Thursday, February 1, 2007

Iran War: Bad moon rising

All my posts today are dedicated to the memory of Molly Ivins.

These recent articles below indicate a few things about US policy toward Iran. One is that the last several days have seen a distinct ratcheting up of administration accusations against alleged Iranian anti-American actions. Another is that there is very little evidence publicly available on the charges. A third is that the Cheney-Bush administration is signficantly escalating the confrontation with Iran. A fourth is that Cheney and his acolytes want war with Iran. And that, even if the intent of the current moves are to avoid war by pressuring Iran to take positions on Iraq and on Iran's own nuclear program more agreeable to Dick Cheney, this kind of brinksmanship represents either a conscious attempt to go to war, or, at best can easily escalate to war with missteps on either side.

Have Cheney and Bush made any serious missteps in foreign policy the last few years? What are the chances of more?

Bush's Trash Talk About Iran by Robert Dreyfuss 02/01/07

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-Bomb Iran by Larry Johnson 01/31/07

TPM Blog post on Iraq by Josh Marshall 01/31/07

War and Piece blog post by Laura Rozen 01/31/07

I'm trying not to be a pessimist on the Iran confrontation. Because war would be a disaster for the US right now, especially led by Dick Cheney and George Bush. Iran expert Gary Sick said on the PBS Newshour this past Monday (
U.S. Will 'Respond Firmly' as Iran Seeks Greater Role in Iraq 01/29/07) , "So I think actually ... any kind of an action in Iran would be so catastrophic, in terms of its cost, the size of the country, its nationalism, that it would actually make Iraq look simple by comparison. And I think people in Washington know that."

And that's what I keep coming around to as well. But there a potential problem with that perspective.

Josh Marshall summarizes it well:

Again, the 'sensible' interpretation of what's happening right now is that the administration is trying to regain control of the situation in Iraq. And to further that aim they're rattling their sabres at Iran to get them to back off and stop making trouble. That's the sensible explanation. But we're not dealing with sensible people. And much more important, the folks who are running this show are simply too stupid to be trusted to execute such a delicate and perilous feint.

I don't mean they're dumb people. I'm sure they have high IQs. Most went to prestigious universities. They have lists of accomplishments. But the record of the last six years shows so many mistakes, such a record of incapability and incompetence, so many misjudgements, screw-ups and boners that there's no other suitable word.

Through plan or imbecility (and most likely, given who were talking about, both) they're drifting toward war with Iran. (my emphasis)
Bob Dreyfuss thinks the Cheneyites are looking for an Iranian reaction that they can use as a pretext to launch a war:

Nevertheless, the hardliners and neoconservatives in the administration - led, as always, by Dick Cheney - have been pushing for five years for a confrontation with Iran, and from the beginning they saw the war in Iraq as only one step in that direction. Within the Bush administration, there is a sharp division – once again, in part, pitting the State Department against the National Security Council and the office of the Vice President – over how far to raise tensions with Iran. In that context, the neocons can only be crossing their fingers in the hope that Iran will respond provocatively, making what is now a low-grade cold war inexorably heat up. (my emphasis)
Another item worth noting because of the source is this transcript of Pat Lang's CNN appearance of 01/26/07 from the No Quarter blog. He talks about the risky position in which American forces in Iraq would be placed if the administration attacks Iran. But one of the surprising things he says is this:

LANG: They could retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq in a big way.

BLITZER: How could they do that?

LANG: They have hundreds of thousands of people from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard corps already in Iraq.

BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands?

LANG: Oh, yes. That's a well-established figure that's though to be true across the community of people that look at this. And they're there as liaison personnel with the very Shia militias and things like that. And if they get sufficiently angry with us, they can start retaliating directly against our forces. (my emphasis)
Now, Lang is an expert on the Middle East and is generally a credible source on such things. But I'm reserving judgment on this business of "hundreds of thousands" of trained Iranian operatives being stationed in Iraq. Admittedly reporters have been severely restricted in the movements in Iraq because of the level of violence. But how could "hundreds of thousands" of Iranian operatives not have become fairly well know? Lang's point is that they could easily target Americans in Iraq. Still, it's surprising to hear.

He also says in that interview that Iran "has been the principal international sponsor of Islamic terrorism, both Sunni and Shia, ever since its foundation after the revolution against the Shah." When and where has Iran been sponsoring Sunni terrorism? I can only guess that he's referring to some sort of Iranian support for Al-Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. But most of what I've heard about is Iran's sponsored Hizbullah in Lebanon (Shi'a), SCIRI and Al-Dawa in Iraq (Shi'a and our current main allies in Iraq), Hizbullah in Saudi Arabia (Shi'a) and Shi'a in western Afghanistan.

Sam Gardiner is among the more pessimistic observers of the Cheney-Bush policy toward Iran. In
Pieces in Place for Escalation by Sam Gardiner The Left Coaster blog 01/14/07, he writes:

The White House keeps saying there are no plans to attack Iran. Obviously, the facts suggest otherwise. Equally as clear, the Iranians will read what the Administration is doing not what it is saying.

It is possible the White House strategy is just implementing a strategy to put pressure on Iran on a number of fronts, and this will never amount to anything. ...

The White House could be telling the truth. Maybe there are no plans to take Iran to the next level. The fuel for a fire is in place, however. All we need is a spark. The danger is that we have created conditions that could lead to a Greater Middle East War.
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