By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
So, let me see if I’ve got this straight:
The Cheneyists wanted to bomb Iran based on the same fear-scam Americans fell for when CheneyBush were pushing the invasion of Iraq: nuclear weapons. Here’s how their scheme fell apart — or did it?
In 2002-2003, you may recall, Rice and Bush and Cheney kept hyping Saddam Hussein’s alleged robust nuclear-weapons program — all that “yellowcake” uranium supposedly obtained from Africa and so on — and warning about “mushroom clouds” over major American cities.
This time, in 2007, the Cheneyists were frothing at the mouth almost daily about the need to attack because the Iranians were just about to achieve atomic critical-mass and it wouldn’t be long before they’d be able to launch nuclear-tipped missiles at our allies in Europe, at our troops in Iraq, and at Israel in the Middle East. Iran had to be stopped at once.
But (and it’s a very big “but”), it appears that there was a kind of rebellion in the upper reaches of the Bush Administration to prevent the neocons — led by Cheney, Bush, Addington, Bolton, et al. — from rushing headlong into a disastrous use of the military option.
THE TUG-OF-WAR WITHIN
Virtually everyone in the Bush Administration agrees that Iran’s regional ambitions need to be blunted. The battle is between the “ideologues” and the “realists,” the latter being those who think that in light of the intelligence community’s NIE findings that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was abandoned in 2003 and could take up to a decade to reconstitute to the point of danger, one has time to develop a strong diplomatic-cum-sanctions policy, with no need for immediate military action.
No doubt, the key players and factions in that rebellion will be revealed shortly. I’ll offer my reasonable guesses, for what they’re worth: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many of the senior analysts at the CIA and State Department.
As for the timing, some of those career intelligence analysts were ready to disclose the NEI’s classified contents in public unless the findings were released; these CIA analysts were prepared to face prosecution, if necessary.
I suspect that Defense Secretary Gates fell into this “realist” camp as well. And, who knows?, maybe even Condi Rice, along with a good many key Republican leaders in Congress, who realized how difficult it would be to save their jobs in the ’08 election if Bush launched yet another war in the Greater Middle East.
SHORT ON BULLETS & BODIES
The Joint Chiefs, more than anyone in the Bush Administration, know how thin their forces are stretched to service the Administration’s ambitious war aims; in order to fill their quotas for warm bodies in uniform, they have to: lower the physical and moral standards for recruits (taking in criminals, gang members, those physically and maybe even mentally unfit for service); use various lies and scams to lure young prospects to join the military; keep sending those soldiers already serving in Iraq and Afghanistan back again and again for yet another rotation; utilize stop-loss provisions in order to keep their hooks into soldiers whose tours of duty are up and should be going home; etc., etc.
In addition, U.S. military equipment in Iraq is constantly breaking down, or “disappears” once it gets into the field. Just this week, it was revealed that the Pentagon was unable to account for yet another billion dollars’ worth of military equipment, a good share of which no doubt winds up in the hands of the Iraqi insurgents trying to force the occupying American forces out of their country.
Symbolizing how ridiculously scary the situation is there: law-enforcement agencies inside the U.S. are running out of bullets, because that ammo is needed in Iraq where the troops also are in short supply.
BUSH’S LUDICROUS RESPONSE
Bush’s first, laughable response to press questions about the NIE release last week was to claim that he was informed in August of 2007 by National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell that there was unspecified “new information” on Iran, but McConnell “didn’t tell me what the information was.” We were supposed to believe that Bush never asked “what information?”, but simply went back to bike-riding in the White House gym. That was the Maximum Leader’s cockamamie story, which didn’t pass the smell test by any measure.
Senator Joe Biden, among many others, expressed incredulity and outrage at this obvious lie. Said the Delaware senator: “Are you telling me a president that’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government [was that the Iranians] had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in ’03? I refuse to believe that. If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.”
Without admitting that Bush had lied, the White House hastily “amended” Bush’s comment; Press Secretary Dana Perino, admitted that MConnell had told Bush that Iran’s nuclear program may have been “suspended.” With a straight face, she went on: “I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful.”
THE NEW OPERABLE WORD: “KNOWLEGE”
How can we be sure that Bush was informed of the actual Iran findings by the intelligence community? Because it was in August that Bush’s anti-Iran rhetoric switched. Instead of talking about a nuclear-weapons program and capabilities, he began referring to how dangerous Iran would be if it obtained the “knowledge” of how to make nuclear weapons. A BIG difference.
It took some weeks but a number of internet political analysts (most notably Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo) began commenting on the ramifications of that difference. In October, for example, I wrote: “The former probable casus belli</i — coming close to having a nuclear weapon — has now been replaced by having ‘knowledge’ of how to build a bomb. Anyone can obtain that ‘knowledge’ on the internet or by reading scientific papers. Short version: the U.S. will attack.”
But few in the mainstream media either noticed or commented on the difference, since the anti-Iran propaganda emanating from Cheney and Bush and Rice was rolled out daily, as a justification for when the U.S. would be “forced” to go to war with Iran, presumably in the Spring of 2008. In other words, even though CheneyBush knew about the NIE findings, they continued to issue statements that were designed to give the impression that nothing had changed and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was on track and was scarily close to being operational — Bush even used the term “World War III”. (For a great chronological summary of how this all unfolded, see the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin’s “A Pattern of Deception.”)
As the Bush Administration moved closer and closer to pulling the trigger on an Iran attack, something had to be done by those forces inside the government who opposed the Iran misadventure. Hence, the forcing of the release of the NIE.
SY HERSH’S 2006 REPORTING
We now know that Cheney and his neo-con forces inside the Administration had prevented the NIE from surfacing for a long time. Pulitizer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that Cheney had “kept his foot on the neck of that report” for more than a year.
Much of the early history of this attack-Iran plan was reported brilliantly by Hersh in The New Yorker. Here are the money quotes from a Raw Story summary:
“As early as July 2006, Hersh had reported that the US military was resisting administration pressure for a bombing campaign in Iran, because ‘American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities.’
“By November 2006, Hersh’s sources had told him of ‘a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A.,’ which concluded that satellite monitoring and sophisticated radiation-detection devices planted near Iranian facilities had turned up absolutely no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. However, Bush and Cheney were expected to try to keep those conclusions out of the forthcoming NIE on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“As Hersh explained to Wolf Blitzer at the time, the White House was attempting to counter the CIA assessment with an Israeli claim, based on a ‘reliable agent,’ that Iran was working on a trigger for a nuclear device. ‘The CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence.’ Hersh explained: ‘It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House’.”
And kept it was, under Cheney’s heel, until last week, when the White House released the NIE, presumably because they feared the New York Times was about to run the story, maybe one leaked by those angry CIA analysts.
The White House took an embarrassing P.R. hit with the release of the NIE, since their rationale for an imminent military attack on Iran went out the window, but, in true Rovian fashion, Bush and Cheney and Hadley and their neo-con echo chamber in the rightwing media proceeded as if the NIE never had been issued and continued to urge the world to come down hard on the secretive Iranians for not “coming clean” about their nuclear program. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
TRYING TO PROVOKE IRAN
The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway is that the Administration now no longer can feel free to launch an attack on Iran. But CheneyBush for the past seven years have demonstrated time and time again that they want what they want and that they will move to get what they want despite what anybody else thinks or does.
What they want before a new president is inauguarated in January 2009 is to wipe out Iran’s weapons capabilities, nuclear and conventional, at the very least setting back that country’s geopolitical ambitions in the Greater Middle East for at least a decade or two. During this hiatus, presumably Iraq and other regional countries can be built up as buffers against Iranian influence.
While it’s true that Iran may have dodged an imminent bullet as a result of the NIE findings, CheneyBush are desperately looking for some way to justify an attack on Iran — or, if they don’t initiate it themselves, will support a massive bombing from the air by their regional ally Israel.
CheneyBush’s operational tactic at the moment is to try to get American citizens enraged at the Iranians for smuggling explosives in large quantities into Iraq (which may or may not be true), which wind up killing U.S. troops. On a second track, CheneyBush will try provoking Iran into some deadly overt act that would require a robust military response by the U.S.
In short, friends, the final year of CheneyBush in power, unless they are impeached and removed soon, is going to be filled with even more such reckless, dangerous initiatives abroad, and continued degradation of our democracy and Constitution at home. Fasten your seatbelts; we’re all in for a helleva bumpy 2008. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers. To comment: email@example.com .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 12/11/07.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner.