Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Telling the future(s)

The question on my mind when I dropped by InTrade -- a "prediction markets trading exchange" -- was "is the US going to go to war with Iraq in the near future?" The rumor simmers up and down, and anecdotally it's up a bit this week. I figure the equivalent of an online political casino (and don't let anyone tell you that futures trading is anything but gambling with a more respectable name) is the best place to get odds.

InTrade futures for "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 30June06" are trading at $12US; $27US for it to happen by the end of 2006; and $31.50US for it to happen by the end of March, 2007. For purposes of comparison:

- "Osama Bin Laden to be captured/neutralised by 30 June 2006" is trading at $7.40US.

- "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to be captured/neutralised by 30 June 2006" is trading at $18.10US.

- "Sen John McCain to be the Republican Presidential Nominee in 2008" is trading at $29.60US.

- "Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Presidential Nominee in 2008" is trading at $45.00US.

So I guess we could say it is more likely that the US or Israel will bomb Iran than that Osama or Zarqawi will take a dirt nap, or that John McCain will get the GOP nomination, but less likely than that Hillary will get the Democratic nomination. If the futures traders are knowledgeable and trading on the basis of their most rational assessments of the facts, of course.

I'm not buying or selling any futures, of course. And I can't tell you whether or not war with Iran is in the offing. If I had to guess, I'd guess that the Bush administration is just waiting for (or trying to bring about) circumstances which give it a plausible excuse. That's a pretty high bar right now, given the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's precisely zero chance of it being a "march on to the next victory" move. It has to be a "regrettable, urgent necessity" move instead.

I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the US or Israel detonated a "dirty bomb" on Iranian soil and then advertised the explosion as being "proof" of an Iranian nuclear weapons program which is "much further along than we suspected." Nor would I be surprised if a major terror attack on US soil was blamed on Iran (regardless of its actual source). Either of those might do the trick. Or not. Americans have (correctly) grown more cynical about their government's honesty and motives over the last few years.

Why do I think the Busheviks want to tangle with Iran so badly? It's simple: Having irretrievably lost two wars in four years (and not doing so well on the general "war on terror," either), the only chance the War Party has to climb back up to a reasonably respectable place in history is to turn what they've falsely advertised as a "generational war for survival" and "World War IV" into the real thing.

If things are allowed to continue on their present course, the US eventually will eventually slink home as Iraq falls apart and/or falls completely into Iran's orbit, and Afghanistan slides back into its perpetual tribal warfare with the Taliban about as ascendant as it was before we came (which is not much more ascendant than it is now).

On the other hand, if the Busheviks can ignite a bona fide world war, there's some chance that 60 years from now Afghanistan and Iraq will be related to 9/11 as Wake Island and Bataan were to Pearl Harbor -- early, hopeless, necessary defeats instead of stupid, pointless defeats. And, of course, a more general/conventional war would make it easier to "mobilize the nation" (i.e. enslave the young through conscription and the rest of the country through industrial "direction for the war effort"). It's also going to take one king-hell change of fortunes for the GOP to retain control of the House of Representatives this year, and of the Senate and White House in 2008. A "big" war is a big gamble, but the Republicans are running low on cheap tricks, so why not bet it all on that kind of roll?

Yep. Cynical old me. Hope I'm wrong.

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