Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

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Good soldier Schweik, American style

May 23, 2007

Catching up on a bit of last week’s news, from IPS via Think Progress. Good news, this time.

I’ve mentioned earlier some of the mounting evidence that Robert Gates has been dragging his heels on Bush’s push to get his war on in Iran. Now it appears that Gates has an ally in high places.

Admiral Fallon was appointed head of Central Command, the regional armed forces command which includes Afghanistan and the Middle East, when John Abizaid was dismissed for failing to support the “surge”. Prior to this, only Army generals had held this critical post, and it was widely speculated that the Navy got theplum because any attack on Iran would perforce be largely a naval operation based in the Indian Ocean.

On May 14, IPS reported that back in February Fallon put the kibosh on Administration plans to send a third aircraft carrier group to the Gulf.

Admiral William Fallon, then President George W. Bush’s nominee to head the Central Command (CENTCOM), expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM.

Fallon’s resistance to the proposed deployment of a third aircraft carrier was followed by a shift in the Bush administration’s Iran policy in February and March away from increased military threats and toward diplomatic engagement with Iran. That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.

Think Progress goes on to note:

One source said Fallon sent a memo that “insisted there was no military requirement for” for an additional carrier.

This was an act of courage and patriotism on Fallon’s part. But such courage is perhaps becoming easier to muster. After all, there are multiple reasons why the White House would be reluctant to fire him over this.

First, they only just hired him; and with their talking point about Congress having to “listen to the generals in the field”, it would be particularly embarrassing to oust him because they didn’t cotton to his advice.

Second, in order to carry out the Iran blitz, they’d have to replace him with another non-Army commander, telegraphing their intentions just a little too blatantly.

Most important, they’ve just gone through the humiliating search for their “war czar”. And they found appetite among top personnel for the Iraq war so weak that they were finally forced to reach down to the three-star level to find a willing Lieutenant General. Enthusiasm for a Persian War runs even lower in the uniformed military. How would it make them look if they had to put some Colonel in charge of CentCom?

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The Decider as The Fixer?

May 16, 2007

The source here, Arnaud de Borchgrave of UPI, is a George W. booster and not particularly trustworthy. (This throwaway tidbit appears in an article which makes the patently silly claim that Bush outdid Karl Rove in a book-reading contest, in which he polished off more than two books a week for a year.) But he certainly does have sources close to the White House so for what it’s worth:

When a recent visitor asked him what assurance he could give about his successor in 2009, President Bush replied, “we’ll fix it so he’ll be locked in.” The visitor left perplexed and wondered whether that might mean the United States would be in a wider war in the region by then. In any event, it didn’t sound like twilight time for Bush.

In the last few months, there have been more and more signs that, however dearly President Shooter and Junior would like to pull a McCain and Bomb-bomb-Iran, it is growing steadily less likely. Condi, the Secretary of Defense, and a large phalanx of top generals appear lined up against it. But over the same period that cocky I’m-getting-away-with-it grin has been virtually welded onto Junior’s face. So I dunno.

It’s disconcerting when the only way to find out what your own government is up to is to hire Kremlinologists thrust out of work in the early nineties. Last fall the electorate finally hired Congress to find out for them. But in the six years since Congress last attempted any such effrontery, a Great Wall of Shinola has been erected around the entire executive branch, and to date, no polite request for information nor brassy subpoena has been able to scale it.

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War wasn’t the most important thing, it was the only thing

April 30, 2007

For Bushco, the only option which is always off the table is peace.

(1) George Tenet’s tell-all book is not the first, but the fourth reliable inside source saying that George W. was hell-bent on invading Iraq from the moment he set foot in the Oval Office. Actually, from some while before that. Juan Cole assembled the references for us yesterday. We’ve heard the same from Paul O’Neill, from Michigan journalist Osama Siblani, and from Mickey Herskowitz, Dubya’s original pick to ghostwrite his campaign biography.

Equally telling is the dog that hasn’t barked. There has never been a single circumstantial account from any insider of any discussion that ever took place in the Badministration of alternative ways to deal with Iraq. Which is to say: his endless lies on the question notwithstanding, Bush’s War never had anything to do with 9/11. The “liberal” media may be expected to obscure the fact, but with Tenet’s testimony it has now become a matter of public record.

(2) As we knew from the PNAC (Project for a New American Century) documents, and from the neocon dictum that “Anyone can go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran,” Syria and Iran were intended to be the immediate follow-on projects to the smashing success of Rumsfeld’s picnic in Mesopotamia. Negotiations, concessions from the mullahs, moderations of the regime – in short, peace in any form – were not to be tolerated. In his NYT column Sunday, Kristoff spelled out the details of the massive Iranian peace initiative in 2003 which was rejected out of hand by warmongers certain that they would be disposing of the Islamic state (and presumably of a few insignificant tens of thousands of its civilians) soon enough.

Encouraged, Iran transmitted its “grand bargain” proposals to the U.S. One version was apparently a paraphrase by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran; that was published this year in The Washington Post. But Iran also sent its own master text of the proposal to the State Department and, through an intermediary, to the White House. I’ve also posted that document, which Iran regards as the definitive one.
In the master document, Iran talks about ensuring “full transparency” and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran offers “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization.” Iran also contemplates an end to “any material support to Palestinian opposition groups” while pressuring Hamas “to stop violent actions against civilians within” Israel (though not the occupied territories). Iran would support the transition of Hezbollah to be a “mere political organization within Lebanon” and endorse the Saudi initiative calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran also demanded a lot, including “mutual respect,” abolition of sanctions, access to peaceful nuclear technology and a U.S. statement that Iran did not belong in the “axis of evil.” Many crucial issues, including verification of Iran’s nuclear program, needed to be hammered out. It’s not clear to me that a grand bargain was reachable, but it was definitely worth pursuing — and still is today.

Instead, Bush administration hard-liners aborted the process. Another round of talks had been scheduled for Geneva, and Ambassador Zarif showed up — but not the U.S. side. That undermined Iranian moderates.

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Two easy pieces

April 4, 2007

Two instances in which the Administration has made the truth easy to discern:

(1) On Monday night, ABC aired an exclusive “report” that Iran has ramped up its nuclear program, and now has 1,000 operative centrifuges at Natansk. As Glenn Greenwald accurately lamented the next day (Salon ad click-through at link), no evidence of any kind was offered, and the single source was not only unnamed, but not characterized in any way.

When I. Lewis Libby tried to get the NYT’s Judy Miller to out Valerie Plame, he got her to agree that, if she used the story, she would deceptively describe him as “a former congressional staffer.” Now ABC News, acting presumably on another anonymous tip from within Cheney’s shop, has gone that deception one better. Rather than the bland “senior administration official”, we get just “a source”.

So, okay, ABC’s story was deeply suspect. Is there any way we can be assured that it was completely bogus?

There is. At his press conference next day, Chancellor Bush entered into this exchange:

Q: Back to Iran, sir. ABC has been reporting that Iran will be capable of building a nuclear bomb within two years. Have you seen evidence that Iran is accelerating its nuclear program?THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen the report that you just referred to. I do share concerns about Iranian intention to have a nuclear weapon. I firmly believe that if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon, it would be a seriously destablizing influence in the Middle East. . . .

When the Niger yellowcake story had been (behind the scenes) exploded to smithereens, the White House bent heaven and earth to get the sixteen words into the State of the Union address.

If the ABC story has any authentic basis, then Bush has certainly been briefed on the evidence for the accelerated centrifuge program. Bush has every motivation in the world to hype even the most vague, most equivocal evidence of Iranian ill doing. Yet, when asked the direct question, “Have you seen evidence that Iran is accelerating?”, the Great Equivocator ducked the question, responding with platitudes of general concern.

Thus we are apprised that the C.I.A. has passed stern word that , to adopt George Tenet’s phrase, they don’t want the President to be “a fact witness on this”. If there were any facts – heck, if there were any quasi-facts, hemidemisemifacts, or pseudofacts – behind the ABC story, Bush would have gratefully seized on the presser question rather than ducking it.

(2) I am delighted and relieved to learn that the 15 British sailors will cease being pawns in the Great Game, and return home. It has been impossible to tell, as the modern Iranian hostage crisis unfolded, whether the sailors had been plying their trade in Iraqi waters, as the British claimed, or in Iranian waters, as the Iranis asserted. Neither assertion – and certainly not the Geneva-defying “confessions” of the captives themselves – was evidentiary, to say nothing of probative.

Now, however, Dick Cheney has given an exclusive interview to ABC radio, and delivered his usual ex cathedra pronouncement on the question. This is a guy who understands his role: it has been to be the “fact witness” on every misdirection and flat-out lie which is felt to be imprudent to place in the President’s mouth.

I don’t know all the details, obviously, but I’m glad to know that the British sailors will be released,” quickly adding that it was “unfortunate they were ever taken in the first place” and pointing out “there’s considerable evidence that they were, in fact, in Iraqi territorial waters when this happened.”

Comparing this to Bush’s dodge above, we find that each of these things are like the other. Suppose Cheney had the smallest scrap of actual evidence that the sailors were in Iraqi territorial waters. Can anyone doubt he would have said “we have conclusive evidence”? Calibrating his level of certainty in the way we have come to learn is required for Cheney-statements, we can readily infer that

    •the White House begged for such evidence from the British
    •none was forthcoming
    •the sailors were more likely than not poking around where they had no business to be.

It will be interesting to see what the navvies’ uncoerced story is once they return home. Based solely on my Cheney-meter reading, I am predicting a politic silence.

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Cheney’s pre-4/19 mindset

March 6, 2007

I will be out of Internet range until Sunday. Boston seems to have interchanged January with March this year, and some downtime with pelicans, flamingos, Madame Bovary, and Lie algebras will be welcome.

Before soaring trustingly off (Jet Blue can’t be that bad, can it?), I do want to record links to a couple radio interviews with Seymour Hersh about his Redirection article. The first was with Christopher Leyden, and I link it here because I haven’t listened yet, and want to. The second was with Terry Gross, and well worth the listen.

What particularly struck me about the TG interview, definitely not present in the New Yorker article, was Sy’s assertion (paraphrasing here from memory) that, according to several people who knew Cheney well, the Veep is profoundly convinced that the moment Iran gets a few nuclear weapons, it is going to hand off a couple to Hamas, who already have cells in the USA, and they will explode them in major American cities.

That’s a crazily paranoid misreading of the Iranian government’s nature and intent; and Hamas has never historically shown any interest in attacking the US, only Israel. But it fits in with Cheney/Bush’s most central disconnect with the realities of terrorism: they are mired not only in a pre-9/11 mindset, but in a pre-4/19 mindset. For them, nothing whatsoever changed the day the towers went down, except for their sudden ability to use the terror card to get away with anything.

The lesson of September 11th is the same as the lesson of Oklahoma City on April 19: modern technology is an amplifier. It permits individuals to wreak the kind of havoc that once was the province of marauding bands of warriors; and hands to small groups the destructive powers once peculiar to nation states. And the amplifier displays ever greater gain. The day will come – within decades – when biotechnology will permit one bright high school kid to wipe out millions.

But the neocons see all events in the world as state-driven. Richard Clarke told us in Against All Enemies that he was confidently informed (IIRC by Wolfowitz) on September 12 that the previous day’s attack could not possibly have been carried out except under the aegis of a rogue government. The Administration was happy to let bin Laden slip away, because they believed it was only his connection to the “government” of Afghanistan that had made him dangerous. With the Taliban state dismantled, Al Qaeda, which the neocon cabal had never taken seriously, became the merest nuisance. Changing regimes was where the action was.

The new, unique threat comes from small, fanatical actors, who cannot be deterred because they care nothing for self preservation. In the history of the world, I know of no government that has not been deeply committed to its self preservation, and consequently subject to deterrence. With its near-suicidal refusal to grasp any of the realities America is actually facing, the Bush administration may come closest to matching that description.

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Another shoe drops

March 5, 2007

The Iran War fife and drum corps has many merry marchers, and so many shoes to drop it rivals Imelda Marcos reincarnated as a millipede. Still, I’d hoped for a longer respite before the next item of confirmation that the new leaf of diplomacy the Administration turned over with Iran was, as I reported last week, only a feint.

Today, Glenn Greenwald notes the installation of Eliot Cohen, neocon war glutton extroardinaire, as State Department Counsel , replacing the loyal but relatively moderate Zelikow. One could read this, I suppose, as the Cheney contingent setting its saboteur in place to hold Condi in check, the way Abrams and Bolton were slipped in under Colin Powell to rein in his weak-sister tendencies. More likely, they suspect Condi of no such wimpiness; they just want someone they can depend on to shepherd through atrocities that even Condoleezza might balk at briefly, were she to learn of them. They could count on her in the long run, but they don’t want to wait for the Lady Macbeth interludes of “unsex me here”, and “screw your courage to the sticking point” when the bloodiest work is afoot.

Remodeling the CIA, Defense Intelligence, a new stovepiping shop in the Pentagon, the State Department. A lot of late night hammering and sawing. What are they building in there? I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not a playhouse for the children.

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A milk bone for al-Maliki

February 28, 2007

I was elated when I heard that the U.S. had agreed to a sit-down with Iran and Syria, as part of a regional conference organized by the Iraq government. It was the first sensible thing they’d done in months, and just might allow peace to shovel it’s dainty camel’s nose under the tent.

But it seemed odd. Sy Hersh’s latest bit of blockbuster journalism (and despite its length, everyone in America should read the whole thing) says that the Busheviks have decided to start shoveling money to Al Qaeda affiliates, in their zeal to isolate and crush Iran. How did this fit? Does the administration’s far right hand know what its right hand is doing?

Presumably, Condi Rice was behind the change of heart. And yes, Sy’s piece says that she’s been cut out of the strategic discussions over switching sides to make defeating the Shi’ites into Job One. So, I figured, now the State Department has joined the Pentagon in pushing back against the Persian War.

I was too sanguine. Leftcoaster points to the fine print in today’s NYT story on the embrace of jaw-jaw. The money paragraph:

Iraqi officials had been pushing for such a meeting for several months, but Bush administration officials refused until the Iraqi government reached agreement on pressing domestic matters, including guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenue and foreign investment in the country’s immense oil industry, administration officials said.

In other words, there has been no change of heart. A one-time show of diplomacy has been granted to al-Maliki as his “what a good boy are you” reward for finally granting American majors a lock on the control of, and the lion’s share of the profits from, Iraq’s oil fields for the next thirty years.

<> Tony Snowjob almost gave himself rugbeater’s elbow today, whacking down expectations of any results from this meeting. Clearly, the American “negotiators” will have their instructions: Show up. Look pretty for the cameras. Offer nothing, accept nothing, trumpet anything Iran says that sounds intransigent or belligerent. Make sure there is no followup meeting. Come home. Maliki sat up and begged for this meaningless concession; now his job will be to roll over whenever Exxon gives the signal.

It was Bush and Cheney, the Oil Patch Kids, behind this cosmetic move, not Condoleeza. As I should have known from the first, given the contempt Condi has lavished again and again on the very idea of ever talking to Tehran.

The rush of hope was sweet while it lasted.