In September 2002 a reporter asked President Bush’s Chief of Staff Andy Card why the administration was suddenly pushing for an invasion of Iraq70x71. Card replied: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Shortly before that push, Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech to the V.F.W., had laid out the theme of the marketing campaign — that Iraq would soon get nuclear weapons and give them to al-Qaeda-type terrorists to attack the U.S73. But that reasoning had only weak, cherry-picked intelligence reports behind it74. As the Downing Street Memo said, “The intelligence was being fixed around the policy75.” Still, nearly all of the U.S. mainstream news media took up the push for war, and in October 2002 Congress voted to give the president war authority in Iraq76x77. Bush invaded Iraq early the next year, and the following occupation and counter-insurgency war has damaged U.S. security — inspiring more jihadist recruits and stretching the military and the national budget thin78x79.
Last week, almost five years to the day after Cheney’s speech to the V.F.W., Bush gave a speech to the American Legion laying out themes for an attack on Iran, which, like Iraq, is on Bush’s “axis of evil” list80. Bush said that Iran could get a nuclear weapon that would put the region “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust,” and that Iran is supporting “Shia extremists” to attack U.S. troops in Iraq. But, having made false claims before to sell a policy for war, Bush’s claims now carry no factual weight81. Even so, inside reports say that another marketing push for war is coming, but this time it is unlikely that the autocratic Bush would seek authority from Congress82x83x84. Yet cold analysis shows that an attack on Iran would double the damage to U.S. security — creating even more enemies, further weakening the military and budget, and rallying the Iranian population around the most warlike and repressive of its leaders85x86. So, faced with signs that Bush would proceed on such a damaging course, what can the U.S. Congress do to protect the country? One idea is to bring to the House floor H.R.333, the bill to impeach Cheney, who has several times publicly threatened Iran — including once from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf87x88. Such a bold move by Congress could knock the gust out of the campaign for the new war “product89“.
“To those who say we want more evidence that there’s a real threat, the Administration says we can’t wait for a smoking gun to turn up, said National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”
It is a certainty that the al Qaeda network is pursuing such weapons, and has succeeded in acquiring at least a crude capability to use them.
… containment is not possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction, and are prepared to share them with terrorists who intend to inflict catastrophic casualties on the United States.
But we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors — including Saddam’s own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam’s direction. Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.
(Actually, Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel reported the contrary: “All weapons— biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed.”)
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
… “What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored,” says Moyers. “How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?”
“We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives … the Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” – from declassified part of CIA National Intelligence Estimate
… Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.
Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months — despite pledges by Iran to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq.
… [Iran’s leaders] cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.
A “final” draft of the follow-up NIE mentioned above had been completed in Feb. 2007, and McConnell no doubt was briefed on its findings prior to his testimony. The fact that this draft has been sent back for revision every other month since February speaks volumes. Judging from McConnell’s testimony, the conclusions of the NIE draft of February are probably not alarmist enough for Vice President Dick Cheney. (Shades of Iraq.)
There they go again—those bureaucrats at the International Atomic Energy Agency. On August 28, the very day Bush was playing up the dangers from Iran, the IAEA released a note of understanding between the IAEA and Iran on the key issue of inspection. The IAEA announced:
“The agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that it remains in peaceful use.”
The IAEA deputy director said the plan just agreed to by the IAEA and Iran will enable the two to reach closure by December on the nuclear issues that the IAEA began investigating in 2003. Other IAEA officials now express confidence that they will be able to detect any military diversion or any uranium enrichment above a low grade, as long as the Iran-IAEA safeguard agreement remains intact.
According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this—they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”
Update: Since I posted the original note on this topic Wednesday night, there have been several developments. Several more well-informed people have called to discuss it — all of them with confirming information. No one called to say I was wrong.
Although U.S. or Israeli attacks would severely damage Iranian nuclear and missile programmes, Iran would have many methods of responding in the months and years that followed. These would include disruption of Gulf oil production and exports, in spite of U.S. attempts at preemption, systematic support for insurgents in Iraq, and encouragement to associates in Southern Lebanon to stage attacks on Israel. There would be considerable national unity in Iran in the face of military action by the United States or Israel, including a revitalised Revolutionary Guard.
One key response from Iran would be a determination to reconstruct a nuclear programme and develop it rapidly into a nuclear weapons capability, with this accompanied by withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would require further attacks. A military operation against Iran would not, therefore, be a short-term matter but would set in motion a complex and long-lasting confrontation. It follows that military action should be firmly ruled out and alternative strategies developed.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: “[A] military strike would be disastrous for the United States. It would rally the Iranian public around an otherwise unpopular regime, inflame anti-American anger around the Muslim world, and jeopardize the already fragile U.S. position in Iraq. And it would accelerate, not delay, the Iranian nuclear program. Hard-liners in Tehran would be proven right in their claim that the only thing that can deter the United States is a nuclear bomb. Iranian leaders could respond with a crash nuclear program that could produce a bomb in a few years.”
“With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike,” [Cheney] said. “We’ll continue … delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And we’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”
Making the case against war with Iran after the machinery is rolling will be pointless. We need our leaders in Congress to get off the sidelines and declare that any expansion of U.S. aggression in the Middle East without explicit approval from Congress will be met with articles of impeachment, period, full stop.
Doing so will fundamentally change the debate; we would then be talking about whether or not Bush has the implicit authority to wage war with Iran simply because he chooses to, or because he thinks the 2002 AUMF gives him the authority, and that is a good thing.
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