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

The Hungarian Option

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

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

From China this -

    BUDAPEST, September 18 (Xinhua) - Hundreds of Hungarian protesters gathered in front of the parliament on Kossuth square on Monday morning, demanding that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and his government resign for having "lied" to voters.

    The protest started on Sunday evening after the leak of a tape about a Socialist party meeting in May, in which Gyurcsany said his government had lied to the public about the state of the country's economy.

    Protesters said they would hand in a petition to parliament, demanding the resignation of Gyurcsany and his government.

From Australia (the Herald Sun) - Anti-Government Riots Turn Violent.

Something is up, as from the UK (The Guardian) there's this -

    The prime minister of Hungary has confirmed the legitimacy of a leaked tape recording in which he says his government lied to win April's election and "lied in the morning; lied in the evening" during office.

    The recording comes from a speech Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany gave to a closed party meeting shortly after his Socialist-Liberal coalition took office for a second term.

    In the leaked speech, parts of which have been played on Hungarian state radio, he argued that major economic reforms were needed. "There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up," he said. "Not a little: a lot. No European country has done something as bone-headed as we have," he continued.

Could it happen here?

That depends on how you feel about the war. Some things were just not so. But maybe they were honest mistakes. Not lies - just honest mistakes.

But there's an array of things to consider, as the conservative former congressman Joe Scarborough notes in the Sunday, September 17, Washington Post with this -

    I can't help but feel sorry for my old Republican friends in Congress who are fighting for their political lives. After all, it must be tough explaining to voters at their local Baptist church's Keep Congress Conservative Day that it was their party that took a $155 billion surplus and turned it into a record-setting $400 billion deficit.

    How exactly does one convince the teeming masses that Republicans deserve to stay in power despite botching a war, doubling the national debt, keeping company with Jack Abramoff, fumbling the response to Hurricane Katrina, expanding the government at record rates, raising cronyism to an art form, playing poker with Duke Cunningham, isolating America and repeatedly electing Tom DeLay as their House majority leader?

    How does a God-fearing Reagan Republican explain all that away?

Well, you tell them we're not Hungarians here, not at all. And there's no secret tape of Bush, Cheney and Rove - sipping diet soda or whatever they drink there, given the president's problem with alcohol and the vice president's problem with shooting friends in the face after a scotch - calling up Rumsfeld and chatting about this bone-headed thing or that, and how they lied there way out of each to electoral success. We get that Downing Street memo and all sorts of other secondary sources, but not a "we really screwed up" tape recording broadcast on whatever passes for State Radio here - Fox News with television and Reverend Moon's Washington Times with print.

And these guys say they have no doubts. Everything they did was the right thing to do, and done exceedingly competently.

Is this denial, or delusion, or something like madness - or was there a parallel discussion to the one in Hungary, but never recorded? In private, do such "we really screwed up" conversations take place? That would make what we're told just bluster - public relations blarney (if you're Irish) or keeping the resolve of the nation firm (if you're into manipulation of the masses for the good of the masses). Who knows what they think?

One indication comes from John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and the author of
War by Other Means.

First mentioned in the pages here (December 2005), Yoo is the legal theorist who says everyone has long misunderstood this country's constitution - the president can anything he wants and what everyone thinks is controlling law just isn't. The president doesn't have to obey laws passed by congress or abide by decision of the Supreme Court. The executive is a co-equal branch. He's just as powerful as they are, and it's time he asserted that. And now is the time because we face a threat we've never faced before.

Yoo is at it again, in the
New York Times with this -

    A reinvigorated presidency enrages President Bush's critics, who seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy. Perhaps this is to be expected of the generation of legislators that views the presidency through the lens of Vietnam and Watergate. But the founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action, just as executive overreaching is to be checked by the courts and Congress.

    The changes of the 1970's occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon's use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.

The emphases were added - and you can imagine how people reacted.

Josh Marshall here -

    It's hard to know who to root for or who to expect will come out on top in the long-running and fast-galloping race between John Yoo's moral bankruptcy and his historical illiteracy, but as long as the topic has foisted itself upon us again, I would like to address this question of War on Terror-inspired Cold War revisionism.

    As you've probably seen, Yoo has now taken to arguing that the restraints on presidential power enshrined in the 1970s came about largely because the US faced no serious national security threats during that era. (George McGovern must be kicking himself, right?) And it occurs to me, considering this, that even at the relatively young age of 37, I and those my age are probably the last people who have any meaningful living memory of what the Cold War was like. Or in other words, what it was like living in a world where the primary geopolitical antagonism was between the United States and the Soviet Union and a full escalation of that conflict would result, for all practical purposes, in the end of the world.

    So, perhaps folks in their twenties and early thirties have some excuse for this dingbat historical amnesia, but what's the excuse of anyone over 40?

    Terrorism is scary. More so if you live in a major city like New York. But life's hard. And compared to nuclear holocaust it's really pretty much a walk in the park, isn't it?

Duncan Black adds this -

    I'm a bit younger than Josh, but I'm just old enough to remember. It was real. The sense that it could all go horribly bad suddenly and the world could be destroyed was pervasive. Even aside from the nukes the Soviet Union had a very real conventional military. The possibility of a massive conventional war against a well-armed adversary was also very real. What do you think all those troops are doing in Germany?

    The Right truly has thrown its lot in with dishonest idiots. I guess it's all they have left.

But Richard Einhorn suggests they both miss the point of the Yoo item, with this -

    If facts mattered, and they haven't for a very long time, this would be among the very stupidest things printed in a major newspaper in the last five years. And that is saying a lot, believe you me.

    … I remember the '70's very well thank you very much, and while the USSR was a threat, and so was the Middle East - I well remember the gas lines - the most serious threat of all to the security of the United States was the imperial presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Many of us who do recall how dangerous he was, including Krugman himself, now agree that Nixon was a piker compared to Bush.

    But there's something more important here than proving Yoo wrong, which any high school kid with access to a stack of history books, or the Internets could do in five minutes.

    Yoo knows he's lying here and he doesn't give a damn what you or I think. Why? Because he knows the New York Times has anointed him worthy of space on their editorial page and all that matters is that they print what he writes. It's the same con as "Intelligent Design" creationism: you gain mainstream cred merely by being included in the debate. And Yoo's little stunt is all of a piece with the far-right contempt for normal American citizens, not to mention reality. The kind of mentality that would assert there were no serious national security threats during the '70's is the same mentality that plants a male hooker among the White House press corps to fluff the press secretary (and at least once, Bush) when the questions get too tough.

    The extent of sheer contempt for the people of America these people show never fails to take my breath away. They truly hate Americans, and American values. And these monarchy-loving assholes, these total losers who are literally smirking at the presumed ignorance of the people they dare to lead - these are populists?

And what did Paul Krugman say?

He said this -

    So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

    To show that it can.

    The central drive of the Bush administration - more fundamental than any particular policy - has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president's power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it's a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of US policy, they're asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

    … Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

And Yoo told him everyone was wrong about the constitution - he could do whatever he wants. That pushed the right button. Things have changed.

We'll let this slide. We are not Hungarians. We don't take to the streets. Think about what happened in 1956 in Budapest - we were asked to help and we didn't. Taking to the streets won't do.

But sometimes things can make you a bit grumpy, like this featured on the front page of the Washington Post , Sunday, September 17 - an item adapted from the new book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

It's what we've all heard about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the only government Iraq had after we took out Saddam Hussein, but it's just all gathered in one place, with this key passage -

    … many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

    By the time Bremer departed, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and reconstituted by the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

    To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

    Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

    O'Beirne, a former Army officer who is married to prominent conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne, did not respond to requests for comment. He and his staff were exempted from most employment regulations because they used an obscure provision in federal law to hire most CPA personnel as temporary political appointees.

The next day in the Los Angeles Times Jonathan Chait says here conduct of the occupation "was almost criminally negligent." He's being kind.

The opening of the Chandrasekaran item says it all -

    After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans - restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

    To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What they needed to be was a member of the Republican Party.

    O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

    Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance - but had applied for a White House job - was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

    The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people.

    The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

    Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated - and ultimately hobbled - by administration ideologues.

One of the best comments out there on this is from Digby at Hullabaloo with this -

    The Republicans are telling us that they should be re-elected because the Democrats aren't serious about national security and only they can be trusted to keep the terrorists from killing us in our beds.

    But the way the administration went about creating the CPA illustrates everything you need to know about the childlike sciolism [look it up] of these so-called grown-ups. They insisted on invading a well-contained country of 25 million people, ripped its society to shreds, and then put a bunch of low level cronies and inexperienced school kids in charge of creating a Club for Growth wet dream in the desert. And they spent billions and billions of dollars failing to do anything but lay the groundwork for civil war. I don't know if it's possible to screw up on a grander scale than that.

    Here's the question for the American people.

    Let's, for the sake of argument, say that you don't like Democrats. You have the vague feeling in the pit of your stomach that they just don't have the cojones to do "what needs to be done." You can't get over the feeling that they aren't serious enough.

    But if you are a thoughtful person of any political persuasion who is concerned about national security or the economy, you simply cannot read that story above and have even the slightest faith that such people can be trusted to continue to run the government with no oversight.

    The question is not whether the Democrats have a better plan to correct these grievous errors or whether they are hard enough to deal with hard issues. The question is how anyone could think Democrats could possibly be worse than an administration that ordered the US government to eschew all expertise and give billions of taxpayer dollars to inexperienced Republican functionaries to rebuild a foreign country from the ground up? Considering the stakes in all this, I don't see how anyone can think it's a good idea to let these people continue unchecked. They screw up everything they touch and they never, ever, learn from their mistakes.

    I find it very hard to believe that anyone who isn't a purely faith-based voter can read this story in the Washington Post and come away believing that the Republicans are capable of running any government, much less the government of the most powerful country in the world. They are like children playing Risk and Monopoly.

    If anyone thinks that political considerations will keep people like this from making more huge, irrevocable, catastrophic strategic blunders are kidding themselves. They are capable of anything. That's not hyperbole. Read the article and then bookmark it. We're going to need it to send to journalists and members of the press over the next few weeks to remind them about GOP "seriousness."

Well, Digby may be angry, but American are a forgiving people. And the almost eight billion dollars in our tax money the CPA could never account for? They were just kids and they meant well. We are not Hungarians, after all.

Note that Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has an interesting question -

    Chandrasekaran's article is an excerpt from his new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an account of the "stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone" that's hitting bookshelves this week. It follows in the footsteps of Blind Into Baghadad, Fiasco, Cobra II, The Assassins' Gate, and a seemingly unending parade of other books about the still (to me) mind-boggling brew of incompetence and messianic ideology the Bush administration brought to the project it supposedly considered the main front on the war on terror.

    So I'll once again ask a question that I asked of George Packer last year: is there anyone outside of the administration itself who's written a book-length defense of the occupation of Iraq? David Frum, say, or Charles Krauthammer or Ralph Peters?

    Maybe that's too much to ask. How about merely a book suggesting that all the other critiques are too harsh, and things aren't quite as disastrous as they seem. Anyone?

Nope, nothing there. When you know you're right, and your base knows you're right, you don't write books. What's the point? There's not a thing to defend, after all.

Keith Olbermann of course is the closest thing we have to someone fomenting a Hungarian-style uprising against what's going on. For a clear pushback, you can watch what he says on MSNBC on Monday, September 18, here (Windows Media) or here (QuickTime). It's eight minutes on last week's press conference in the Rose Garden, previously covered in these pages here. If you don't want to stream the video, or can't, and see him directly say to the president that the president owe us all and an apology, here's the transcript (without the visuals and clips) -

    Finally tonight, a Special Comment about the Rose Garden news conference last Friday.

    The President of the United States owes this country an apology. It will not be offered, of course. He does not realize It's necessity.

    There are now none around him who would tell him - or could. The last of them, it appears, was the very man whose letter provoked the President into the conduct, for which the apology is essential. An apology is this President's only hope of regaining the slightest measure of confidence, of what has been, for nearly two years, a clear majority of his people.

    Not "confidence" in his policies nor in his designs, nor even in something as narrowly focused as which vision of torture shall prevail - his, or that of the man who has sent him into apoplexy, Colin Powell. In a larger sense, the President needs to regain our confidence, that he has some basic understanding of what this country represents - of what it must maintain if we are to defeat not only terrorists, but if we are also to defeat what is ever more increasingly apparent, as an attempt to redefine the way we live here, and what we mean, when we say the word "freedom."

    Because it is evident now that, if not its architect, this President intends to be the contractor, for this narrowing of the definition of freedom. The President revealed this last Friday, as he fairly spat through his teeth, words of unrestrained fury directed at the man who was once the very symbol of his administration, who was once an ambassador from this administration to its critics, as he had once been an ambassador from the military to its critics. The former Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

    This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but - within - it contained one particularly chilling phrase. Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy? BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic. It's just - I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

    Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison." And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary. Some will think that our actions at Abu Ghraib, or in Guantanamo, or in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, are all too comparable to the actions of the extremists. Some will think that there is no similarity, or, if there is one, it is to the slightest and most unavoidable of degrees.

    What all of us will agree on is that we have the right - we have the duty - to think about the comparison. And, most importantly, that the other guy, whose opinion about this we cannot fathom, has exactly the same right as we do: to think - and say - what his mind and his heart and his conscience tell him, is right. All of us agree about that. Except, it seems, this President.

    With increasing rage, he and his administration have begun to tell us, we are not permitted to disagree with them, that we cannot be right. That Colin Powell cannot be right. And then there was that one, most awful phrase. In four simple words last Friday, the President brought into sharp focus what has been only vaguely clear these past five-and-a-half years - the way the terrain at night is perceptible only during an angry flash of lightning, and then, a second later, all again is dark.

    "It's unacceptable to think…" he said.

    It is never unacceptable to think. And when a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path - one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.

    That flash of lightning freezes at the distant horizon, and we can just make out a world in which authority can actually suggest it has become unacceptable to think. Thus the lightning flash reveals not merely a President we have already seen, the one who believes he has a monopoly on current truth. It now shows us a President who has decided that of all our commanders-in-chief, ever, he, alone, has had the knowledge necessary to alter and re-shape our inalienable rights. This is a frightening, and a dangerous, delusion, Mr. President.

    If Mr. Powell's letter - cautionary, concerned, predominantly supportive - can induce from you such wrath and such intolerance, what would you say were this statement to be shouted to you by a reporter, or written to you by a colleague?

    "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government."

    Those incendiary thoughts came, of course, from a prior holder of your job, Mr. Bush. They were the words of Thomas Jefferson. He put them in the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Bush, what would you say to something that antithetical to the status quo just now? Would you call it "unacceptable" for Jefferson to think such things, or to write them?

    Between your confidence in your infallibility, sir, and your demonizing of dissent, and now these rages better suited to a thwarted three-year old, you have left the unnerving sense of a White House coming unglued - a chilling suspicion that perhaps we have not seen the peak of the anger, that we can no longer forecast what next will be said to, or about, anyone… who disagrees. Or what will next be done to them.

    On this newscast last Friday night, Constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, suggested that at some point in the near future some of the "detainees" transferred from secret CIA cells to Guantanamo, will finally get to tell the Red Cross that they have indeed been tortured. Thus the debate over the Geneva Conventions might not be about further interrogations of detainees, but about those already conducted, and the possible liability of the administration, for them. That, certainly, could explain Mr. Bush's fury.

    That, at this point, is speculative. But at least it provides an alternative possibility as to why the President's words were at such variance from the entire history of this country. For, there needs to be some other explanation, Mr. Bush, than that you truly believe we should live in a United States of America in which a thought is unacceptable.

    There needs to be a delegation of responsible leaders - Republicans or otherwise - who can sit you down as Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott once sat Richard Nixon down - and explain the reality of the situation you have created.

    There needs to be an apology from the President of the United States.

    And more than one.

    But, Mr. Bush, the others - for warnings unheeded five years ago, for war unjustified four years ago, for battle unprepared three years ago - they are not weighted with the urgency and necessity of this one. We must know that, to you, thought with which you disagree - and even voice with which you disagree - and even action with which you disagree - are still sacrosanct to you.

    The philosopher Voltaire once insisted to another author, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Since the nation's birth, Mr. Bush, we have misquoted and even embellished that statement, but we have served ourselves well, by subscribing to its essence.

    Oddly, there are other words of Voltaire's that are more pertinent still, just now. "Think for yourselves," he wrote, "and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." Apologize, sir, for even hinting at an America where a few have that privilege to think - and the rest of us get yelled at by the President.

    Anything else, Mr. Bush, is truly unacceptable.

Ah, but Keith Olbermann is on the third-string cable new network, and has less than a twentieth of the audience that Bill O'Reilly has. And O'Reilly, on air at the same time, is very pro-torture. When O'Reilly has an expert guest on who points out just torture doesn't work - you never get good information and you make life-long enemies of those you haven't yet captured or tortured - he's given up arguing and just looks disappointed and depressed. And O'Reilly just isn't going to quote anyone from The Enlightenment, like Voltaire. He knows his audience.

Olbermann can do his ever more effective Edward R. Murrow thing. His audience is small. It won't make any difference. We aren't Hungarians.

And we'll accept the next war, the one with Iran. Now it's not just Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker - William Arkin in the Post is reporting it's on (here). According to the latest Time Magazine the plans are finalized and units are on notice. And the reporters who used to be Knight-Ridder - now McClatchy - here tell us there's the new the Iranian directorate at the Pentagon - getting the real information on the building of nuclear weapons there - bypassing the CIA and other agencies again, relying on Iranian exiles in America who want their old Iran back. That worked so well the first time with Iraq of course. And here we're told we are already on the ground there, conducting operations -

1.) "The evidence is overwhelming, from both the Iranians, Americans, and from Congressional sources."

2.) "The plan has gone to the White House. That's not normal planning. When the plan goes to the White House, that means we've gone to a different state."

3.) "I would say - and this may shock some - I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way."

That's from Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College and who famously found more than fifty instances of demonstrably false stories planted in the press in the run up to the war, back in 2003. Maybe he's wrong.

See Fred Kaplan here -

    Are we about to attack Iran? That's the impression conveyed by Time magazine's latest cover story. A "prepare to deploy" order has been sent out to US Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships. The chief of naval operations, the nation's top admiral, has ordered a fresh look at contingency plans for blockading Iran's oil ports.

    Michael Duffy, who wrote the story, tempers his scoop with prudent caveats. The order called on the crews to be ready to deploy by Oct. 1, not to go ahead and actually deploy. And, as he notes, "The US military routinely makes plans for scores of scenarios, the vast majority of which will never be put into practice." As one Pentagon official tells him, "Planners always plan."

    And yet, Duffy writes, the two orders, coupled with the mounting tension over Iran's nuclear program, "would seem to suggest that a much discussed - but until now largely theoretical - prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran."

    … I have no idea who Duffy's sources are, but there are at least two possibilities: The Bush administration really is gearing up for war, and some dissenting officers want to sound the alarm and rouse opposition. Or the administration wants to make the Iranians think an attack is brewing in order to pressure them into a diplomatic solution.

    … There is a danger to playing this game. Once you switch on a plan to mobilize for war, it's hard to switch it off - or, at the very least, it's easy to let it keep flowing.

    This leads to a third possibility: that the Bush administration is trying to pressure the Iranians and really preparing to attack. The two are not mutually exclusive, especially since various factions within the administration are split on the issue. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems genuinely to be doing what secretaries of state tend to do - seek a diplomatic solution. Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be doing what he tends to do - heighten the confrontation.

    Faced with internecine conflicts of this sort, President Bush has a striking tendency to avoid making a decision and to let the factions fight it out. It's possible, in other words, that the administration is playing both approaches - mobilizing as a tool of diplomatic pressure and mobilizing as an act of impending warfare - not as a coordinated strategy but as parallel actions, each of which will follow its inexorable course.

    Once the weapons are in place, the airstrikes wouldn't follow automatically; the president would have to give the order. But if the attack is ready to go, and if the Iranians are still thumbing their noses, would this president call it off and start over? It's best not to face the situation to begin with. An attack, however tempting, would be a huge mistake, for several reasons.

    The Iranians learned their lesson from Israel's 1983 lightning strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor. They've dispersed their nuclear facilities and buried some of them deep underground. According to the Time story, Pentagon officials have identified 1,500 "aim points" - that is, 1,500 distinct targets - in Iran's nuclear complex. Hitting them all, or even most of them, would require hundreds, if not thousands, of sorties. Mistakes would be made; casualties would be unavoidable, perhaps considerable.

    More than that, the Iranian people - who, by all accounts, hate their government and like much about the United States - would regard the attack as an act of terror, a violation of sovereignty, a far more destructive replay of the nightmare of 1953, when the CIA helped overthrow the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the shah. Even if the attack somehow unseated the present regime, the new one might be no less anti-American, no less intent on acquiring nuclear weapons - an ambition that the attack would set back by only a few years in any case.

    And, of course, there are the possible side effects: the confirmation, in the eyes of the Muslim world, that the United States is hell-bent on a crusade; the consequent surge in Islamist terrorism and subduing of Muslim moderates; and the further alienation of U.S. allies throughout the Western world.

    … There are all sorts of logic, including the logic that leads to war. Bush and Ahmadinejad, who share a boastful confidence in their sense of destiny, seem on a collision course in the logic of highway chicken - the game where two drivers speed their cars toward each other, head-on, late at night. The winner is the one who doesn't veer off the road. If both drivers get nervous and veer off, it's a tie. If they both keep driving straight on, pedal to the metal, certain of victory, opposed on moral principle to backing down, the outcome is mutual catastrophe. And in this case, we're all sitting in those cars.

Maybe it's time to get out of the car and get all Hungarian. Who need any revealing tape recording? Paprika Power!


This page originally posted on Sunday, September 24, 2006

[The Hungarian Option]

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