By now everyone following the developing news on Iran has heard about Seymour Hersh's article claiming that the Bush administration has decided to carry out plans for a massive bombing campaign of Iran in order to destroy its nuclear capability and destabilize its theocratic regime. Despite the fact that Hersh's article was based on the statements of a variety of high-level sources within the White House, intelligence community, and congress, his article was dismissed as being 'wild speculation' and 'nuts', or 'sensationlistic' by many. However, there's been a couple of recent news items that should be something of a wake up call for those naive enough to think that Bush's belligerence is just empty bluster.
The first item was Blair's sacking of Jack Straw as Britain's Foreign Secretary last week. This piece of news came as a big surprise to many observers. The Guardian weighed in on the issue and speculated on the reasons behind Jack Straw's dismissal from the post. The article argues that Straw was likely removed for two main reasons: 1. His chummy relationship with labour rival Gordon Brown, 2. His recent comments about an attack on Iran being 'inconceivable', and the use of tactical nukes being 'nuts'. The following passage from the article elaborates on the second reason:
Mr Blair, who sees Iran as the world's biggest threat, does not agree with his former foreign secretary. The prime minister argues that, at the very least, nothing should be ruled out in order to keep Iran guessing. Downing Street phoned the Foreign Office several times to suggest Mr Straw stop going on the BBC Today programme and ruling it out so categorically.
His fate was sealed when the White House called Mr Blair and asked why the foreign secretary kept saying these things. In any case, Mr Straw had boxed himself in on Iran to the extent that he would have had to resign if a military strike became a reality.
It should come as no surprise that Blair has denied that the removal of Straw had anything to do with his previous statements on Iran.
The second news item was Bush's statement that the passenger 'revolt' on flight 93 was the 'first blow' to strike the enemy in 'World War III'. Many will likely dismiss this as idle rhetoric or a poor choice of words, but it should be noted that the administration has consciously avoided characterizing the conflict in those terms in the past and has made no attempt to back track on Bush's remark. What many may find more surprising is how welcome his words were to many on the American right. To get an idea of how the pro-Bush crowd responded to his 'World War III' remark, check out this thread on the freerepublic website ('freepers', like many other online Conservative groups, are notorious for their complete unwillingness to listen to any criticism of their glorious leader). The 'freepers' seem pretty delighted by this characterization.
These two stories give us some indication of how charged the Iranian showdown really is. The message behind both stories is the breadth and aggressiveness of Bush's foreign policy agenda. Given that there's nothing in Bush's history to suggest that he will opt for negotiations over military force despite ample evidence that aggressive action would be detrimental, the recent developments seem to point to the conclusion that the Bush administration is paving the way for an airstrike if Ahmadinejad refuses to capitulate. The case for expecting the worst scenario is convincingly laid out in this recent opinion piece by the astute New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
While the Bush administration seems poised to strike intransigent Iran, the American public and media have been 'mobilizing' for military action as well. Feeding the war frenzy has been a relatively easy task considering the deep unpopularity of the target. Of course Ahmadinejad has done much to fuel the fear and anger of the US and Israel. stifling the public's weariness towards war has also been accomplished by the spread of a number of fear-mongering attack pieces on the Iranian president Ahmadinejad. These attacks are largely based on questionable rumours floating around about Ahmadinejad, rumours designed to incite a level of hysteria necessary to get the public on a war footing. One example is the often repeated claim that Ahmadinejad was actively involved in the 1979 hostage taking 'crisis'. This 'photographic evidence' that has been used to spread the notion that the Iranian president was a hostage taker far and wide, despite the fact this 'evidence' has clearly shown to be false. Obviously, if such an accusation were shown to be true, it would greatly bolster support for military action amongst an American public still fuming over the 'national humiliation' of the hostage crisis. Despite the refutation, various war-mongerors allude to this false 'evidence' and unwittingly or maliciously spread misinformation. Professor Gary Leupp author of an article entitled accusing Ahmadinejad, describes how such misinformation, even after being refuted, effectively plants these spurious 'facts' in the minds of the public:
Even so, it serves the Bushites' interests that my morning paper, the Boston Globe, which has relegated the Downing Street memos to its back pages, put the photo in question on page A1 July 1, with the tendentious caption: IRAN ELECTION SPURS QUESTIONS ABOUT 1979. I don't expect another front-page piece any time soon entitled: QUESTION ANSWERED: IRANIAN PRESIDENT NOT INVOLVED IN EMBASSY SEIZURE. Rather, I see a three-sentence AP item in the Globe this morning (July 5) concluding: "Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide presidential election victory, has been accused of taking American hostages in 1979 when radical students seized the US Embassy in Tehran." He has been accused. I suspect many will read that to mean "He did it" and this will pass for truth in pub conversations all over Boston.
Doesn't this process sound all too familiar? Another example of pro-war hyst is evident in the reaction of war-mongering elements over a recent article from Amir Taheri an exiled Iranian journalist hysterically titled The Frightening Truth About Why Iran Wants The Bomb. This incredible report essentially paints Ahmadinejad as an apocalyptic fanatic determined to get a nuclear weapon in order to somehow facilitate the second coming of Shia Islam's 'messiah'. The article essentially says very little other than the Iranian regime is deeply religious and views itself as being in conflict with the US, it present no actual information on what will be done with this bomb. Instead of presenting concrete information and sources the article works hard at planting sinister insinuation to great affect. On top of this, the information is presented by a man exiled by the very regime he writes. Remember the last time the US government relied on an exile community for its intelligence gathering? Given the sensational tone of the article, the complete lack of source material, and the likely agenda of the author, you would think the article would be greeted by healthy skepticism. Instead the pro-war crowd continually pull out this article to bolster their argument that Ahmadinejad is an aggressively dangerous lunatic that needs to be stopped.
Overall, the recent developments seem to indicate that a variety of forces are 'mobilizing' in preparation for a military campaign against Iran. The Bush administration has given every indication that it will use military force to achieve its goals, and we have every reason to believe the threat. I personally suspect that Sy Hersh is right, and Bush has effectively decided to 'take action' if the Iranians do not capitulate. It also seems clear that Ahmadinejad's hardline regime will not yield to Washington's demands. In the final analysis, it's hard to see how a war between the US and Iran will be avoided for the remainder of Bush's second term. The consequences of such an American airstrike will most probably greatly complicate the situation in Iraq, generating tremendous conflict between US forces and the Shia population. In addition, a US airstrike will almost certainly lead to 'covert activity' by both sides in Iraq and Iran. However, these 'complicating' factors can be viewed as desirable, in the sense that they are politically destabilizing events and therefore necessary for reshaping the region as the US sees fit. A project justifiable by an administration believing itself to be engaged in 'World War III'.