Another War We Can’t Afford

The neo-cons may be coordinating with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and all the usual suspects to build enough public support to bomb Iran

BY Allen McDuffee

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The Bush administration and its Beltway network of supporters and enablers are ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran again, and this time it seems the positioning will have consequences. According to New York University professor and Informed Comment Global Affairs blogger Barnett Rubin, the rhetorical campaign will continue until a military campaign is executed in the very near future. According to one of Rubin’s Washington sources who spoke to one of his contacts in a leading neo-conservative institution:

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.’

It might not be so difficult to obtain the minimum threshold of 35 to 40 percent support among Americans. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll earlier this year, 43 percent of Americans believe that the United States should use military action if Iran continues developing nuclear technology and is close to developing a nuclear weapon. Other polling data suggest similar American attitudes toward Iran.

Rubin goes on to add:

Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran.

Meanwhile, a story that received more attention, but without consideration for its full implications, was that six nuclear warheads on cruise missiles were carried on a B-52 bomber from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on August 30. This was labeled a mistake–that the crew unknowingly carried nuclear weapons. But somebody did. Nuclear weapons are only loaded for the purpose of transport or if on alert. The other point worth noting is that Barksdale is a primary staging point for Middle East operations.

Adding to anti-Iranian sentiment and in perfect timing with the administration’s campaign, a U.S. district court judge ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion in damages to victims and their families for the 1983 Marine barracks in Beirut last Friday. The judgment seems more symbolic than anything since there is no clear way of seizing the money given that Iran has denied responsibility for the attack, has not acknowledged the lawsuit and doesn’t have normal relations with the United States. Also with impeccable timing, neocon Iranophobe and National Review contributing editor Michael Ledeen published The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction.

Army Gen. David Petraeus wanted to do his part while he was in town. After two days of Congressional testimony, Petraeus said at the National Press Club that “you can’t win in Iraq … just in Iraq.” A victory in Iraq necessitates “greater involvement with respect to some of the neighboring countries, some of the source countries for foreign fighters. … And it certainly involves Iran.”

But Petraeus showed considerable restraint given the path Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) attempted to lead him down during his testimony: “Is it time to give you authority, in pursuit of your mission in Iraq, to pursue those Iranian Qods Force operations in Iranian territory, in order to protect America’s troops in Iraq?” In the context of Petraues’ testimony, the question was a non-sequitur, but for those who remember Lieberman’s insistence earlier this summer that “the Iranian government by its actions has declared war on us,” it was of little surprise.

Bush is doing his part in the rhetorical campaign, recently accusing Iran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust” and adding that the United States and its allies would face Iran “before it is too late.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already signed up to another coalition of the willing, warning that Iran risks being bombed if the outstanding nuclear issues aren’t resolved.

All along, Iran has maintained that the purpose of the program is to generate electricity for civilian use. And the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported on August 30 “significant” cooperation from Iran over its nuclear program and said that the uranium enrichment processes have decreased and are producing “well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design.” Additionally, according to the IAEA, Iran has promised to answer most of the agency’s questions by November. The IAEA further commended Iran for coming to agreement on a new work plan and timeline set forth by the IAEA.

The State Department, however, must have been reading a different report. In a September 7 press briefing, the State Department somehow managed to cast the IAEA report in a different fashion, saying that “if Iran wants to take steps backward to limit its cooperation with the IAEA or with other parts of the international community, again, that is only taking them further away from a resolution of this issue and I think will only lead to further negative consequences for the government and unfortunately, for the Iranian people as well.”

In an equally baffling move, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a September 2 talk with Iranian students, claimed that the nuclear program is now operating at 3,000 centrifuges–the necessary level to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel within a year. It may seem strange for Ahmadinejad to contradict the IAEA, which is trying so desperately to save Iran from a U.S. military attack. However, a defiant Ahmadinejad has broader concerns; he is bent on making sure the world knows the West, and especially the United States, is not as powerful as it believes.

Does this at all sound familiar? An unfriendly, defiant leader of a country which has fallen in and out of the graces of the United States and is certainly no friend to Israel, who misleads the United States into thinking (or at least giving them the alibi) that they have weapons of mass destruction.

But we cannot afford another attack. True, with the Iraq debacle continuing to cost Americans $10 billion each month, an air campaign in Iran would be a barely noticed drop in the “War on Terror” bucket. What would be unaffordable is the loss of life among Iranian civilians, the further destabilization of the Middle East, the further degeneration of the position of the United States in the world and, though it seems impossible, the further destabilization of Iraq that such a bombing would cause.

With the Government Accountability Office reporting at the beginning of the month that only three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress have been met by Iraq, it seems implausible that this administration would pursue such an agenda in Iran. Even Ahmadinejad has calculated it to the best of his ability and is confident that the United States can’t carry out an attack. “I draw up tables. For hours, I write out different hypothesis. I reject, I reason. I reason with planning and I make a conclusion. They cannot make problems for Iran.”

Hare-brained as they may be, Ahmadinejad’s calculations are, in this instance at least, absolutely correct. But when it comes to the Bush administration, reason all too often takes a back seat to aggressive militarism and empire-building.


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Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy. He blogs and hosts a podcast at governmentality and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.

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