Just because a course of action is foolish, irrational, costly, and bloody doesn’t mean the Bush Administration won’t pursue it. And just because U.S. troops are bogged down in Iraq doesn’t mean the Bush Administration has lost its appetite for military adventurism.
This is an Administration that discounts the downside and hypes the upside to military action. It now appears to be gearing up to bomb Iran. We ought not be lulled into a false sense of complacency. Bush’s low poll numbers and his Iraq fiasco may be reasons as much for him to launch bombs as not.
Progressive experts who have been following U.S. security issues for decades are increasingly certain that Bush is going forward with his Iran bombing plans.
There is a 75 percent likelihood that Bush will bomb Iran before the 2006 elections, Michael Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, tells The Progressive.
Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker has been warning for more than a year now that Bush will attack Iran. “The guys on the inside really want to do this,” he said on CNN as far back as January 17, 2005.
“In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran,” Hersh wrote in The New Yorker at that time. “The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran” since the summer of 2004. “The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids.”
Joseph Cirincione, director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, used to think a bombing was unlikely. Not anymore. His sources tell him that senior Bush officials “want to hit Iran hard,” he wrote on the website of Foreign Policy magazine on March 27. “What I previously dismissed as posturing I now believe may be a coordinated campaign to prepare for a military strike on Iran,” he said in his posting entitled “Fool Me Twice.”
We may look back upon the month of March as the time when the Bush war chefs decided to overheat the rhetoric and bring the conflict with Iran to a boil.
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 moved confrontation with Iran to the front burner.
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 was not alone in turning up the heat.
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 U.N. shop, said Iran would face “tangible and painful consequences” if it went forward with its nuclear plans.
Bush himself called Iran a “grave national security concern” for the United States. And he echoed Cheney’s declaration that the United States won’t allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
“There’s no doubt that Iran is the single biggest threat from a state that we face.”—Condoleezza Rice, testifying to the Senate on March 28
Part of the coordinated campaign against Iran was the unveiling in March of the Administration’s new national security strategy. The language about Iran in this forty-eight-page document is stark. “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,” it states. It called Iran (and Syria) “an enemy of freedom, justice, and peace,” and added: “The world must hold those regimes to account.”
It makes demands on Iran that seem unlikely to be met. “The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people,” the document states. That’s a big “only if.”
It also reiterates the Administration’s justifications for preemptive war. “The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same,” it states. “We do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.”
As it did before launching its war on Iraq, the Bush Administration is now putting on a charade of working with allies and going to the United Nations. But its intent is clear enough: “This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided,” the national security document states.
But Bush doesn’t want the diplomatic effort on Iran to succeed. If he did, he’d be engaging in direct negotiations with the Iranians, which is what they seek. What Bush really wants is confrontation. Diplomacy is but the first course on his war menu.
Bush is lucky in his adversaries. First, he had Saddam Hussein, the butcher and the bluffer of Baghdad. And now he has Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust, threatens to destroy Israel, moves provocatively to enrich uranium, 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 rhetorical game of chicken with Bush.
“The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain,” an Iranian official said in March, “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, said his country will “stand like steel” against any threat from the U.N. or Washington.
This kind of language is reminiscent of Saddam’s “mother of all battles.” But it serves a purpose for Ahmadinejad, who has not delivered on his promises to improve the lot of Iranians. It solidifies his domestic base. “Bush has a brother in arms in Tehran,” says Klare. “Each sees a political advantage” in escalating the rhetoric.
Ahmadinejad’s recklessness allows Bush to argue that the Iranian regime is so wildly belligerent and bizarre that it cannot be deterred.
But Klare rebuts this. First of all, he notes that Iran is, by most accounts, several years away from being able to make even one nuclear weapon.
And second, even if Iran had a handful of nukes, “there is no conceivable scenario whereby Iran would use them in an offensive manner,” he says. “It feels threatened. It sees them as a deterrent against attack.”
Ahmadinejad knows that if he used nuclear weapons, his country would be annihilated, Klare argues. “He is an Iranian nationalist first and foremost,” Klare says. “He doesn’t want his civilization destroyed.”
Nor is Iran likely to hand off a nuclear weapon to a terrorist for such a nefarious mission, he argues. “If a terrorist group used one of Iran’s nuclear weapons, Iran would have to worry that the victim would discover the weapon’s origin and visit a terrible revenge on Iran,” Barry Posen, professor of political science at MIT, wrote in The New York Times on February 27. “No country is likely to turn over the means to its own annihilation to an uncontrolled entity.”
Rather than goad Ahmadinejad even further down the nationalist road toward acquiring nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration should engage in direct talks with Tehran on this issue. It should offer a pledge of nonaggression in return for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities, and it should ease up on the hostile rhetoric so as not to entrench the hardliners even further.
“Strategists at the Pentagon are drawing up plans for devastating bombing raids backed by submarine-launched ballistic missile attacks against Iran’s nuclear sites.”—The Sunday Telegraph
But Bush would prefer to bomb.
The consequences of a Bush assault would be costly. First and foremost, in terms of human life, the toll would be high. Such an attack would kill up to 10,000 people initially, according to a February report by the Oxford Research Group. “If the war evolved into a wider conflict, primarily to preempt or counter Iranian responses, then casualties would eventually be much higher,” the report states.
Bombing Iran would further enflame Iraq. The cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr has already declared that his forces would attack the Americans. And Iran would be likely to give more direct support to the insurgents.
If attacked, Iran would also be in a position to disrupt oil facilities and routes in the Persian Gulf. It could interrupt the flow through the Straits of Hormuz, and it could send paramilitary units to sabotage facilities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the report warns. This would roil the oil markets and could send the U.S. economy—and the global economy—into the tank.
Any attack by the United States would also further alienate the Arab and Muslim world from Washington, inciting fundamentalist forces and furthering the recruitment efforts of Al Qaeda.
Finally, the bombing of Iran, unless total, would neither dislodge the fundamentalists from power nor end their nuclear ambitions.
“Iranians will rally around their government, even though the vast majority of them despise the hardliners and most of the clerics,” says Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California, who recently co-wrote a commentary with Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi. “The hardliners will crush the reformist/democratic movement in Iran.”
As for crippling Iran’s nuclear capacity, at best an attack would be a stopgap measure. At worst, it would accelerate Iran’s efforts. “However badly Iran’s nuclear infrastructure was damaged in an attack, an immediate response would be to reconstitute the infrastructure and work rapidly and in secret towards a clear nuclear weapons capability,” the Oxford Research Group says. “Rather than living with an Iran that had the potential to produce nuclear weapons, the U.S. action would almost certainly guarantee an overt nuclear-armed Iran for decades to come or, alternatively, further instances of military action.”
Despite the grave consequences that could ensue if the United States bombs Iran, Bush and his Iraq War gamblers want to go double or nothing. There are two overriding reasons for this: Bush’s political needs and his psychological needs, Klare argues.
“It’s in his political interest if you’re looking at the situation from the White House’s perspective,” Klare says. “In the short term, people would rally around the President.” Karl Rove believes that bombing Iran will get the Republicans through the 2006 election, Klare says. And Klare thinks he’s right.
Beyond crass political advantage, Klare believes Bush has a psychological reason for bombing Iran. “He views himself as the man who stood up to the rogue state WMD threat,” Klare says. “If he doesn’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, he’ll feel like a failure not only in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes, because he thinks he’s doing God’s work.”
There are, of course, other reasons why the Administration would like to bomb Iran. It would take out another threat to key U.S. ally Israel. It would project U.S. power over another major oil producer. And it would send a signal to Russia and China that the United States is still top dog in their neighborhood.
“Many Democrats have been trying to burnish a hawkish image and place themselves to the right of the President on this issue. They may find themselves trapped by their own rhetoric, particularly those with Presidential ambitions.”—Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Many leading Democrats have painted themselves into a corner on the Iran issue. During arguments about the Iraq War, some Democrats, like John Kerry and Joe Biden, argued that Saddam Hussein wasn’t as big a threat as Iran. Well, Bush can now call their bluff on that. And Hillary Clinton has positioned herself even further to the right on the Iran issue than Bush is. She has called a nuclear-armed Iran a “dire threat,” and in January she criticized Bush for not being aggressive enough.
Left to their own devices, many more Democrats are likely to go along with Bush’s Iran bombing than with his Iraq War.
The bombing of Iran is not a foregone conclusion. It’s still remotely possible that Ahmadinejad will come to his senses and stop his efforts to enrich uranium. It’s still remotely possible that the mainstream media will scrutinize Bush’s propaganda more carefully this time around. It’s still remotely possible that the American people will not be gulled again.
All the more reason why we in the peace movement need to rally, right now, to expose and oppose Bush’s plans to bomb Iran, to galvanize opposition to the Iraq War, and to promote the calls for censure and impeachment. The last thing America needs, the last thing the world needs, is for Bush to launch another illegal, aggressive war.
George Bush is a recidivist. His reckless, lawless appetite for war has yet to be sated. It is up to us, U.S. citizens, nonviolently, to restrain him.