January 26, 2007

No Immediate Plans

Raw Story chronicles the long timeline of confrontation with Iran, with Dick Cheney and his Project for a New American Century cabal pushing for aggravation over negotiation every step of the way. Lately, I've been writing about this topic a lot and hashing through recent administration statements about it because everytime it comes up, amid the flurry of administration denials that they have any driving motive to start another war, I hear or read something or other that makes me concerned that they're getting ready to start another war.

Could there be anything more harebrained? Well, probably. But even Bush would really have to work at coming up with something. Far from encouraging the drumbeat by going along with the demonization of a country that for all its flaws poses exactly zero present threat to the United States, it seems a better plan to be on record as clearly and frequently as possible pointing out what an incredibly bad, and badly argued, idea it would be. So.

Though not even the CIA believes Iran has a nuclear weapons program, as Seymour Hersh notes, a return to this passage in the 2007 state of the union address suggests that Bush is trying to give a different impression:

... In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

... These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale. ...

The construction of this passage expertly insinuates that the motives of al Qaeda and Iran are identical. It unambiguously concludes that both are trying to gain weapons of mass destruction in order to kill Americans. The Iranian government has dismissed the comparison and invited a senior diplomat from rival Saudi Arabia to Tehran discuss easing the conflict in Lebanon and limiting the potential that Iraq's sectarian violence will spread throughout the Middle East.

Indeed, his rhetoric was heated enough that Bush had to directly deny that he was planning military action at a press conference held today. But what does the administration really want to do? In Dick Cheney's interview with Wolf Blitzer this week, Cheney not only continued to defend the outcomes to date of the war in Iraq, but painted Iran as a threat every bit as daunting as Cheney's largely imaginary picture of Iraq prior to the war:

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Saddam Hussein would still be in power. He would, at this point, be engaged in a nuclear arms race with Ahmadinejad, his blood enemy next door in Iran --

Though he was talking about Iraq, the subtext of this comment with regard to Iran's projected current nuclear capacity is clear. To reiterate a point made by Hersh in his article on the CIA's assessment of Iran's nuclear capacity, the question of whether or not the president pushes for war with Iran rests on the question of whether he will continue to follow his neocon vice president's advice or will instead rely on the advice of the counselors he's inherited from his father, a number of whom have publicly denounced the idea that war with Iran is a reasonable option. Even the Baker Commission's suggestion with regard to dealing with Iran, as included among their recommendations for an alternative policy in Iraq (pdf), was to "try to engage them constructively" through the United Nations.

Constructive engagement is a fairly nebulous game plan. Yet it seems fair to guess that parking extra carrier battle groups in the area, all while having your emissary suggest that "greater pressure" beyond the "first step" of sanctions is in the works, wasn't exactly what the Baker Commission had in mind with that phrase.

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland has been a platform for international figures including the IAEA's Muhammad El-Baradei, Iran's former president and Pakistan's prime minister to disagree with the use of military force. Also, El-Baradei's statements aren't a recent position, as a Think Progress roundup of informed opponents of war with Iran has him holding the same opinion as far back as 2005. A military resolution is described as not viable, catastrophic, disastrous, and by as many other synonyms for 'unworkable mess' as there seem to be opinion holders.

This is a strong contrast not only with the rhetoric of the Bush administration, but with the public statements of leading Democratic 2008 contenders such as Sen. Clinton and John Edwards as well, both of whom take an all options on the table stance. If Bush follows through on Cheney's apparent desire to take military action against Iran, the next worrying question is whether the same Democrats who voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq will give him the authority to attack Iran. In April, 2001, Scott Ritter told a group of Republicans already keen to sell a war with Iraq that making such serious decisions based on false charges would destroy their party's credibility and hand future elections over to their opponents, advice he offers again to Democrats on the issue of Iran.

As Ritter points out, Republicans now 'own' Iraq and all that will continue to fall out from it, but Democratic approval for a war with Iran would leave the blame and political consequence for that mistake squarely with them. So far, Sen. Harry Reid has said that Bush does not have the authority to launch operations against Iran without congressional approval. It's an encouraging statement. Yet considering that the neocons in the Bush administration have an impressive win record in getting the president to side with them, Congress may be faced with having to publicly vote against authorizing Bush to widen his pet war. Will Reid hold as tough a line against the militant rhetoric of Democrats with aspirations to possibly be a war president themselves someday?

There may be no immediate plans to launch a war with Iran, and there certainly doesn't appear to be any immediate threat from the Iranians, but purveyors of conflict seem to be both patient and persistent.

Further reading: A UK and US-based group called Campaign Iran that opposes sanctions and military action has pulled together the 21 main charges and talking points brought up in the Iran debate and lays out rebuttals. I would encourage anyone to further examine the history behind the brief summaries.

Posted by natasha at January 26, 2007 09:06 PM | Iran | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

And I love how they state that the end goal of these countries is to "Kill Americans". No, it's not. Their goal is to be free(r) from our meddling in their lives and their internal politics. Killing Americans is a strategy to that end, not the end itself. America is asserting control of their primary regional resource, the governments we're propping up to maintain that control are abusing their people, and the people are becoming radicalized as a result of the abuse.

Posted by: mike at January 27, 2007 08:41 AM