Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Choose a Cassandra

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Choose a Cassandra

In Greek mythology, Cassandra ("she who entangles men") was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy - and the deal is her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. But she ticked him off. When she did not return his love - like he bought her dinner and all - Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions. When Cassandra foresees the destruction of Troy - she warns the Trojans about that Trojan Horse thing, she sees the death of Agamemnon, and sees her own death - she cannot do anything about any of it. Her family believes she is mad, and, according to some versions of the story, kept her locked up. Cassandra was the first to see the body of her own brother Hector being brought back to the city - so the family of course was not amused. In most modern literature we often have the Cassandra character - someone whose "prophetic insight" is obscured by insanity - the revelations are riddles or disjointed nonsense no one understands until it's too late. It's a useful device. Heck, you even have one in the Harry Potter books - the batty divination professor at Hogwarts, Sibyl Patricia Trelawney, in the films played to the hilt, or appropriately way over the top, by Emma Thompson.

And in current events you have your Cassandra types. The question is which ones have the divine gift, and which ones are just batty, with no gift at all. Deciding who to take seriously is tricky. There's a lot of nonsense out there.

As in mythology, things just keep coming up again and again. In these pages, Thursday, August 24, in Iran Next - Building the Case, you'd find an extended discussion of the new congressional report on Iran, released two days before (here in PDF format), saying Iran might be deadly dangerous but the intelligence was rather thin, so it was hard to tell much of anything. This may have been a slam at the CIA and all the other spy folks the Cheney crowd thinks are totally useless (you remember they set up their own special office at the Pentagon so they got the real truth about Iraq's nukes and mobile chemical labs and all the rest, and about that meeting in Prague - the Atta fellow and the Iraqis - that the CIA and the Brits and everyone else said never happened). In short, releasing the report may have been a demonstration that you just cannot trust the folks who usually gather the information.

But the report, even as it noted the information was thin, was very alarming. What information the House committee could dig up - and they purposefully did not talk to any of the intelligence agencies - led them to conclude Iran was much closer to building a working nuclear weapon than anyone was saying. They could have a bomb and use it on Israel or give to al Qaeda within months, or whatever.

As noted in this item from Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post the report was "principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran." So of course the report "fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States [and] chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion." And the author? It seems "the principal author was Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department." He's one of Cheney's guys. It's the same gang at it again.

But the message was clear - We don't have the intelligence, the spy agencies are useless, so we'd better be safe than sorry and start bombing now, or something like that, but not exactly. It was a call to stop saying "we don't know much" and say flat-out that even if we don't know much it's just so obvious that these guys in Iran must be stopped now.

Fast forward to Thursday, September 14 - three weeks later and you get this - in a letter to House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, the senior director of the International Atomic Energy Agency says a recent report out of Hoekstra's committee contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements" about Iran's nuclear plans and the IAEA's efforts to track them. The committee report incorrectly stated that Iran was producing weapons-grade uranium at a plant in Natanz; falsely claimed that the IAEA's Nobel Peace Prize-winning executive director had removed a senior inspector from the Iran probe in retaliation for raising concerns about alleged Iranian deception, when, in fact, the inspector hadn't been removed at all; and made the "outrageous and dishonest" claim the IAEA has an "unstated" policy that bars inspectors from telling the truth about Iran. And that news items also contains this - "Privately, several intelligence officials said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate."

So the IAEA says the Republicans in the House are making up crap, and they don't like it much. So does our own intelligence community.

This sounds awfully familiar, too much like the run up to the Iraq war. All those chemical weapons, all those biological weapons, the nuclear weapons in design stage - someone had to stop Saddam and you just can't trust the CIA staffers or the IAEA. Hell, way back when, Rumsfeld practically called the IAEA fools and dupes - we knew where Saddam's weapons were. He said so. So we told the IAEA inspectors to leave - shock and awe were coming, because we knew better. And all those visits Cheney made to the CIA to keep the staffers in line were not social visits. Doubters were soon gone.

Tim Grieve adds current context here -

    The IAEA's letter comes as Senate Republicans continue to stall an investigation into allegations that the Bush administration misused intelligence on Iraq and as somebody - the "intelligence community" or the White House? - is blocking public disclosure of information about that much-hyped Mohammed Atta meeting that seems never to have occurred.

He has links if you want to follow that thread.

But the Post item, later picked up and amplified with further reporting elsewhere, has some curious detail. Hoekstra's office said the report was reviewed by the office of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, so lay off. And the obvious -

    "This is like prewar Iraq all over again," said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."

Well, it worked before.

The question is - will this work again? The kicker is that Iran may well be working on nuclear weapons, for real - and may have a crude one ready in eight to ten years. That's a lot of time to work on what to do about this all, but as reported many places, the president does not want to leave office without having resolved this issue. It's a matter of personal pride. And it's a legacy thing.

We're going to do something. The "immediate threat" proposition has been advanced. The usual suspects have raised their fact-based objections that this is all just wrong. And the gamble is that, although we were wrong before, the American people are an easily frightened and easily led lot of folks - and thus easily fooled. They'll cheer a new war to keep us safe - or even if the don't cheer, they'll grimly agree it is necessary, and tell any doubters to just shut up. Fox News in there already, of course.

But that raises the question, usually posed in grade-school fights between little boys - "Yeah, you and what army?"

That leads one to Lawrence Korb, Max Bergmann and Peter Ogden in The National Review noting this -

  • Fully two-thirds of the active US Army is officially classified as "not ready for combat."
  • The National Guard is "in an even more dire situation than the active Army but both have the same symptoms; I just have a higher fever."
  • The Army has almost no non-deployed combat-ready brigades at its disposal.
  • The equipment in Iraq is wearing out at four to nine times the normal peacetime rate because of combat losses and harsh operating conditions.
  • The total Army - active and reserve - now faces at least a $50 billion equipment shortfall.
    After failing to meet its recruitment target for 2005, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 40 in January - only to find it necessary to raise it to 42 in June.
  • The number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year.
  • Basic training, which has, for decades, been an important tool for testing the mettle of recruits, has increasingly become a rubber-stamping ritual. Through the first six months of 2006, only 7.6 percent of new recruits failed basic training, down from 18.1 percent in May 2005.
  • Thousands of white supremacists may have been able to infiltrate the military due to pressure from recruitment shortfalls.

Other than that, things are fine - except they note inadequate body armor, inappropriate assignments, medical benefits slashed, encouragement to torture, refusal of the president to attend a single military funeral. And the three authors note that political reality needs to catch up to this issue - but the Democrats remain afraid to raise it.

Daniel Benjamin and Michèle A. Flournoy here argue we don't have any more troops to send to Iraq, as many have said we should do, as things are going sour there rapidly.

But you see -

    In terms of ground-force readiness, the United States is in worse shape than at any time since the aftermath of Vietnam, when revelations about a "hollow" military sparked defense buildups from the Carter and then Reagan administrations. While most press coverage of the Iraq conflict has understandably focused on loss of life and the damage done in that country by the insurgency, the readiness of the US military has also been a casualty.

    From early on, military experts said that with roughly 140,000 troops in Iraq, the existing Army and Marine Corps was sufficient to prosecute the war for a couple of rotations after the invasion but that the force would need to be supplemented to sustain a longer war. Now those rotations have come and gone, and many units are on their second and even third tours in Iraq. Many active-duty soldiers and Marines are doing near back-to-back deployments, often with less than a year at home. This relentless tempo of operations, combined with the public's doubts about the war, has hurt the military's recruiting efforts and may contribute to higher than expected numbers of officers and enlisted personnel leaving the service in the future. Had President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heeded early calls from Congress and experts from the center and the right to grow the size of the Army and Marine Corps, the current strains on the force could have been avoided.

    Meanwhile, the military is also cannibalizing its equipment stocks. Given the harsh physical environment in Iraq and the high tempo of operations there, weapons, vehicles, and other equipment have been breaking down and wearing out at a rapid rate. So, the military has had to pillage from non-deploying units, the National Guard, and forward-deployed stocks around the world that are meant to be available in case of a crisis. Based on information from the Pentagon and estimates by analysts such as former Reagan Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, the costs of restoring destroyed and damaged Army and Marine Corps equipment is now estimated to be close to $30 billion, and it will grow by an additional $14 billion for every additional year we stay in Iraq. Even if these funds were available tomorrow, it would take years to restore the forces to the state they were in at the outset of the conflict.

So if this is true, how do we handle Iran? You drum up the need for immediate action, but the question remains - "Yeah, you and what army?" To get the necessary forces a draft would be necessary, but getting that up and running would take time - and getting warms bodies into the pipeline and out the other end, combat ready, even more time. And it wouldn't be popular, especially with the military, now set up as a professional organization, not one organized to deal with the surly draftee, Larry from Toledo, and all the rest grumpy buddies. The equipment and arms, and the logistical support for same - much money and many years, of course. That might be easier to sell. There are a lot of jobs there for those laid off or just getting by.

There seem to be only two solutions to all this right now. One can rely on diplomacy to solve the problem, which is slow and not something the administration likes nor does very well, and won't meet the president's self-imposed deadline to "fix" Iran before he leaves office (the veterinary allusion is intentional). So that's not for us, in the end. So one can turn to a military solution, but this time find a "force multiplier" - where rounding up a million more troops and fixing broken down Abrams tanks is mooted. Since we have no allies who think military action again Iran is a fine idea right now, if ever, so we get no troops and equipment there, we can turn to air power. We can bomb the snot out of them - but Israel's recent run-in with Hezbollah demonstrated that doesn't exactly get the job done. There's a certain backlash to that. One can, too, turn to technology - but what gizmos will remotely and magically and ruinously disable all of Iran's nuclear facilities? We must be working on such things, probably down in El Segundo at TRW, Hughes and Boeing - Los Angeles is more than movies and surfers. But that's not ready yet, as far as anyone knows.

You go with the classic force multiplier, as Gene Lyons notes here -

    Once again Bush has denied hostile intent, just as he did for many months after secretly ordering the Pentagon to draft detailed war plans against Iraq. Writing in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh suggests that all systems are go at the White House, including possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. He hints that the neo-conservative ideologues around Dick Cheney have deluded themselves that bombing Iran would lead to internal rebellion and the overthrow of the nation's Islamic regime.

As Digby says - "Yeah, sure it would. Ever noticed how much the neo-cons' ignorance of basic human psychology rivals only Osama bin Laden's?

But we're told we're dealing fascists! The new Hitler!

Richard Einhorn deals with that here -

    Yep. In the jargon of psychotherapy, projection is a primitive defense mechanism for eliminating anxiety about one's own self-worth. Let me try to illustrate with an example.

    Let's say, hypothetically, that you are President of the United States. Picking a name out of a hat, I'll call you George W. Bush. All your life you've avoided serious danger, both physically (going AWOL, perhaps from a National Guard Unit) and psychologically (maybe you are a one-time heavy boozer who has replaced cocktails with sycophants instructed to keep all criticism away from you). You have started a war in a Middle Eastern country - any one, but let's just say it was Iraq - and it's going badly. You're afraid to withdraw the troops because you think everyone will learn that you are what you know yourself to be: a deeply terrified coward.

    The thought is unbearable and you must get rid of it. But how? You simply "project" those thoughts onto a hated enemy. You deny them in yourself by accusing your political enemies of the failure to commit and focus that, you fear, you yourself, for your entire life, are guilty of.

    You may also try to project some of your overwhelming guilt into very revealing jokes. Suppose, for example, you can't abide people doing things you don't like. But you know that those who seek to control others are often given the most odious labels your culture can bestow. It makes you uncomfortable because you're afraid you're one of those people. So, to relieve the psychic tension, you quip, "It's a heck of a lot easier being a dictator, as long as I'm the dictator," just a good natured chuckle that hopefully makes you look like a powerful, responsible person that can laugh at the burdens of power, rather than covet more. Never mind that the grammatical lapses (the tenses) might expose more lust for power than you might like; no one listens that closely anyway to off the cuff laffs, so you're safe.

    Now all this is hypothetically speaking, of course. No one, not even Charles Krauthammer, should try to psychoanalyze anyone by long distance. But while my little crude example may be inapt, it is quite appropriate to note the conscious use of projection as part of the rhetorical strategy of the right.

    … The right knows exactly who are behaving like fascists - who are, in fact, fascists: themselves.

Be that as it may, the psychology notes above could lead to nukes as Einhorn notes here -

    Ah, bush is just bluffing on the nukes.

    The hell he is.

    Let's go back to more innocent times. When I first heard of the New Product (the unilateral, unprovoked invasion and conquest of Iraq), which was nearly nine months before its official release in September '02, I thought Bush was bluffing. I thought this was just a way to put pressure on Saddam. But by the early summer of '02, it was quite clear that if this was a bluff, it was one helluva realistic one. Perhaps folks don't remember, but I distinctly recall that the Bush administration declared around July that their lawyers had determined Bush had all the authority he needed to order a pre-emptive unilateral strike. He did not have to get permission from Congress, he did not have to go back to the UN. He could just do it. And they were quite sincere-sounding: Bush planned to assert his authority even if it caused a constitutional crisis. The congressional resolutions in the fall were a meaningless rubber stamp; Bush had simply permitted Congress-critters to save face by pretending to decide. By then, it was a fait accompli, and everyone but the American public knew it.

    But even that fall, as I was thinking, "He really is gonna do it, he means it, he doesn't care what anyone says" I held out some hope that this was just one helluva bluff, to bring the inspectors back and so humiliate Saddam he would fall from power and be destroyed. But in late winter, I heard rumors that hospital ships had moved near Iraq. Bush was not bluffing, he was actually going to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 because... well, because he could. It is still the only reason that makes sense. Because he could.

    During this time, many folks thought Bush was playing one helluva sophisticated game of chicken. Nope. He wanted war, he wanted bang-bang. And that is exactly what he got.

And that leads to this -

    As for Iran, let me explain: YOU may think it's highly unlikely - the famous 1% probability, as a commenter mentioned - that Bush won't use nukes and is setting us up for conventional warfare. That is because you are sane and sensible. But the Bush administration thinks it's very likely. Hersh is alarmingly clear that there was close to a mutiny at the highest levels of the military recently until the nuclear option was taken off the table vis a vis Iran. Now, do you think it's still off the table? Don't be naive.

    … Folks, many people have made the mistake of misunderestimating Bush again and again. He can't be that stupid. He can't be that vindictive or violent. He can't be that immature. He can't be that incapable of remorse or that messianic and delusionally religious.

    It's time to face the fact that Bush is all these things and many more. He has been consistent from the earliest days of his regime - consistently incompetent, delusional, and violent. He does not bluff. He does exactly what he wants to do. And there is nothing he wants more right now than to use nukes on Iran. It's not merely because he's a kid with a cool popgun, but one shouldn't misunderestimate his impulsiveness and immaturity. It's also because he, and the other rightwing lunatics genuinely believe that since 1945, liberals have severely crippled America by making such a big deal out of nukes. By all means, check out Curtis Lemay's "America is in Danger" for an historical example (late 60's) of this delusion. How are we crippled? Well, according to them, by refusing to use nukes, America fights bloody prolonged conflicts that are difficult to conclude with decisive victories.

    Bush and his pals want to save America from liberals that will once again deny America a critical victory, crucial to its safety and security. Bush wants to break the nuclear taboo.

And he's serious.

There's much more, but this stands out -

    Frankly, it is exhausting to play nuclear Cassandra and terribly painful to watch the same patterns of denial and disbelief play themselves out again. But I also understand how it must sound to the unconvinced among you. It sounds like I've gone overboard, succumbed to the delusional paranoia I'm warning you against. I am quite aware that it really is hard to keep in the forefront of one's mind that Bush and Co. really are nuts enough to use nukes in Iran. And Christ, I hope I'm crazy. But I look back at what he's done over the past five years - one utter catastrophe after another, the unspeakable, pointless violence - and I am very alarmed.

Why be alarmed? Even if you find things like this - "On the September 12 edition of his CNN Headline News program, Glenn Beck said that ;[t]he Middle East is being overrun by 10th-century barbarians' and "[i]f they take over ... we're going to have to nuke the whole place.'" Okay, Fox News and CNN.

Einhorn again -

    The world will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons by George W. Bush (or anyone else for that matter, but it's Bush who is wagging the nuclear cock most often these days, and yes, Beck is reading from a White House script). The consequences for this country will not be nuclear retaliation, of course, not in the short term at least. There are plenty of other ways to attack America. And if Bush does drop even one itty bitty "tactical" nuke, this country will be at war. For real. Not with some neocon delusion, but with nearly everyone on the planet. Trust me on this: it won't be pretty.

    Adults are needed to tell Bush and Rove to zip it. Fast. They are in way over their heads. The White House isn't a frat house and nuclear saber-rattling is no joke. This is one New Product that should be pulled from the market before it's ever released.

But then the Cheney argument is the nukes lead to internal rebellion and the overthrow of Iran's Islamic regime, and they'd be grateful. Who are you going to believe?

[Choose a Cassandra]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik