On Sept. 23, the neoconservative chiefs of the
Washington Post's editorial page mourned, in a tone much like what one
hears on the death of a close friend, that "a
military strike by the United States or Israel [on Iran is not] likely in the
coming months." One could almost hear a wistful sigh, as they complained
that efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program has "slipped down Washington's
list of priorities … as Iran races toward accumulating enough uranium for a
We are spared, this go-round, from "mushroom clouds." But racing
to a bomb? Never mind that the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community
concluded in a formal National Intelligence Estimate last November that work
on the nuclear weapons-related part of Iran's nuclear program was halted in
mid-2003. And never mind that Thomas Fingar, National Intelligence Director
Mike McConnell's deputy for national estimates, reiterated that judgment as
recently as Sept. 4. Never mind that the Post's own Walter Pincus reported
on Sept. 10 that Fingar added that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons
work. Hey, the editorial fellows know best.
The good news is that the bottom line of the Sept. 23 editorial marks one
of those rare occasions when the Post's opinion editors have managed
to reach a correct conclusion on the Middle East. It is true that the likelihood
of an Israeli or U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran has receded in recent months.
The more interesting questions are (1) why? And (2) under what circumstances
might such an attack become likely again?
The Post attributes the stepping back by Israel and the U.S. to "the
financial crisis and the worsening violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
These are two contributing factors but, in my judgment, not the most important
ones. Not surprisingly, the Post and other charter members of the Fawning
Corporate Media (FCM) omit or play down factors they would prefer not to address.
Russia and Deterrence
More important than the bear market is the Russian
bear that, after a 17-year hibernation, has awakened with loud growls commensurate
with Russia's growing strength and assertiveness. The catalyst was the fiasco
in Georgia, in which the Russians saw the hands of the neocons in Washington
and their doppelgänger, the extreme Right in Israel.
You would hardly know it from FCM coverage, but the fiasco began when Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his American- and Israeli-trained Georgian
armed forces to launch an attack on the city of Tskhinvali, capital of South
Ossetia, on the night of Aug. 6-7, killing not only many civilians but a number
of Russian observers as well.
It may be true that our State Department officials had counseled Saakashvili
against baiting the Russian bear, but it is abundantly clear to anyone paying
attention to such things that State is regularly undercut/overruled by White
House functionaries like arch-neocon Elliott F. Abrams (F. for Fiasco). His
encomia include those earned for his key role in other major fiascoes like
the one that brought about the unconscionable situation today in Gaza. (Would
that the president's father had let Abrams sit in jail, rather than pardoning
him after he was convicted for perjuring himself in testimony to Congress on
the Iran-Contra fiasco.)
In any event, it is almost certainly true that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin saw folks like Abrams, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their Israeli
counterparts as being behind the attack on South Ossetia. For centuries the
Russians have been concerned – call it paranoid – over threats coming from
their soft southern underbelly, and their reaction could have come as no surprise
to anyone familiar with Russian history – or, by analogy, those familiar with
American history and the Monroe Doctrine, for example.
Even neocon Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain
and former lobbyist for Georgia's Saakashvili, would have known that. And this
lends credence to speculation that that is precisely why Scheunemann is said
to have egged on the Georgian president. Russia's reaction was totally predictable,
and it enabled McCain to "stand up to Russia" with very strong rhetoric
and not-so-subtle suggestions that his foreign policy experience provides an
important advantage over his opponent in meeting the growing danger of a resurgent
Russia's leaders are likely to have seen in Saakashvili's provocation, in
the attempt to get NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, in the deployment
of anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, and in hasty U.S.
recognition of an independent Kosovo indignities that Russia should no longer
I can visualize Russian generals telling Putin:
Enough! Look at the weakened Americans. They have destroyed what's left
of their Army and Marine Corps, spreading them out and demoralizing them in
two unwinnable wars. We know how bad it is with just one unwinnable war. It
has not been that long since Afghanistan. But, Vladimir Vladimirovich, before
we indulge ourselves with schadenfreude, consider what such actions betoken
– total recklessness of a kind we have seen only rarely in Washington.
Who can assure us that "the crazies" – the Cheney-Abrams-Bush
cabal – will not encourage the Israelis to precipitate the kind of armed provocation
vis-à-vis Iran that would "justify" America's springing to
the defense of its "ally" to bomb and missile-attack Iran? You are
aware of the importance of the Israel lobby, and how American politicians vie
with one another to prove themselves the most passionately in love with Israel.
Periodic attempts by Congress to require President Bush to seek congressional
approval before ordering a strike on Iran have failed miserably. So his hands
are free for another "preemptive war" before he leaves office. After
all, Bush has publicly promised the Israelis he will deal with the "Iranian
threat" before then. Besides, our political analysts suggest that Bush
and Cheney might think that wider war would help the Republicans in the November
No big bear likes to have its nose tweaked. But the Russian reaction to Georgia
was not merely one of pique. It became a well-planned strategic move to disabuse
Israel and the United States of the notion that Russia would sit still for
an attack on Iran, a very important country in Russia's general neighborhood.
After Georgia, the Russians were bent on sweeping such plans "off the
table," so to speak, and seem to have succeeded.
The signs of new Russian assertiveness are in the public domain, although
the FCM has not given them much prominence. What is more telling is the effect
on Israel and the United States. Since early August there has been a sharp
decline in the formulaic rhetoric against Iran's "path toward nuclear
weapons," especially among U.S. policymakers and in American media following
the conflict in Georgia and the expiration of the latest "ultimatum"
served on Iran to stop its nuclear program.
The change in official Israeli statements was the most pronounced. After a
consistently hawkish stance toward Iran, Israel's president, Shimon Peres told
London's Sunday Times in early September:
"There are two ways [to deal with Iran's nuclear threat]; a military
and a civilian way. I don't believe in the military option – any kind of military
option … an attack can trigger a bigger war."
And then came the bombshell from Ehud Olmert in his valedictory interview
appearing in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Sept. 29. Olmert argued
that Israel had lost its "sense of proportion" in believing it could
deal with Iran militarily.
Not Russia Alone
It is a curious twist, but to their great credit,
senior military officers Adm. William Fallon, who quit rather than let himself
be on the receiving end of an order to attack Iran, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fought and continue to fight a rearguard action
against the dreams and plans of "the crazies" in the White House
to attack Iran. Fallon famously declared that the U.S. military was not going
to "do Iran on my watch" as commander of Centcom.
In addition to his outspoken opposition to opening a "third front"
in the area of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen has done much behind the scenes
to talk sense into the Israelis. From the Israeli press we know that Mullen
went so far as to warn his Israeli counterparts not to even think about another
incident like the one on June 8, 1967, when Israeli jets and torpedo boats
deliberately did their utmost to sink the intelligence collector USS Liberty
off the Sinai coast.
A gutsy move. The Israelis know that Mullen knows that that attack was deliberate
– not some sort of unfortunate mistake. Mullen could have raised no more neuralgic
an issue in taking a shot across any Israeli bow that might be thinking of
a provocation of some sort in the Persian Gulf.
Hats off to the new admirals… who outshine predecessor admirals who bowed
to pressure from President Lyndon Johnson to portray the Israeli air and torpedo
strikes on the USS Liberty, which took the lives of 34 U.S. sailors
and wounded more than 170 others, as a mistake in the fog of war – despite
unimpeachable evidence it was deliberate.
Hats off, too, to the grassroots movements that succeeded in quashing resolutions
in both houses of Congress calling for the equivalent of a blockade of Iran.
Several members actually withdrew their earlier sponsorship of the resolution
in the wake of public pressure. Many of them came to realize that facilitating
a new war might make them vulnerable to charges of poor judgment – the kind
of charges that sabotaged Sen. Hillary Clinton, who, ironically, thought she
had done the politically smart thing in voting to give the president authority
to attack Iraq.
Not Completely Out of the Woods
There remain as many "crazies" among
the Israeli leadership as there are here in Washington – crazies who continue
to believe that Iran must be attacked while the going is good. And it will
never be as good as it is with Bush and Cheney in the White House. If the Randy
Scheunemanns of this world are capable of goading the likes of Saakashvili
into irresponsible action, they can try to do the same with a wink and a nod
to the crazies in Tel Aviv.
The fact that the McCain/Palin campaign seems to be in serious jeopardy provides
still more incentive for recklessness. If, as all seem to agree, a terrorist
event of some kind might give the edge to McCain, many could argue that the
same result could be achieved by a wider war including Iran, requiring the
senior, seasoned leadership of one who has "worn the uniform."
And there is still more incentive for Bush and Cheney to look with favor on
an attack on Iran… very personal incentive. It is a safe bet that if John McCain
loses, Bush and Cheney and others will be plagued by various legal actions
against them for the war crimes for which they are clearly responsible. Such
would also be possible under a President McCain or Palin – but much less likely.
But attacking Iran would be crazy, you say. Not for nothing have many of the
folks around Bush and Cheney been referred to as "the crazies" since
the early Eighties. Some are still there; and they do things.
In April 2006, one of my Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
colleagues, in a conversation with Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, asked the general
if he thought the U.S. or the U.S.-cum-Israel would attack Iran. Zinni shook
his head vigorously, saying, "That would be crazy." Then he stopped
and quickly added that we are dealing with "the crazies."
This article first appeared on ConsortiumNews.com.