I recall quipping to a friend a few weeks ago that I thought the way out of Iraq for this Administration was through Iran. What I meant at the time was that since this Administration had haplessly shifted the center of gravity of Iraqi politics to Iran, without Iran having to fire a shot, that the only way to exit out of Iraq with "credibility" was to attack Iran. Iran then becomes a continuation of a larger war "on terror" and it can then not be said that Iraq was lost since it will only become an unfinished chapter in a larger war.
I of course was being cynical. I knew then that there have been people within and outside the Administration who have been advocating for an attack on Iran from the time that "Mission Accomplished" was declared in Iraq. Neo-conservatives had focused their attention on Iran as the next domino in the new American Domino Theory. Some of the most rabid of the neo-cons advocating war were the usual suspects such as Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney and Charles Krauthammer. But I had calculated that the appetite for war had waned in Washington due to Mr. Bush’s flagging approval ratings, the disaster in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, and the overextension of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had obviously underestimated the hunger for war in Washington.
Today the Washington Post reports that the United States is planning for a nuclear strike on Iran. This report comes nipping at the heels of Seymour Hersh’s tour de force in the New Yorker magazine on the same topic. Mr. Hersh has been doggedly pursuing this story for some time, with a report in January that the United States was already engaged in covert action inside Iran.
The drumbeat for war with Iran has been ongoing for some time. The rhetoric and the diplomatic doublespeak is eerily reminiscent of the run up to the Iraq invasion. But what is different this time is that the United States is considering using nuclear weapons as a first strike option against Iran. Apparently the civilian leaders in the Administration have surveyed the options against Iran’s nuclear facilities and concluded that a conventional attack will not cause the requisite amount of damage. So like any group of people bent on destruction, they have decided that if the bomb you are using is not big enough, get a bigger bomb – in our case, a nuclear bomb. This is the kind of thinking I have been able to coax my five-year-old out of over the last year. My daughter has matured to a point where she now tends to utilize thought and consider more the longer-term consequences of her actions instead of first resorting to brute force when confronted with a difficult task.
There is likely to be much discussion of this story in the days, weeks, and months to come. Instead of focusing on the primary story which I suspect will be widely discussed in today’s talk shows and on the web, I would like to use the remainder of this post to highlight two aspects of this story that are particularly frightening.
Seymour Hersh’s writes about Mr. Bush’s determination and motivation in attacking Iran:
A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.” [Emphasis added by me]
It has been widely reported and speculated that Mr. Bush sees his mission in remaking the Middle East very much in biblical terms. If Mr. Hersh’s source is accurate in his assessment then we are confronted with a President with messianic and evangelical zeal that will not be tempered by reason or the facts. In this case, war with Iran is inevitable. This is a frightening development, and the dangers may actually increase as Mr. Bush’s popularity slips further. He may feel that the urgency to accomplish his mission becomes greater as his position in office become more tenuous.
The Washington Post reports on a possible timetable for attack and Israel’s role in setting that timetable:
Israel is preparing, as well. The government recently leaked a contingency plan for attacking on its own if the United States does not, a plan involving airstrikes, commando teams, possibly missiles and even explosives-carrying dogs. Israel, which bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 to prevent it from being used to develop weapons, has built a replica of Natanz, according to Israeli media, but U.S. strategists do not believe Israel has the capacity to accomplish the mission without nuclear weapons.
Israel points to those missiles to press their case in Washington. Israeli officials traveled here recently to convey more urgency about Iran. Although U.S. intelligence agencies estimate Iran is about a decade away from having a nuclear bomb, Israelis believe a critical breakthrough could occur within months. They told U.S. officials that Iran is beginning to test a more elaborate cascade of centrifuges, indicating that it is further along than previously believed.
"What the Israelis are saying is this year — unless they are pressured into abandoning the program — would be the year they will master the engineering problem," a U.S. official said. "That would be a turning point, but it wouldn’t mean they would have a bomb." [Emphasis added by me]
The Israelis have been pushing the notion of a point of no return, or "turning point", for quite some time, arguing that even though the actual bomb may be sometime away the date on the calendar that we should be concerned about is much sooner when the Iranian program reaches a technical threshold that once achieved cannot be reversed. Israel has chosen a timetable for attack by the United States by the end of this year by indicating if this attack does not happen, they will launch the attack unilaterally. Israel has also been at the forefront of the nuclear strike option.
The timetable set by Israel for the United States dovetails nicely with the November Congressional elections. An attack on Iran would politically rescue Mr. Bush and the Congressional Republicans from the disaster in Iraq. The actual attack does not have to occur before the elections, in fact it is better politically that the attack take place after the elections. The drumbeat to war and the tension and fear it will generate for the public is much more useful as a political tool than the war itself. By this time in early November, with any luck for the Republicans, the daily death toll in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, the NSA spying and the fallout from the NIE leaking should all take a backseat to the coming war with Iran. With these constraints, the likely strike date on Iran will be in late November or early December of this year, just in time for the Christmas season.
In many ways, war has already begun with Iran. The conversation has changed. It should give all of us pause that on this day in the 21st Century we are considering the possibility that the greatest experiment in Democracy in the history of the world is about to launch a nuclear first strike against another sovereign state. May our children forgive us.