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

Iran Matters

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

Iran Matters - Drumbeats in Los Angeles

Last week, in The Issue of Bullies, there was a link to an item by Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy. That was his post-election letter To My Fellow Neoconservatives.

The American people may be fed up with wars of choice to change the world, wars based on innovative and never tested theories - that we have the demonstratively best form of government (secular free-market democracy) and there is an inner-American in everyone in the world just waiting to emerge if encouraged, by our superior military force, and obviously eager to shop at Wal-Mart and buy a Chevy Malibu or whatever - but even though the results of the election were clear, Muravchik was telling his friends all is not lost. We may have botched the war to make Iraq a prosperous but sandy Iowa, where no one is killing each other over questions regarding the Prophet Mohammed's son Ali, where entrepreneurs come up with amazing start-ups and the government recognizes and rather likes Israel and all the rest - but the theory cannot be wrong. The fall of the Soviet Union proved we have the only system that really works. It's just so obvious.

It was a "buck up the troops" pep talk - full of advice on how to carry on the work of their hero, Rumsfeld, even though he's gone now, how to get Senator Lieberman to run for president in 2008 to carry forward the effort to remake the world in our image by force, and much more. But the centerpiece was what Muravchik said really needed to be done, something that had to be done to show the world the theory - that we are morally compelled to use our overwhelming military advantage over everyone else to remake the world - was, is and always will be is quite right.

What must be done? We must bomb Iran to stop their nuclear research - and that would mean also taking out their command structure, and communications, and roads and bridges and anything else that would allow them to start up the program ever again.

It would be the right thing to do. And the world, eventually - after the chaos and massacre of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in reprisal, and the massive terrorist attacks all across America with tens of thousand dead - would thank us.

Muravchik sees the PR problem - "The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org. We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes."

Muravchik keeps his word, and does start to pave the way. Sunday, November 19, in a major op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, he offers this -

    Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer. WE MUST bomb Iran. It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.

We have no choice, he says. And the caps are his. We cannot live in a world where the crazy folk in Iran have a bomb. And the consequences of using nukes on their underground faculties, and making it impossible for anyone there to even leave their home for a few years, no matter what those consequences are, may not be that bad - people might just thank us and nothing bad will happen at all. Heck, you never know. The Iranians could rise up and overthrow their silly government. It could happen.

Muravchik is a true believer, you see. He may seem whacky. When you abandon yourself to some idealistic theory, saying prudence and common sense are stupidly limiting, you propose all sorts of things that make others scratch their heads, or laugh, or offer Prozac - or vote for the Democrat on the ticket.

No doubt he, and that crew, would wholeheartedly agree with what William Blake, the visionary British poet and artist said back in the late 1790's - "Prudence is an ugly old maid, courted by incapacity." That's from The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell, and Blake doesn't say into which category that one falls.

Muravchik being crazy on a Sunday morning is easy to dismiss. And that day in Los Angeles was too nice to worry about such things - bright sun, blindingly clear, and a record high for the date (well over ninety in the valleys). The football was good - the Steelers actually won and the Colts actually lost. But then, while watering the plants on the balcony, what was that on the television - Seymour Hersh on CNN saying odd things? Yes, it was the same business (video and a link to the transcript here) - he was pimping his latest New Yorker article.

That article is The Next Act, released on the net before it hits the newsstands. He has his sources. It seems there is a new CIA report - Iran doesn't have much of nuclear weapons program, if it has one at all. They're decades away from having "the bomb." They may never get there. And Hersh's sources tell him that this report has made the vice president - who is the one who makes decisions about what we do by way of wars of choice - very, very, very angry. He's said they're wrong - he has his own sources, exiles who have talked to the Israelis, and one source Israel has on the inside. It's the old "the CIA knows nothing" routine. He gets his information directly - as they say, it's "stovepiped" in. And this means war.

If you watch the video, CNN's Wolf Blitzer tried to get Hersh to qualify this all - it cannot be the same thing again, a mirror of the Iraq business where Cheney's Office of Special Plans developed their own intelligence using Chalabi's exile group for "the real truth" that the CIA and intelligence services in Germany and France, and Hans Blix and his people on the ground, said wasn't the real truth at all. They must have learned something - once burned you don't make the same mistake again. Iraq had no nuclear program, and they had no weapons of mass destruction. Surely they'd be more careful now.

Hersh said, based on his sources, the answer was a resounding "nope."

What about the elections? Wouldn't the vote - pretty much against elective wars based on truths only the "true believers" can see, that turn out to be self-serving planted information or "anythings" blurted our under torture in foreign prisons - mitigate against going down that road again?

Hersh's first paragraph covers that -

    A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting "shorteners" on the wire - that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put "shorteners" on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.

The problem they'd deal with was future legislation to prohibit the White House from financing "operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government."

No Borland Amendments -

    In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of "Boland amendments,: which limited the Reagan Administration's ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney's story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President's authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President's office said that it had no record of the discussion.)

But why is Cheney and not Bush the center here?

Hersh notes that in late October, Cheney told Time Magazine, "I know what the President thinks," about Iraq. "I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory." And Cheney is "equally clear" that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. They won't get the bomb.

In any event, various folks in the administration - the attorney general for instance - have stated quite explicitly that they believe Congress has already provided full authorization to the executive to wage its "war on terror" in any way the White House deems "necessary" - and on any front, anywhere, until "war on terror" is over, and they'll say when it is over. This of course would include an attack on Iran. - or on Portugal if they felt like it. That's how they read things.

And diplomacy is out. And don't think the new guy, Gates, in Rumsfeld's slot, will tamp things down -

    "Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there" - in the White House - "and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell - the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

    Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld's resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President's father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn't fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move - 'You're right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we're looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.'" But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran's weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, "He's not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he'll be taken seriously by Congress."

So Gates is there to sell the implausible. They knew no one would trust Rumsfeld now. Gates is the new sales rep. Maybe the sources here are misquoted.

But the whole thing comes down to showing the world that no one messes with us, and Iraq and Iran are both in the mix -

    [M]any in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It's a classic case of 'failure forward,'" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq - like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

    The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

    The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran's nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb - and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq."

Ah, it would be an object lesson, or as Arthur Silber suggests, it's the Michael Ledeen Doctrine -

    [H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

Maybe we do - but the price can be high.

As for the CIA report on the facts on the matter -

    A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the CIA analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House's dismissal of the CIA findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. "They're not looking for a smoking gun," the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. "They're looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission."

It doesn't seem to matter if anyone else is uncomfortable. Here we go again.

This item posted November 26, 2006

[Iran Matters]

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