Just Above Sunset
April 23, 2006 - When to Worry, When to Not Worry

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The alarmist, an often angry and impulsive man, is Scott Ritter, the former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq who was ticked Saddam Hussein was making it hard for the inspectors, then said there were no weapons of mass destruction and something else must be going on - the war was a bad idea and he said "don't do it." Then we "did it" he became a major critic of the administration. He's a military man - twelve years in the Marines as in intelligence officer, advisor to General Norman Schwarzkopf in the first Gulf War, voted for Bush first time around, was a security and military consultant for the Fox News folks. But he got fed up.

And he was ridiculed mercilessly in the days before the current Iraq War was launched - charges he was a child molester and, if not, at least unhinged, and maybe he was gay. The war crowd couldn't say he was French. He came from a military family and went to college in Pennsylvania (Franklin and Marshall), but he got hammered. He was not happy. Unfortunately, he was right. Fox News dropped him of course.

Should we listen to him? Perhaps he has the right to say "told you so" and all that.

Now with the new war with Iran about to begin, he's saying the same sort of thing.

Well, actually, fourteen months ago he was saying the Iran War was in the works. On February 18th, 2005 he told an audience in Washington that George Bush had signed-off on preparations to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, and that these preparations would be completed by June of 2005.

But we didn't drop the big one on them. That was almost a year ago. So he can be wrong.

But see this


I was very clear, based upon the information given to me, and it's 100% accurate, that in October 2004, the President of the United States ordered the Pentagon to be prepared to launch military strikes against Iran as of June 2005. That means, have all the resources in place so that if the President orders it, the bombing can begin. It doesn't mean that the bombing is going begin in June. And a lot of people went, "Ah, you said they were going to attack in June." Absolutely not.


Of course there may be nothing wrong with that. We should be prepared for anything - think of the Boy Scout motto.

But what to make of what he said just two months ago (February 6)?

Ritter says it's going to play out the same way. The UN will say Iran won't have nukes for a long time and we'll say we have evidence they could have them next week or something, and our new "call them all fools and mock them" UN ambassador, John Bolton, will say we'll do what we must - "We just don't know when, but it's going to happen. [Bolton] will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves. How do I know this? I've talked to Bolton's speechwriter."

Ritter is an alarmist. We seek a diplomatic solution. All else is "wild speculation." Yeah, we said that the last time. But this time we mean it.

But Ritter is at it again, with this, pointing out that Iran isn't close to developing a nuclear weapon, and is still a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, so we're where we were before. War is in the air, for no good reason.

There's this –


It has been more than a week now since the Iranian government announced that it had "joined the nuclear club" by successfully enriching uranium, albeit for nuclear fuel, not a weapon. Once a nation has the capacity to enrich to the former, enrichment to the latter is simply a matter of time; the technology is the same. Iran's declaration immediately made headlines around the world, with stunned punditry engaging in wild speculation about the potential ramifications of this turn of events. From a simple laboratory-scale enrichment experiment, a massive nuclear weapons program grew Phoenix-like from the ashes, prompting dire warnings from US Government officials such as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker, who told a press conference in Moscow, where he was visiting to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue with Russian officials, that Iran "... may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days."

... In all fairness to Mr. Rademaker, the full 16 days window he postulated remains open, and so it is perhaps too harsh to pass criticism until it is known whether or not his prediction will come to pass. But I'll wager a dime to a dollar that come 16 days - or even 271 days - the world will find Iran no closer to a nuclear bomb than it is today, because the reality is Iran does not possess an active, ongoing, viable nuclear weapons program. In all reality, Iran does not yet even possess the capability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale.


The details are at the link, but that's the general idea. But we're off to war again. And that's because –


The problems that plague Washington DC on the issue of Iran are the same problems that haunt America overall regarding Iraq - no clear understanding of why we as a nation are doing what we are doing where we are doing it, and absolutely no system of accountability for those who are implicated, directly through their actions or indirectly through abrogation of duties and responsibilities, in embroiling America in such senseless conflict.

... The American system has been in collapse for many decades now, with the rise of corporate power occurring in direct relationship with the demise of concept and reality of individual citizenship. How America as a nation reacted to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 clearly put the manifestation of this collapse on center stage. Americans for the most part remained mute and motionless as the rights of the individual were infringed on irrationally by the so-called Patriot Act. The various economic and political power nodes, once held in check by a Congress which at one time recognized its responsibilities to the individual citizen, now ran roughshod over the elected representatives of the people by exploiting the fear of the people generated by the people's own ignorance of the world they lived in. In short, the current war in Iraq, and the looming war with Iran, can be explained as a manifestation of American capitalism gone mad.


Yes, but he's an alarmist.

Of course, the thought of the United States launching a nuclear war on a nation that hasn't attacked us, but might attack us, or attack Israel, does alarm some people. And the thought of what seems inevitable following that - a regional all-out war over there, or an actually third world war, and every nation in the world deciding we're a "rouge state" and hoards of new terrorists blowing up this and that across America and Europe - does alarm some folks. The administration can argue all they want that the western world would actually applaud us for being so decisive and bold, removing a real threat to all, and the Arab world would realize no one messes with us and finally behave, and the Persians in Iran (they're not Arabs) would rise up and overthrow their leaders who got them into the whole mess and got them irradiated. Stranger things have happened. But people are still alarmed. The administration can argue that even if all that happens, we had to do what we had to do, and the price, even world war, was worth it. That's more comforting?

It seems the administration does recognize the idea of war with Iran - massive bombing to take out their nuclear faculties, and the matching airstrikes to take out their air defenses (their air force, ground radar and antiaircraft missiles), and the necessary airstrikes to take out their command, control and communications centers - even without the nukes could seem a bit counterproductive.

So we get this, Thursday, April 20 - "US intelligence chief John Negroponte said Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment is "troublesome" but the country is still years away from having enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon."

That should get people to relax, unless it part of a sucker-punch. You never know.

But then, we will not talk with Iran, one-on-one. Yes, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Lugar, has said we should. We do have a State Department that does such things. But not any longer. We ask the UN to talk, and the European nations. We sit back and wait for them to fail. What's up with that?

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly has some ideas here. As typical of what's on the net these days, he digs up old stuff and puts two and two together.

First, back in 2003, six days after that "Mission Accomplished" business on the deck of the aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego, he recalls that the Associated Press reported without elaboration that Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman had confirmed that "Iran has exchanged messages with U.S. officials about Iraq through the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran. He declined to give details."

But no one was thinking of Iran back then, right?

Then, from January of this year, he finds, from Flynt Leverett, who worked for Condoleezza Rice when she was the National Security Advisor, before she moved over to State, this


In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.


Third, a month later in Newsday, he finds this


The fax was one of a series of informal soundings that emanated from Tehran in the months after the United States invasion of Iraq. Iran's envoys to Sweden and Britain also began sending signals that the regime was ready to negotiate a deal, according to a former Western diplomat closely familiar with the messages. Iran was sending messages through other back-channels as well, according to Paul Pillar, who served as the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.

... "No one at a senior level was willing to push Iran on diplomacy," said Leverett. "Was there at least a chance that we could have gotten something going? Yes, there was a chance."


And fourth, three weeks ago there was this


Realists, led by Powell and his Deputy Richard Armitage, were inclined to respond positively to the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, within a few days of its receipt, the State Department had rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer.

Exactly how the decision was made is not known. "As with many of these issues of national security decision-making, there are no fingerprints," [Lawrence] Wilkerson told IPS. "But I would guess Dick Cheney with the blessing of George W. Bush."

As Wilkerson observes, however, the mysterious death of what became known among Iran specialists as Iran's "grand bargain" initiative was a result of the administration's inability to agree on a policy toward Tehran.

A draft National Security Policy Directive (NSPD) on Iran calling for diplomatic engagement had been in the process of interagency coordination for more than a year, according to a source who asks to remain unidentified.

But it was impossible to get formal agreement on the NSPD, the source recalls, because officials in Cheney's office and in Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans wanted a policy of regime change and kept trying to amend it.


What's that all add up to? The Iranians want to talk and work things out. We don't. For three years we've refused, or Cheney and Feith have, and it doesn't really matter what Iran does or doesn't do - the objective is not to stop their nuclear program at all, but to remove their government. So the whole "realist" thing, working with another nation to figure out a way so both sides get some of what they want and no one looks foolish or weak, sometimes called diplomacy, is not what we do.

Drum - "With that as background, here's my suggestion: quit letting Cheney's crackpots run foreign policy and talk to Iran. After all, the administration's ideologues killed an opportunity to ratchet down tensions three years ago, and since then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they've made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter. So why blow another chance? If the talks fail, then they fail. But what possible reason can there be to refuse to even discuss things with Iran - unless you're trying to leave no alternative to war?"


So is this "capitalism gone mad," as Ritter would have it - a new war is necessary to feed the beast? Or is this a Cheney thing - he has a theory of how to deal with the world, and a small team to back him up, and a simple-minded, easily-manipulated figurehead president he can push around, so we just don't do that girly-men diplomacy crap but rather remove the governments around the world that bother us and get something more pliant in their place?

Or is it political, as on Thursday, April 20, there was new polling - "President Bush's job approval rating slipped this week and stands at a new low of 33 percent approve, down from 36 percent two weeks ago and 39 percent in mid-March." And that was the Fox News poll.

People always rally around the president in times of war. Maybe that's the last resort here, a war.

And what to make of Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter, who now writes for the Wall Street Journal, saying things like this


The presidency can break you - we've seen it break presidents - and [Bush] does not intend to be broken. But one senses he fears to bend because if he bends, he breaks.

The odd thing is sometimes the bravest thing is to question yourself, question the wisdom around you, reach out, tolerate a hellacious argument, or series of arguments. Yes there is a feeling of safety in decisiveness, but if it's the wrong decision, the safety doesn't last. And safety isn't the point in any case. Governing well is. That involves arguments. It means considering you may be wrong about some things. This isn't weak - it's humble. It's not breaking, it's bending, tacking, steadying yourself in a wind.

... Inside the White House they say, "We think big." Maybe. But maybe they're not thinking. They say, "We're bold." But maybe they're just unknowing, which is not the same thing. The bold weigh the price and pay it, get the lay of the land and move within it. The dreamy just spurt along on emotions.


Yipes. The political climate is not nice these days.

How bad? People are worrying about the next thirty-three months, like Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher saying here that "no matter which party they generally favor or political stripes they wear" we all need to confront the fact that "America faces a crisis almost without equal in recent decades."


Here's the idea –


Our president, in a time of war, terrorism and nuclear intrigue, will likely remain in office for another 33 months, with crushingly low approval ratings that are still inching lower. Facing a similar problem, voters had a chance to quickly toss Jimmy Carter out of office, and did so. With a similar lengthy period left on his White House lease, Richard Nixon quit, facing impeachment. Neither outcome is at hand this time.

The alarm should be bi-partisan. Many Republicans fear their president's image as a bumbler will hurt their party for years. The rest may fret about the almost certain paralysis within the administration, or a reversal of certain favorite policies. A Gallup poll this week revealed that 44% of Republicans want some or all troops brought home from Iraq. Do they really believe that their president will do that any time soon, if ever? In any case, a Fox News poll this week shows his approval rating sinking to 33%, with grassroots Republicans abandoning Bush in droves.

Democrats, meanwhile, cross their fingers that Bush doesn't do something really stupid -- i.e. nuke Iran -- while they try to win control of at least one house in Congress by doing nothing yet somehow earning (they hope) the anti-Bush vote.

Meanwhile, a severely weakened president retains, and has shown he is willing to use, all of his commander-in-chief authority, and then some.


Oh. That.

Well, yes, that may be why Republicans want some high-level staff changes at the White House, but then Mitchell points out the Democrats have no incentive to wish anything changes. That's their ticket to getting the House and Senate back.

But the changes are cosmetic and of course the Democrats are saying little and doing less.

Now what do we have?

A mess –


... let's assume, as Nixon might put it, that we will have George Bush to kick around for another almost-three-years. How worried should we be about the possible damage he might inflict - and what can the press do about it?

Consider Thomas Friedman's column in The New York Times today, and its implications.

Friedman, who still supports the Iraq war, opens by declaring that given a choice between a nuclear Iran and an attack on that country engineered by the White House, he would choose the former. That's how little he trusts the diplomatic and military chops of Bush, Rumsfeld, Condi and Co. He cites "the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them."

But then he goes on: "I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver's licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now -- or take a taxi. ... You will not be driving alone. Not with my car."

The problem - the crisis - is that Bush and Co. likely WILL be driving the "car" for 33 more months.

Friedman knows this: "If ours were a parliamentary democracy, the entire Bush team would be out of office by now, and deservedly so. ... But ours is not a parliamentary system, and while some may feel as if this administration's over, it isn't. So what to do? We can't just take a foreign policy timeout."


Friedman has his suggestions. Dump Rumsfeld. Talk with Iran. Get some new players at the White House, not the same guys at different desks.
Mitchell says this backs away from "the scary wider view." It "leaves hanging the reality of Bush continuing to serve as Master and Commander of the Iraq war and all other foreign policy into 2009."

Yep, it does. What to do?

Mitchell has no idea, "although all pleas for serious probes, journalistic or official, of the many alleged White House misdeeds should be heeded." He just thinks its time to say we really do have a crisis and starting some sort of national dialogue about "exploring ways to confront it" might be a good idea.

But then these are alarmists.

Maybe everything is fine. That would be either the optimist's view, or that of the delusional - it hardly matters which. What's the problem?

Then again, maybe there's nothing that can be done, as our system is set up the way it is, and those in power will remain there for a few more years, no matter what anyone thinks, doing whatever they wish with no opposition, as the nominal opposition finds it useful to let them sink. That would be the cynic's view, or that of the coldly realistic - we will nuke Iran and what happens after that just happens. One deals with it.

And two influential journalists say something should be done, but the first offers what is really minor and probably what will not ever happen anyway, and the second says he has no idea what should be done, but we all ought to talk.

And Scott Ritter is angry again.

And that's the report. Where do you fall?

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
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