The President's Intentions Towards Iran Need Much More Attention

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Iraq
continues to receive the overwhelming bulk of attention in the media
and among political analysts. But the fate of Iraq, tragically,
is all but sealed – the President will send more troops and
order them to be increasingly brutal and indiscriminate, and they
will stay through at least the end of his presidency. That is just
a fact. The far more attention-demanding issue now is what the President’s
intentions are with regard to Iran.

As Think
Progress notes,
the White House took multiple steps yesterday to elevate dramatically
the threat rhetoric against Iran. Bush included what The
New York Times described
as u201Csome of his sharpest words of warning to Iranu201D yet. But those
words could really be described more accurately not as u201Cthreatsu201D
but as a declaration of war.

He accused
the Iranian government of u201Cproviding material support for attacks
on American troopsu201D and vowed to u201Cseek out and destroy the networks
providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.u201D But
those networks are located in Iran, which means
that search and destroy missions on such networks would necessarily
include some incursion into Iranian territory, whether by air
or ground.

Hours before
the speech, the White House released a Powerpoint
presentation
with details about the president's new policy.
u201CIncrease operations against Iranian actorsu201D was listed in the
u201CKey Tactical Shiftsu201D section. As The New York Times
reported: u201COne senior administration official said this evening
that the omission of the usual wording about seeking a diplomatic
solution [to the Iranian nuclear stand-off] u2018was not accidental.'u201D

But these
were merely the latest in a series of plainly significant events
over the last several weeks that, taken alone, are each noteworthy
themselves, but when viewed as a whole unmistakably signal a deliberate
escalation of tensions with Iran by both the U.S. and Israel:

  • Israel’s
    Prime Minister “accidentally”
    ending
    decades of nuclear ambiguity by unambiguously acknowledging
    Israel’s nuclear arsenal;
  • New Defense
    Secretary Robert Gates’s extraordinary
    departure
    – the very same week – from long-standing
    protocol by explicitly describing Israel as a nuclear power;
  • The announced
    build-up
    of forces in the Persian Gulf back in December,
    the purpose of which – according to Bush officials –
    “is to make clear that the focus on ground troops in Iraq has
    not made it impossible for the United States and its allies
    to maintain a military watch on Iran” (UPDATE: As well as this
    incident
    revealing the placement of a nuclear-powered submarine
    in the Straits of Hormuz);
  • The leaking
    by the Israeli military that Israel was developing plans for
    an attack on Iran using small-grade, limited tactical nuclear
    weapons. Though the leak was done in such a way as to create
    plausible deniability as to its significance – the leak
    was to a discredited newspaper and leaks that a country has
    “planned” for a certain type of attack are commonplace and do
    not mean they are actually going to attack – the leak was
    nonetheless deliberate and caused the phrases “Israeli nuclear
    attack” and “Iran” to be placed into the public dialogue, at
    exactly the time that tensions have been deliberately heightened
    between the U.S./Israel and Iran – the purpose of which
    is almost certainly not a planned nuclear attack by Israel on
    Iran, but a ratcheting up of the war rhetoric;
  • Increasingly
    explicit
    advocacy
    by neoconservatives in the U.S. for a war with
    Iran, as reflected by the recent Washington Post Op-Ed
    by Joe Lieberman in which he really did declare that the U.S.
    is already at war with Iran (“While we are naturally focused
    on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists
    and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran”);
  • The transparent
    and deliberate use
    by the President throughout the last
    several months of 2006 of highly threatening and accusatory
    language towards Iran that is identical in content and tone
    to the language he used towards Iraq in the months immediately
    preceding the U.S. invasion – often verbatim identical.

I think
there is a tendency to dismiss the possibility of some type of
war with Iran because it is so transparently destructive and detached
from reality that it seems unfathomable. But if there is one lesson
that everyone should have learned over the last six years, it
is that there is no action too extreme or detached from reality
to be placed off limits to this administration. The President
is a True Believer and the moral imperative of his crusade trumps
the constraints of reality.

The AEI/Weekly
Standard/National Review/Fox News neoconservative warmongers
are mocked because of how extremist and deranged their endless
war desires are, but the President is, more or less, one of them.
He thinks the way they think. The war in Iraq has collapsed and
the last election made unmistakably clear that Americans have
turned against the war, and the President’s response, like their
response, was to escalate. How much more proof do we need of how
extremist and unconstrained by public opinion and basic reality
he is?

For anyone
with ongoing doubts, here is how the President thinks, as expressed
in an October, 2006 interview
with his ideological soulmate, Fox’s Sean Hannity:

Hannity: Is this a struggle literally between good and evil?

Bush:
I think it is.

Hannity:
This is what it is? Do you think most people understand that?
I mean, when you see the vacillating poll numbers, does it discourage
you in that sense?

Bush:
Well, first of all, you can’t make decisions on polls, Sean.
You’ve got to do what you think is right. The reason I say it’s
good versus evil is that evil people kill innocent life to achieve
political objectives. And that’s what Al Qaeda and people like
Al Qaeda do.

Bush means all of that. That’s really what he believes. And he isn’t
constrained by the things that constrain rational people because
his mission, in his mind, transcends all of those mundane limitations.
Is there anyone who still doubts that?

More importantly,
a war with Iran can happen in many ways other than by some grand
announcement by the President that he wants to start a war, followed
by a debate in Congress as to whether such a war should be authorized.
That is the least likely way for such a confrontation to occur.

We have
140,000 troops (soon to be 20,000 more) sitting in a country that
borders Iran and where Iran is operating, with an announced military
build-up in the Persian Gulf imminent, increased war rhetoric
from all sides, the beginning of actual skirmishes already, a
reduction (if not elimination) on the existing constraints with
which our military operates in Iraq, and a declaration by the
President that Iran is our enemy in the current war.

That makes
unplanned – or seemingly unplanned – confrontations
highly likely, whether through miscalculation, miscommunication,
misperception, or affirmative deceit. Whatever else is true, given
the stakes involved – the unimaginable, impossible-to-overstate
stakes – and the fact that we are unquestionably moving forward
on this confrontational path quite deliberately, this issue is
receiving nowhere near the attention in our political discussions
and media reports that it so urgently demands.

For all
the pious talk about the need to be “seriously concerned” and
give “thoughtful consideration” to what will happen if we leave
Iraq, there is a very compelling – and neglected – need
to ponder what will happen if we stay and if we escalate. And
the need for “serious concern” and “thoughtful consideration”
extends to consequences not just in Iraq but beyond.

For those
who think that the threat of military confrontation with Iran
isn’t a serious one, here is a BBC
report
from this morning:

US
forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi
town of Irbil and seized six members of staff.

The troops
raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers
and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials.

The US
military would only confirm the detention of six people around
Irbil.

The raid
comes amid high Iran-US tension. The US accuses Iran of helping
to fuel violence in Iraq and seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies
both charges.

Tehran
counters that US military involvement in the Middle East endangers
the whole region. . . .

One Iranian
news agency with a correspondent in Irbil says five US helicopters
were used to land troops on the roof of the Iranian consulate.

It
reports that a number of vehicles cordoned off the streets around
the building, while US soldiers warned the occupants in three
different languages that they should surrender or be killed.

This is the
most serious action yet. Isn’t it a definitive act of war for
one country to storm the consulate of another, threaten to kill
them if they do not surrender, and then detain six consulate officers?

January
12, 2007

Glenn
Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of How
Would a Patriot Act?
See his blog Unclaimed
Territory
, where this first appeared.

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