We're Still Gonna Get Conned

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A
couple of months ago, I went out on a limb and speculated that the Bush administration
was considering attacking Iran in early June. It seemed a natural time to stage
a major attack on that country’s nuclear infrastructure (power plants, uranium
enrichment facilities), given that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be close
to full, there was talk of an early June deadline vis–vis the Eeeyew and International
Atomic Energy Agency, Team Bush was sounding belligerent in much the same way
they did about Iraq in mid-2002, and a new moon would mean dark skies for the
first few days of the month.

I
even went so far as to bet a SUV I don’t own on the possibility of an early June
attack on Iran during an interview with a talk-radio station in Calgary.

(Good
luck getting it out of me.)

Well,
early June has come and gone and there has been no attack. And while the usual
suspects at the American Enterprise Institute and the National Review are
still demanding Persian blood as the price for ending Iran’s alleged (and, in
my view, probable) nuclear weapons ambitions, Team Bush’s public utterances on
this subjects have been considerably more measured of late. Not silent by any
means. But measured, as if these folks have actually learned something from the
failed invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Foolish
and arrogant though they are, they are quite capable of learning.

Team
Bush rarely ever makes the same mistake twice. And given what Paul Wolfowitz and
the ideological and intellectual Axis of Evil
promised about this war — that it could be accomplished with 40,000 troops, that
Iraq’s oil revenue would pay for reconstruction, and that once the dictatorship
was removed, Iraq would quickly become a model democracy, inspiring Arabs across
the region to rise and topple their creaky, autocratic single-party states and
monarchies and usher in a whole new era of US-Arab-Israeli friendship and bringing
us ever close to the inevitable end of history — I believe that this administration
clearly views the war and occupation as both a costly mistake and likely failure.

They’ll
never admit it, however, and they’ll never abandon the policy either. But they
will make some people pay.

Washington
Post columnist — and, yes, Brookings Institute fellow — E.
J. Dionne noted Tuesday
that Wolfowitz was not the only person in this administration
who deluded himself into thinking everything in Iraq would be swell:

[On
Meet The Press on March 20, 2003], host Tim Russert asked [Vice President Dick
Cheney] whether “we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there”
in Iraq “for several years in order to maintain stability.” Cheney replied: “I
disagree.” He wouldn’t say how many troops were needed, but he added that “to
suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations
cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.”

Had
the war come off as Cheney said it would, or at least better than it has gone
so far, Wolfowitz would have Rummy’s job rather than his "promotion"
to the World Bank, and Don Rumsfeld would have wandered back to the "private
sector" earlier this year to make another pile of cash gaming the federal
government’s regulatory process. We would have "gone onto" Tehran or
Damascus by now, and would have to listen to the regular pronouncements of Grand
Viceroy Danielle Pletka as she coached the Pahlevi pretender through the rigors
of "democracy."

And
Larry Franklin would never have been arrested, either.

Iraq,
an impoverished country of 22 million people the size of California, has become
the Pentagon’s (and unfortunately America’s) tar baby. Around 20,000 to 40,000
poorly trained but extremely well motivated insurgents are keeping 140,000 American
soldiers and Marines busy. All of the publicized brutality that has emerged from
the system of American Gulags operated across the uncivilized world has not cowed
anyone into behaving themselves, and has likely had the opposite effect of making
more people angry. Equipment is being wrecked and not being replaced. It will
take years to rebuild morale in the active Army, the Reserves, and the National
Guard. While the US military can claim that it is killing insurgents in Iraq,
more are trained and — more importantly — spend their several months waging jihad
against the ferengi making bunches of new contacts that will come in handy
after they return home to create the next terror network and organize future terror
operations.

The
United States has bitten off far more than it can chew with Iraq, and widening
the war likely means real defeat or even disaster. (Think Poltava.)
Everything I see Team Bush doing tells me they at least sort of understand
this. I do not see any preparations for war with Iran. Or even military action
against Syria (though that is more likely at this point). Not unless those preparations
are being done very, very quietly. Which is possible, but that’s not Team Bush’s
war-making MO.

They
like shaking the big stick and speaking really, really loud. Makes them all feel
manly and strong, I guess.

Not
everyone involved in this disaster is getting away free and clear. Sure, a great
big office in the World Bank hardly seems like punishment to you and me, but for
the man who envisioned a bright new tomorrow through the virtuous application
of American military force to foster a global democratic revolution, that office
can hardly feel like anything other than a humiliating rebuke of everything he’s
ever worked and stood for. The World Bank, for all its evil, requires some voluntary
cooperation on the part of the governments it lends to (which is why I support
debt repudiation, rather than debt forgiveness, coupled with an end to all lending
to or by governments) and does not — thank God! — have its own army.

The
neoconservatives are slowly being pushed to the exits. I suspect they are not
getting their phone calls returned as promptly as before. The Franklin affair,
and the wider investigation of Israeli spying against the US government, is part
of this effort as well, though it represents convenient “opportunity fire” more
than anything else. US-Israel relations are not and will not be endangered by
the investigation — too many Americans in and out of power support Israel
too deeply and too intensely. So the Franklin affair won’t get that far because
the goal is not so much to end the spying (though it may) as it is to sever the
policy-making links between the individual neoconservatives, their well-funded
and well-connected institutes — such as AEI — and the Executive Branch.

While
the Bush administration Iraq policy was flawed from the beginning (and it is likely
the US would have invaded and occupied Iraq even without the attacks of September
11, 2001), the Franklin case allows the administration to essentially scapegoat
the neoconservatives without having to look like they’re turning on their own
policy or even really turning on the neocons. No one will be "blamed"
publicly for anything — remember, Team Bush doesn’t look back, only forward. But
closing down the ability by some people to directly pass bad or doctored intelligence,
to bypass bureaucratic policy processes, or to use some offices within departments
to agitate for an agenda other than the president’s, will send a clear signal
that some people’s views are no longer wanted and are no longer welcome.

While
it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people, we should also have no illusions
about what this means. First, an administration that is already obsessed with
secrecy and control will become even more opaque as one of its few open windows
to the world is slowly shuttered and darkened. Second, the "special relationship"
will continue but with Washington — particularly the White House — in charge,
without so much of the influence from outside parties whose loyalties may not
be to the president or his administration.

And
don’t expect to see any major indictments, or trials, or AIPAC’s listing as a
foreign lobbying organization, or any lessening of its influence on Capitol Hill.
That’s not what this is about. UPI
noted recently
:

[Tougher
legislation against Iraq] was consistent with the theme of the annual policy conference
of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, last month. Around
one third of the Senate and half the House of Representatives attended the conference’s
dinner in what has long been its annual ritual flexing of political muscle in
Washington. AIPAC chose as its key speakers, former assistant Secretary of Defense
Richard Perle, Wolfowitz’s close friend and ally, and Michael Ledeen of the American
Enterprise Institute, who have both campaigned tirelessly for aggressive U.S.
action against Iran.

AIPAC’s
direct political clout on Capitol Hill remains as strong as ever. But what
was striking, was that it needed its supporters in both Houses of Congress to
push for Iran legislation and could no longer count on the clout of sympathetic
neo-cons in the administration to push the policies through in the executive branch
[emphasis mine].

So
the good news is there will likely be no war with Iran. But this does not mean
the danger has passed. Even without their attachment to the wanna-be world revolutionary
neoconservatives, the muscular nationalist Republicans of Dick Cheney, Condi Rice,
Donald Rumsfeld, and the president himself still represent a huge threat to peace,
freedom and prosperity.

We
may soon be without the neos in positions of significant power, but we’re still
gonna get conned.

June
22, 2005

Charles
H. Featherstone [send him mail]
is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing in energy, the Middle
East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer in Alexandria, Virginia.

Charles
H. Featherstone Archives

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