January 14, 2007 at 2:36 pm #20484
I don’t often post political commentaries, but as an ex-war correspondent this piece does trouble me with its truthfulness. That we have anunstable lame duck sitting in the White House who is willing to roll the dice in a very dangerous game that will have consequences for all of us. I post it so that readers may choose to hold “more peace in the middle east” in their hearts rather than “more war” which this piece suggests may happen.
THE U.S.-IRAN-IRAQ-ISRAELI-SYRIAN WAR
By Robert Parry
January 12, 2007
At a not-for-quotation pre-speech briefing on Jan. 10, George W. Bush and
his top national security aides unnerved network anchors and other senior
news executives with suggestions that a major confrontation with Iran is
Commenting about the briefing on MSNBC after Bush’s nationwide address,
NBC’s Washington bureau chief Tim Russert said “there’s a strong sense in
the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface
relatively quickly as a major issue — in the country and the world — in a
very acute way.”
Russert and NBC anchor Brian Williams depicted this White House emphasis on
Iran as the biggest surprise from the briefing as Bush stepped into the
meeting to speak passionately about why he is determined to prevail in the
“The President’s inference was this: that an entire region would blow up
from the inside, the core being Iraq, from the inside out,” Williams said,
Despite the already high cost of the Iraq War, Bush also defended his
decision to invade Iraq and to eliminate Saddam Hussein by arguing that
otherwise “he and Iran would be in a race to acquire a nuclear bomb and if
we didn’t stop him, Iran would be going to Pakistan or to China and things
would be much worse,” Russert said.
If Russert’s account is correct, there could be questions raised about
whether Bush has lost touch with reality and may be slipping back into the
false pre-invasion intelligence claims about Hussein threatening the United
States with “a mushroom cloud.”
U.S. weapons inspectors concluded in 2004 that Hussein had long ago
abandoned his nuclear weapons program. Many experts agreed that continued
international sanctions would have prevented its resumption for the
Indeed, some observers believe Bush’s invasion of Iraq has proved
counterproductive by spurring Iran and other countries to speed up their
development of nuclear and other unconventional weapons in hopes of keeping
the United States at bay.
The countries on Bush’s “axis of evil” hit list saw that Iraq’s WMD
disarmament and acceptance of United Nations inspections didn’t stop the
Not only have possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result, but
U.S. forces killed Hussein’s two sons and turned the deposed dictator over
to his enemies so he could hanged like a common criminal on Dec. 30.
So there can be little incentive for Iranian or North Korean leaders to
follow the Iraq model of disarmament and inspections. Further, the explosion
of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world has increased risks to the pro-U.S.
dictatorship in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where Islamic militants with close
ties to al-Qaeda are reported to be gaining strength.
While avoiding any overt criticism of Bush’s comments about an imaginary
Iraqi-Iranian arms race, Russert suggested that the news executives found
the remarks perplexing.
“That’s the way he sees the world,” Russert explained. “His rationale, he
believes, for going into Iraq still was one that was sound.”
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews then interjected, “And it could be the rationale for
going into Iran at some point.”
Russert paused for a few seconds before responding, “It’s going to be very
interesting to watch that issue and we have to cover it very, very carefully
and very exhaustively.”
Reasons for Alarm
In his prime-time speech, Bush injected other reasons to anticipate a wider
war. He used language that suggested U.S. or allied forces might launch
attacks inside Iran and Syria to “disrupt the attacks on our forces” in
“We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria,” Bush said. “And
we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and
training to our enemies in Iraq.”
Bush announced other steps that could be interpreted as building a military
infrastructure for a regional war or at least for air strikes against
Iranian nuclear facilities.
“I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to
the region,” Bush said. “We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy
Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.”
Though most news accounts of Bush’s speech focused on his decision to send
about 21,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq — on top of the 132,000 already
there — Bush’s comments about his regional strategy could ultimately prove
Militarily, a second aircraft carrier strike force would do little to
interdict arms smuggling across the Iran-Iraq border. Similarly, Patriot
anti-missile batteries would be of no use in defeating lightly armed
insurgent forces and militias inside Iraq.
However, both deployments would be useful to deter — or defend against —
retaliatory missile strikes from Iran if the Israelis or the United States
bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities or stage military raids inside Iranian
Iran has a relatively sophisticated arsenal of short- and medium-range
missiles. Those short-range missiles could be fired at U.S. bases in Iraq or
elsewhere in the Persian Gulf. The medium-range missiles could conceivably
hit Tel Aviv.
Not only could Patriot missiles be used to knock down Iranian missiles while
they’re heading toward their targets, but the fearsome firepower of two
aircraft carrier strike forces could deter any Iranian retaliatory strike
following a U.S. or Israeli attack.
In other words, the deployments would fit with Israel or the United States
bombing Iran’s nuclear sites and then trying to tamp down any Iranian
Another danger to American interests, however, would be pro-Iranian Shiite
militias in Iraq seeking revenge against U.S. troops. If that were to
happen, Bush’s escalation of troop levels in Iraq would make sense as a way
to protect the Green Zone and other sensitive targets.
So, Bush’s actions and rhetoric over the past several weeks continue to mesh
with a scenario for a wider regional war — a possibility that now
mainstream journalists, such as Tim Russert, are beginning to take
The Surge Purge
Other data points are aiming in that same direction.
On Jan. 4, Bush ousted the top two commanders in the Middle East, Generals
John Abizaid and George Casey, who had opposed a military escalation in
Iraq. Bush also removed Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte,
who had stood by intelligence estimates downplaying the near-term threat
from Iran’s nuclear program.
Bush appointed Admiral William Fallon as the new chief of Central Command
for the Middle East despite the fact that Fallon, a former Navy aviator and
currently head of the Pacific Command, will oversee two ground wars in Iraq
The choice of Fallon makes more sense if Bush foresees a bigger role for two
aircraft carrier groups off Iran’s coast.
Though not considered a Middle East expert, Fallon has moved in
neoconservative circles, for instance, attending a 2001 awards ceremony at
the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a think tank dedicated
to explaining “the link between American defense policy and the security of
Bush also shifted Negroponte from his Cabinet-level position as DNI to a
sub-Cabinet post as deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. To
replace Negroponte, Bush nominated Navy retired Vice Admiral John “Mike”
McConnell, who is viewed by intelligence professionals as a low-profile
technocrat, not a strong independent figure.
McConnell is seen as far more likely than Negroponte to give the
administration an alarming assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and
intentions in an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate. To the
consternation of neoconservatives, Negroponte has splashed cold water on
their heated rhetoric about the imminent threat from Iran.
“Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a
number of years off, and probably into the next decade,” Negroponte said in
an interview with NBC News in April 2006. Expressing a similarly tempered
view in a speech at the National Press Club, Negroponte said, “I think it’s
important that this issue be kept in perspective.”
Bush reportedly has been weighing his military options for bombing Iran’s
nuclear facilities since early 2006. But he has encountered resistance from
the top U.S. military brass, much as he has with his plans to escalate U.S.
troop levels in Iraq.
As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker, a number of
senior U.S. military officers were troubled by administration war planners
who believed “bunker-busting” tactical nuclear weapons, known as B61-11s,
were the only way to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities buried deep
A former senior intelligence official told Hersh that the White House
refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they’re
shouted down,” the ex-official said. [New Yorker, April 17, 2006]
By late April 2006, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to
agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant
at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically
unacceptable, Hersh reported.
“Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear
planning,” one former senior intelligence official said. [New Yorker, July
Delegating to Israel
But one way to get around the opposition of the Joint Chiefs would be to
delegate the bombing operation to the Israelis. Given Israel’s powerful
lobbying operation in Washington and its strong ties to leading Democrats,
an Israeli-led attack might be more politically palatable with the Congress.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also has called the possibility of an
Iranian nuclear bomb an “existential threat” to Israel that cannot be
Bush’s tough talk about Iran also comes as Israel is reported stepping up
preparations for air strikes against Iran, possibly including the use of
tactical nuclear bombs, to destroy Natanz and other Iranian nuclear
The Sunday Times of London reported on Jan. 7 that two Israeli air squadrons
are training for the mission and “if things go according to plan, a pilot
will first launch a conventional laser-guided bomb to blow a shaft down
through the layers of hardened concrete [at Natanz]. Other pilots will then
be ready to drop low-yield one kiloton nuclear weapons into the hole.”
The Sunday Times wrote that Israel also would hit two other facilities — at
Isfahan and Arak — with conventional bombs. But the possible use of a
nuclear bomb at Natanz would represent the first nuclear attack since the
United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of World
War II six decades ago.
After the Sunday Times article appeared, an Israeli government spokesman
denied that Israel has drawn up secret plans to bomb Iranian nuclear
facilities. For its part, Iran claims it only wants a nuclear program for
While some observers believe Israel or the Bush administration may be
leaking details of the plans as a way to frighten Iran into accepting
international controls on its nuclear program, other sources indicate that
the preparations for a wider Middle Eastern war are very serious and moving
Without doubt, Bush’s actions in the past two months — reaffirming his
determination to succeed in Iraq and warning about a possible regional
explosion if he fails — suggest that his future course is an escalation of
the conflict, not some “graceful exit.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of
the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999
book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth.’
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