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

Connecting New Dots

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

It's Not Hard to See What's Coming

March will certainly come in like a lion.  You could tell that on the first day of February. The dots were there, to connect, and on record.

From the Associated Press -

    Citing Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has shifted to offense in its confrontation with Iran - building up the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf and promising more aggressive moves against Iranian operatives in Iraq and Lebanon.

    The behind-the-scenes struggle between the two nations could explode into open warfare over a single misstep, analysts and U.S. military officials warn.

And this comment from Josh Marshall -

    This is the preeminent, really the only question in American politics today: Do we want to go to war with Iran or not? With the escalating chaos in Iraq and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, is it in our interests or not to get into a shooting war with Iran? The debate over the 'surge' of US troops into Baghdad is significant in its own way, but it pales in comparison to this one.

    I've always viewed the fears that the White House would try expand the war into Iran with a mix of deep skepticism, fascination and latent foreboding. Logically, it makes no sense on any number of counts. But the last half dozen years has taught us all that that's simply not a significant obstacle. There are any number of ridiculous gambits I was sure these guys wouldn't try before they did try them.

    Again, the 'sensible' interpretation of what's happening right now is that the administration is trying to regain control of the situation in Iraq. And to further that aim they're rattling their sabers at Iran to get them to back off and stop making trouble. That's the sensible explanation. But we're not dealing with sensible people. And much more important, the folks who are running this show are simply too stupid to be trusted to execute such a delicate and perilous feint.

    I don't mean they're dumb people. I'm sure they have high IQs. Most went to prestigious universities. They have lists of accomplishments. But the record of the last six years shows so many mistakes, such a record of incapability and incompetence, so many misjudgements, screw-ups and boners that there's no other suitable word.

    Through plan or imbecility (and most likely, given who were talking about, both) they're drifting toward war with Iran.

    … I think the new campaign of anonymous leaks suggesting Iranian involvement in the Karbala raid has rather less than no credibility. But even if you assumed, for the sake of discussion, that it were tied to, say, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and that (as the narrative goes) the attack was retaliation for the Erbil raid on the Iranian consulate, that still would not change the question we face: is it in our national interest to go to war with Iran or not?

    Everything flows from the answer to that question. Tits for tats or who started what fade into the background. If the answers no, we should be calibrating our actions to avoid such an outcome, not taking actions likely to provoke it. We need a regional plan to walk this mess back from the brink rather than simply yanking every thread on this already frayed fabric and watching it disintegrate in front of us.

    We've heard a few squawks and warnings from members of Congress. But now is the time for members of the House and the Senate to get serious about asserting some control over this rapid descent.

    I've said this before. But perhaps it seems like hyperbole. So I'll say it again. The president's interests are now radically disjoined from the country's. We can handle a setback like Iraq. It really is a big disaster. But America will certainly survive it. President Bush - in the sense of his legacy and historical record - won't. It's all Iraq for him. And Iraq is all disaster. So, from his perspective (that is to say, through the prism of his interests rather than the country's - which he probably can't separate) reckless gambits aimed at breaking out of this ever-tightening box make sense.

    Think of it like this. He's a death row prisoner concocting a thousand-to-one plan to break out of prison. For him, those are good odds. The rest of us are doing three months for disorderly conduct. And he's trying to rope us into his harebrained scheme. Like I said, his interests are very different from ours.

    Speak up. We're on the edge of the abyss.

We are?

The administration was backing off just a little -

    The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

    U.S. officials promised last week to provide evidence of Iranian activities that led President Bush to announce Jan. 10 that U.S. forces would begin taking the offensive against Iranian agents who threatened Americans.

    But some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

    "We don't want a repeat of the situation we had when [then-Secretary of State] Colin L. Powell went before the United Nations," said one U.S. official, referring to Powell's 2003 presentation on then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons program that relied on evidence later found to be false. "People are going to be skeptical."

They know they have to get this right, or maybe they know it is just a harder sell.

And the French now are all over the map -

    President Jacques Chirac said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.

    The remarks, made in an interview on Monday with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine, were vastly different from stated French policy and what Mr. Chirac has often said.

    On Tuesday, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists back to Élysée Palace to retract many of his remarks.

    Mr. Chirac said repeatedly during the second interview that he had spoken casually and quickly the day before because he believed he had been talking about Iran off the record.

    "I should rather have paid attention to what I was saying and understood that perhaps I was on the record," he said.

This is not the time for casual remarks.

Matthew Yglesias notes why -

    From where I sit, the real significance of this story about Jacques Chirac going off-message on Iran is to underscore something I've said before - it's not clear that bombing Iran would delay Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon at all. Virtually every country on earth could be doing less than it currently is to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. As we see in Chirac's remarks, in virtually all of these countries there is some substantial disagreement as to how big of a deal the Iranian nuclear program is. Beyond the strict merits of the question, there are two factors militating toward a hard line on Iran. One is that the United States wants other countries to take a hard line, and our words carry some weight. A second is that other countries don't want the United States or Israel to do anything crazy and start a war.

    If a war starts, obviously, that second rationale goes out the window. For some countries, the first may go out the window as well. At the margin, countries with aspirations to greatness (Russia, China, France, India, Brazil, etc.) all face a constant dilemma between kissing the hegemon's ass and wanting the undermine the hegemon. The more we act like a rogue hegemon - launching or supporting aggressive warfare against other countries - the more at least some of those of those countries will opt for less ass-kissing and more undermining. Both considerations indicate that military strikes on Iran are likely to erode other countries' efforts to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

    It's crucial not to sell those efforts short. Russia and China have taken a beating in the American press - especially the hawkish press - for not cooperating with the Bush administration as much as one might like. And, indeed, one could ask them to do more. On the other hand, they could be doing much less. At the limit, China could simply accept a whole bunch of money in exchange for sending some Chinese nuke-building guys and nuke-building machines over to Iran: Bomb! I'm not a fortune-teller, so I can't tell you how big the impact of strikes would be on foreign countries' attitudes, but the point is simply that it's a huge X Factor that hawks are absolutely refusing to reckon with.

Then there was Zbigniew Brzezinski testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the first day of February, and being quite blunt -

    It is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities:

    1. The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

    2. Only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and the intensifying regional tensions.

    If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

But we may be going there anyway - "Regarding when the bombs might start falling in Iran, a few different pieces of evidence point to a time frame in early March."

But about the Karbala raid, where our soldiers were captured and executed, and which will be used to justify all-out war with Iran - what if the bad guys weren't trained by Iran at all, but trained by us? The issue is being muddied up, by Fox News itself - "Several Iraqis have been detained for questioning in the ongoing investigation of at least two senior Iraqi generals suspected of involvement in an insurgent attack that killed five American soldiers on Jan. 20, U.S. officials told FOX News on Thursday."

Should we attack ourselves?

So who were the instigators of one of the bloodiest and most daring attacks on American troops yet? It seems the instigators may be guys who hold senior positions in the Iraqi Nation Army, built and trained by the United States -

    At least one of the Iraqi generals under suspicion for involvement or having advance word of the attack is said to be an intelligence officer, according to U.S. officials. If that's proven to be the case, the involvement of Iraqi generals in an attack on American forces raises questions about the loyalty and trustworthiness of Iraqi military officers at the highest levels.

Here's an assessment - "I fear we are both training and arming one side in a civil war, while also attempting to police it. It's complete insanity as a strategy."

There's a strategy?  There's just keeping on with keeping on, even if it doesn't make sense.

At least we're in control of Baghdad, pretty much, except for a few areas, but that may not even be so -

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

    U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.

    "Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

It seems no one is on our side.

So there may be nothing to lose in adding a new war -

    Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly concerned that President Bush will order air strikes against targets in Iran in the next few months or even weeks.

    … they suspect Bush will order the bombing of Iranian supply routes, camps, training facilities, and other sites that Administration officials say contribute to American losses in Iraq. Under this scenario, Bush would not invade Iran with ground forces or zero in on Iranian nuclear facilities. But under the limited-bombing scenario, Bush could ask for a congressional vote of support… which many Democrats would feel obliged to endorse or risk looking like they weren't supportive of the troops.

Here we go again.

As for how we got to this place, with this president, here's an explanation -

    He is just an ordinary man of average, intelligence, not there's anything wrong with that. He doesn't have a lot of interests. He's not very deep. He doesn't worry or ponder too much about life. He is sort of a simple guy, not that there's anything wrong with that. Now, he is at the center of high pressure, high stakes, power politics. He controls trillions of dollars; he is waging a complicated war that is not going well, which was planned and orchestrated on lies, which he must justify and explain. Now, it is all coming undone. The spotlight is on him. He must speak. He must think. He must lead. It is very difficult for him. Sometimes, I feel pangs of hate for him, for what he is doing for our country. Other times, I think, "poor guy." That's what's wrong with him.

Digby at Hullabaloo is not so charitable -

    I feel, once again, as if I'm watching this take place under water. It's all there, I can see it, but it's all a bit distorted and everything is moving in slow motion. I'm screaming, but it comes out muffled and imprecise. The Bush administration is provoking a war with Iran, in real time, on television and we are just watching it happen.

    I also just heard CNN reporting that the administration plans to avoid a repeat of Colin Powell's presentation to the UN that "was convincing but turned out to be inaccurate." Whatever. They don't care. These people have absolutely no credibility and they are counting on the news media to be their slack-jawed (and war-ratings hungry) selves - and the nation to be paralyzed and unbelieving until it's too late.

    If this country allows the Bush administration to run their game again and start yet another war, we'd better get ready to see our lives change in some fundamental ways. The world will not forgive us - and we shouldn't forgive ourselves. This is very, very serious.

That seems to be so.

Digby points to Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine officer and arms inspector who quit in disgust when it was clear no one wanted to look at any actual facts a few years ago, with his logical, sensible and workable suggestions that would stop this nonsense - or at least would slow it down, until we're surer of something, of anything at all.

No one will listen to him. He embarrassed far too many deep thinkers who knew we had to go to war with Iraq, for one reason or another, but mostly to show we wouldn't be pushed around, as our weakness "emboldened" the bad guys - and any war would do to show that.

Connect the dots.  It's easy; in fact, it's just like last time.

This item posted - in its final version - February 4, 2007

[Connecting New Dots]

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