Friday, April 14, 2006

Democracy Be Damned - Republicans Need Another War

By Thom Hartmann

04/12/06 "
ICH" -- -- George W. Bush is at it again. This time, reports Sy Hersh in The New Yorker, it'll be Iran. (Those of us who guessed it would have been Syria first apparently underestimated his hubris.) And this time he wants to be able to use nukes.

In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, the way a seemingly democratic president kept his nation in a continual state of repression was by keeping the nation in a constant state of war. Cynics suggest the lesson wasn’t lost on Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, who both, they say, extended the Vietnam war so it coincidentally ran over election cycles, knowing that a wartime President’s party is more likely to be reelected and has more power than a President in peacetime.

This wasn’t a new lesson, however, and Orwell was not the first to note that a democracy at war was weakened and at risk.

On April 20, 1795, James Madison, who had just helped shepherd through the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and would become President of the United States in the following decade, wrote, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

Reflecting on war’s impact on the Executive Branch of government Madison continued his letter about the dangerous and intoxicating power of war for a president.

“In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [President] is extended,” he wrote. “Its [his] influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both.

“No nation,” he concluded, “could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

But it’s not just Madison who warned us. More recent presidents have also noted the danger of a craven political usurpation of democracy, particularly when fed by the bloody meat of war.

As he was leaving office, the old warrior President Dwight D. Eisenhower had looked back over his years as President and as a General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and noted exactly what Madison had warned against.

“Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea,” Eisenhower said in sobering tones in a nationally televised speech. “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.”

Nonetheless, Eisenhower added, “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

He concluded with a very specific warning to us, the generation that would follow. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes,” he said. “We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

But Americans have been terrified by the prospect of terrorism, endlessly hyped by the Republican majority, and the warnings of Madison and Eisenhower are forgotten by many - and unknown to most of the current generation that now studies "to the test" instead of delving into the deeper lines of American history.

Citizens of other nations, however, immediately recognize what the Republicans are up to.

In October of 2002 - nearly four years ago - I wrote on on these pages the following summary of a trip I'd just taken to Buenos Aires:

I just returned from Argentina. People there understand Machiavelli, I discovered; when he wrote his instructions to The Prince, that, “Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose…” it would make perfect sense to anybody who’d lived through Argentina’s past half-century.

And, while they don’t so often read James Madison there, I think they’d agree with the letters he left to his countrymen, that I was reading as I traveled, warning us about war as the greatest danger to the democracy he’d just helped birth. As I walked about, talking with all sorts of people, I kept feeling Madison’s ghost tapping on my shoulder. But more about that in a moment; first the questions I encountered in Argentina:

Is Bush just manipulating the press and really planning to wait until 2004 to have his war, thus guaranteeing his own re-election? Or is it going to happen faster to begin pumping oil and thus repay the oil industry campaign donors who brought him to power? Or is it all about something even more insidious: the end of democracy itself, carefully planned by a small group of cynical intellectuals who truly believe that democracy is cute and quaint but that only an all-powerful government can guarantee stability in a dangerous world?

For example, last weekend in the Buenos Aires airport I was sitting next to a gregarious a man while waiting to board our flight. When he saw my American passport, he said, “You know, this Saddam thing has little to do with trying to throw the 2002 elections, like all you Americans think. Of course, that’s a nice side-benefit, keeping everything else out of the news. But it’s really about 2004 and setting up the Republicans for a half-century of one-party rule like Roosevelt did. Bush will pull back from his war rhetoric after the elections and let in the UN inspectors, and all the world, even his opponents, will hail him as a man of peace. And then, just before the 2004 elections, there will be problems with the inspectors, they'll find some excuse, and the war will start in time for November 2004.” He smiled and wagged a finger at me. “We know about one-party rule here. You'll soon learn.”

Two days earlier, in a pleasant middle-class home, I sat across the table from a woman who had been tortured and electro-shocked by the police for protesting, exactly 20 years earlier, the war between Great Britain and Argentina over the Malvinas or Falkland Islands. I never would have guessed; she was soft-spoken, middle-class, and fashionably dressed. But she was one of “the disappeared” for a brief moment, and among one of the lucky ones who were released. Indeed, the Argentineans knew about one-party rule.

“The war covered up the dark side of the government and the corruption of the politicians of the time,” another woman in a Buenos Aires restaurant told me. “It was a good way of putting the attention of the people somewhere else, like when you’re with a little child, and you want to distract him, and you say, ‘Come here and have some sweets.’ And we bought that immediately. There was dancing in the streets. ‘We’re going to win a war – oh, boy, oh, boy!’ We went with flags to the streets, singing the national songs to celebrate the possibility of winning this war.”

The Falklands/Malvinas war was over quickly, though, in part, because each side had an enemy: a nation. Terrorism, on the other hand, is not an enemy: it’s a tactic. Unless you want to have a perpetual war, you must declare war against an enemy, not a behavior.

But what if a perpetual war is just what the Bush administration wants, as another man in a restaurant in Buenos Aires suggested? The man said in his Latin accent, “He has learn from mistakes of his poppa: don’t end the war too quickly before an election. Keep the talk going, but make sure the war itself happens in 2004.”

Others thought it would happen sooner, to get Iraq’s oil, seize control of the Middle East and neutralize OPEC, and to start the profits flowing to the oil corporations who got Bush elected.

Or maybe it’s all a plan to drive a stake into the heart of democracy, another suggested, using war as the excuse.

Four years later, there can be no doubt that Bush/Cheney/Rove and the Republican cabal lied us into invading Iraq. Ginning it up just before the 2002 midterm elections was largely done so Republicans could take back the Senate in 2002 after losing it because of Jim Jeffords' defection. The 2003 attack was timed, we now can see, so Bush would improve his chances to win the White House in the election of 2004.

So, too, it appears that Bush is now ginning up a new war just in time for the 2006 midterm elections, and Karl Rove probably has a 2007 continuing war in mind to help swing the 2008 elections (or postpone them).

Much of the evidence now available suggests both the 2003 Republican Iraq War and the possible upcoming Republican Iran War are just that simple, just that banal, and ultimately just that traitorous to the traditional ideals of America.

As Governor George W. Bush told Mickey Herskowitz - the man the Bush family hired to ghost-write Bush's autobiography A Charge To Keep - in 1999:

"One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as commander in chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency."
Bush's determination to invade Iraq to gain "political capital" even before he was appointed to the Presidency in 2001 was first laid out in an article by Russ Baker, who extensively interviewed Herskowitz. Baker noted:

"Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. 'Suddenly, he's at 91 percent in the polls, and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker.'"
Oil, to the Republicans, would be a nice bonus. And let's not forget those profits for Halliburton and other big Republican contributors.

But the main reason Bush invaded Iraq, it turns out, was so Republicans could take back the US Senate in the election of 2002, and in the hopes that Bush could finally win an election in 2004.

Apparently Bush is now prepared to do the same with Iran - or at least rattle the sabers loudly enough to convince the world he intends to - for the same purpose. Political capital. Hold on to the Republican majority. Prevent investigations of the many crimes of his administration by denying Democrats the power of the subpoena that comes with a majority in the House or Senate.

And - unless Democrats in Congress and the American people stand up and speak out - in the process Bush and his Republican enablers may just bring about the end of the great American experiment in democracy.

April 12, 2006 Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a daily progressive talk show nationally syndicated by Air America Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?", and Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class.

source: Information Clearing House

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why Iraq Was a Mistake

A military insider sounds off against the war and the "zealots" who pushed it

Two senior military officers are known to have challenged Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the planning of the Iraq war. Army General Eric Shinseki publicly dissented and found himself marginalized. Marine Lieut. General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's top operations officer, voiced his objections internally and then retired, in part out of opposition to the war. Here, for the first time, Newbold goes public with a full-throated critique:

In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem Won't Get Fooled Again. To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us who were truly counterculture--who became career members of the military during those rough times--the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again.

From 2000 until October 2002, I was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq--an unnecessary war. Inside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots' rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat--al-Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I've been silent long enough.

I am driven to action now by the missteps and misjudgments of the White House and the Pentagon, and by my many painful visits to our military hospitals. In those places, I have been both inspired and shaken by the broken bodies but unbroken spirits of soldiers, Marines and corpsmen returning from this war. The cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood. The willingness of our forces to shoulder such a load should make it a sacred obligation for civilian and military leaders to get our defense policy right. They must be absolutely sure that the commitment is for a cause as honorable as the sacrifice.

With the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't--or don't have the opportunity to--speak. Enlisted members of the armed forces swear their oath to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the Constitution. The distinction is important.

Before the antiwar banners start to unfurl, however, let me make clear--I am not opposed to war. I would gladly have traded my general's stars for a captain's bars to lead our troops into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And while I don't accept the stated rationale for invading Iraq, my view--at the moment--is that a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake. It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists' message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.

I will admit my own prejudice: my deep affection and respect are for those who volunteer to serve our nation and therefore shoulder, in those thin ranks, the nation's most sacred obligation of citizenship. To those of you who don't know, our country has never been served by a more competent and professional military. For that reason, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that "we" made the "right strategic decisions" but made thousands of "tactical errors" is an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.

What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures. Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results.

Flaws in our civilians are one thing; the failure of the Pentagon's military leaders is quite another. Those are men who know the hard consequences of war but, with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction. A few of the most senior officers actually supported the logic for war. Others were simply intimidated, while still others must have believed that the principle of obedience does not allow for respectful dissent. The consequence of the military's quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort.

There have been exceptions, albeit uncommon, to the rule of silence among military leaders. Former Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, when challenged to offer his professional opinion during prewar congressional testimony, suggested that more troops might be needed for the invasion's aftermath. The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense castigated him in public and marginalized him in his remaining months in his post. Army General John Abizaid, head of Central Command, has been forceful in his views with appointed officials on strategy and micromanagement of the fight in Iraq--often with success. Marine Commandant General Mike Hagee steadfastly challenged plans to underfund, understaff and underequip his service as the Corps has struggled to sustain its fighting capability.

To be sure, the Bush Administration and senior military officials are not alone in their culpability. Members of Congress--from both parties--defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight. Many in the media saw the warning signs and heard cautionary tales before the invasion from wise observers like former Central Command chiefs Joe Hoar and Tony Zinni but gave insufficient weight to their views. These are the same news organizations that now downplay both the heroic and the constructive in Iraq.

So what is to be done? We need fresh ideas and fresh faces. That means, as a first step, replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach. The troops in the Middle East have performed their duty. Now we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it. It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly. And that we won't be fooled again.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Iran Plans


Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it. Iran insists that its research is for peaceful use only, in keeping with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it will not be delayed or deterred.

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

The rationale for regime change was articulated in early March by Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and who has been a supporter of President Bush. “So long as Iran has an Islamic republic, it will have a nuclear-weapons program, at least clandestinely,” Clawson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2nd. “The key issue, therefore, is: How long will the present Iranian regime last?”

When I spoke to Clawson, he emphasized that “this Administration is putting a lot of effort into diplomacy.” However, he added, Iran had no choice other than to accede to America’s demands or face a military attack. Clawson said that he fears that Ahmadinejad “sees the West as wimps and thinks we will eventually cave in. We have to be ready to deal with Iran if the crisis escalates.” Clawson said that he would prefer to rely on sabotage and other clandestine activities, such as “industrial accidents.” But, he said, it would be prudent to prepare for a wider war, “given the way the Iranians are acting. This is not like planning to invade Quebec.”

One military planner told me that White House criticisms of Iran and the high tempo of planning and clandestine activities amount to a campaign of “coercion” aimed at Iran. “You have to be ready to go, and we’ll see how they respond,” the officer said. “You have to really show a threat in order to get Ahmadinejad to back down.” He added, “People think Bush has been focussed on Saddam Hussein since 9/11,” but, “in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran.” (In response to detailed requests for comment, the White House said that it would not comment on military planning but added, “As the President has indicated, we are pursuing a diplomatic solution”; the Defense Department also said that Iran was being dealt with through “diplomatic channels” but wouldn’t elaborate on that; the C.I.A. said that there were “inaccuracies” in this account but would not specify them.)

“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.”

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.”

Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions—rapid ascending maneuvers known as “over the shoulder” bombing—since last summer, the former official said, within range of Iranian coastal radars.

Last month, in a paper given at a conference on Middle East security in Berlin, Colonel Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force, in 1987, provided an estimate of what would be needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Working from satellite photographs of the known facilities, Gardiner estimated that at least four hundred targets would have to be hit. He added:

I don’t think a U.S. military planner would want to stop there. Iran probably has two chemical-production plants. We would hit those. We would want to hit the medium-range ballistic missiles that have just recently been moved closer to Iraq. There are fourteen airfields with sheltered aircraft. . . . We’d want to get rid of that threat. We would want to hit the assets that could be used to threaten Gulf shipping. That means targeting the cruise-missile sites and the Iranian diesel submarines. . . . Some of the facilities may be too difficult to target even with penetrating weapons. The U.S. will have to use Special Operations units.

One of the military’s initial option plans, 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. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.

There is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons. In the early nineteen-eighties, the American intelligence community watched as the Soviet government began digging a huge underground complex outside Moscow. Analysts concluded that the underground facility was designed for “continuity of government”—for the political and military leadership to survive a nuclear war. (There are similar facilities, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, for the American leadership.) The Soviet facility still exists, and much of what the U.S. knows about it remains classified. “The ‘tell’ ”—the giveaway—“was the ventilator shafts, some of which were disguised,” the former senior intelligence official told me. At the time, he said, it was determined that “only nukes” could destroy the bunker. He added that some American intelligence analysts believe that the Russians helped the Iranians design their underground facility. “We see a similarity of design,” specifically in the ventilator shafts, he said.

A former high-level Defense Department official told me that, in his view, even limited bombing would allow the U.S. to “go in there and do enough damage to slow down the nuclear infrastructure—it’s feasible.” The former defense official said, “The Iranians don’t have friends, and we can tell them that, if necessary, we’ll keep knocking back their infrastructure. The United States should act like we’re ready to go.” He added, “We don’t have to knock down all of their air defenses. Our stealth bombers and standoff missiles really work, and we can blow fixed things up. We can do things on the ground, too, but it’s difficult and very dangerous—put bad stuff in ventilator shafts and put them to sleep.”

But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, “say ‘No way.’ You’ve got to know what’s underneath—to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there’s a lot that we don’t know.” The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, 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.

The Pentagon adviser questioned the value of air strikes. “The Iranians have distributed their nuclear activity very well, and we have no clue where some of the key stuff is. It could even be out of the country,” he said. He warned, as did many others, 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?”

With or without the nuclear option, the list of targets may inevitably expand. One recently retired high-level Bush Administration official, who is also an expert on war planning, told me that he would have vigorously argued against an air attack on Iran, because “Iran is a much tougher target” than Iraq. But, he added, “If you’re going to do any bombing to stop the nukes, you might as well improve your lie across the board. Maybe hit some training camps, and clear up a lot of other problems.”

The Pentagon adviser said that, in the event of an attack, the Air Force intended to strike many hundreds of targets in Iran but that “ninety-nine per cent of them have nothing to do with proliferation. There are people who believe it’s the way to operate”—that the Administration can achieve its policy goals in Iran with a bombing campaign, an idea that has been supported by neoconservatives.

If the order were to be given for an attack, the American combat troops now operating in Iran would be in position to mark the critical targets with laser beams, to insure bombing accuracy and to minimize civilian casualties. As of early winter, I was told by the government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon, the units were also working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris, in the north, the Baluchis, in the southeast, and the Kurds, in the northeast. The troops “are studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds,” the consultant said. One goal is to get “eyes on the ground”—quoting a line from “Othello,” he said, “Give me the ocular proof.” The broader aim, the consultant said, is to “encourage ethnic tensions” and undermine the regime.

The new mission for the combat troops is a product of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s long-standing interest in expanding the role of the military in covert operations, which was made official policy in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published in February. Such activities, if conducted by C.I.A. operatives, would need a Presidential Finding and would have to be reported to key members of Congress.

“ ‘Force protection’ is the new buzzword,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the Pentagon’s position that clandestine activities that can be broadly classified as preparing the battlefield or protecting troops are military, not intelligence, operations, and are therefore not subject to congressional oversight. “The guys in the Joint Chiefs of Staff say there are a lot of uncertainties in Iran,” he said. “We need to have more than what we had in Iraq. Now we have the green light to do everything we want.”

The President’s deep distrust of Ahmadinejad has strengthened his determination to confront Iran. This view has been reinforced by allegations that Ahmadinejad, who joined a special-forces brigade of the Revolutionary Guards in 1986, may have been involved in terrorist activities in the late eighties. (There are gaps in Ahmadinejad’s official biography in this period.) Ahmadinejad has reportedly been connected to Imad Mughniyeh, a terrorist who has been implicated in the deadly bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, in 1983. Mughniyeh was then the security chief of Hezbollah; he remains on the F.B.I.’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Robert Baer, who was a C.I.A. officer in the Middle East and elsewhere for two decades, told me that Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard colleagues in the Iranian government “are capable of making a bomb, hiding it, and launching it at Israel. They’re apocalyptic Shiites. If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv and you believe they’ve got nukes and missiles—you’ve got to take them out. These guys are nuts, and there’s no reason to back off.”

Under Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards have expanded their power base throughout the Iranian bureaucracy; by the end of January, they had replaced thousands of civil servants with their own members. One former senior United Nations official, who has extensive experience with Iran, depicted the turnover as “a white coup,” with ominous implications for the West. “Professionals in the Foreign Ministry are out; others are waiting to be kicked out,” he said. “We may be too late. These guys now believe that they are stronger than ever since the revolution.” He said that, particularly in consideration of China’s emergence as a superpower, Iran’s attitude was “To hell with the West. You can do as much as you like.”

Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is considered by many experts to be in a stronger position than Ahmadinejad. “Ahmadinejad is not in control,” one European diplomat told me. “Power is diffuse in Iran. The Revolutionary Guards are among the key backers of the nuclear program, but, ultimately, I don’t think they are in charge of it. The Supreme Leader has the casting vote on the nuclear program, and the Guards will not take action without his approval.”

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said that “allowing Iran to have the bomb is not on the table. We cannot have nukes being sent downstream to a terror network. It’s just too dangerous.” He added, “The whole internal debate is on which way to go”—in terms of stopping the Iranian program. It is possible, the adviser said, that Iran will unilaterally renounce its nuclear plans—and forestall the American action. “God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.”

While almost no one disputes Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is intense debate over how soon it could get the bomb, and what to do about that. Robert Gallucci, a former government expert on nonproliferation who is now the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, told me, “Based on what I know, Iran could be eight to ten years away” from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon. Gallucci added, “If they had a covert nuclear program and we could prove it, and we could not stop it by negotiation, diplomacy, or the threat of sanctions, I’d be in favor of taking it out. But if you do it”—bomb Iran—“without being able to show there’s a secret program, you’re in trouble.”

Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told the Knesset last December that “Iran is one to two years away, at the latest, from having enriched uranium. From that point, the completion of their nuclear weapon is simply a technical matter.” In a conversation with me, a senior Israeli intelligence official talked about what he said was Iran’s duplicity: “There are two parallel nuclear programs” inside Iran—the program declared to the I.A.E.A. and a separate operation, run by the military and the Revolutionary Guards. Israeli officials have repeatedly made this argument, but Israel has not produced public evidence to support it. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term, told me, “I think Iran has a secret nuclear-weapons program—I believe it, but I don’t know it.”

In recent months, the Pakistani government has given the U.S. new access to A. Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani atomic bomb. Khan, who is now living under house arrest in Islamabad, is accused of setting up a black market in nuclear materials; he made at least one clandestine visit to Tehran in the late nineteen-eighties. In the most recent interrogations, Khan has provided information on Iran’s weapons design and its time line for building a bomb. “The picture is of ‘unquestionable danger,’ ” the former senior intelligence official said. (The Pentagon adviser also confirmed that Khan has been “singing like a canary.”) The concern, the former senior official said, is that “Khan has credibility problems. He is suggestible, and he’s telling the neoconservatives what they want to hear”—or what might be useful to Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf, who is under pressure to assist Washington in the war on terror.

“I think Khan’s leading us on,” the former intelligence official said. “I don’t know anybody who says, ‘Here’s the smoking gun.’ But lights are beginning to blink. He’s feeding us information on the time line, and targeting information is coming in from our own sources— sensors and the covert teams. The C.I.A., which was so burned by Iraqi W.M.D., is going to the Pentagon and the Vice-President’s office saying, ‘It’s all new stuff.’ People in the Administration are saying, ‘We’ve got enough.’ ”

The Administration’s case against Iran is compromised by its history of promoting false intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In a recent essay on the Foreign Policy Web site, entitled “Fool Me Twice,” Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote, “The unfolding administration strategy appears to be an effort to repeat its successful campaign for the Iraq war.” He noted several parallels:

The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. Secretary of State tells Congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The Secretary of Defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism.

Cirincione called some of the Administration’s claims about Iran “questionable” or lacking in evidence. When I spoke to him, he asked, “What do we know? What is the threat? The question is: How urgent is all this?” The answer, he said, “is in the intelligence community and the I.A.E.A.” (In August, the Washington Post reported that the most recent comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate predicted that Iran was a decade away from being a nuclear power.)

Last year, the Bush Administration briefed I.A.E.A. officials on what it said was new and alarming information about Iran’s weapons program which had been retrieved from an Iranian’s laptop. The new data included more than a thousand pages of technical drawings of weapons systems. The Washington Post reported that there were also designs for a small facility that could be used in the uranium-enrichment process. Leaks about the laptop became the focal point of stories in the Times and elsewhere. The stories were generally careful to note that the materials could have been fabricated, but also quoted senior American officials as saying that they appeared to be legitimate. The headline in the Times’ account read, “RELYING ON COMPUTER, U.S. SEEKS TO PROVE IRAN’S NUCLEAR AIMS.”

I was told in interviews with American and European intelligence officials, however, that the laptop was more suspect and less revelatory than it had been depicted. The Iranian who owned the laptop had initially been recruited by German and American intelligence operatives, working together. The Americans eventually lost interest in him. The Germans kept on, but the Iranian was seized by the Iranian counter-intelligence force. It is not known where he is today. Some family members managed to leave Iran with his laptop and handed it over at a U.S. embassy, apparently in Europe. It was a classic “walk-in.”

A European intelligence official said, “There was some hesitation on our side” about what the materials really proved, “and we are still not convinced.” The drawings were not meticulous, as newspaper accounts suggested, “but had the character of sketches,” the European official said. “It was not a slam-dunk smoking gun.”

The threat of American military action has created dismay at the headquarters of the I.A.E.A., 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,” the high-ranking diplomat told me. The I.A.E.A.’s best estimate is that the Iranians are five years away from building a nuclear bomb. “But, if the United States does anything militarily, they will make the development of a bomb a matter of Iranian national pride,” the diplomat said. “The whole issue is America’s risk assessment of Iran’s future intentions, and they don’t trust the regime. Iran is a menace to American policy.”

In Vienna, I was told of an exceedingly testy meeting earlier this year between Mohamed ElBaradei, the I.A.E.A.’s director-general, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control. Joseph’s message was blunt, one diplomat recalled: “We cannot have a single centrifuge spinning in Iran. Iran is a direct threat to the national security of the United States and our allies, and we will not tolerate it. We want you to give us an understanding that you will not say anything publicly that will undermine us. ”

Joseph’s heavy-handedness was unnecessary, the diplomat said, since the I.A.E.A. already had been inclined to take a hard stand against Iran. “All of the inspectors are angry at being misled by the Iranians, and some think the Iranian leadership are nutcases—one hundred per cent totally certified nuts,” the diplomat said. He added that ElBaradei’s overriding concern is that the Iranian leaders “want confrontation, just like the neocons on the other side”—in Washington. “At the end of the day, it will work only if the United States agrees to talk to the Iranians.”

The central question—whether Iran will be able to proceed with its plans to enrich uranium—is now before the United Nations, with the Russians and the Chinese reluctant to impose sanctions on Tehran. A discouraged former I.A.E.A. official told me in late March that, at this point, “there’s nothing the Iranians could do that would result in a positive outcome. American diplomacy does not allow for it. Even if they announce a stoppage of enrichment, nobody will believe them. It’s a dead end.”

Another diplomat in Vienna asked me, “Why would the West take the risk of going to war against that kind of target without giving it to the I.A.E.A. to verify? We’re low-cost, and we can create a program that will force Iran to put its cards on the table.” A Western Ambassador in Vienna expressed similar distress at the White House’s dismissal of the I.A.E.A. He said, “If you don’t believe that the I.A.E.A. can establish an inspection system—if you don’t trust them—you can only bomb.”

There is little sympathy for the I.A.E.A. in the Bush Administration or among its European allies. “We’re quite frustrated with the director-general,” the European diplomat told me. “His basic approach has been to describe this as a dispute between two sides with equal weight. It’s not. We’re the good guys! ElBaradei has been pushing the idea of letting Iran have a small nuclear-enrichment program, which is ludicrous. It’s not his job to push ideas that pose a serious proliferation risk.”

The Europeans are rattled, however, by their growing perception that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed, and that their real goal is regime change. “Everyone is on the same page about the Iranian bomb, but the United States wants regime change,” a European diplomatic adviser told me. He added, “The Europeans have a role to play as long as they don’t have to choose between going along with the Russians and the Chinese or going along with Washington on something they don’t want. Their policy is to keep the Americans engaged in something the Europeans can live with. It may be untenable.”

“The Brits think this is a very bad idea,” Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staff member who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, told me, “but they’re really worried we’re going to do it.” The European diplomatic adviser acknowledged that the British Foreign Office was aware of war planning in Washington but that, “short of a smoking gun, it’s going to be very difficult to line up the Europeans on Iran.” He said that the British “are jumpy about the Americans going full bore on the Iranians, with no compromise.”

The European diplomat said that he was skeptical that Iran, given its record, had admitted to everything it was doing, but “to the best of our knowledge the Iranian capability is not at the point where they could successfully run centrifuges” to enrich uranium in quantity. One reason for pursuing diplomacy was, he said, Iran’s essential pragmatism. “The regime acts in its best interests,” he said. Iran’s leaders “take a hard-line approach on the nuclear issue and they want to call the American bluff,” believing that “the tougher they are the more likely the West will fold.” But, he said, “From what we’ve seen with Iran, they will appear superconfident until the moment they back off.”

The diplomat went on, “You never reward bad behavior, and this is not the time to offer concessions. We need to find ways to impose sufficient costs to bring the regime to its senses. It’s going to be a close call, but I think if there is unity in opposition and the price imposed”—in sanctions—“is sufficient, they may back down. It’s too early to give up on the U.N. route.” He added, “If the diplomatic process doesn’t work, there is no military ‘solution.’ There may be a military option, but the impact could be catastrophic.”

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, was George Bush’s most dependable ally in the year leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he and his party have been racked by a series of financial scandals, and his popularity is at a low point. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said last year that military action against Iran was “inconceivable.” Blair has been more circumspect, saying publicly that one should never take options off the table.

Other European officials expressed similar skepticism about the value of an American bombing campaign. “The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically,” the European intelligence official told me. “He will benefit politically from American bombing. You can do it, but the results will be worse.” An American attack, he said, would alienate ordinary Iranians, including those who might be sympathetic to the U.S. “Iran is no longer living in the Stone Age, and the young people there have access to U.S. movies and books, and they love it,” he said. “If there was a charm offensive with Iran, the mullahs would be in trouble in the long run.”

Another European official told me that he was aware that many in Washington wanted action. “It’s always the same guys,” he said, with a resigned shrug. “There is a belief that diplomacy is doomed to fail. The timetable is short.”

A key ally with an important voice in the debate is Israel, whose leadership has warned for years that it viewed any attempt by Iran to begin enriching uranium as a point of no return. I was told by several officials that the White House’s interest in preventing an Israeli attack on a Muslim country, which would provoke a backlash across the region, was a factor in its decision to begin the current operational planning. In a speech in Cleveland on March 20th, President Bush depicted Ahmadinejad’s hostility toward Israel as a “serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace.” He added, “I made it clear, I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel.”

Any American bombing attack, Richard Armitage told me, would have to consider the following questions: “What will happen in the other Islamic countries? What ability does Iran have to reach us and touch us globally—that is, terrorism? Will Syria and Lebanon up the pressure on Israel? What does the attack do to our already diminished international standing? And what does this mean for Russia, China, and the U.N. Security Council?”

Iran, which now produces nearly four million barrels of oil a day, would not have to cut off production to disrupt the world’s oil markets. It could blockade or mine the Strait of Hormuz, the thirty-four-mile-wide passage through which Middle Eastern oil reaches the Indian Ocean. Nonetheless, the recently retired defense official dismissed the strategic consequences of such actions. He told me that the U.S. Navy could keep shipping open by conducting salvage missions and putting mine- sweepers to work. “It’s impossible to block passage,” he said. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon also said he believed that the oil problem could be managed, pointing out that the U.S. has enough in its strategic reserves to keep America running for sixty days. However, those in the oil business I spoke to were less optimistic; one industry expert estimated that the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict.

Michel Samaha, a veteran Lebanese Christian politician and former cabinet minister in Beirut, told me that the Iranian retaliation might be focussed on exposed oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. “They would be at risk,” he said, “and this could begin the real jihad of Iran versus the West. You will have a messy world.”

Iran could also initiate a wave of terror attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, with the help of Hezbollah. On April 2nd, the Washington Post reported that the planning to counter such attacks “is consuming a lot of time” at U.S. intelligence agencies. “The best terror network in the world has remained neutral in the terror war for the past several years,” the Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said of Hezbollah. “This will mobilize them and put us up against the group that drove Israel out of southern Lebanon. If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us.” (When I asked the government consultant about that possibility, he said that, if Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel, “Israel and the new Lebanese government will finish them off.”)

The adviser went on, “If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.” The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, “the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.”

“If you attack,” the high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna, “Ahmadinejad will be the new Saddam Hussein of the Arab world, but with more credibility and more power. You must bite the bullet and sit down with the Iranians.”

The diplomat went on, “There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change. This is wishful thinking.” He added, “The window of opportunity is now.”

source: The New Yorker

Iran: The Next Neocon Target

Before the U.S. House of Representatives - April 5, 2006

It’s been three years since the U.S. launched its war against Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Of course now almost everybody knows there were no WMDs, and Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States. Though some of our soldiers serving in Iraq still believe they are there because Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, even the administration now acknowledges there was no connection. Indeed, no one can be absolutely certain why we invaded Iraq. The current excuse, also given for staying in Iraq, is to make it a democratic state, friendly to the United States. There are now fewer denials that securing oil supplies played a significant role in our decision to go into Iraq and stay there. That certainly would explain why U.S. taxpayers are paying such a price to build and maintain numerous huge, permanent military bases in Iraq. They’re also funding a new billion dollar embassy- the largest in the world.

The significant question we must ask ourselves is: What have we learned from three years in Iraq? With plans now being laid for regime change in Iran, it appears we have learned absolutely nothing. There still are plenty of administration officials who daily paint a rosy picture of the Iraq we have created. But I wonder: If the past three years were nothing more than a bad dream, and our nation suddenly awakened, how many would, for national security reasons, urge the same invasion? Would we instead give a gigantic sigh of relief that it was only a bad dream, that we need not relive the three-year nightmare of death, destruction, chaos and stupendous consumption of tax dollars. Conceivably we would still see oil prices under $30 a barrel, and most importantly, 20,000 severe U.S. causalities would not have occurred. My guess is that 99% of all Americans would be thankful it was only a bad dream, and would never support the invasion knowing what we know today.

Even with the horrible results of the past three years, Congress is abuzz with plans to change the Iranian government. There is little resistance to the rising clamor for “democratizing” Iran, even though their current president, Mahmoud Almadinejad, is an elected leader. Though Iran is hardly a perfect democracy, its system is far superior to most of our Arab allies about which we never complain. Already the coordinating propaganda has galvanized the American people against Iran for the supposed threat it poses to us with weapons of mass destruction that are no more present than those Saddam Hussein was alleged to have had. It’s amazing how soon after being thoroughly discredited over the charges levied against Saddam Hussein the Neo-cons are willing to use the same arguments against Iran. It’s frightening to see how easily Congress, the media, and the people accept many of the same arguments against Iran that were used to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Since 2001 we have spent over $300 billion, and occupied two Muslim nations--Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re poorer but certainly not safer for it. We invaded Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden, the ring leader behind 9/11. This effort has been virtually abandoned. Even though the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan, most of the country is now occupied and controlled by warlords who manage a drug trade bigger than ever before. Removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan actually served the interests of Iran, the Taliban’s arch enemy, more than our own.

The longtime Neo-con goal to remake Iraq prompted us to abandon the search for Osama bin Laden. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was hyped as a noble mission, justified by misrepresentations of intelligence concerning Saddam Hussein and his ability to attack us and his neighbors. This failed policy has created the current chaos in Iraq-- chaos that many describe as a civil war. Saddam Hussein is out of power and most people are pleased. Yet some Iraqis, who dream of stability, long for his authoritarian rule. But once again, Saddam Hussein’s removal benefited the Iranians, who consider Saddam Hussein an arch enemy.

Our obsession with democracy-- which is clearly conditional, when one looks at our response to the recent Palestinian elections-- will allow the majority Shia to claim leadership title if Iraq’s election actually leads to an organized government. This delights the Iranians, who are close allies of the Iraqi Shia.

Talk about unintended consequences! This war has produced chaos, civil war, death and destruction, and huge financial costs. It has eliminated two of Iran’s worst enemies and placed power in Iraq with Iran’s best friends. Even this apparent failure of policy does nothing to restrain the current march toward a similar confrontation with Iran. What will it take for us to learn from our failures?

Common sense tells us the war in Iraq soon will spread to Iran. Fear of imaginary nuclear weapons or an incident involving Iran-- whether planned or accidental-- will rally the support needed for us to move on Muslim country #3. All the past failures and unintended consequences will be forgotten.

Even with deteriorating support for the Iraq war, new information, well planned propaganda, or a major incident will override the skepticism and heartache of our frustrating fight. Vocal opponents of an attack on Iran again will be labeled unpatriotic, unsupportive of the troops, and sympathetic to Iran’s radicals.

Instead of capitulating to these charges, we should point out that those who maneuver us into war do so with little concern for our young people serving in the military, and theoretically think little of their own children if they have any. It’s hard to conceive that political supporters of the war would consciously claim that a pre-emptive war for regime change, where young people are sacrificed, is only worth it if the deaths and injuries are limited to other people’s children. This, I’m sure, would be denied-- which means their own children are technically available for this sacrifice that is so often praised and glorified for the benefit of the families who have lost so much. If so, they should think more of their own children. If this is not so, and their children are not available for such sacrifice, the hypocrisy is apparent. Remember, most Neo-con planners fall into the category of chicken-hawks.

For the past 3 years it’s been inferred that if one is not in support of the current policy, one is against the troops and supports the enemy. Lack of support for the war in Iraq was said to be supportive of Saddam Hussein and his evil policies. This is an insulting and preposterous argument. Those who argued for the containment of the Soviets were never deemed sympathetic to Stalin or Khrushchev. Lack of support for the Iraq war should never be used as an argument that one was sympathetic to Saddam Hussein. Containment and diplomacy are far superior to confronting a potential enemy, and are less costly and far less dangerous-- especially when there’s no evidence that our national security is being threatened.

Although a large percentage of the public now rejects the various arguments for the Iraq war, 3 years ago they were easily persuaded by the politicians and media to fully support the invasion. Now, after 3 years of terrible pain for so many, even the troops are awakening from their slumber and sensing the fruitlessness of our failing effort. Seventy-two percent of our troops now serving in Iraq say it’s time to come home, yet the majority still cling to the propaganda that we’re there because of 9/11 attacks, something even the administration has ceased to claim. Propaganda is pushed on our troops to exploit their need to believe in a cause that’s worth the risk to life and limb.

I smell an expanded war in the Middle East, and pray that I’m wrong. I sense that circumstances will arise that demand support regardless of the danger and cost. Any lack of support, once again, will be painted as being soft on terrorism and al Qaeda. We will be told we must support Israel, support patriotism, support the troops, and defend freedom. The public too often only smells the stench of war after the killing starts. Public objection comes later on, but eventually it helps to stop the war. I worry that before we can finish the war we’re in and extricate ourselves, the patriotic fervor for expanding into Iran will drown out the cries of, “enough already!”

The agitation and congressional resolutions painting Iran as an enemy about to attack us have already begun. It’s too bad we can’t learn from our mistakes.

This time there will be a greater pretense of an international effort sanctioned by the UN before the bombs are dropped. But even without support from the international community, we should expect the plan for regime change to continue. We have been forewarned that “all options” remain on the table. And there’s little reason to expect much resistance from Congress. So far there’s less resistance expressed in Congress for taking on Iran than there was prior to going into Iraq. It’s astonishing that after three years of bad results and tremendous expense there’s little indication we will reconsider our traditional non-interventionist foreign policy. Unfortunately, regime change, nation building, policing the world, and protecting “our oil” still constitute an acceptable policy by the leaders of both major parties.

It’s already assumed by many in Washington I talk to that Iran is dead serious about obtaining a nuclear weapon, and is a much more formidable opponent than Iraq. Besides, Mahmoud Almadinjad threatened to destroy Israel and that cannot stand. Washington sees Iran as a greater threat than Iraq ever was, a threat that cannot be ignored.

Iran’s history is being ignored, just as we ignored Iraq’s history. This ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of our recent relationship to Iraq and Iran is required to generate the fervor needed to attack once again a country that poses no threat to us. Our policies toward Iran have been more provocative than those towards Iraq. Yes, President Bush labeled Iran part of the axis of evil and unnecessarily provoked their anger at us. But our mistakes with Iran started a long time before this president took office.

In 1953 our CIA, with help of the British, participated in overthrowing the democratic elected leader, Mohamed Mossedech. We placed the Shah in power. He ruled ruthlessly but protected our oil interests, and for that we protected him-- that is until 1979. We even provided him with Iran’s first nuclear reactor. Evidently we didn’t buy the argument that his oil supplies precluded a need for civilian nuclear energy. From 1953 to 1979 his authoritarian rule served to incite a radical Muslim opposition led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who overthrew the Shah and took our hostages in 1979. This blowback event was slow in coming, but Muslims have long memories. The hostage crisis and overthrow of the Shah by the Ayatollah was a major victory for the radical Islamists. Most Americans either never knew about or easily forgot our unwise meddling in the internal affairs of Iran in 1953.

During the 1980s we further antagonized Iran by supporting the Iraqis in their invasion of Iran. This made our relationship with Iran worse, while sending a message to Saddam Hussein that invading a neighboring country is not all that bad. When Hussein got the message from our State Department that his plan to invade Kuwait was not of much concern to the United States he immediately proceeded to do so. We in a way encouraged him to do it almost like we encouraged him to go into Iran. Of course this time our reaction was quite different, and all of a sudden our friendly ally Saddam Hussein became our arch enemy. The American people may forget this flip-flop, but those who suffered from it never forget. And the Iranians remember well our meddling in their affairs. Labeling the Iranians part of the axis of evil further alienated them and contributed to the animosity directed toward us.

For whatever reasons the Neo-conservatives might give, they are bound and determined to confront the Iranian government and demand changes in its leadership. This policy will further spread our military presence and undermine our security. The sad truth is that the supposed dangers posed by Iran are no more real than those claimed about Iraq. The charges made against Iran are unsubstantiated, and amazingly sound very similar to the false charges made against Iraq. One would think promoters of the war against Iraq would be a little bit more reluctant to use the same arguments to stir up hatred toward Iran. The American people and Congress should be more cautious in accepting these charges at face value. Yet it seems the propaganda is working, since few in Washington object as Congress passes resolutions condemning Iran and asking for UN sanctions against her.

There is no evidence of a threat to us by Iran, and no reason to plan and initiate a confrontation with her. There are many reasons not to do so, however.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and there’s no evidence that she is working on one--only conjecture.

If Iran had a nuclear weapon, why would this be different from Pakistan, India, and North Korea having one? Why does Iran have less right to a defensive weapon than these other countries?

If Iran had a nuclear weapon, the odds of her initiating an attack against anybody-- which would guarantee her own annihilation-- are zero. And the same goes for the possibility she would place weapons in the hands of a non-state terrorist group.

Pakistan has spread nuclear technology throughout the world, and in particular to the North Koreans. They flaunt international restrictions on nuclear weapons. But we reward them just as we reward India.

We needlessly and foolishly threaten Iran even though they have no nuclear weapons. But listen to what a leading Israeli historian, Martin Van Creveld, had to say about this: “Obviously, we don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and I don’t know if they’re developing them, but if they’re not developing them, they’re crazy.”

There’s been a lot of misinformation regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This distortion of the truth has been used to pump up emotions in Congress to pass resolutions condemning her and promoting UN sanctions.

IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradi has never reported any evidence of “undeclared” sources or special nuclear material in Iran, or any diversion of nuclear material.

We demand that Iran prove it is not in violation of nuclear agreements, which is asking them impossibly to prove a negative. El Baradi states Iran is in compliance with the nuclear NPT required IAEA safeguard agreement.

We forget that the weapons we feared Saddam Hussein had were supplied to him by the U.S., and we refused to believe UN inspectors and the CIA that he no longer had them.

Likewise, Iran received her first nuclear reactor from us. Now we’re hysterically wondering if someday she might decide to build a bomb in self interest.

Anti-Iran voices, beating the drums of confrontation, distort the agreement made in Paris and the desire of Iran to restart the enrichment process. Their suspension of the enrichment process was voluntary, and not a legal obligation. Iran has an absolute right under the NPT to develop and use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and this is now said to be an egregious violation of the NPT. It’s the U.S. and her allies that are distorting and violating the NPT. Likewise our provision of nuclear materials to India is a clear violation of the NPT.

The demand for UN sanctions is now being strongly encouraged by Congress. The “Iran Freedom Support Act,” HR 282, passed in the International Relations Committee; and recently the House passed H Con Res 341, which inaccurately condemned Iran for violating its international nuclear non-proliferation obligations. At present, the likelihood of reason prevailing in Congress is minimal. Let there be no doubt: The Neo-conservative warriors are still in charge, and are conditioning Congress, the media, and the American people for a pre-emptive attack on Iran. Never mind that Afghanistan has unraveled and Iraq is in civil war: serious plans are being laid for the next distraction which will further spread this war in the Middle East. The unintended consequences of this effort surely will be worse than any of the complications experienced in the three-year occupation of Iraq.

Our offer of political and financial assistance to foreign and domestic individuals who support the overthrow of the current Iranian government is fraught with danger and saturated with arrogance. Imagine how American citizens would respond if China supported similar efforts here in the United States to bring about regime change! How many of us would remain complacent if someone like Timothy McVeigh had been financed by a foreign power? Is it any wonder the Iranian people resent us and the attitude of our leaders? Even though El Baradi and his IAEA investigations have found no violations of the NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement, the Iran Freedom Support Act still demands that Iran prove they have no nuclear weapons-- refusing to acknowledge that proving a negative is impossible.

Let there be no doubt, though the words “regime change” are not found in the bill-- that’s precisely what they are talking about. Neo-conservative Michael Ledeen, one of the architects of the Iraq fiasco, testifying before the International Relations Committee in favor of the IFSA, stated it plainly: “I know some Members would prefer to dance around the explicit declaration of regime change as the policy of this country, but anyone looking closely at the language and context of the IFSA and its close relative in the Senate, can clearly see that this is in fact the essence of the matter. You can’t have freedom in Iran without bringing down the Mullahs.”

Sanctions, along with financial and political support to persons and groups dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government, are acts of war. Once again we’re unilaterally declaring a pre-emptive war against a country and a people that have not harmed us and do not have the capacity to do so. And don’t expect Congress to seriously debate a declaration of war resolution. For the past 56 years Congress has transferred to the executive branch the power to go to war as it pleases, regardless of the tragic results and costs.

Secretary of State Rice recently signaled a sharp shift towards confrontation in Iran policy as she insisted on $75 million to finance propaganda, through TV and radio broadcasts into Iran. She expressed this need because of the so-called “aggressive” policies of the Iranian government. We’re seven thousand miles from home, telling the Iraqis and the Iranians what kind of government they will have, backed up by the use of our military force, and we call them the aggressors. We fail to realize the Iranian people, for whatever faults they may have, have not in modern times aggressed against any neighbor. This provocation is so unnecessary, costly, and dangerous.

Just as the invasion of Iraq inadvertently served the interests of the Iranians, military confrontation with Iran will have unintended consequences. The successful alliance engendered between the Iranians and the Iraqi majority Shia will prove a formidable opponent for us in Iraq as that civil war spreads. Shipping in the Persian Gulf through the Straits of Hormuz may well be disrupted by the Iranians in retaliation for any military confrontation. Since Iran would be incapable of defending herself by conventional means, it seems logical that some might resort to a terrorist attack on us. They will not passively lie down, nor can they be destroyed easily.

One of the reasons given for going into Iraq was to secure “our” oil supply. This backfired badly: Production in Iraq is down 50%, and world oil prices have more than doubled to $60 per barrel. Meddling with Iran could easily have a similar result. We could see oil over $120 a barrel and, and $6 gas at the pump. The obsession the Neo-cons have with remaking the Middle East is hard to understand. One thing that is easy to understand is none of those who planned these wars expect to fight in them, nor do they expect their children to die in some IED explosion.

Exactly when an attack will occur is not known, but we have been forewarned more than once that all options remain on the table. The sequence of events now occurring with regards to Iran are eerily reminiscent of the hype prior to our pre-emptive strike against Iraq. We should remember the saying: “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” It looks to me like the Congress and the country is open to being fooled once again.

Interestingly, many early supporters of the Iraq war are now highly critical of the President, having been misled as to reasons for the invasion and occupation. But these same people are only too eager to accept the same flawed arguments for our need to undermine the Iranian government.

The President’s 2006 National Security Strategy, just released, is every bit as frightening as the one released in 2002 endorsing pre-emptive war. In it he claims: “We face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” He claims the Iranians have for 20 years hidden key nuclear activities-- though the IAEA makes no such assumptions nor has the Security Council in these 20 years ever sanctioned Iran. The clincher in the National Security Strategy document is if diplomatic efforts fail, confrontation will follow. The problem is the diplomatic effort-- if one wants to use that term-- is designed to fail by demanding the Iranians prove an unproveable negative. The West-- led by the U.S.-- is in greater violation by demanding Iran not pursue any nuclear technology, even peaceful, that the NPT guarantees is their right.

The President states: Iran’s “desire to have a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.” A “desire” is purely subjective, and cannot be substantiated nor disproved. Therefore all that is necessary to justify an attack is if Iran fails to prove it doesn’t have a “desire” to be like the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Pakistan, India, and Israel—whose nuclear missiles surround Iran. Logic like this to justify a new war, without the least consideration for a congressional declaration of war, is indeed frightening.

Common sense tells us Congress, especially given the civil war in Iraq and the mess in Afghanistan, should move with great caution in condoning a military confrontation with Iran.

Cause for Concern

Most Americans are uninterested in foreign affairs until we get mired down in a war that costs too much, last too long, and kills too many U.S. troops. Getting out of a lengthy war is difficult, as I remember all too well with Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1968. Getting into war is much easier. Unfortunately the Legislative branch of our government too often defers to the Executive branch, and offers little resistance to war plans even with no significant threat to our security. The need to go to war is always couched in patriotic terms and falsehoods regarding an imaginary eminent danger. Not supporting the effort is painted as unpatriotic and wimpish against some evil that’s about to engulf us. The real reason for our militarism is rarely revealed and hidden from the public. Even Congress is deceived into supporting adventurism they would not accept if fully informed.

If we accepted the traditional American and constitutional foreign policy of non-intervention across the board, there would be no temptation to go along with these unnecessary military operations. A foreign policy of intervention invites all kinds of excuses for spreading ourselves around the world. The debate shifts from non-intervention versus interventionism, to where and for what particular reason should we involve ourselves. Most of the time it’s for less than honorable reasons. Even when cloaked in honorable slogans-- like making the world safe for democracy-- the unintended consequences and the ultimate costs cancel out the good intentions.

One of the greatest losses suffered these past 60 years from interventionism becoming an acceptable policy of both major parties is respect for the Constitution. Congress flatly has reneged on its huge responsibility to declare war. Going to war was never meant to be an Executive decision, used indiscriminately with no resistance from Congress. The strongest attempt by Congress in the past 60 years to properly exert itself over foreign policy was the passage of the Foley Amendment, demanding no assistance be given to the Nicaraguan contras. Even this explicit prohibition was flaunted by an earlier administration.

Arguing over the relative merits of each intervention is not a true debate, because it assumes that intervention per se is both moral and constitutional. Arguing for a Granada-type intervention because of its “success,” and against the Iraq war because of its failure and cost, is not enough. We must once again understand the wisdom of rejecting entangling alliances and rejecting nation building. We must stop trying to police the world and instead embrace non-interventionism as the proper, moral, and constitutional foreign policy.

The best reason to oppose interventionism is that people die, needlessly, on both sides. We have suffered over 20,000 American casualties in Iraq already, and Iraq civilian deaths probably number over 100,000 by all reasonable accounts. The next best reason is that the rule of law is undermined, especially when military interventions are carried out without a declaration of war. Whenever a war is ongoing, civil liberties are under attack at home. The current war in Iraq and the misnamed war on terror have created an environment here at home that affords little constitutional protection of our citizen’s rights. Extreme nationalism is common during wars. Signs of this are now apparent.

Prolonged wars, as this one has become, have profound consequences. No matter how much positive spin is put on it, war never makes a society wealthier. World War II was not a solution to the Depression as many claim. If a billion dollars is spent on weapons of war, the GDP records positive growth in that amount. But the expenditure is consumed by destruction of the weapons or bombs it bought, and the real economy is denied $1 billion to produce products that would have raised someone’s standard of living.

Excessive spending to finance the war causes deficits to explode. There are never enough tax dollars available to pay the bills, and since there are not enough willing lenders and dollars available, the Federal Reserve must create enough new money and credit for buying Treasury Bills to prevent interest rates from rising too rapidly. Rising rates would tip off everyone that there are not enough savings or taxes to finance the war. This willingness to print whatever amount of money the government needs to pursue the war is literally inflation. Without a fiat monetary system wars would be very difficult to finance, since the people would never tolerate the taxes required to pay for it. Inflation of the money supply delays and hides the real cost of war. The result of the excessive creation of new money leads to the higher cost of living everyone decries and the Fed denies. Since taxes are not levied, the increase in prices that results from printing too much money is technically the tax required to pay for the war.

The tragedy is that the inflation tax is borne more by the poor and the middle class than the rich. Meanwhile, the well-connected rich, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the bankers, the military industrialists, and the international corporations reap the benefits of war profits.

A sound economic process is disrupted with a war economy and monetary inflation. Strong voices emerge blaming the wrong policies for our problems, prompting an outcry for protectionist legislation. It’s always easier to blame foreign producers and savers for our inflation, lack of savings, excess debt, and loss of industrial jobs. Protectionist measures only make economic conditions worse. Inevitably these conditions, if not corrected, lead to a lower standard of living for most of our citizens.

Careless military intervention is also bad for the civil disturbance that results. The chaos in the streets of America in the 1960s while the Vietnam War raged, aggravated by the draft, was an example of domestic strife caused by an ill-advised unconstitutional war that could not be won. The early signs of civil discord are now present. Hopefully we can extricate ourselves from Iraq and avoid a conflict in Iran before our streets explode as they did in the 60s.

In a way it’s amazing there’s not a lot more outrage expressed by the American people. There’s plenty of complaining but no outrage over policies that are not part of our American tradition. War based on false pretenses, 20,000 American casualties, torture policies, thousands jailed without due process, illegal surveillance of citizens, warrantless searches, and yet no outrage. When the issues come before Congress, Executive authority is maintained or even strengthened while real oversight is ignored.

Though many Americans are starting to feel the economic pain of paying for this war through inflation, the real pain has not yet arrived. We generally remain fat and happy, with a system of money and borrowing that postpones the day of reckoning. Foreigners, in particular the Chinese and Japanese, gladly participate in the charade. We print the money and they take it, as do the OPEC nations, and provide us with consumer goods and oil. Then they loan the money back to us at low interest rates, which we use to finance the war and our housing bubble and excessive consumption. This recycling and perpetual borrowing of inflated dollars allows us to avoid the pain of high taxes to pay for our war and welfare spending. It’s fine until the music stops and the real costs are realized, with much higher interest rates and significant price inflation. That’s when outrage will be heard, and the people will realize we can’t afford the “humanitarianism” of the Neo-conservatives.

The notion that our economic problems are principally due to the Chinese is nonsense. If the protectionists were to have their way, the problem of financing the war would become readily apparent and have immediate ramifications-- none good. Today’s economic problems, caused largely by our funny money system, won’t be solved by altering exchange rates to favor us in the short run, or by imposing high tariffs. Only sound money with real value will solve the problems of competing currency devaluations and protectionist measures.

Economic interests almost always are major reasons for wars being fought. Noble and patriotic causes are easier to sell to a public who must pay and provide cannon fodder to defend the financial interests of a privileged class.

The fact that Saddam Hussein demanded Euros for oil in an attempt to undermine the U.S. dollar is believed by many to be one of the ulterior motives for our invasion and occupation of Iraq. Similarly, the Iranian oil burse now about to open may be seen as a threat to those who depend on maintaining the current monetary system with the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

The theory and significance of “peak oil” is believed to be an additional motivating factor for the U.S. and Great Britain wanting to maintain firm control over the oil supplies in the Middle East. The two nations have been protecting “our” oil interests in the Middle East for nearly a hundred years. With diminishing supplies and expanding demands, the incentive to maintain a military presence in the Middle East is quite strong. Fear of China and Russia moving into this region to assume more control alarms those who don’t understand how a free market can develop substitutes to replace diminishing resources. Supporters of the military effort to maintain control over large regions of the world to protect oil fail to count the real costs once the DOD budget is factored in. Remember, invading Iraq was costly and oil prices doubled. Confrontation in Iran may evolve differently, but we can be sure it will be costly and oil prices will rise.

There are long-term consequences or blowback from our militant policy of intervention around the world. They are unpredictable as to time and place. 9/11 was a consequence of our military presence on Muslim holy lands; the Ayatollah Khomeini’s success in taking over the Iranian government in 1979 was a consequence of our CIA overthrowing Mossadech in 1953. These connections are rarely recognized by the American people and never acknowledged by our government. We never seem to learn how dangerous interventionism is to us and to our security.

There are some who may not agree strongly with any of my arguments, and instead believe the propaganda: Iran and her President, Mahmoud Almadinjad, are thoroughly irresponsible and have threatened to destroy Israel. So all measures must be taken to prevent Iran from getting nukes-- thus the campaign to intimidate and confront Iran.

First, Iran doesn’t have a nuke and is nowhere close to getting one, according to the CIA. If they did have one, using it would guarantee almost instantaneous annihilation by Israel and the United States. Hysterical fear of Iran is way out of proportion to reality. With a policy of containment, we stood down and won the Cold War against the Soviets and their 30,000 nuclear weapons and missiles. If you’re looking for a real kook with a bomb to worry about, North Korea would be high on the list. Yet we negotiate with Kim Jong Il. Pakistan has nukes and was a close ally of the Taliban up until 9/11. Pakistan was never inspected by the IAEA as to their military capability. Yet we not only talk to her, we provide economic assistance-- though someday Musharraf may well be overthrown and a pro-al Qaeda government put in place. We have been nearly obsessed with talking about regime change in Iran, while ignoring Pakistan and North Korea. It makes no sense and it’s a very costly and dangerous policy.

The conclusion we should derive from this is simple: It’s in our best interest to pursue a foreign policy of non-intervention. A strict interpretation of the Constitution mandates it. The moral imperative of not imposing our will on others, no matter how well intentioned, is a powerful argument for minding our own business. The principle of self-determination should be respected. Strict non-intervention removes the incentives for foreign powers and corporate interests to influence our policies overseas. We can’t afford the cost that intervention requires, whether through higher taxes or inflation. If the moral arguments against intervention don’t suffice for some, the practical arguments should.

Intervention just doesn’t work. It backfires and ultimately hurts American citizens both at home and abroad. Spreading ourselves too thin around the world actually diminishes our national security through a weakened military. As the superpower of the world, a constant interventionist policy is perceived as arrogant, and greatly undermines our ability to use diplomacy in a positive manner.

Conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, and many of today’s liberals have all at one time or another endorsed a less interventionist foreign policy. There’s no reason a coalition of these groups might not once again present the case for a pro-American, non-militant, non-interventionist foreign policy dealing with all nations. A policy of trade and peace, and a willingness to use diplomacy, is far superior to the foreign policy that has evolved over the past 60 years.

It’s time for a change.

source: Information Clearing House