A very important, very disturbing -- and almost entirely overlooked -- piece appeared on Juan Cole's Informed Comment site this week. It was a guest column by William R. Polk, laying out, in copious and convincing detail, the evidence indicating that the United States will indeed launch a military strike against Iran, most probably before George W. Bush leaves office.
Polk is no radical firebrand; indeed, he comes toting heavy Establishment lumber: White House service (under John Kennedy), top academic and institutional posts, weighty books on history and international affairs, etc. Yet he paints as stark a picture of the situation as the most implacable dissident.
One development that has arisen after the article was posted gives added credence to Polk's case. In recent days, both Bush and Dick Cheney have revived the scaremongering threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb that had seemed diffused by the NIE report earlier this year. Of course, that report -- in which America's myriad intelligence agencies declared their consensus view that Iran's nuclear weapons program is moribund -- was itself a more subtle piece of scaremongering. Because the report asserted -- without any credible evidence -- that Iran HAD been building a nuke until 2003. While the headlines focused on the overall conclusion, the Bush Administration made hay with that latter assertion: "See, we told you Iran has been building a nuclear weapon! We were right."
They weren't, of course, but this assertion was a propaganda weapon just waiting to be picked up: and now it has. Bush and Cheney refer to the NIE report as "proof" that Iran has been surreptitiously building nuclear weapons in the recent past -- and therefore could be secretly building them again right now. Cheney was very explicit about this during his recent tour of Iraq and other stops in the Middle East -- a trip that many have noted carries sinister echoes of a similar jaunt he made around the region just before the invasion of Iraq. As AP notes:
Vice President Dick Cheney retained his tough stance against Iran on Wednesday and said the U.S. is uncertain if Tehran has restarted the nuclear weaponization program that a U.S. intelligence report says it halted in 2003...Critics of the Bush administration said the report should dampen any campaign for a U.S. confrontation with Iran.
But Cheney that that while the NIE said Iran had a program to develop a nuclear warhead, it remains unclear if it has resumed that activity.
"What it (the NIE) says is that they have definitely had in the past a program to develop a nuclear warhead; that it would appear that they stopped that weaponization process in 2003. We don't know whether or not they've restarted," he said.
Bush too has been pushing this line, most recently in an interview with a government-funded Farsi-language radio station piping White House propaganda into Iran itself. As Dan Froomkin notes, Bush repeated the lie he has often told, asserting that Iran has "declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people." Iran has always declared the opposite, of course. Bush also echoed Cheney's provocative "mystficiation" about the current state of the alleged Iranian weapons program. As Bush put it: "They've hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now, who knows?"
As Polk points out, Bush has made pre-emptive war a cardinal tenet of the official U.S. national security policy, declaring that America "will not wait" for potential security threats to develop, but will "confront challenges earlier and more comprehensively, before they are allowed to mature...In all cases, we will seek to seize the initiative and dictate the tempo, timing, and direction of military operations."
Under such a policy, uncertainty about a potential threat actually becomes a spur to military action. Cheney has long been an evangelist for the "one-percent solution;" i.e., if there is even a one percent chance that some threat might prove true, you must act as if the danger is 100 percent certain to occur. This paranoid lunacy -- or shrewd marketing device to guarantee non-stop boodle from war profiteering -- is now the official governing philosophy of America's foreign policy.
You must read Polk's entire piece to get the full weight and impact of the facts he marshals. But below are a few pertinent excerpts:
The article [a piece in US News and World Report outlining "six signs that the U.S. may be headed for war in Iran"] curiously passes over in silence the much more impressive build-up of naval power in the Persian Gulf. As of the last report I have seen, a major part of the U.S. Navy is deployed in and around the Persian Gulf. The numbers are stunning and include not only a vast array of weapons, including nuclear weapons, cruise and other missiles and hundreds of aircraft but also “insertion” (invasion) forces and equipment. Even then, these already deployed forces amount to only a fraction of the total that could be brought to bear on Iran because aircraft, both bombers and troop and equipment transports, stationed far away in Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, Europe and even in America can be quickly employed .
Of course, deploying forces along Iran’s frontier does not necessarily mean using them. At least that is what the Administration says. However, as a historian and former participant in government, I believe that having troops and weapons on the spot makes their use more likely than not. Why is that?
It is because a massive build-up of forces inevitably creates the “climate” of war. Troops and the public, on both sides, come to accept its inevitability. Standing down is difficult and can entail loss of “face.” Consequently, political leaders usually are carried forward by the flow of events. Having taken steps 1, 2 and 3, they find taking step number 4 logical, even necessary. In short, momentum rather than policy begins to control action. As Barbara Tuchman showed in her study of the origins of the First World War, The Guns of August, even though none of the parties really wanted to go to war, none could stop the process. It was the fact that President Kennedy had been reading Tuchman’s book just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, I believe, that made him so intent on not being “hijacked by events.” His restraint was unusual. More common is a surrender to “sequence” as was shown by the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It would have taken a major reversal of policy – and considerable political bravery -- to halt either invasion once the massive build-up was in place. No such effort was made then. Will it be now? I think the odds are against it.
Later, viewing the attack in a larger context, Polk writes:
Thus, even short of a nuclear Armageddon, the “Long War” advocated by the Neoconservatives would spread misery, violence, starvation, disease and death. The “fabric” that holds societies together would be shredded so that a chaos even Hobbes could not have imagined would become common over much of the world. The worst affected would be the poor nations but even rich societies would be corrupted and crippled. Reacting over a generation or more to fear of terrorism and the emotional “blow-back” of war, they would lose faith in law, civil liberties, indeed civil society in general. Strong men would come to the fore proclaiming that survival justifies giving up the civic, cultural and material good life. Step by step along the path of the long war, we could fall into the nightmare George Orwell laid out in his novel 1984.
If this is even a remote and unlikely danger, and I believe it is far more than that, we would be foolish indeed not to try to find means to avoid taking any steps – of which war with Iran would be not a step but a leap -- toward it.
Again, the complex and detailed case Polk puts together should be read in full. But its overall message about a catastrophic and murderous war with Iran is unmistakable: the hour is much, much later than we think.
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This story was published on March 22, 2008.