Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Iraq and Iran Watch

(crossposted at The Blue Herald)

Okay, now for the more serious post. There’s some important news, or at least important fake news, especially on the Iran front.

Dan Froomkin provides an invaluable survey of the Iran news in "A Shaky Briefing on Iran?" He starts by focusing on the ridiculous deep background briefing lapped up uncritically by The New York Times. He links Greg Mitchell’s skeptical dissection as well and Glenn Greenwald’s brutal, on-target critique.

Howard Kurtz also weighed in on the briefing when responding to a reader question in Kurtz’ weekly online discussion:

The Pentagon staged a briefing for journalists at which a "senior defense official" and a couple of experts were trotted out on a background basis. I do not understand why they could not have presented their findings on the record. I don't think it's quite like Iraq, in that this was an officially sanctioned briefing, but it does raise a similar question: If the Defense Department is so sure of its evidence on Iran's involvement, why the anonymity?

There are two U.S. warship groups in the Gulf, and allegedly a third on the way. The Bush administration keeps on denying that there’s any plans or intent to attack Iran. Froomkin notes:

But Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari write in a Newsweek cover story: "At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. 'They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,' says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran."

Hirsh and Bahari conclude that "the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and Newsweek has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years."

And Ewen MacAskill writes in The Guardian: "US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

"The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

"Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. "

Arnaud de Borchgrave writes for UPI: "At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. 'I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers,' said Soroush, 'and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized.'

"'I know,' President Bush answered.

"'But does Vice President Cheney know?' asked Soroush.

"President Bush chuckled and walked away."

Froomkin goes on to present a great deal of important information on the éminence grise himself, Cheney.

Digby picks up on the Cheney thread in a valuable post titled "Preserving All Our Options." Digby highlights a key passage of a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung titled ”U.S. Keeps Pressure on Iran But Decreases Saber Rattling “:

Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation. One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 "the year of Iran" and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article.

As Digby notes, that really should have been the lede, concluding:

As the Libby trial unfolds we see once again a picture of an extremely powerful Vice President who believes he can do anything.He does not even believe he answers to the president. Considering recent history, it is far more significant that John Hannah is telling people that an attack was a real possibility than it is that Condi's sadly irrelevant State Department is trying to tamp down the rhetoric in public. Everything we have seen for the last six years shows that in these administration battles Cheney always wins. Watch what they do not what they say. They lie as easily as they breathe.

Finally, two other writers add valuable perspectives. Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid explores the growing Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East in his article, ”Across Arab World, a Widening Rift” and discussed the article here. Meanwhile, Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival, co-authored an op-ed titled ”The Iran Option That Isn't on the Table.” It argues for precisely the sort of effective diplomacy the Bush adminstration ridicules:

Paradoxically, to liberalize the theocratic state, the United States would do better to shelve its containment strategy and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power. In the meantime, as Iran became assimilated into the global economy, the regime's influence would inevitably yield to the private sector, with its demands for accountability and reform.

Nasr offered some interesting responses to readers in his discussion of the op-ed:

There has been flow of arms from Iran to Shia groups in Iraq but that has so far been to balance the flow of arms that is going to the insurgency from the Arab world. It is important to note that Shia militias are not at war with the U.S. -- more than 80 percent of U.S. casualties are inflicted by the insurgency, and we are having this discussion at a time when insurgent attacks have killed hundreds of Shias and downed five U.S. helicopters.

In response to a reader who quotes the Shehabi conversation with Bush I quoted above, Nasr writes:

I do not know whether this exchange happened or not, but many pro-democracy voices in Iran fear that military confrontation will divert attention from democracy and political dissent to nationalism. Iranians like all people will support their government (regardless of all other differences) at a time of war. They did so in the 1980s when Saddam attacked Iran, which only strengthened Khomeini's rule at the time.

Sadly, this common sense realization is beyond the scope of the Bush administration, since it would be heresy, if they even possess the capacity to consider it. Neocon Michael Ledeen, when not lying about what his position was on invading Iraq, has previously expressed the belief that bombing Iran will make the populace rise up and overthrow the current government. He even tried to reference some polls to support him. This is, of course, absolutely insane, and flies in the face of the entire history of aerial bombing – targeting only strategic resources can influence negotiations, but any civilian casualties from bombing hardens the populace and makes them band together, just as a ground invasion would. For all their love of war, the neocons are simply not good scholars of it, among their many intellectual and moral failings. Kristol, Bush and others in the movement, beyond even their American triumphalism, possess an imperial hubris that dictates that their victims should be grateful to be bombed or otherwise killed, because the cause is just. It brings to mind the “Killing for Christ” mentality of the Crusades, although the current pathology has its own repulsive flavor.

(As an afterthought, I find it particularly sad, amusing and telling some news from the AP mentioned in Froomkin’s column. Cheney is currently refusing to meet with Defense Minister Jumio Kyuma on his trip to Japan, because Kyuma dared to call Iraq a “mistake.” In other words, in the Cheney doctrine, not only is the Cold War model of talking with one’s supposed enemies weakness, but even America’s friends must receive the silent treatment if they dare criticize you by stating a clear fact. Remember, this is the man who recently claimed that the biggest impediment to success in Iraq was not the daily murders or sectarian violence, but the fact that domestically, the Bush administration was being criticized. Try selling that to the next Iraqi to lose a family member in a bombing, or to a soldier who loses a comrade to an IED, Dick.

Of course, even if America was the totalitarian dystopia of Cheney’s fantasies, Iraq would still be a meat grinder and a complete “charlie foxtrot.” The fate of the world seems to rest in the hands of fascist, idiot children. Invading Iraq is already a cautionary tale for the ages, the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, all the more so because it was completely avoidable. Not content with that, however, with their intentions toward Iraq, the Bush administration seeks to make Iraq merely the second worst foreign policy blunder in American history. If ever God were to talk to Bush, now would be the time.)

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