The parallels between the Bush Administration’s approach to Iran as the latter steams ahead to create a nuclear weapon and its approach to Saddam Hussein in the runup to the Iraq war are eerie, ominous and frightening. First, Bush appears to give diplomacy a chance by working with the UN and allies to influence the other side’s bad behavior. But all along, Bush is vigorously pursuing a course of military action. He tells the world that military force is a “last resort” and that diplomacy is the first resort, but in the meanwhile refuses to take a vigorous leading role in negotiating a resolution. We now know that regarding Iraq, the president merely paid lip service to the diplomatic option. He was convinced from the beginning it wouldn’t work. In fact, he didn’t want it to work and was prepared to provoke a war by trickery if necessary.
If we look at the news of the last few days we see all these parallels being played out once more. Iran, like Saddam before, bellicosely brags to the world of the nuclear milestones it passes. This in turn, only confirms the war-hawks in their conviction that “the only language Iran will understand is force.” Bush tells the world that diplomacy is the only approach he’s considering. But anonymous government sources reveal their “doubts” that it can work:
U.S. officials continue to pursue the diplomatic course but privately seem increasingly skeptical that it will succeed. The administration is also coming under pressure from Israel, which has warned the Bush team that Iran is closer to developing a nuclear bomb than Washington thinks and that a moment of decision is fast approaching.
Note Israel’s role in all this:
Israel is preparing [for attack], as well. The government recently leaked a contingency plan for attacking on its own if the United States does not, a plan involving air strikes, commando teams, possibly missiles and even explosives-carrying dogs. Israel, which bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 to prevent it from being used to develop weapons, has built a replica of Natanz, according to Israeli media, but U.S. strategists do not believe Israel has the capacity to accomplish the mission without nuclear weapons.
Iran appears to be taking the threat seriously. The government…has launched a program to reinforce key sites, such as Natanz and Isfahan, by building concrete ceilings, tunneling into mountains and camouflaging facilities. Iran lately has tested several missiles in a show of strength.
Israel points to those missiles to press their case in Washington. Israeli officials traveled here recently to convey more urgency about Iran. Although U.S. intelligence agencies estimate Iran is about a decade away from having a nuclear bomb, Israelis believe a critical breakthrough could occur within months. They told U.S. officials that Iran is beginning to test a more elaborate cascade of centrifuges, indicating that it is further along than previously believed.
“What the Israelis are saying is this year — unless they are pressured into abandoning the program — would be the year they will master the engineering problem,” a U.S. official said. “That would be a turning point, but it wouldn’t mean they would have a bomb.”
Many nuclear experts express grave reservations about Israel’s pronouncements about Iran’s progress in the nuclear arms race. They say that Iran is nowhere near as close as Israel states to having a weapon. And further, we should note that Aipac serves as Israel’s attack dog on this issue here in the U.S. It’s recent national policy conference was dedicated to ringing alarm bells about Iran’s military threat. I hope to God President Bush won’t let Aipac set the agenda when it comes to Iran. Lest you scoff at this suggestion, I note that Aipac already sets the tone and substance of much of the policy debate over U.S. Mideast policy. It would not surprise me to know that Aipac’s lobbying staff and lay leadership are speaking every day with Congress and the White House and urging a muscular response, including military force, to Iran’s nuclear buildup. Neither Israel nor Aipac believes that diplomacy can work. They’d have us giving up on that right now and going straight to the bombing runs over Natanz and Isfahan. And my fear is that Bush agrees with them wholeheartedly.
What is new compared to what happened with Iraq according to Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker feature, The Iran Plan, is the Administration’s pursuit of an option that includes the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iran:
One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites…
The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”
The Post too confirms this allegation:
Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices…
“The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. “Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it’s going to be very difficult to do.”
Thank God according to Hersh, there appear to be a few sane individuals at the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs who see this pathological plan for what it really is:
The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”
The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped”…
“There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. “The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.”
The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation,” he said.
And the Administration, of course, denies to the NY Times that it’s considering such a hellfire proposal:
“I’ve never heard the issue of nukes taken off or put on the table,” a senior Pentagon official said
First, this statement is far different and more equivocal than one clearly saying: “we are not contemplating using nukes against Iran.” Second, just because this particular official has “never heard” the “issue of nukes put on the table” doesn’t mean it wasn’t. It only means he hasn’t heard of it. Third, given this government’s past history of lying and deceit regarding Iraq could we trust that if it WERE planning to use nukes that it wouldn’t say precisely the thing this official has said? In other words, they would lie about it just as they lied about WMD and countless other matters related to Iraq. So unfortunately you have to completely discount any statement from the government denying a plan to use nukes and assume that they are considering it. To do otherwise would violate the old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
For the love of God, how can our government consider a nuclear option? Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, has correctly labeled such a scenario “nuts.” Certainly, during the Cold War we knew that our government would use nuclear weapons if the Soviets used them first. But Iran is different because it doesn’t yet have them and even if it did it couldn’t directly attack us with them. The hardliners will argue that consideration of the use of nuclear weapons is a bluff designed to get the Iranians to understand how serious we are. If so, we’re not showing resolve to Iran. Instead, we’re showing desperation. Only a desperate nation would use WMD or consider using it in pursuit of its policy objectives.
The Washington Post quotes military sources doubting the efficacy of ANY military attack against Iran:
Many military officers and specialists, however, view the saber rattling with alarm. A strike at Iran, they warn, would at best just delay its nuclear program by a few years but could inflame international opinion against the United States, particularly in the Muslim world and especially within Iran, while making U.S. troops in Iraq targets for retaliation.
“My sense is that any talk of a strike is the diplomatic gambit to keep pressure on others that if they don’t help solve the problem, we will have to,” said Kori Schake, who worked on Bush’s National Security Council staff and teaches at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Others believe it is more than bluster. “The Bush team is looking at the viability of air strikes simply because many think air strikes are the only real option ahead,” said Kurt Campbell, a former Pentagon policy official.
If we bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities and fail to take them out, this will only continue the ominous decline of the U.S. in successfully executing its military strategies around the world. We’re failing miserably (no fault of our military) in Iraq. Fail in Iran as well and we begin to look like an inept bumbling would-be superpower. Our enemies will only be emboldened.
Hersh also notes that U.S. ambitions go beyond dismantling Iran’s nuclear program:
The Europeans are rattled…by their growing perception that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed, and that their real goal is regime change. “Everyone is on the same page about the Iranian bomb, but the United States wants regime change,” a European diplomatic adviser told me.
So there you have it. We’ve swung full circle and come back to Iraq again. There Bush used a fraudulent WMD charge to gin up a war against Iraq whose real goal was to topple Saddam. Regarding Iran, there seems to be little doubt that it wants a nuclear weapon and is pursuing a plan to get one (unlike Saddam at the time we attacked him). But can there be little doubt in George Bush’s monolithic and unilateral world that there is any policy short of regime change that would satisfy him? The only question is what he will do to bring this goal about and how far he’s willing to go. All very scary thoughts to contemplate.