Looking For Does Not Exist. Try Persian Gulf.
|The gulf you are looking for is unavailable. No body of water by that name has ever existed. The correct name is Persian Gulf, which always has been, and will always remain, Persian.|
Please try the following:
TRUTH 404- Gulf Not Found
Some 200 young men and women in Iran pledge willingness to carry out suicide attacks against Americans, IsraelisThursday December 02, 2004By NASSER KARIMIAssociated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Some 200 masked young men and women gathered at a Tehran cemetery Thursday to pledge their willingness to carry out suicide bomb attacks against Americans in Iraq and Israelis.
The ceremony was organized by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, a shadowy group that has since June been seeking volunteers for attacks in Iraq and Israel.
A spokesman, Ali Mohammadi, described the group meeting Thursday as the ``first suicide commando unit,'' though another official has claimed members already have carried out attacks in Israel.
``Sooner or later we will bury all blasphemous occupiers of Islamic lands,'' Mohammadi said.
On Sunday, Iran's deputy interior minister for security affairs told reporters the movement had no official sanction and said such groups could operate only ``as long as their ideas are limited to theory.'' The group, though, has the backing of some prominent hard-line Iranian politicians.
The deputy minister, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, did not say if the government had tried to crack down on the military style training the group claims to offer or whether officials believed any of its volunteers had crossed into Iraq or into Israel.
Iran has not had diplomatic relations with the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the U.S.-backed shah. But Iran says it has no interest in fomenting instability in Iraq and it tries to block any infiltration into Iraq by insurgents while pleading that its porous borders are hard to police.
Iran portrays Israel as its main nemesis and backs anti-Israeli groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Wives, husbands and children accompanied volunteers to the cemetery, which was decorated with posters denouncing America and Israel.
``I joined the unit to fulfill my religious task for Palestine,'' said a volunteer who gave only his age 23.
Thursday's ceremony included the unveiling of 6-foot stone column commemorating a 1983 attack on U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon as a major ``suicide bombing operation against global blasphemy.''
In the early hours of Oct. 23, 1983, a truck carrying more than 2,000 pounds of explosives sped past a sentry post and exploded in the center of the barracks, killing 241 Marines. President Reagan ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from Lebanon a few months after the bombing.
In 2003, a U.S. federal judge blamed Iran for the attack and said Tehran would have to pay damages to survivors and relatives.
China Grumbles Over US Sanctions on Firms Selling Weapons Know-How to IranPacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Washington's decision to impose sanctions on Chinese companies for selling weapons technology to Iran will not help bilateral non-proliferation cooperation, according to Beijing's foreign ministry.
The State Department has announced that four Chinese entities and a North Korean company would be subject to sanctions under the Iran Nonproliferation Act for selling weapons or weapons-related technology to Tehran.
Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told a press briefing that China opposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and had taken steps to enhance law enforcement in that area. The government would act against any individual or company found to have been involved in illegal export activity, she said.
But the CIA says that, despite some improvements undertaken by China, some Chinese companies continued to be involved in proliferation activity.
One of the four Chinese entities, an individual named Q.C. Chen, has been under U.S. sanctions for various proliferation violations for years. In 1997, he was slapped with sanctions under different legislation for helping Iran's chemical weapons (CW) program by selling CW precursor chemicals, equipment and technology.
Two of the other companies cited by the State Department have also previously been penalized for transferring controlled items to Tehran.
And one of the newly identified offenders, a firm called the Liaoning Jiayi Metals and Minerals Company, is reported to be a Chinese state-run company.
"There are unrepentant proliferators out there, and it's going to require a concerted, sustained effort to fight them," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We're certainly not going to stand by idly while weapons proliferation programs are assisted."
Ereli said the U.S. would increase the pressure on violators through "sustained and high-level engagement" with Beijing.
The sanctions, which are valid for two years, prevent entities in the U.S. from doing any business with the targeted firms.
In a report to recently handed to Congress, the CIA said the Chinese government had in recent years improved its nonproliferation posture by committing itself to multilateral regimes and strengthening oversight mechanisms.
But at the same time, it said, "the proliferation behavior of Chinese companies remains of great concern."
During the period covered by the report -- July to December 2003 -- there was evidence that Chinese firms also provided dual-use CW-related equipment and know-how to Iran, the CIA said.
Chinese entities also continued to work with Iran on ballistic missile-related projects, thus helping Iran to move toward its goal of becoming self-sufficient in ballistic missile production.
Chinese firms had also provided dual-use missile-related items and raw materials to the Islamic Republic, and were a primary supplier of advanced conventional weapons as well.
In testimony before Congress last June, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said Iran had received help from companies in China, as well as Russia and North Korea, to develop and expand its ballistic missile program.
Iran was acquiring the means to produce ever more sophisticated and longer-range missiles, including missiles capable of delivering payloads to Western Europe or the U.S., Bolton warned.
The U.S. government also suspects that Iran has ambitions to be a nuclear weapons power, although Tehran insists that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
After Iran agreed in a deal with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its uranium enrichment program temporarily, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency early this week decided not to refer it to the Security Council, where it could have faced sanctions.
In a report released Thursday, an expert panel recommending United Nations reform said the international community needed to do more to reduce WMD threats.
Preventing the proliferation of such weapons must be an "urgent priority" for global security, the high-level panel said.
Iran to resume uranium enrichmentFriday December 03, 2004 15:19 - (SA) TEHRAN - Iran will resume enriching uranium after a maximum of six months, powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani vowed on Friday, reaffirming that Tehran's freeze on nuclear fuel cycle work is only temporary.
"The last word is after this period, which I do not assume will exceed six months... we must seriously and firmly follow enrichment programmes and use the very important advantages of nuclear technology," he said.
"So far, we have reached the point that we accept to suspend parts of our activities for a period that was not necessary at all.
"Our negotiators have tried to shorten this period and we interpret it to be about two, three months up to six months," the prominent cleric said at Friday prayers.
Earlier this week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spared Iran the fate of being referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions after Tehran agreed in a deal with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.
The United States accuses Iran of running a covert nuclear weapons programme, but the Islamic republic insists it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels, so as to produce fuel for a series of atomic power stations.
Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, Iran's final arbiter on legislation, also had sharp words for the positions of the (IAEA) and Western countries during negotiations over the nuclear programme.
"We should be dissatisfied with them. They owe to us and have done injustice to us. Iran's activities are (allowed) under legal rights given to all countries to use nuclear technology for non-military purposes."
Referring to the US objection towards Iran's access to the fuel cycle, Rafsanjani, a potential runner for Iran's next presidential elections, said: "They are after the free home, oil reserves and this important geographical region, which have been taken from them after the Iran's Islamic revolution."
Iran is still zealously guarding its "right" under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to have a peaceful nuclear programme, including the full fuel cycle.
Top national security official and nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani had reaffirmed on Tuesday that Iran only agreed to the suspension for the duration of negotiations with the Europeans and that "it should be a question of months and not years.
But analysts say that while the deal averted a major international crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions for the time being, but the fundamental problem that Iran wants its very own nuclear fuel cycle still remains unsolved.
Iran Launches Large Military Exercise Near Iraqi Border[Excerpt]
December 03, 2004
Dow Jones Newswires
TEHRAN -- Iran 's army launched its largest military exercise Friday near the Iraqi border, state-run radio reported. Gen. Ali Salimi, the army's chief commander, was quoted as saying the "Followers of the Supreme Leader" exercises were "the biggest in the history of the army" in number of units and operations.
More than 120,000 air and ground troops were to take part in the war games across more than 100,000 square kilometers in five western provinces near the Iraqi border. It was not immediately clear why the location was chosen or how long the exercise would last.
Tanks, armored personnel carriers, jet fighters and helicopters will be deployed in the exercise, Gen. Amir Karimi, a spokesman, was quoted as saying. ...
Head of U.N. Agency Defends Iran Dialogue[ Excerpt] December 03, 2004
The Wall Street Journal
Mohamed ElBaradei, at the center of the United Nations' efforts to monitor countries' nuclear-energy programs, portrays his agency as part "caring mother" to help nations take benign advantage of the technology and part detective to ensure purportedly peaceful programs aren't aimed at churning out arsenals of horrific weapons.
The Egyptian-born diplomat acknowledges playing that dual role as director general of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency makes him a lightning rod for critics who see the agency as either too lenient or too intrusive. "It's a very stressful job," he says. "I have been vilified by as many countries [as] have been subject to inspection," including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
The U.S. has been among the IAEA's loudest critics, expressing skepticism most recently that Iran is acting in good faith after the agency earlier this week endorsed a European deal with Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment program. Mr. ElBaradei concedes a "confidence deficit" has been created by two decades of Tehran's secret work on a nuclear capability and less-than-full cooperation in the first year of IAEA inspections.
But Mr. ElBaradei, who has worked at the agency since 1984, seems determined to press on with the balancing act, saying he is "fairly open" to election to a third, four-year term as director general by the IAEA's 35-nation board and pledging to maintain strong ties with the second Bush administration. "The stakes are so high that we cannot afford to disagree," he says of the agency's relations with the U.S. "We must continue to work as partners." ...
Below is an edited transcript:
Why is there so much focus on Iran ?
Iran is a very important test case -- how verification and diplomacy work in tandem. I have always advocated that we need to use every possible way to resolve issues of concern regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Confidence building means a variety of things and not just dialogue and exercising pressure. We should not think of coercive measures before we exhaust all possible ways of resolving issues. In many cases, confrontation is not the best option. It leads to the exact opposite to what you want to achieve.
We have made a lot of progress in Iran . The last 18 months the knowledge we have now in terms of the extent of the Iranian program is nothing compared to 18 months ago, and shows that inspection really works. But at the same time because the Iran program has been undeclared for almost two decades, Iran has not been fully cooperative for the first year of our inspection. We have a confidence deficit, and that's why the international community is concerned. We are still holding our horses before I can give you the assurance that everything in Iran is declared. I still need to do a lot of work in Iran before I can come to that conclusion. The more transparency and cooperation I see in Iran , the easier my job will be. But I am not jumping to the conclusion that because we have seen smoke, it is absolutely fire -- that because we have seen Iran developing the know-how in a clandestine way, this must be a nuclear-weapon program. We have not seen a clear proof that these activities are linked to a nuclear-weapon program. What we are saying is the jury is still out.
What do you say to critics who say dialogue with Iran won't work?
The dialogue between Iran and the Europeans deals with the causes of the symptoms that are our concern -- the need for social and economic development in Iran , the need for conventional technology and security. The discussion is how we can integrate Iran with Europe and the rest of the community, how we can address their security concern, how we can have a trade and cooperation agreement. In return, Iran will be asked to provide full transparency, full cooperation. Basically at the end of the day our objective is for Iran to feel secure enough and integrated enough and the rest of the world to feel secure enough that Iran is not trying to build a nuclear-weapon program.
But don't you also need a credible backup if that doesn't work?
Of course you can have the [United Nations] Security Council as a backup. If you conclude in a particular country -- and I am not talking about Iran -- that there is an imminent threat, a clear and present danger of using weapons of mass destruction, then you can obviously think of a pre-emptive action. But that pre-emptive action should be collective, in the Security Council, to have the legitimacy required. We are not there at all in the case of Iran , I think.
Unlike the situation in Iraq, if you use force simply because a country has a [nuclear-weapon] know-how, you will force a country to rebuild the program underground and have the goal of achieving a nuclear parity as an absolute national priority. I am not sure that the use of force at all in the case of Iran could be a solution. There is a sense of insecurity and isolation on the part of Iran and this sort of issue can only be resolved in a dialogue, where both parties put their concern on the table and find a solution. That is what the Europeans are trying to do. I hope that will work. I do not want to jump the gun. We can assess the situation a year from now and see how things are.
You cannot continue to have a club of nuclear-weapon states saying that we will keep our weapons but nobody else will have these weapons. I've always said a situation of "haves" and "have-nots" is not sustainable. Everybody will try to achieve parity because nuclear weapons are perceived around the globe as a source of power, prestige and deterrence. We need to build a system of collective security that does not have nuclear deterrence as a base. Until we do, we are going to have a lot of proliferation efforts.
Are we destined to have a world where most countries have a nuclear-weapon program and we have to get them to use it responsibly?
We are either going to have in the next 10-20 years, scores of countries sitting on either nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapon capability, or we are going to say this is not the kind of world we would like to live under -- this is really a recipe for our self destruction and let us try to see an alternative system of collective security where everybody feels secure and does not rely on nuclear weapons.
How do we achieve that?
That is a major challenge because we really haven't faced it so far. Many countries feel we have to rely on nuclear weapons because that has kept the peace since the second world war. It's a question of time before we face the possibility of a miscalculation, an accident, or a crazy leader using nuclear weapons. We have to understand that we have a major problem on our hands. We need to think differently in terms of how our global security is going to look like in the future.
Isolation is not the solution. That's simply a jolt to national pride [where people say] "we are isolated. Let us then huddle together and overcompensate." Usually with isolation, it's extremism from either the right or left that takes control.
Philip Coggan: Biggest surprises
Published: December 3 2004 19:01 | Last updated: December 3 2004 19:01
How will you cope with a US attack on Iran?The biggest surprises for markets tend to come out of nowhere. Is it possible that the big issue to concern investors in 2005 will be a US attack on Iran?
Few people are discussing the issue. They seem to feel that the Bush administration has enough on its plate with Iraq and would not have the resources, or the will, to mount an invasion of another hostile Muslim country.
Probably not. But an attack does not mean an invasion. The US could mount air strikes to try to eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities or it could encourage Israel to do so. Twenty years ago, Israel attacked a nuclear power plant in Iraq.
Even those who have thought about the Iranian issue may still think an attack unlikely. After all, this week Iran reached an agreement with European nations that was endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has suspended its nuclear enrichment programme.
But suspension does not equal cancellation, and previous agreements have foundered and the US has expressed its reservations about the Europe-Iran deal.
Why might the US attack next year? The rationale seems to have three elements. The first is that the US believes Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons and that the Europeans will be too ineffectual to stop them. In the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks, the US simply cannot tolerate the risk that a hostile power might either launch attacks against it, or (more likely) pass to terrorists weapons suitable for such attacks. Since Iran has been defined by the US as part of the "axis of evil", a group of nations willing to support terrorism, it is seen as vital that it does not develop nuclear capability. The US would have the right to make a pre-emptive attack on these grounds.
The second rationale is that Iran has been playing a part in destabilising Iraq by supporting the resistance there. Keep Iran in check and the task of tidying up Iraq will be made easier.
The third rationale is that the neo-conservatives at the heart of the Bush administration believe that the previous policy of laissez faire with regard to Middle East regimes has proved a failure. The US is perceived in the region as propping up corrupt governments. In the long run, the US should aim for democracy because that would be more stable (and a good thing). And the neocons may only have four more years to bring about Middle East reform.
It seems unlikely that an attack would happen early in the year. The agreement with Europe will need to break down and it will take time for the US administration to build up its case for acting. But, of course, markets normally anticipate events and investors will certainly adjust their behaviour if US sabre-rattling starts.
What would happen to financial markets in the face of an attack, or indeed speculation about an attack? The likely beneficiary would be government bonds, particularly Treasuries; one investment banker suggested to me that 10-year Treasury bond yields could drop to 3.5 per cent.
The fall in yields would not just be caused by the "safe haven" appeal of Treasuries. Conflict in Iran, a leading oil producer, would also lead to a spike in the price of crude. As we have seen this year, investors now regard oil price rises as a tax on global growth; good for bonds but bad for equities. Stock markets would undoubtedly wobble in the event of a conflict.
All this might seem like scaremongering. But it is a real possibility. I recall writing in March 2002 about the possibility of war with Iraq. In those innocent days, oil had edged up to $25 a barrel but equity markets seemed unconcerned; many investors dismissed the idea that war could happen. By the end of 2002, and the start of 2003, investors were thinking of little else.
What are the chances of an attack this time? Republican strategist Jim Pinkerton said a few weeks ago that he thought action against Iran was likely in 2005. And there are no signs as yet that President Bush's second term foreign policy would be any more emollient than his first. Perhaps the likelihood is less than 50-50 but it is certainly not negligible.
Iran may not be the only geopolitical risk facing investors. David Murrin, chief investment officer of the hedge fund group Emergent Asset Management, warns that the risks of a nuclear incident have been underestimated.
During the cold war, a delicate balance of power prevented any nation from using its weapons. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the risk was assumed to have disappeared completely. But while the risk of a cataclysmic world war may have vanished, the dangers of small-scale conflict have increased.
More nations are acquiring nuclear weapons, with Pakistan and North Korea joining the club in recent years. As the example of Iran may show, other nations would like to. Indeed, they may see it as the best protection against a more aggressive US foreign policy. Note the more cautious approach of the US towards North Korea, another member of the "axis of evil". Because weaponry is more widespread, the balance is more fragile and the risk of conflict (or use by terrorists) has increased. A United Nations panel said this week there was the threat of a "cascade of proliferation" and urged the Security Council to pledge collective action against the trend.
Murrin admits that there is not much investors can do about this risk. It is one of those big events that has a very small chance of occurring at any particular time, but that has a big impact when it does. The underlying idea is that geopolitical risks have increased since the 1990s, something that has become clear since September 11. It is not just the threat of terrorism that is destabilising, but the reaction of the US (and others) towards it.
In the circumstances, investors should be chary of becoming over-exposed to risky assets and should retain a solid proportion of safe haven assets (government bonds, conventional and index-linked, even a bit of gold) in their portfolios.
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