Are we being set up for war with Iran?
Al Qaeda in IranThe article answers the "why?" question in a way you don't expect, but the headline has a Bush-like scream — Al-Qaeda; Iran; Get it? (Unlike the two examples below, this is not a news item. If Seth Jones is carrying someone's water, his name may be worth remembering.)Washington Post, same week:
Why Tehran is Accommodating the Terrorist Group
Iran, perceiving threat from West, willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report findsAn assessment by U.S. spy agencies concludes that Iran is prepared to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States, highlighting new risks as the Obama administration escalates pressure on Tehran to halt its alleged pursuit of an atomic bomb.The source here is Congressional testimony by Obama DNI James Clapper, so the article is news. (The man to note is Clapper.) The article also mentions that "thwarted plot" to kill the Saudi ambassador, a story some have found wanting. Wired.com, still same week:
Iran Now a ‘Top Threat’ to U.S. Networks, Spy Chief ClaimsAmerican officials have complained for years that U.S. networks were crawling with Russian and Chinese hackers. On Tuesday, the nation’s top intelligence official told Congress that there’s a new danger to America’s information security: Iran. Too bad he didn’t provide much evidence to back up the claim.Et tu, Wired? Yes, there's a disclaimer. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, that disclaimer is 988 words short of this picture.Note that the Foreign Policy and Wired articles include disclaimers of a type, but the stories got scheduled and placed nonetheless, and with those headlines (all that most people read). The combined effect of those stories and headlines, and others like them with different hooks, is "Be very afraid of Scary Iran." Sound familiar?Is a new product being rolled out? Fall product season starts after Labor Day. Spring season starts after New Years. If we are being set up for war, let's ask a few questions, starting with: By whom? The candidate list is long: ▪ Some group of Democrats, including elements of the administration? (See Clapper's involvement above; also this from Leon Panetta, Obama's Pentagon chief.) ▪ Elements within the Pentagon, trying to move the needle? (Is there only one McChrystal in McChrystal-land?) ▪ Some group of Republicans (the Sheldon Adelsons of the world), working with or without a candidate's foggy support group? (For a prior example of this kind of interacton, involving John McCain, Randy Scheunemann, the 2008 campaign, and the nation of Georgia, try here and here.) ▪ The NeoCons, making a comeback? (AEI is on this too.) ▪ The Israelis — the government, their surrogates, or others? (Too obvious a perp to need a link.) ▪ Some combination of the above?If this were a novel, watching these machinations would be fascinating. That's a large list of people with sharp elbows and a common purpose.A second question: Will we fall for it? There are stories that, under Bush II, Admiral Fallon and others were responsible for stopping Cheney's Iranian war plans. Will Kill Iran, Part Deux succeed?The consequences for getting this wrong are huge. As I wrote earlier, if we go for it, we may not win:
This really matters. It would change the world. If we get this one wrong, we'll be at war with someone who can bring the war back to us, to our Midwestern towns and suburban malls. The population of Iran is more than double that of Iraq (Iran is the 17th most populous nation on Earth). It has four times the GDP of Iraq. It's not peopled by tribesmen and sheepherders alone, but contains a great many urbanized professionals.Iran is a society that, if pushed to war against the West, will go. The secret services in Iran include groups like the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij. The last two groups alone are more than 200,000 strong. Ugly as they are in that spy-vs-spy way (are we more pretty?), they could easily bring the global war to our cities as a regular feature. Imagine Omaha or Moline getting the Tel Aviv treatment. There are lots of Molines. Is that a world you'd choose to live in?Imagine the oil shocks after sabotage bombings in the Persian Gulf. Imagine oil priced in euros on an Iranian bourse. Imagine security checkpoints in every mall in America after the first couple of bombings. Imagine the eager, muscular overreaction of our national security protectors. Imagine the budget for war on steroids.And please, let's not imagine that if the Israelis bomb Iran for us, we won't be blamed. If you were Iran, would you not strike at the source first, and the client after? We struck at Al Qaeda by taking down Kabul.The Iranians might just decide to bypass the client and strike the puppet-master. Unless you think the puppet-master is Israel, that puts us — you, me and our shopping malls — in the cross-hairs.If this is an op, who's placing all these stories? Is this pre-Iraq all over again?If it is, let's hope Ms. Clinton is on the side of peace and the angels — along with some of our other generals — and that Mr. Predator Drone will get his post-Super Bowl militarism thrill in other ways.
Will Israel attack Iran?
Horse race coverage isn’t limited to the Republican primary. Foreign policy coverage has its own, exemplified by the title of an article by Ronen Bergman in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Will Israel Attack Iran?[.] Bergman says yes. Israel will attack Iran sometime this year, before Iran enters the “immunity zone”, the point at which Iranian knowledge, skill and material will be so great that an attack will not derail their progress towards construction of a bomb. Iran denies that it is building a nuclear weapon, but no one seems to believe that.The Times article certainly meets our criteria for "preparing the battlefield" of American public opinion. But are its statements true?As Masaccio notes, Bergman lists three conditions for an Israeli attack:
1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?According to Masaccio, the Times writer thinks "all three conditions have been met." He then runs down a number of other media sources who weigh in on the same question. It's a good review of the current "What will Israel do next?" parlor game. If you care about this question — and frankly, with the Super Bowl now completely behind us, why wouldn't you? — check it out. As to my favorite question: Could they be that stupid? Masaccio lists the considerable downsides to an attack (it's a compelling list), then says:
It’s harder to see the benefits.Indeed, say I. But again, I said that once about Iraq, and look where that got us.
I've written, with a great deal of trepidation, about an apparent run-up to war with Iran, and the steady beat of scary articles — first here, then here. There's an even later article in the New York Times (discussed below) with the same drum-beat sounds in it.Is a "new product" being rolled out? Is the battlefield of public opinion being "prepared"? (If you don't know, the phrase "preparing the battlefield" is mil-speak (heh) for carpet-bombing the enemy prior to sending in ground troops. That enemy, in this case, is U.S. public opinion.)Now comes Taibbi fils (yes, there's a Taibbi père, also a journalist). Writing in his Rolling Stone blog, Matt has this to say (my emphasis and some reparagraphing throughout):
You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms. CNN’s house blockhead, the Goldman-trained ex-finance professional Erin Burnett, came out with a doozie of a broadcast yesterday, a Rumsfeldian jeremiad against the Iranian threat would have fit beautifully in the Saddam’s-sending-drones-at-New-York halcyon days of late 2002.Note: Erin's only a blockhead if she believes her own spill; if she doesn't, she's a media-based operative. Big difference.
Taibbi then quotes Glenn Greenwald on Erin Burnett's pronouncements:
It’s the sort of thing you would produce if you set out to create a mean-spirited parody of mindless, war-hungry, fear-mongering media stars, but you wouldn’t dare go this far because you’d want the parody to have a feel of realism to it, and this would be way too extreme to be believable. She really hauled it all out: WMDs! Terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. controlled by Tehran! Iran’s long-range nuclear missiles reaching our homeland!!!! She almost made the anti-Muslim war-mongering fanatic she brought on to interview, Rep. Peter King, appear sober and reasonable by comparison.As Count Floyd would say, "Oooh, scary."
What's the proscribed Iranian threat?
When you get to the imagined Iranian threat, it comes down to two carefully fogged-up concepts.
■ Nuclear weapons (capability), as opposed to, well, actual weapons. Taibbi:
In other words, “If Iran were to decide to be capable of making nuclear weapons, it would be capable of making nuclear weapons.” Unless I'm missing something, that’s a statement that would be true of almost any industrialized country, wouldn't it?The fog in this case is the word "capability." The U.S. position has gone from opposing "nukes" for Iran, to opposing "nuke capability."
Listen for it, or you'll miss it — the word "nukes" lays down the fog for the rubes to get lost in.
■ Iranian (counter-)strike, as opposed to striking first. Taibbi again:
The news “hook” in most all of these stories is that intelligence reports reveal Iran is “willing” to attack us or go to war – but then there’s usually an asterisk next to the headline, and when you follow the asterisk, it reads something like, “In the event that we attack Iran first.”He quotes this NBC report as an example (Taibbi's emphasis): “Within just the past few days, Iranian leaders have threatened that if attacked, they would launch those missiles at U.S. targets.”
More fog, of course. You just have to listen hard for the "counter" in "counter-strike" (they whisper it).
But this is at the level of ideas and media analysis. Let's look at the only thing that matters — power.
Will we, the U.S. or Israel, pull the trigger on Iran?Will the U.S. and/or its mannequin/master Israel actually first-strike Iran? Taibbi surprisingly fails to answer that question, given his headline. He gets in some nice reflections on the Tolstoy-inspired madness of the media, then closes. So here's me. Based on my eleven-dimensional reading of this recent Iran article, another major one, this time by Dennis Ross in the New York Times, I believe it's now a two-handed game between Netanyahu and Obama, with Iran being the downer bull they're jointly punishing. Netanyahu's position — "If you keep kicking Iran, I don't have to pull out this gun and make him really mad." Ross says it this way:
Israel worries that it could lose its military option, and it may be reluctant to wait for diplomacy to bear fruit. That said, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have consistently called for “crippling sanctions,” reflecting a belief that Iran’s behavior could be changed with sufficient pressure. The fact that crippling sanctions have finally been applied means that Israel is more likely to give these sanctions and the related diplomatic offensive a chance to work. And it should."Crippling sanctions" means just that; think I was joking with my "punishing the downer bull" metaphor? Shorter Ross: "Bibi to Barack, don't make me do something stupid; it's all on you if I do." Want proof? Who is Dennis Ross? From the article's bio line:
He is now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.And who is the Washington Institute for Near East Policy? An AIPAC think tank:
Martin Indyk, an Australian-trained academic and former deputy director of research for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), helped found WINEP in 1985. ... Because of his affiliation with AIPAC, Indyk felt his research wasn't being taken seriously and so started WINEP to convey an image that was "friendly to Israel but doing credible research on the Middle East in a realistic and balanced way." ...WINEP is focused on influencing the media and U.S. executive branch; this is unlike AIPAC, which attempts to influence the U.S. Congress.Don't forget that word "image" — it's the second-most important word in the description, after "AIPAC". It's always about manipulation of images, isn't it.QED? It seems so to me. Your move, Mr. President. Just remember, one false move and this one comes home.