At 10:16 p.m. on March 19, 2003, after copious
military preparations in the Persian Gulf region and beyond, after months of
diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations, after a drumbeat of leaked intelligence
warnings and hair-raising statements by top U.S. officials and the president
about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how close Saddam Hussein might be
to developing a nuclear weapon, after declaring Saddam's regime a major threat
to Americans, after countless insinuations that it was somehow connected to
the 9/11 attacks on our country, after endless denials that war with Iraq was
necessarily on the administration's agenda, President George W. Bush addressed
the nation from the Oval Office. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this
hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations
to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger…"
Almost four years later, all the above elements are again in place, this time
in relation to Iran – with Iranian responsibility for the deaths of Americans
in Iraq replacing Iraqi responsibility for the deaths of Americans in New York
and Washington. On a careful reading of our president's latest speeches and
statements, Michael Klare has noted that an actual list of charges against Iran,
a case for war, has already essentially been drawn up, making it easy enough
to imagine that at 10:16 p.m. on some night not so very distant from this one,
from that same desk in the Oval Office, the president of the United States might
again begin, "My fellow citizens, at this hour…" But read on for yourself. Tom
Bush's Future Iran War Speech
Three charges in the case for war
by Michael T. Klare
Sometime this spring or summer, barring an unexpected
turnaround by Tehran, President Bush is likely to go on national television
and announce that he has ordered American ships and aircraft to strike at military
targets inside Iran. We must still sit through several months of soap opera
at the United Nations in New York and assorted foreign capitals before this
comes to pass, and it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will
occur – let it be so! – but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an
attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy
his European allies. The proof of this, I believe, lies half-hidden in recent
public statements of his, which, if pieced together, provide a casus belli,
or formal list of justifications, for going to war.
Three of his statements, in particular, contained the essence of this justification:
his Jan. 10 televised speech on his plan for a troop "surge" in Iraq, his State
of the Union Address of Jan. 23, and his first televised press conference of
the year on Feb. 14. None of these was primarily focused on Iran, but the president
used each of them to warn of the extraordinary dangers that country poses to
the United States and to hint at severe U.S. reprisals if the Iranians did not
desist from "harming U.S. troops." In each, moreover, he laid out various parts
of the overall argument he will certainly use to justify an attack on Iran.
String these together in one place and you can almost anticipate what Bush's
speechwriters will concoct before he addresses the American people from the
Oval Office sometime later this year. Think of them as talking points for the
The first of these revealing statements was Bush's Jan. 10 televised
address on Iraq. This speech was supposedly intended to rally public and
congressional support behind his plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops
into the Iraqi capital and al-Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency.
But his presentation that night was so uninspired, so lacking in conviction,
that – according to media commentary and polling data – few, if any, Americans
were persuaded by his arguments. Only once that evening did Bush visibly come
alive: When he spoke about the threat to Iraq supposedly posed by Iran.
"Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing
the region in the face of extremist challenges," he declared, which meant, he
assured his audience, addressing the problem of Iran. That country, he asserted,
"is providing material support for attacks on American troops." (This support
was later identified as advanced improvised explosive devices – IEDs or roadside
bombs – given to anti-American Shi'ite militias.) Then followed an unambiguous
warning: "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces…. And we will seek out and
destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies
Consider this item one in his casus belli: Because Iran is
aiding and abetting our enemies in Iraq, we are justified in attacking Iran
as a matter of self-defense.
Bush put it this way in an interview with Juan
Williams of National Public Radio on Jan. 29: "If Iran escalates its military
action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people,
we will respond firmly…. It makes common sense for the commander in chief to
say to our troops and the Iraqi people – and the Iraqi government – that we
will help you defend yourself from people that want to sow discord and harm."
In his Jan. 10 address, the president went on to fill in a second item in any
future casus belli: Iran is seeking nuclear weapons in order to dominate
the Middle East to the detriment of our friends in the region – a goal that
it simply cannot be allowed to achieve.
In response to such a possibility, the president declared, "We're also taking
other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in
the Middle East." These included deploying a second U.S. aircraft carrier battle
group to the Gulf region, consisting of the USS John C. Stennis and a
flotilla of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines (presumably to provide additional
air and missile assets for strikes on Iran), along with additional Patriot anti-missile
batteries (presumably to shoot down any Iranian missiles that might be fired
in retaliation for an air attack on the country and its nuclear facilities).
"And," Bush added, "we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear
weapons and dominating the region."
Bush added a third item to the casus belli in his State
of the Union Address on Jan. 23. After years of describing Saddam Hussein
and al-Qaeda as the greatest threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East, he
now introduced a new menace: the resurgent Shia branch of Islam led by Iran.
Aside from al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists, he explained, "it
has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists
who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the
Middle East." Many of these extremists, he noted, "are known to take direction
from the regime in Iran," including the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
As if to nail down this point, he offered some hair-raising imagery right out
of the Left Behind best-selling book series so beloved of Christian evangelicals
and their neoconservative allies: "If American forces step back [from Iraq]
before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists
on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed
by Iran, and Sunni extremists backed by al-Qaeda and supporters of the old regime.
A contagion of violence could spill across the country, and in time the entire
region could be drawn into the conflict. For America, this is a nightmare scenario.
For the enemy, this is the objective."
As refined by Bush speechwriters, this, then, is the third item
in his casus belli for attacking Iran: to prevent a "nightmare scenario"
in which the Shia leaders of Iran might emerge as the grand masters of regional
instability, using proxies like Hezbollah to imperil Israel and pro-American
regimes in Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia – with potentially catastrophic
consequences for the safety of Middle Eastern oil supplies. You can be sure
of what Bush will say to this in his future address: No American president
would ever allow such a scenario to come to pass.
Many of these themes were reiterated in the president's White House
Day press conference. Once again, Iraq was meant to be the main story,
but Iran captured all the headlines.
Bush's most widely cited comments on Iran focused on claims of Iranian
involvement in the delivery of sophisticated versions of the roadside IEDs
that have been responsible for many of the U.S. casualties in recent months.
Just a few days earlier, unidentified American military officials in Baghdad
had declared that elements of the Iranian military – specifically, the Quds
Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – were supplying the deadly devices
to Shiite militias in Iraq, and that high-ranking Iranian government officials
were aware of the deliveries. These claims were contested by other U.S. officials
and members of Congress who expressed doubt about the reliability of the evidence
and the intelligence work behind it, but Bush evinced no such uncertainty:
"What we do know is that the Quds force was instrumental in providing
these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know
that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known."
What is not known, he continued, is just how high up in the Iranian
government went the decision-making that led such IEDs to be delivered to the
Shia militias in Iraq. But that doesn't matter, he explained. "What matters
is, is that they're there…. [W]e know they're there, and we're going to protect
our troops." As commander in chief, he insisted, he would "do what is necessary
to protect our soldiers in harm's way."
He then went on to indicate that "the biggest problem I see is the
Iranians' desire to have a nuclear weapon." He expressed his wish that this
problem can be "dealt with" in a peaceful way – by the Iranians voluntarily
agreeing to cease their program to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.
But he also made it clear that the onus was purely on Tehran to take the necessary
action to avoid unspecified harm: "I would like to be at the – have been
given a chance for us to explain that we have no desire to harm the Iranian
No reporters at the press conference asked him to explain this odd twist of
phrase, delivered in the past tense, about his regret that he was unable to
explain to the Iranian people why he had meant them no harm – presumably after
the fact. However, if you view this as the Bush version of a Freudian slip,
one obvious conclusion can be drawn: that the president has already made the
decision to begin the countdown for an attack on Iran, and only total capitulation
by the Iranians could possibly bring the process to a halt.
Further evidence for this conclusion is provided by Bush's repeated reference
to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
On three separate occasions during the press conference he praised Russia, China,
and the "EU3" – Britain, France, and Germany – for framing the Dec. 23 Security
condemning Iran's nuclear activities and imposing economic sanctions on Iran
in the context of Chapter 7 – that is, of "Action with Respect to Threats to
the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression."
This sets the stage for the international community, under UN leadership, to
take such steps as may be deemed necessary "to maintain or restore international
peace and stability," ranging from mild economic sanctions to full-scale war
(steps that are described in Articles 39 to 51). But the Dec. 23 resolution
was specifically framed under Article 41, which entails "measures not involving
the use of armed force," a stipulation demanded by China and Russia, which
have categorically ruled out the use of military force to resolve the nuclear
dispute with Iran.
One suspects that President Bush has Chapter 7 on the brain because
he now intends to ask for a new resolution under Article 42, which allows
the use of military force to restore international peace and stability. But
it is nearly inconceivable that Russia and China would approve such a resolution.
Such approval would also be tantamount to acknowledging
American hegemony worldwide, and this is something they are simply unwilling
So we can expect several months of fruitless diplomacy at the United
Nations in which the United States may achieve slightly more severe economic
sanctions under Chapter 41 but not approval for military action under Chapter
42. Bush knows that this is the inevitable outcome, and so I am convinced
that, in his various speeches and meetings with reporters, he is already preparing
the way for a future address to the nation. In it, he will speak somberly
of a tireless American effort to secure a meaningful resolution from the United
Nations on Iran with real teeth in it and his deep disappointment that no
such resolution has been not forthcoming. He will also point out that, despite
the heroic efforts of American diplomats as well as military commanders in
Iraq, Iran continues to pose a vital and unchecked threat to American security
in Iraq, in the region, and even – via its nuclear program – in the wider
Further diplomacy, he will insist, appears futile and yet Iran must
be stopped. Hence, he will say, "I have made the unavoidable decision to eliminate
this vital threat through direct military action," and will announce – in
language eerily reminiscent of his address to the nation on March 19, 2003
– that a massive air offensive against Iran has already been underway for
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire
College and the defense correspondent of the Nation magazine. He is the
author, most recently, of Blood
and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported
Petroleum (Owl Books).
Copyright 2007 Michael T. Klare