George Bush is lucky in his adversaries.
First, he had the Butcher and the Bluffer of Baghdad.
And now he has Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust, threatens to destroy Israel, insists on a nuclear program, and has his police beat up hundreds of women in Tehran who were rallying on International Women’s Day.
On top of all that, Ahmadinejad seems eager to play a foolish game of chicken with Bush.
“The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain,” an Iranian official said this week. “but it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wants to pursue that path, let the ball roll.”
Iran’s supreme ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, says his country will “stand like steel” against any threat from the UN or Washington.
This kind of reckless language is reminiscent of Saddam’s “mother of all battles.”
But the Bush Administration has been engaging in reckless language of its own.
We may look back upon the first two weeks of March as the time when the Bush war chefs decided to overheat the rhetoric and bring the conflict with Iran to a boil.
And they needed to do something to distract the American people from the horrendous job Bush has been doing. What better way than to hype another war?
Once again, Cheney stirred the pot.
As he did with his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August of 2002, which put the Iraq War in the oven, Cheney gave a speech on March 7 that rang the war bells.
Cheney was speaking to—of all groups—AIPAC, which has two former high officials awaiting trial for espionage for allegedly giving secrets to Israel. But that didn’t stop Cheney from blessing AIPAC with his presence.
Cheney warned of “meaningful consequences” if Iran “stays on its present course.” He stressed that “the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime.” And he said: “We join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
He followed that with the obligatory bow to the Iranian people, which is the rattle of the snake. Before Bush and Cheney attack any country, they heap praise on the people they are about to kill.
“The people of Iran can be absolutely certain that we respect them, their country, and their long history as a great civilization, and we stand with them,” said Cheney.
He was not alone in turning the heat up.
On the same day as Cheney’s speech, Rumsfeld warned that Iran was meddling in Iraq. “They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq,” he told a Pentagon news conference. “And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment.”
The same week, John Bolton, the bull in the UN shop, said Iran would face “tangible and painful consequences” if it went forward with its nuclear plans.
And Bush himself called Iran a “grave national security concern” for the United States.
We saw in Iraq how the war of words preceded the actual war of weapons.
I don’t know Ahamdinejad.
But I do know Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bolton and Bush. And they aren’t kidding around.
They are likely to attack Iran before they are out of office.
Such an attack would kill up to 10,000 people and lead to a wider war in the Middle East, according to a February report by the Oxford Research Group. And it would further enflame Iraq, as the Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr has declared that his forces would attack the Americans in the event that Bush bombs Iran.
Cooler heads need to prevail, but I can’t find many around.
France and Germany have played a particularly unhelpful role by aligning themselves so readily with the Bush Administration. Maybe they are still reeling from their rare act of courage in opposing Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq War and now want to do whatever they can to get back into the good graces of King George. But for whatever reason, they are giving cover to Bush for more belligerence.
At least the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solano has denounced the rhetoric on both sides as “very inflammatory” and “not in line with normal diplomacy.”
But it is in line with normal Bush policy, which serves up diplomacy as the first course of war.