Iranian President Ahmadinejad
If you had imagined that expansionist militaristic “neocon” influence over the Bush administration had been vanquished following the Democrat victory in the US mid-term elections, the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, and the appointment of the Iraq Study Group under conservative foreign policy “realist” James Baker, you might have relaxed too soon. Vice-President Dick Cheney, the biggest neocon of them all, is still running the joint, and thinktank neocons are still spinning assiduously to resuscitate the American imperial dream.
The latest is American Enterprise Institute shill Joshua Muravchik in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald. After shamelessly spinning recent history to claim that the neocons won the Cold War single-handed and were also responsible for Bosnian intervention in the face of the lily livered liberals and old-fashioned “realist” conservatives (a claim that involves a considerable logical stretch given that the Bosnian intervention occurred under the Clinton administration), Muravchik goes on to pitch the resurgent neocon line on Iraq:
As badly as things have gone in Iraq, the war has not disproved neoconservative ideas. Iraq is a mess, and if the US mission fails, neocons deserve blame because we were key supporters of the war. But American woes in Iraq may be traced to the conduct of the war rather than the decision to undertake it.
Hopes have risen that the former secretary of state James Baker and the Iraq Study Group will devise an alternative approach to neoconservatism, one more in the mode of traditional conservatism. Rumour has it that this will rest on courting Iran. Others suggest Baker will link Iraq to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but this has been sought for decades without success.
Until someone comes up with better ideas than these, the neocon strategy of trying to transform the Middle East, however blemished, remains without alternative.
However, the neocon agenda is actually much more ambitious and sinister than Muravchik’s half-baked apologia might suggest.
Well connected US journalist Seymour Hersh writes in the current New Yorker about plans being hatched in Vice-President Cheney’s office to nuke Iran despite a recent CIA report showing no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program there. Among others, Hersh quotes none other than our SMH op-ed friend Joshua Muravchik:
In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he wrote. The President would be bitterly criticized for a pre«mptive attack on Iran, Muravchik said, and so neoconservatives “need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.”
In fact, in contrast to his rather coy SMH piece, even the byline of Muravchik’s Foreign Policy article (titled “Operation Comeback”) is disarmingly frank about neocon objectives: “Neoconservatives have the president’s ear, but they also have lots of baggage. To stay relevant, they must admit mistakes, embrace public diplomacy, and start making the case for bombing Iran.” And his op-ed piece in the Los Angles Times last week was anything but coy. It’s succinctly headlined Bomb Iran. Unfortunately, Muravchik appears to be right about neocons still having the President’s ear, and according to Hersh their task in persuading Bush to nuke Iran might not be as large a challenge as any sane person might have hoped:
The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President’s staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser “believes that, so far, there’s been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq,” the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”
Moreover, the CIA report, which throws cold water on suggestions of an active Iranian nuclear weapons project on the verge of success, also doesn’t seem to have dampened neocon ardour for a double-or-nothing “last throw of the dice” strike against Iran to resuscitate their political fortunes and the imperial dream of a “democratised” (i.e. subservient client state) Middle East:
The C.I.A. assessment warned the White House that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran merely meant that the Iranians had done a good job of hiding it. The former senior intelligence official noted that at the height of the Cold War the Soviets were equally skilled at deception and misdirection, yet the American intelligence community was readily able to unravel the details of their long-range-missile and nuclear-weapons programs. But some in the White House, including in Cheney’s office, had made just such an assumption¢â¬âthat “the lack of evidence means they must have it,” the former official said.
That isn’t to suggest that concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions are unjustified. Hersh quotes an unnamed European diplomat:
“There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran,” one involved European diplomat said. “But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren’t cheating to some degree. You don’t need a covert program to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s close to it.”
But it’s rather a large step from “cheating to some degree” to pre-emptively nuking Iran. We might at the very least want very clear answers to some rather obvious questions. How advanced is any Iranian nuclear weapons program? How reliable are more alarmist claims from pro-war elements of the Bush administration? Are there viable alternatives to a pre-emptive strike? Does Iranian President Ahmadinejad actually have any intention of menacing Israel despite his bellicose posturing to the Islamic peanut gallery? What would be the regional and global consequences of a pre-emptive strike against Iran? Would a Cold War-style “Mutually Assured Destruction” nuclear standoff between Iran and Israel be worse or better than pre-emptively nuking Iran? Can the Bush administration be trusted to make judgments about any of these questions? In other words, pretty much the same list of questions that more perceptive observers than yours truly were asking prior to Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Perhaps even more disturbingly for the prospect of a peaceful resolution of the current Iranian standoff, Hersh also reports the thoughts of an unnamed “former senior intelligence official”:
According to the former senior intelligence official, the C.I.A.’s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike¢â¬âespecially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program¢â¬âin that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the former senior official said. In both cases, a more powerful military force had trouble achieving its military or political goals; in Lebanon, Israel’s war against Hezbollah did not destroy the group’s entire arsenal of rockets, and increased the popularity of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
The former senior intelligence official added that the C.I.A. assessment raised the possibility that an American attack on Iran could end up serving as a rallying point to unite Sunni and Shiite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us¢â¬âand the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West. It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare¢â¬âfor the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.”
I can’t decide whether to be more afraid of the Bushies or President Armoured Dinner Plate. Are you still feeling relaxed and comfortable about our Prime Minister’s continuing unquestioning, obedient participation in the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern adventure?
PS I should stress that this latest report from Seymour Hersh doesn’t specifically assert an intent to nuke Iran (as opposed to pre-emptively bombing its nuclear facilities using conventional weapons). However, earlier reports from Hersh, summarised in London’s Daily Telegraph, make precisely that point:
The military option is opposed by London and other European capitals. But there are growing fears in No 10 and the Foreign Office that the British-led push for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear stand-off, will be swept aside by hawks in Washington. Hersh says that within the Bush administration, there are concerns that even a pummelling by conventional strikes, may not sufficiently damage Iran’s buried nuclear plants.
Iran has been developing a series of bunkers and facilities to provide hidden command centres for its leaders and to protect its nuclear infrastructure. The lack of reliable intelligence about these subterranean facilities, is fuelling pressure for tactical nuclear weapons to be included in the strike plans as the only guaranteed means to destroy all the sites simultaneously.
The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings among the joint chiefs of staff, and some officers have talked about resigning, Hersh has been told. The military chiefs sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran, without success, a former senior intelligence officer said.