Led by Dick Cheney, Bush administration neocons want war on Iran. So does the Israeli Lobby, but it doesn't mean they'll get it. Powerful forces in Washington and the Pentagon are opposed and so far have prevailed. Nonetheless, worrisome recent events increase the possibility and must be closely watched.
Recall George Bush's January 10, 2007 address to the nation. He announced the 20,000 troop "surge" and more. "Succeeding in Iraq," he said, "also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing 'terrorists' and 'insurgents' to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt (those) attacks....we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
That was then; this is now. On May 2, Andrew Cockburn wrote on CounterPunch: "Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret 'finding' authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, (is) 'unprecedented in its scope.'" The directive permits a range of actions across a broad area costing hundreds of millions with an initial $300 million for starters. Elements of the scheme include:
These type efforts and others were initiated before and likely never stopped. So it remains to be seen what differences emerge this time and how much more intense they become.
More concerns were cited in a Michael Smith May 4 Times Online report headlined "United States is drawing up plans to strike on Iranian insurgency camp." It refers to a "surgical strike" against an "insurgent training camp." In spite of hostile signals, however, "the administration has put plans for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities on the back burner" after Gates replaced Rumsfeld. The article makes several other key points:
Earlier on April 7, Haaretz reported still more stirrings. It was about Israel's "largest-ever emergency drill start(ed) to test the authorities' preparedness for threats (of) a missile attack on central Israel." Prime Minister Olmert announced that the "drill (was) no front for Israeli bellicose intentions toward Syria" and by implication Iran. Both countries and Hezbollah see it otherwise and with good reason. Further, Israeli officials indicated that this exercise might be repeated annually because they say Iran may have a nuclear capability by early 2009, so Israel will prepare accordingly.
No one can predict US and Israeli plans, but certain things are known and future possibilities can be assessed. Consider recent events. In mid-March, Dick Cheney toured the Middle East with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq. It came after Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon "resigned" March 10 (a year after his appointment) after reports were that he sharply disagreed with regional administration policy.
Public comments played it down, but speculation was twofold - Fallon's criticism of current Iraq policy and his opposition to attacking Iran. Before the March 10 announcement, smart money said he'd be sacked by summer and replaced by someone more hawkish. It came sooner than expected, and, even more worrisome, by a super-hawk. One with big ambitions, and that's a bad combination. More on that below.
First, recall another Pentagon sacking last June, officially announced as a "retirement." George Bush was said to have "reluctantly agreed" to replacing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace because of his "highest regard" for the general. At issue, of course, was disagreement again over Middle East policy with indications Pace was far from on board. He signaled it on February 17, 2006 at a National Press Club luncheon. Responding to a question, he said: "It is the absolute responsibility of everybody in uniform to disobey an order that is either illegal or immoral." He later added that commanders should "not obey illegal and immoral orders to use weapons of mass destruction....They cannot commit crimes against humanity."
These comments and likely private discussions led to Pace's dismissal. This administration won't tolerate dissent even by Joint Chiefs Chairmen. It's clear that officials from any branch of government will be removed or marginalized if they oppose key administration policy. Some go quietly while more notable ones make headlines that omit what's most important. For one thing, that the Pentagon is rife with dissent over the administration's Middle East policy.
For another, the law of the land, and there's nothing more fundamental than that. The administration disdains it so it's no fit topic for the media. Law Professor Francis Boyle champions it in his classroom, speeches, various writings and books like his newest - Protesting Power: War, Resistance, and Law.
Boyle is an expert. He knows the law and has plenty to cite - the UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Hague Regulations; Geneva Conventions; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; the Law of Land Warfare (1956); and US Constitution.
He unequivocally states that every US citizen, including members of the military and all government officials, are duty bound to obey the law and to refuse to carry out orders that violate it. Doing so makes them culpable. Included are all international laws and treaties. The Constitution's supremacy clause ("the supreme law of the land" under Article VI) makes them domestic law. General Pace, Fallon and others on down aren't exempt. Neither is the president, vice-president, all administration members and everyone in Congress.
Before Fallon's sacking, things were heating up. Three US warships (including the USS Cole guided-missile destroyer) were deployed to the Lebanese coast - officially "to show support for regional stability (and over) concern about the situation in Lebanon." It's been in political crisis for months, and it's got Washington and Israel disturbed - because of Hezbollah's widespread popularity and ability to defend itself.
Any regional US show of force causes concern, especially when more is happening there simultaneously. Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized it, and Hezbollah said it "threat(ened)" regional stability - with good reason. It believes conflict will erupt in northern Occupied Palestine close to the Lebanese border. It's also preparing to counter Israel's latest threat - an Israeli Channel 10 News report that the IDF is on high alert "inside and outside Israel" and is prepared to launch a massive attack if Hezbollah retaliates for the assassination of one of its senior leaders, Imad Fayez Mughniyah, by a February 12 Damascus car-bombing.
Then came Cheney's Middle East tour with likely indications of its purpose - oil, Israeli interests and, of course, isolating Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas further, and rallying support for more war in a region where Arab states want to end the current ones. What worries them most, or should, is the possibility that Washington will use nuclear weapons. If so, consider the consequences - subsequent radioactive fallout that will contaminate vast regional swaths permanently.
After Cheney left Saudi Arabia, the state-friendly Okaz newspaper reported that the Saudi Shura Council (the kingdom's elite decision-making body) began formulating "national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom" should the Pentagon use nuclear weapons against Iran. It's a sign Saudi leaders are worried and a clear indication of what they discussed with Cheney.
Saudi, Iranian and other world leaders know the stakes. They're also familiar with Bush administration strategy and tactics post-9/11.
Exhibit A: the December 2001 Nuclear Policy Review; it states that America has a unilateral right to use first strike nuclear weapons preemptively; it can be for any national security reason, even against non-nuclear states posing no discernible threat;
Exhibit B: the 2002 and hardened 2006 National Security Strategies reaffirm this policy; the latter edition mentions Iran 16 times stating: "We may face no greater challenge from a single country country than Iran;" unstated is that Iran never attacked another nation in its history - after Persia became Iran in 1935; it did defend itself vigorously when attacked by Iraq in 1980;
Exhibit C: post-9/11, the Bush administration scrapped the "nuclear deterrence" option; in his 2005 book "America's War on Terrorism," Michel Chossudovsky revealed a secret leaked report to the Los Angeles Times; it stated henceforth nuclear weapons could be used under three conditions:
WMD echoes still resonate. Now it's a nuclearized Iran. Preemptive deterrence is the strategy, and Dick Cheney places the Islamic Republic "right at the top of the list" of world trouble spots. He calls Tehran a "darkening cloud" in the region; claims "obviously, they're heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment....to weapons grade levels;" cites fake evidence that Iran's state policy is "the destruction of Israel;" and official post-9/11 policy identifies Iran and Syria (after Iraq and Afghanistan) as the next phase of "the road map to war." Removing Hezbollah and Hamas are close behind plus whatever other "rogue elements" are identified;
Exhibit D: former Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith's new book, "War and Decision;" in it, he recounts the administration's aggressive Middle East agenda - to remake the region militarily; plans took shape a few weeks post-9/11 when Donald Rumsfeld made removing Saddam Hussein official policy; the same scheme targeted Afghanistan and proposed regime change in Iran and elsewhere - unnamed but likely Syria, Somalia, Sudan, at the time Libya, removing Syria from Lebanon, and Hezbollah as well.
John McCain is so hawkish he even scares some in the Pentagon. Here's what he said about Iran at a May 5 campaign event. He called the Tehran government the gravest danger to US Middle East interests and added: a "league of nations" must counter the "Iranian threat. Iran 'obviously' is on the path toward acquiring nuclear weapons. At the end of the day, we cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. They are not only doing that, they are exporting very lethal devices and explosives into Iraq (and) training people (there as) Jihadists."
It's no surprise most Democrats have similar views, especially the leadership and leading presidential contenders. Obama calls Iran "a threat to us all." For him, a "radical (nuclearized) Muslim theocracy" is unthinkable, and as president he won't rule out using force. Nor will he against Pakistan or likely any other Muslim state. Obama also calls his support for Israel "unwavering." He fully endorsed the 2006 Lebanon war, and it's no secret where Israel stands on Iran and Syria.
Clinton is even more menacing. One writer calls her a "war goddess," and her rhetoric confirms it. On the one hand, "Israeli security" tops "any American approach to the Middle East....we must not - dare not - waver from this commitment." She then calls Iran "pro-terrorist, anti-American and anti-Israel." She says a "nuclear Iran (is) a danger to Israel (and we've) lost critical time in dealing" with the situation. "US policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot and should not - must not - permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons."
Worst of all was her comment on ABC's Good Morning America in response to (a preposterous hypothetical) about Iran "launch(ing) a nuclear attack on Israel." Her answer: "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that. We would be able to 'totally obliterate' them (meaning, of course, every man, woman and child)." She then added: "I don't think it's time to equivocate. (Iran has) to know they would face massive retaliation. That is the only way to rein them in."
At the same time, she, the other leading candidates, and nearly everyone in Washington ignore Iran's official policy. The late Ayatollah Khomeini banned nuclear weapons development. Today, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad affirm that position, but western media won't report it. They also play down IAEA reports confirming that no evidence shows Iran has a nuclear weapons program or that it's violating NPT.
It happens repeatedly, then cools down, so what to make of the latest Iran-bashing. Nothing maybe, but who can know. So it's tea leaves reading time again to pick up clues about potential impending action. Without question, the administration wants regime change, and right wing media keep selling it - Iranian leaders are bad; removing them is good, and what better way than by "shock and awe."
Take Fouad Ajami for example from his May 5 Wall Street Journal op-ed. It's headlined - "Iran Must Finally Pay A Price." He's a Lebanese-born US academic specializing in Middle East issues. He's also a well-paid flack for hard right policies, including their belligerency. He shows up often in the Wall Street Journal (and on TV, too) and always to spew hate and lies - his real specialty.
His latest piece is typical. Here's a sampling that's indicative of lots else coming out now:
Sum it up, and it spells vicious agitprop by an expert at spewing it. He's not alone. Disputing one of his assertions, a May 5 AFP report quotes Iraq government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh saying no "hard evidence" shows Iran is backing Shiite militiamen or inciting violence in the country.
Consider the Arab street as well. It's unconcerned about Iran but outraged over US adverturism. Recall also that on March 2 Iranian President Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian head of state to visit Iraq in three decades. Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Talabani invited him and welcomed him warmly as a friend.
That doesn't deter The New York Times Michael Gordon. He's taken up where Judith Miller left off, and his May 5 piece is typical. It's headlined "Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say." The key words, of course, are "Officials Say" to sell the idea that their saying it makes it so. No dissent allowed to debunk them or other administrative-supportive comments.
This one cites supposed information from "four Shiite militia members who were captured in Iraq late last year and questioned separately." For Gordon and "Officials (who) Say," it's incriminating evidence for what Washington has long charged - "that the Iranians (are) training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran," and Hezbollah is involved. The Pentagon calls them "special groups."
Gordon goes on to report that Iran has gotten "less obtrusive (by) bringing small groups of Iraqi Shiite militants to camps in Iran, where they are taught how to do their own training, 'American officials say.' "
Once trained, "the militants then return to Iraq to teach their comrades how to fire rockets and mortars, fight as snipers or assemble explosively formed penetrators, a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb....according to American officials."
As usual, the "officials" are anonymous and their "information has not been released publicly." Gordon continues with more of the same, but sum it up and he sounds like Ajami, Judith Miller, and growing numbers of others like them.
On March 17, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) put out an Action Alert headlined "No Antiwar Voices in NYT 'Debate.'" It referred to The Times March 16 "Week in Review" section on the war's fifth anniversary featuring nine so-called experts - all chosen for their hawkish credentials. Included were familiar names like Richard Perle, Fred Kagan, Anthony Cordesman, Kenneth Pollack and even Paul Bremer. On May 4, The Times reconvened the same lineup for a repeat performance that would make any state-controlled media proud.
No need to explain their assessment either time, but NYT op-ed page editor said this on July 31, 2005: The op-ed page (where the above review was published) is "a venue for people with a wide range of perspectives, experiences and talents (to provide) a lively page of clashing opinions, one where as many people as possible have the opportunity to make the best arguments they can." As long as they don't conflict with official state policy, offend Times advertisers or potential ones, acknowledge Iran's decisive role in ending the recent Basra fighting, or mention the (latest) 2007 (US) National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - even though it's likely one never existed and doesn't now.
With Iraq still raging and hawkishness over Iran heating up, it's disquieting to think what's coming, and it's got Middle East leaders uneasy. Not about Iran, about a rogue administration with over eight months left to incinerate the region in a mushroom-shaped cloud and no hesitation about doing it.
Fallon is out, and, in late April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said David Petraeus is being nominated to replace him as Centcom commander. General Raymond Odierno (his former deputy) will replace his former boss as Iraq chief. New York Times reporter Thom Shanker said these "two commanders (are) most closely associated with President Bush's current strategy in Iraq," so are on board to pursue it and maybe up the stakes.
Besides being a Latin American expert, James Petras writes extensively on the Middle East and how the Israeli Lobby influences US policy. His 2006 book, "The Power of Israel in the United States," is must reading to understand it. Petras has a new article on Petraeus. It's incisive, scary, and unsparing in exposing the generalissimo's true character, failings, and ambitions.
Competence didn't make him Iraq commander last year. It came the same way he got each star. In the words of some of his peers - by brown-nosing his way to the top. It made him more than a general. He's a "brand," and it got him Time Magazine's 2007 runner-up slot for Person of the Year.
The media now shower him with praise for his stellar performance in an otherwise dismal war. So do politicians. McCain calls him "one of (our) greatest (ever) generals." Clinton says he's "an extraordinary leader and a wonderful advocate for our military." Obama was less effusive but said he supports his nomination as Centcom chief and added: "I think Petraeus has done a good tactical job in Iraq....It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say." It would also hurt his presidential hopes as the right wing media would bash him mercilessly if he disparaged America's new war hero with very outsized ambitions and no shyness in pursuing them.
He got off to a flying start after being appointed to the top Iraq job last year. The White House spin machine took over and didn't let facts interfere with its praise. It described him as aggressive in nature, an innovative thinker on counterinsurgency warfare, a talisman, a white knight, a do-or-die competitive legend, and a man able to turn defeat into victory.
Others like Admiral Fallon had a different assessment, and Petras noted it in his article. Before his removal, he was openly contemptuous of a man who shamelessly supported Israel "in northern Iraq and the Bush 'Know Nothings' in charge of Iraq and Iran policy planning." It got him his April 16 promotion, and his week earlier Senate testimony sealed it. He was strikingly bellicose in blaming Iran for US troop deaths. That makes points any time on Capitol Hill, especially in an election year when rhetoric sells and whatever supports war and Israel does it best.
Petras adds that Petraeus had few competitors for the Centcom job because other top candidates won't stoop the way he does - shamelessly flacking for Israel, the bellicose Bush agenda, and what Petras calls "his slavish adherence to....confrontation with Iran. Blaming Iran for his failed military policies served a double purpose - it covered up his incompetence and it secured the support of" the Senate's most hawkish (independent) Democrat, Joe Lieberman.
It also served his outsized ambitions that may include a future run for the White House. His calculus seems to be - lie to Congress, hide his failures, blame Iran, support Israel and the Bush agenda unflinchingly, claim he turned Iraq around, say he'll do it in the region, and make him president and he'll fix everything.
He (nor the media) won't report how bad things are in Iraq or the toll on its people. They won't explain the "surge's" failure to make any progress on the ground. They won't reveal the weekly US troop death and injury count that's far higher than reported numbers. By one estimate, (including weekly Pentagon wounded updates), it tops 85,000 when the following categories are included:
Left out of the above figures are future illnesses and deaths from exposure to toxic substances like depleted uranium. It now saturates large areas of Iraq in the soil, air and drinking water. Also omitted is the vast psychological toll. For many, it causes permanent damage, and whole families become victims.
Consider civilian contractor casualties as well. They may be in the thousands. A February Houston Post report noted 1123 US civilian contractor deaths. It left out numbers of wounded or any information about foreign workers. They may have been affected most.
Several other reports are played down. One is from the VA about 18 known daily suicides. The true number may be higher. Another comes from Bloomberg.com on May 5 but unreported on TV news. It cited Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health on an April 2008 Rand Corporation study. It found about "18.5% of returning (Iraq and Afghan) US soldiers (afflicted with) post-traumatic stress disorder or depression (PTSD), and only half of them receive treatment."
Much of it shows up later, and many of its victims never recover. A smaller psychiatric association study put the PTSD number at about 32%, and a January 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association put it even higher - 35% of Iraq vets seeking help for mental health problems. A still earlier 2003 New England Journal of Medicine Study reported an astonishing 60% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans showing PTSD "symptoms." Most victims said their duty caused it, but over half of them never sought treatment fearing damage to their careers.
The same Rand study said another 19% have possible traumatic brain injuries ranging from concussions to severe head wounds. About 7% of vets suffer a double hit - both brain injury and PTSD or depression. It's a wonder numbers aren't higher as most active duty and National Guard forces serve multiple tours - some as many as six or more in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Surviving that ordeal in one piece is no small achievement.
Patraeus' calculus omits these victims and all other war costs abroad and at home. They're consigned to an over-stuffed memory hole for whatever outs the facts on the ground or his PR-enhanced image.
Petras strips it away and calls him "a disastrous failure" whose record is so poor it takes media magic to remake it. This man will now direct administration Middle East policy. He supports its aims, and if neocon wishes are adopted it means continued war and occupation of Iraq, stepped up efforts in Afghanistan, and making a hopeless enterprise worse by attacking Iran. No problem for Petraeus if it helps his ambitions. They, of course demand success, or at least the appearance, the way Petraeus so far has framed it. It remains to be seen what's ahead, and how long defeat can be called victory.
And one more thing as well. Congress will soon vote on more Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental funding. Bush wants another $108 billion for FY 2008. In hopes a Democrat will be elected president, Congress may add another $70 billion through early FY 2009 for a total $178 billion new war spending (plus the usual pork add-ons) on top of an already bloated Pentagon budget programmed to increase.
It's got economist Joseph Stiglitz alarmed and has for some time. In his judgment, the Iraq war alone (conservatively) will cost trillions of dollars, far more than his earlier estimates. That's counting all war-related costs:
The generalissimo is unconcerned. He's planning his future. He envisions the White House, and imagine what then. Like the current occupant and whomever follows, look for more destructive wars to serve his political ambitions and theirs. They fall right in line with the defense establishment, Wall Street, and the Israeli Lobby.
Decades back, could anyone have thought things would come to this. Hopefully, good sense will gain currency and stop this madness before it consumes us.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on May 12, 2008.