Is Steve Clemons Right? — Will Bush Bomb Iran?

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Steve Clemons’ article this week in Salon, “Why Bush won’t attack Iran,” offers, I think, a helpful corrective to what has been the growing conviction that has gripped anti-war critics and others that the administration is consciously moving toward war with Iran, possibly imminently. I think Steve’s analysis, which should be read carefully and in full, is very sound, although I’m not quite as persuaded as he appears to be that Bush fully understands or absorbs some of the potential costs of a military attack.

I would add to his analysis some of my own recent observations and concerns.

First, I was very struck by a Brookings briefing paper by Peter Rodman released in June, “Countering Iran’s Revolutionary Challenge,” in which he took the hawks’ standard position on Iran – viewing it as an ideological, revolutionary regime that should be changed and whose acquisition of nuclear weapons is “not acceptable” – but concluded that a future administration will have to deal with it.

“Organizing a counter-strategy will be one of the most important tasks on the next Administration’s agenda. It will be able to build on the policies of its predecessors. Iran’s nuclear challenge may prove to be the forcing event; if Iran continues its defiance, then the international community will need to find ways to increase pressures. The time may soon come for us to play offense, not only defense, pressing harder against the regime’s internal vulnerabilities.”

Rodman, of course, was Rumsfeld’s assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and, while not a hard-line neo-conservative by any means (indeed, he began his career as a protégé of Henry Kissinger), his ties to the neo-cons, – and other hawks within the administration, including the vice president’s office – have been close. (He was one of the charter signatories of the Project for the New American Century of its letter urging the ouster of Saddam Hussein back in 1998.)

It appears then that, at least as of last May-June – that is, just about the time that David Wurmser was shopping his “end run” scenario for forcing Bush into an attack on Iran (and voicing his boss’ conclusion that Bush opposed war), as described by Steve – Rodman had also concluded that an attack was unlikely before the end of Bush’s term.

2) Like Steve, I also believe that Gates, the Joint Chiefs (particularly the incoming chairman), and the CentCom commander, Adm. William Fallon, are quite strongly opposed to getting into a war with Iran, that, unlike some of their predecessors, they will not be shy about voicing that opposition to Bush himself, and that, ultimately, they will be more influential with respect to any such decision than Rice or other “engagers.” Much of that assessment is based not only on Gates’ past support for engaging Iran and his participation in the Iraq Study Group, as well as published reports and his efforts to tone down provocative charges against Iran by military officers in Iraq, but also on anecdotes about some of the key people from their friends and acquaintances one picks up here and there in Washington. Of course, Gates still suffers in the White House from being perceived as “Daddy’s boy” by Bush and certainly by Cheney, but, if he’s backed up by men with lots of ribbons on their chests, he becomes much harder to dismiss. At this point, I think the Pentagon brass poses the biggest challenge to those in the administration who want to attack Iran, and I think David Ignatius’ disclosure in an important column, “Cooling the Clash with Iran,” last weekend that U.S. military commanders in the Gulf are pushing for an “incidents at sea” agreement with Iran speaks volumes.

Even Gen. Petraeus, of whose integrity Adm. Fallon apparently does not think too highly, as my colleague, Gareth Porter, recently discovered, has had some interesting things to say about what Iran is doing or not doing in Iraq. While much media attention was focused on his charges that Tehran is conducting a “proxy war” there against the U.S., he also volunteered during his testimony the surprising observation that “the Quds Force itself – we believe, by (and) large, those individuals have been pulled out of the country, as have the Lebanese Hezbollah trainers that were being used to augment that activity.” Those remarks, if an accurate assessment, may, of course, reflect more the possibility that Iran itself is becoming more cautious in Iraq in hopes of easing tensions, but the fact that they he volunteered them – in answer to a question by Rep. Duncan Hunter, no less – struck me as significant and deserving of more attention and exploration. (I note that a suspected Quds officer was reportedly arrested by U.S. military forces today in Kurdistan, although two of his companions were immediately released and there is some question as to whether it was another case of mistaken identity.)

3) None of the above is meant to convey confidence that Bush will still not decide to go to war before the end of his term, particularly given the possibility, as Steve points out, of an “accidental war” or even an “end run” a la Wurmser (who, I heard earlier this month, is still working in Cheney’s office). I agree very much with Pat Lang’s analysis of Steve’s article in which acknowledges that Steve’s “discussion of the ongoing argument within policy circles …is reasonably accurate,” but that ‘’it is also irrelevant (because) (o)nly the decider will decide. He will decide with the help and advice of his pal, ‘just plain Dick,’ and after the ‘Italian letter’ crowd have done their worst.”

4) Indeed, while Cheney’s voice – much amplified by John Bolton in recent days – seems to have been resolutely ignored by Bush over North Korea where the State Department remains very much in control, the vice president clearly considers the Middle East a higher priority for whatever influence he still wields. Moreover, his neo-conservative backers, who have been pre-occupied for the past three months with ensuring that the Surge not be compromised by Congress, have yet to launch the kind of orchestrated campaign that led up to the Iraq war. With the Surge seemingly assured as a result of this week’s defeat of the Webb amendment and the White House’s success in keeping Republicans in line, the “war party” may feel that they can now focus to a much greater extent on building the case for attacking Iran. Obviously, some seeds have already been planted – although not yet systematically cultivated – over the last two months: notably, Iran’s alleged role in EFG and other attacks against U.S. forces in Iran and NATO in Afghanistan (I just received today an update from the somewhat lethargic Committee on the Present Danger entitled “Iran’s Other Proxy War Against the West: Tehran’s Troublemaking in Afghanistan”), not to mention its ongoing nuclear program. With the Surge debate out of the way, I expect that those seeds to be vigorously watered and fertilized. Note, for example, the conclusion of the lead editorial in this week’s Weekly Standard about the Surge debate, “Men At Work, Children At Play,” by Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol: “We cannot allow Iraq’s neighbors a free hand at strengthening the forces of terror even as we work to subdue them. …Given the drawdown, and given the emphasis General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker put on the damage done by these outside actors, especially Iran, in fanning the violence in Iraq, we expect that the Bush administration will now turn its attention more directly to this critical problem.”

5) Finally, like the balance of power between hawks and realists here, much depends on the balance between similar forces in Tehran. Debate among Iran specialists continues to rage over the meaning of the recent shake-ups in the Revolutionary Guard and the election of former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani to the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts and how they affect that balance. Partially in that connection, last week’s article by Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii on Juan Cole’s new Informed Comment Global Affairs is definitely worth a read.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

  • No Exit

    I read somewhere that Ohlmert was pressing Bush for a committment to launch airstrikes against Iran before his term in office ends.

    Although Bush failed to provide the personal guarantee, he didn’t say no.

    Ultimately it will be cheney who makes the final decision and I think he will pull the trigger before the withdrawl happens so as to have the maximum number of troops on the ground.

    As we have seen in the past, no one’s vote counts but Cheney’s and he’s got nothing to lose…

    david-sullivan.blogspot.com is my blog where i too discuss politics and history…

  • Well, as least Jim provides a more balanced view of the situation than Clemons does.

    Colonel Pat Lang is basically right – given Bush’s sole authority over the issue, and his history of making every single possible wrong decision, how can anyone sit back and make the claim that Bush simply will not attack Iran?

    It’s just ridiculous.

    What it really is that people are in denial – even people who should know better because of the fact that they were antiwar and anti-Bush and anti-Neocon to begin with. It’s purely a case of cognitive dissonance – people simply cannot believe that this government, already mired in the worst losing war in US history, is prepared to start one which will be four to ten times worse.

    But this government is prepared to do that.

    As for Admiral Fallon, he is currently touring the ME urging the Arab governments to make a united front against Iran – which has done nothing to deserve that, and for which he has zero credibility to even recommend it – while at the same time issuing statements about how it is “known” that Iran is supplying weapons, IEDs and training to the Iraqi insurgents and Shia militias in Iraq.

    That reads to me like a guy who has realized he has two choices: 1) support the war in Iran; or 2) resign his military career – as he had threatened to do. But I suspect he is coming to realize that he really IS going to have to end his career because Bush IS going to do it. So now HE is in a state of cognitive dissonance – issuing lies for the benefit of Bush, while maintaining that there will be no war on his watch.

    That doesn’t make me trust Fallon much.

    Petraeus’s statements about the Quds force in Iraq doesn’t help, either. Because the bottom line is that Petraeus lied about the situation in Iraq, and he’s lied about Iran. Why then should his doubts about an upcoming Iran war be relevant?

    All these Pentagon generals have two choices: 1) support Bush; 2) quit.

    And even if the Joint Chiefs were to resign in mass when Bush orders them to attack Iran – and believe me, to believe that would occur is really stretching faith in human nature – it should be obvious that there will be dozens of other generals just waiting to step into their shoes, salute smartly, and start the war.

    Therefore, none of the stuff being written about how there are forces acting against the war is relevant. There were forces acting against the Iraq war – it happened anyway.

    The fundamental mistake is to believe that Bush, Cheney, and the rest are operating on some basis that is similar to the feelings of the commentators, i.e., that Bush, Cheney, et al are somehow “rational actors” who really have an interest in the future of this country.

    Get a clue, folks. They aren’t.

    They’re war profiteers and war criminals driven by a need for power, money, and world domination. They are JUST as irrational as the Iranian Ayatollahs – and they don’t even have a religion to justify it except the religion of power and money.

    You CANNOT assume these people will make rational calculations outside of their personal interests. The “mad mullahs” of Iran have no desire for suicide. Therefore their personal interests will prevent them from starting a nuclear war against Israel or anyone else. However, the people running the US have NO personal liability involved. Short of starting a nuclear war with Russia, there is little likelihood that their lives, property or political or commercial futures will be seriously affected whether they attack Iran or not. So why should they bother weighing the effects on the US military, or the US economy, or even the US geopolitical stance, when they personally can benefit from another war?

    You cannot compare the two situations. An irrational state actor has to be assessed based on the reality of his vulnerability. The Iranians are vulnerable. Bush and Cheney are not.

    That is what makes Bush and Cheney far more dangerous than Saddam or Kim or Khamenei.

  • Pingback: Political Waves » Mirrors and Madness()

  • Kian Kiani

    Voice of America and Fiasco at Persian Service.

    As a native born Iranian, I would like to suggest that there is no need to attack Iran militarily if the Bush administration pays attention to those who know the situation and use the awesome power of publicity instead of military.
    Millions of dollars are spent in Persian Service of Voice of America but the end result is nothing but scandalous way of management and programming.
    It is hard to believe but the Persian Service which supposed to be an organization to convey the policy of the U.S. has become a free platform for hard-line terrorist group of communists who attack the United Sates!
    I have the documents in writings to prove that these were done with the knowledge of the management.
    I used to work there and as I said before, I have all the documents in writings.
    The manager is a woman called Sheila Gandji who can not read and write Persian. Therefore, in order to hide this shortcoming from the higher management, she has hired an eighty something man called Kambiz Mahmoudi who has a lengthy background as crook and in charlatanism.
    Don’t think that this is a personal vendetta.
    Let me quote you a view from another media:
    “The Iran Steering group concluded that much of the anti-American perspective that is broadcast is the result of decisions made by station managers in Washington D.C. and Prague. Sheila Gandji, the manager of Persian service has faced sharp criticism, particularly for her decision to stop VOA shortwave radio program in July, 2006 in order to focus on television broadcasts, which are more susceptible to censorship, since the government regularly confiscates satellites dishes in order to prevent the infiltration of foreign broadcasts.”
    The bizarre situation at the Persian Service of Voice of America caused the Republican Senator Coburn to write a long letter to President Bush about the fiasco there.
    It is only in America where the government pays to be insulted. Really, why voice of America is doing this harm to our nation?
    Do you want more information? Write me: ijadi14@yahoo.com

  • Louis Massano

    The United States may not attack Iran with the kind of all-out attack suggested by recent articles in the press – for example the Telegraph article on September 17, “Bush Setting Up America for War with Iran,” at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/16/wiran116.xml or as apparently suggested in Steve Clemons’ “Salon” magazine item.

    But there is also possibility of so-called “surgical” attacks aimed at a relatively few targets Bush and company will (after the strikes) claim were being used by Iran for nuclear weapons development. Such attacks as in the case of the Tonkin Gulf incidents, could be a method to “ramp up” hostilities with Iran -once Iran responds in kind, as any Iranian government would have to do in order to maintain its domestic and international prestige and credibility.

    Bear in mind – this is an aside, but one very relevant to the final outcome, at least as the large multinational oil companies are concerned – that every time aggression by the U.S. against Iran seems like a serious threat, the price of oil spikes – just as it has after the most recent bout of reciprocal sabre-rattling which began about a week or so ago.

    And higher oil prices benefit both Iran and Bush’s oil company cronies. (With a war in progress, presumably only the oil companies would benefit by hyperinflated oil prices.)

    My own gut feeling is that Bush will not leave office without beginning major military hostilities at some point with Iran. He and his militaristic advisors -an no matter what anyone says, they are the only advisors whose advice he’s ever heeded – very likely fear that any Democratic administration which may succeed him in the federal executive is unlikely to provoke such hostilities.

    Bear in mind too that the Pentagon gains as the U.S. gets involved in more warmaking – the U.S. Military-Industrial-National-Security complex is a permanent feature of the D.C. political landscapse: Democrats must appease its insatiable appetite for international aggression even as must the political right in the U.S.

    Since Bush took office, for the first time in our history, the Pentagon has taken over near total control of U.S. foreign policy. No one takes seriously Condi Rice’s galavanting around the world anymore – if indeed anyone ever did.

    Remember how Ronald Reagan began the trend of the militarization of White House policy by bringing in uniformed military people like Ollie North into the White House for the first time in our history as White House advisors? This tendency has only gotten worse since then, especially since Bush Jr. came to power.

    In a more democratic U.S., 20 years ago, and even a bit under Clinton’s eight years of bungling misrule, the State Department occasionally came in for criticism from both parties. But almost never the Defense Department – wrapped as it is in the American flag – and after Bush, now holding over the head of every American, in and out of government, the threat of a domestic military dictatorship if either the congress or the executive makes the “wrong decisions.”

    On the other hand, the Democratic Party has always gone along with every major act of international aggression inaugurated by a Republican president since Ronald Reagan took office – but it has done so in “rubber stamp” fashion, which is to say, only after that act of aggression was seen by any sensible person as inevitable or was completely in motion.

    And all that is why sooner or later the United States will attempt to provoke a war with Iran while George W. Bush is president.

    • John Lowell

      “What it really is that people are in denial – even people who should know better because of the fact that they were antiwar and anti-Bush and anti-Neocon to begin with. It’s purely a case of cognitive dissonance – people simply cannot believe that this government, already mired in the worst losing war in US history, is prepared to start one which will be four to ten times worse.”

      Not so sure of this interpretation, Louis. Where you see denial, I see agreement. Who among the Democrats, for example, would be apt to raise questions after the resolution which passed so easily against Iran earlier in the year. And if there is genuine disagreement anywhere among them, AIPAC money is sure to fix that. There are few that will resist in any important way when the time comes, and that because of what they perceive as being in their self-interest. Always remember that you are dealing with vermin when you have a “public servant” in your sights.

      John Lowell

  • Ken

    Former Mexican President Fox: Bush is the “cockiest guy that I have ever known”. The word “Cocky” has a lot of sexual intonations and I doubt that Bush is a lover so can we substitute “arrogant”? It is easy to be that way when you are a spoiled half-pint with a platoon of SS agents protecting you 24-7. Cheney plays Bush like a Strad and Cheney wants WWIII. Common sense has nothing to do with it, Bush will give the order…

  • MMir

    I agree with Lobe and most of the skeptical posters.

    Amazing times when a skeptic is the one who thinks W will attack Iran in the next 12 months.

    But one irrevocable fact stands out from the empirical notes of Klein. The Pentagon and war analysts are genuinely unsure and worried about militarily taking on Iran.

    The odds are that W will choose war.

    But I am predicting a stunning upset. And that will be a good thing.

  • 1984

    There's no way the PNAC people stop it's will to further occupy more countries, and Iran has for long been seen as important.

  • Max

    You and Clemons are deep denial rationalists on the level of Neville Champerlain.
    You lack the needed the intuition to grasp you have a megalomaniacal psychopath as the POTUS, and nothing short of a military coup d’ etat can stop the evil of a pre-emptive war against Iran.
    Your inability to comprehend evil and the power of its momentum is both destructive to the anti-war movement and an enabler for Bush.
    i tell you there will be an vicious dark evil pre-emptive war started by the U.S. and one the guarantees of this is the rational analyzers like you and Clemons that think of all these reasons why this war won’t happen as you fail to grasp you are dealing with a Hitlertarian-similitude group of thugs and they are NOT going away.
    i view your , “let’s not get alarmed”, as cowardice.
    The rational intellectual is oft(not always) a weeny when it comes to confronting hard realities.
    i applaud Craig Paul Roberts and Justin Raimondo that have both the intelleclect and the INTUITION to see what is coming hard upon us.
    Read the Black Swan to understand why you and Clemons are so predictable, it is called the power of DENIAL, and it is commonplace.
    As for an anti-war movement, look i am a hardcore radical activist from the late 50s to late 70s and i can assure you the anti-war movement now is both gutless and useless.
    And you and Clemons are a big part as to why.
    The shame on you in the future will be the same shame as that of the died in disgrace PM N.Champerlain.
    i hope you save this e-mail so you can read again after the Bush and Thugs attack Iran.Max p.s.Wake Up!!!

    • Marycatherine Barton

      You are so right, Max. The people from the so-called anti-war movement that comes closest to not being gutless and useless is PinkCode 4 Peace. As you say, all of this so-called rational thinkers who conclude that no, our obscene federal government will not attack Iranian are nuts. Like you said, Roberts, Raimondo, and I add you, Max, are my heroes.

  • Pingback: Build Your Life To Order ™ | How to Develop Understanding - Fast!()

  • michael krug

    Unfortunately I think there are far more signs that Bush plans to attack Iran, than the opposite. So, on balance, I think we’re heading for war – again! I say war, because an attack to neutralize Iran’s nuclear programme may well escalate into something far worse – war with Iran that may even go nuclear. This sounds dramatic, however, it would be foolish to discount the risk of the US sliding into a nuclear conflict with Iran.

    What happens if Iran doesn’t just take the air attack on the chin and launches a massive wave of retaliation against US forces in the Gulf and in Iraq? They could do a lot of damaged to US ships in the Gulf. How will the US react to Iran sinking American warships? What about if they damange or even destroy an aircraft carrier? How will US public opinion respond to this? All mainstream US politicians are hostile Iran. How will the current crop of candidates for President react to Iranian retaliation?

    Bush is more or less unstopable now. We are on a hair-trigger for war with Iran. If he chooses to attack who could stop him? No one, because there isn’t time with only a few days notice. Bush regards stopping Iran for getting their hands on nuclear weapons as his sacred duty, part of his destiny and his legacy to the world. So let’s all hope he changes his mind before it’s too late, thought I wouldn’t bet the farm on it! What is really scary, is that in reality it’s all up to him. It’s his call.

  • Andrew P

    I’m wondering – what deterrent power does Iran have? Do they have biological weapons that could wipe us out? I suspect they would release such stuff if the regime knew that it was going down. Its Hezbollah proxies would take vials of their worst agents to US public places such as airports, shopping malls, etc, and break them. How reasonable is it that Iran has such weapons? Very. The USSR developed doomsday bioweapons in the last years of the empire. A lot of Soviet scientists went to work for Iran after the USSR fell in 1991.

  • Kiwi

    re: “biological weapons”

    White House locked down…

    The Secret Service put the White House on the new, high-level, code “brown” alert yesterday when a strange substance was found on the ground in the Rose Garden area. Senior officials, on the condition of anonymity, initially said the the strange material appeared to be Iranian or North Korean in origin. President Bush and V.P. Cheney were hustled away to their underground bunker as a safety precaution. A sample was sent to the FBI labs for analysis and although it is unverified, an unnamed official said that the tests revealed it was an old piece of Barney’s morning business. President Bush refused comment and left on Marine One for his Ranch in Texas where he planned to clear brush over the weekend. combined services

  • Kian Kiani

    Voice of America and Fiasco at Persian Service.
    Millions of dollars are spent in Persian Service of Voice of America but the end result is nothing but scandalous way of management and programming.
    It is hard to believe but the Persian Service which supposed to be an organization to convey the policy of the U.S. has become a free platform for hard-line terrorist group of communists who attack the United Sates!
    I have the documents in writings to prove that these were done with the knowledge of the management.
    I used to work there and as I said before, I have all the documents in writings.
    The manager is a woman called Sheila Gandji who can not read and write Persian. Therefore, in order to hide this shortcoming from the higher management, she has hired an eighty something man called Kambiz Mahmoudi who has a lengthy background as crook and in charlatanism.
    You expect a doctor to be in charge of a medical clinic. You expect an engineer to be in charge of an engineering department. You expect a plumber to fix your plumbing.
    So why you expect a person who has no education in Iran or the language of that country should be in charge of publicity, literature or politic for such important position?
    Sheila Gandji falsely pretended and presented herself as educated with background in journalism. These are all fabrications. Nobody in Iranian communities inside or outside has any knowledge about her being a journalist then and now.
    Her partner, Kambiz Mahmoudi is a hateful and despicable person whose activities as crook are widely known through out Iran. Can’t the U.S. government appoint somebody without such shameful background?
    Don’t think that this is a personal vendetta.
    Let me quote you a view from another media:
    “The Iran Steering group concluded that much of the anti-American perspective that is broadcast is the result of decisions made by station managers in Washington D.C. and Prague. Sheila Gandji, the manager of Persian service has faced sharp criticism, particularly for her decision to stop VOA shortwave radio program in July, 2006 in order to focus on television broadcasts, which are more susceptible to censorship, since the government regularly confiscates satellites dishes in order to prevent the infiltration of foreign broadcasts.”
    The bizarre situation at the Persian Service of Voice of America caused the Republican Senator Coburn to write a long letter to President Bush about the fiasco there.
    It is only in America where the government pays to be insulted. Really, why
    Voice of America is doing this harm to our nation?
    Do you want more information? Write me: ijadi14@yahoo.com

  • Ames Tiedeman

    I predict we bomb Iran in Q2, 2008.

  • Marycatherine Barton

    I have concluded that the only way possibly to prevent Bush/Cheney from attacking Iranians is if Israel/AIPAC asks them not to, or at least stops pressuring them and the evils in Congress to, and that the only way to pressure this Lobby and Israel to so stop is via the Jewish people letting them know that there will be a dire price to pay if they don’t. Please contact all the Jewish people you know, especially those who are influential, and plead with them to take such a strong stand and diligently lobby Israel and the Lobby to back off or they will withhold all their support from them in a big way, to put it mildly.

  • ron

    If Bush bombs Iran, McCain can pack it in. I say stop Iran, or slow them down. Iran is taking part in killing U.S. troops. This has to STOP!!!