In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran. “Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people,” Bush told the national convention of the American Legion in August. “The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased. . . . The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops.” He then concluded, to applause, “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”
The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.
The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — Zbigniew Brzezinski says, “This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we’re going to play the victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand.” And more graphically, a retired American four-star general says, “It’s got to be ten dead American soldiers and four burned trucks.”
But time is on Iran’s side. All they have to do is patiently refuse to rise to every bait and then in just over a year the baiters will be out of office.
This is what makes the Israelis and the neocons nervous. They claim that the “point of no return” they fear comes when Iran acquires the capability to produce nuclear weapons, yet what appears to be a more immediate fear is of Cheney’s point of no return. This, more than anything else, is what makes 2008 a critical year.
And even though one would expect that the Pentagon would be chastened by the disaster in Iraq, Hersh reports increasing support for the new strategy for attacking Iran:
The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.
“Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the former senior American intelligence official told me. The Joint Chiefs have turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path out,” the former official said.
A Pentagon consultant on counterterrorism told me that, if the bombing campaign took place, it would be accompanied by a series of what he called “short, sharp incursions” by American Special Forces units into suspected Iranian training sites. He said, “Cheney is devoted to this, no question.”
A limited bombing attack of this sort “only makes sense if the intelligence is good,” the consultant said. If the targets are not clearly defined, the bombing “will start as limited, but then there will be an ‘escalation special.’ Planners will say that we have to deal with Hezbollah here and Syria there. The goal will be to hit the cue ball one time and have all the balls go in the pocket. But add-ons are always there in strike planning.”
No doubt the allure of a surgical strike has been reinforced by the legendary success Israel just had in striking Syria with impunity. Yet are memories so short that everyone has forgotten the lessons from a year ago? Israel’s effort to bomb southern Lebanon “back to the stone ages” left tens of thousands of civilians homeless but it didn’t halt Katyusha rockets raining down on northern Israel.
Now Iran, apparently willing to gamble on harnessing America’s fear of al Qaeda, is reviving memories of the USS Cole. Hersh quotes a State Department adviser saying, “They are bragging that they have spray-painted an American warship—to signal the Americans that they can get close to them.” Hersh goes on to explain, “I was told by the former senior intelligence official that there was an unexplained incident, this spring, in which an American warship was spray-painted with a bull’s-eye while docked in Qatar, which may have been the source of the boasts.”
In all of this, what seems extraordinary is the administration’s resilient belief that simply by changing the narrative you can change the outcome. The US describes its attack on Iran as an act of retaliation, then Iran becomes all contrite, eats humble pie and says, “we learned our lesson”? I don’t think so.