Sunday, July 02, 2006

Seymour Hersh on the Administration's Plans for Iran

Seymour Hersh's articles are always long, always thoroughly researched and superbly written, and always required reading. His latest, on the Bush administration's plans for Iran, is no exception.

The White House's thinking about Iran is certifiably unhinged. Basically, it can be summed up as creating a deadly threat based on deeply flawed intelligence, going through the motions of finding a peaceful solution with designed-to-fail diplomacy, followed by massive bombing, including the use of nuclear weapons. The last option was allegedly taken off the table after senior military commanders reacted with such an explosion of outrage that the Bush administration was forced to back down. But according to Hersh, the military brass is becoming more and more resistant to the entire tenor of the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney "solution" to the Iran problem:

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

A crucial issue in the military's dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit. "The target array in Iran is huge, but it's amorphous," a high-ranking general told me. "The question we face is, When does innocent infrastructure evolve into something nefarious?" The high-ranking general added that the military's experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. "We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq," he said.

"There is a war about the war going on inside the building," a Pentagon consultant said. "If we go, we have to find something."

Arthur Silber underscores the danger we face -- not from Iran's nuclear program, but from the administration's determination to choose the most belligerent course of action without regard for what is known or not known:

Hersh repeatedly makes the point that no one -- no one, not even the Israelis -- has any good intelligence about Iran and its nuclear plans at all. If and when the hysteria about Iran begins to be deliberately stoked once more, I suggest you keep this fundamental fact in mind and never, ever forget it. ...
No one should take any consolation from this lack of information: this ignorance is hardly viewed as a deterrent to action by the administration itself. Their "solution" to the complete lack of specificity in knowledge about Iran's nuclear capacity is massive carpet bombing. ...

But this is not the most stunning part of what Hersh reports. For me, reading this passage made my head explode [emphasis mine]:

The military leadership is also raising tactical arguments against the proposal for bombing Iran, many of which are related to the consequences for Iraq. According to retired Army Major General William Nash, who was commanding general of the First Armored Division, served in Iraq and Bosnia, and worked for the United Nations in Kosovo, attacking Iran would heighten the risks to American and coalition forces inside Iraq. "What if one hundred thousand Iranian volunteers came across the border?" Nash asked. "If we bomb Iran, they cannot retaliate militarily by air -- only on the ground or by sea, and only in Iraq or the Gulf. A military planner cannot discount that possibility, and he cannot make an ideological -- only about what damage Iran could do to our interests." Nash, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "Their first possible response would be to send forces into Iraq. And, since the Iraqi Army has limited capacity, it means that the coalition forces would have to engage them."

The Americans serving as advisers to the Iraqi police and military may be at special risk, Nash added, since an American bombing "would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread."

In contrast, some conservatives are arguing that America's position in Iraq would improve if Iran chose to retaliate there, according to a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon's civilian leaders, because Iranian interference would divide the Shiites into pro- and anti-Iranian camps, and unify the Kurds and the Sunnis. The Iran hawks in the White House and the State Department, including Elliott Abrams and Michael Doran, both of whom are National Security Council advisers on the Middle East, also have an answer for those who believe that the bombing of Iran would put American soldiers in Iraq at risk, the consultant said. He described the counterargument this way: "Yes, there will be Americans under attack, but they are under attack now."

I don't know about anyone else, but here is the first thing I thought of when I read this. Apparently, the publication of an article in the New York Times that supposedly gave it away to terrorists that the U.S. government is trying to track their money placed the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and American civilians in the U.S. directly at risk. The New York Times is supposedly directly responsible for the blood of countless Americans at home and abroad who will be killed by terrorists enraged by the revelation that the Bush administration follows their money trails.

But somehow, bombing Iran, which would undeniably put thousands of American soldiers' lives directly at risk, is okay, because "they are under attack anyway."

Is it really the danger to American lives, then, that the Bush administration fears will result from the disclosure of their secret financial records database? Or is it something else?

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