Sunday, April 09, 2006

Shock and Awe -- the sequel?

Guest post by J. Kingston Pierce of Limbo

(Ed. note: Here's a second guest post from our friend Jeff. Please take the time to read it in its entirety. It's an excellent, link-filled examination of the Iranian nuclear crisis and the Bush Administration's foolhardy plans to deal with it. -- MJWS)

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Oh, great. Since George W. Bush figures his Iraq war has gone so well and according to plan, he's now ready to begin lobbing nuclear weapons at a recalcitrant Iran. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, writing in this coming week's New Yorker magazine, says that the White House is "planning for a possible major air attack" if Iran continues to pursue "a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium" -- which the White House sees as a significant step on the way to Iran constructing its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Hersh quotes "a government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon" as saying that Bush "believes that he must do 'what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do'": launch a "sustained bombing campaign in Iran [that] will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." According to the consultant, Bush believes that "saving Iran" will be "his legacy". No matter that it might also provoke World War III.

What is most amazing in all of this, of course, is that the Republican administration seems to be leading the United States down the very same road that it followed in launching attacks against Saddam Hussein three years ago. Aren't people -- even spoiled rich kids turned politicians like Bush -- supposed to learn from their mistakes? How long before we hear that diplomatic channels aren't doing enough to prevent Iran from launching attacks on the United States, and that another "pre-emptive war" is necessary in the Middle East? Hersh explains that Iran's nuclear experimentation is already understood as a secondary but potentially saleable pretext for war:

"This is much more than a nuclear issue," one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. "That's just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years."

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. "This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war," he said. The danger, he said, was that "it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability." A military conflict that destabilized the region could also increase the risk of terror: "Hezbollah comes into play,” the adviser said, referring to the terror group that is considered one of the world's most successful, and which is now a Lebanese political party with strong ties to Iran. "And here comes Al Qaeda."

Despite the prez's insistence this week that he doesn't engage in "crass politics," there's plenty of that in his efforts to lay the groundwork for a war on Iran:

In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who did not take part in the meetings but has discussed their content with his colleagues, told me that there had been "no formal briefings," because "they’re reluctant to brief the minority. They’re doing the Senate, somewhat selectively."

The House member said that no one in the meetings "is really objecting" to the talk of war. "The people they’re briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq. At most, questions are raised: How are you going to hit all the sites at once? How are you going to get deep enough?" (Iran is building facilities underground.) "There’s no pressure from Congress" not to take military action, the House member added. "The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it." Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

It's been estimated that "at least four hundred targets would have to be hit" to knock out Iran's nuclear program, and Hersh contends Bush is seriously considering an offensive of the most powerful and lethal sort. "One of the military’s initial option plans," he writes, "as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites." Some experienced military officers question the efficacy of the prez's war planning, but that may not be enough to halt the build-up. Hersh writes:

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,... and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran -- without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.'"

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped." He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. "There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the adviser told me. "This goes to high levels." The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. "The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks," the adviser said. "And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen."

The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "They’re telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation," he said.

The chairman of the Defense Science Board is William Schneider, Jr., an Under-Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration. In January, 2001, as President Bush prepared to take office, Schneider served on an ad-hoc panel on nuclear forces sponsored by the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. The panel's report recommended treating tactical nuclear weapons as an essential part of the U.S. arsenal and noted their suitability "for those occasions when the certain and prompt destruction of high priority targets is essential and beyond the promise of conventional weapons." Several signers of the report are now prominent members of the Bush Administration, including Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Hersh notes that "[t]he threat of American military action has created dismay at the headquarters of the [International Atomic Energy Agency], in Vienna. The agency’s officials believe that Iran wants to be able to make a nuclear weapon, but "nobody has presented an inch of evidence of a parallel nuclear-weapons program in Iran..." Those officials shouldn't be the only ones concerned about Bush's "messianic vision" of "saving" Iran through nuclear assaults. Hersh quotes a Pentagon adviser saying that "bombing Iran could provoke 'a chain reaction' of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world: 'What will 1.2 billion Muslims think the day we attack Iran?'"

Does Bush really believe that dropping nukes on Iran is the best way to "protect the American people, advance American interests, enhance global security, and expand global liberty and prosperity," which his administration claimed in a 2006 National Security Strategy report is its goal? One is tempted to presume that all these threats are nothing more than political posturing and brinksmanship -- a particularly egregious and embarrassing episode of dick-waving -- and that no U.S. president would be so foolhardy as to risk inciting a world war by rushing to the use of nuclear bombs, before every conceivable diplomatic effort to ensure a peaceful Iran was exhausted. But then, Americans used to think that no president would launch an attack on another sovereign nation under false pretenses, or that the man in the Oval Office would change his rationales for starting such a war almost as often as he changes his socks, or that any president would leak classified intelligence information merely to undermine his opponents -- and then lie about not knowing it was done.

In the simplest but most frightening way, John Aravosis of AMERICAblog lays out the dilemma facing Americans when it comes to Iran. "Iran cannot be allowed to have nukes," he writes. "But George Bush cannot be allowed to be the man running the war against Iran -- he’s going to screw it up. Something has to give, and that give is Bush. The only way to take on Iran responsibly -- whether that means war or diplomacy or something else -- is for Bush and his senior leadership to step down. America cannot afford this man as president any longer. He is, quite literally, going to get us all killed."

Preventing Bush from taking unilateral action against Iran might be difficult, if he pushes for an assault over the next few months, when his Republican sycophants still hold sway in Congress. However, if an attack can be delayed -- by media scrutiny or political timidity, or else by signs of diplomatic progress in restricting Iran's nuclear development -- and then the GOP loses control of Capitol Hill in November's midterm elections, the game changes. A Democratic majority would be considerably less likely to sanction Bush’s bellicosity. They’d force more debate on the wisdom of launching another war, before -- and not after, as in the case of Iraq -- any attack orders are issued.

Bush may not have learned a damn thing from the mess he has created in Iraq, and is now prepared to leave to his successor, but the rest of us certainly have.

DAMNED IF YOU DO: A Sunday story in The Washington Post returns once more to the dire consequences of provoking a war -- nuclear or otherwise -- with Iran:

Preparations for confrontation with Iran underscore how the issue has vaulted to the front of President Bush's agenda even as he struggles with a relentless war in next-door Iraq. Bush views Tehran as a serious menace that must be dealt with before his presidency ends, aides said, and the White House, in its new National Security Strategy, last month labeled Iran the most serious challenge to the United States posed by any country.

Many military officers and specialists, however, view the saber rattling with alarm. A strike at Iran, they warn, would at best just delay its nuclear program by a few years but could inflame international opinion against the United States, particularly in the Muslim world and especially within Iran, while making U.S. troops in Iraq targets for retaliation.

Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hits that same point, saying, "Whatever you do is almost certain to accelerate a nuclear bomb program rather than destroy it." Read the whole article here.

READ MORE: "U.S. Hurries Plan to Hit Iraq, Article Says," by Eric Schmitt (The New York Times); "Iran’s Nuclear Steps Quicken, Diplomats Say," by Alissa J. Rubin and Maggie Farley (Los Angeles Times); "Scott Ritter Debunks the L.A. Times Iranian Nuclear Threat" (Crooks and Liars); "A Global Game of Chicken: Can Washington and Tehran Avoid War?" by Fred Kaplan (Slate); "Iran Will Defend Nuclear Program to ‘Last Drop of Blood'" (AP); "Top Ten Reasons Why Sy Hersh’s New Article Should Scare the Stuffing Out of You," by Barbara O’Brien (The Mahablog); "Oh, Hell No," by Tim F. (Balloon Juice); "Envoy Warns of Possible Civil War in Iraq," by Robert H. Reid (AP); "Iran: Nuclear Developments," by Lionel Beehner (Council on Foreign Relations); and "Armageddon," by John Steinberg (The Raw Story).

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