Sunday, January 14, 2007

War with Iran

Back in April, I asked:

"If both the Iranian mullahs and the Bush administration both believe they'll gain politically from an American attack on Iran, how likely is it that the attack will happen?"

Keep that question in mind when examining the following recent domestic developments:

The US is now pursuing and arresting Iranians in Iraq. As national security adviser Hadley put it, “We intend to deal with [Iran] by interdicting and disrupting activities in Iraq, sponsored by Iran, that are putting our troops and Iraqis at risk."

BTW, I like Cheney's take on the roles of the executive and the legislature: "[Bush is] the guy who's got to decide how to use the force and where to deploy the force. And Congress obviously has to support the effort through the power of the purse. So they've got a role to play, and we certainly recognize that. But you also cannot run a war by committee."

Congress "has to" support the president. Interesting. They taught me different in law school, but that was Cornell, a notoriously liberal institution. Probably I was being subverted.

Question: What happens if the Iranians we pursue inside Iraq fight back?
Answer: We kill some of them. They kill some of us.

Question: What if, after engaging our troops in Iraq, Iranians flee back into Iran?
Answer: We pursue them and kill them there, perhaps with others. They kill or capture some of us.

Question: What happens at that point?
Answer: The administration has the casus belli it needs to attack Iran. We launch air strikes at Iranian nuclear and command and control facilities. Think adding 20,000 troops to the war is "doubling down?" Try war with Iran, instead.

But wait... doesn't congress need to authorize that sort of thing?

Not according to the administration. See the links above. And leaving the Constitutional niceties aside, the advantage of an attack on American troops is that it leaves Americans at home feeling pugnacious enough to go to war without those awkward Congressional hearings. And Congress, sniffing the political wind, can be counted on to play along.

See: Remember the Maine. See also: The Tonkin Gulf incident.

Here's the heart of the matter: If you believe Bush, Cheney, et al are decent, responsible, competent leaders, you'll trust their judgment and their motives on how far to push things with Iran. If you are cynical, you'll suspect that they're maneuvering us into war with Iran -- partly to retard Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, partly to distract from and dilute their failure in Iraq. If you're really cynical, you might think many of our recent military maneuvers in the region -- the extra troops, the deployment of a second aircraft carrier and escort ships -- are preparation for a fait accompli attack on Iran.

Imagine this conversation:

Cheney: We really have to do something about those Iranian nukes, Mr. President. It's bad enough Kim Jung Il went nuclear on our watch.

Bush: I agree, I agree... but the country is so disillusioned with war, and, though it's unfair, with our ability to wage it competently. They'll never go for an attack on Iran. Even the recent escalation... I was told I couldn't call it that. We had to package it as just a "surge."

Cheney: I'm not saying it'll be easy. But Ahmadinejad, with the Holocaust denial conference and the rest, plays into our hands. He's the perfect pin-up boy for evil. And we know there are Iranians in Iraq, training the insurgents to make IEDs that can penetrate the armor of an M-1 tank.

Bush: Wow. Are explosive devices that can penetrate an M-1 really still improvised?

Cheney: Never mind that. The point is, the Iranians are meddling in Iraq. If someone complains about our hunting them down, we say the complainers don't support our troops. Eventually, the Iranians shoot back, or we chase them in to Iran in "hot pursuit." Our forces engage Iranian forces on Iranian soil and we take some casualties. The American people will demand that our fallen be avenged and that Iran be punished. With a second carrier in the region, we can immediately launch air strikes against the Bushehr reactor and other nuclear sites. We'll simultaneously stop the Iranian nuclear threat, redeem the whole enterprise in Iraq, and restore our reputations. You'll be remembered not as the man who lost in Iraq, but as the man who prevented the mad mullahs from going nuclear.

Bush: I like it.

"Meddling," by the way, is the administration buzzword on Iranians in Iraq. It's an interesting word. We don't meddle, only other countries do... plus, it invites such wonderful verbal accouterments. For example, if you're a meddler, I feel you deserve to have lackeys. And who doesn't want his own lackey? And meddlers have goatees, which they stroke nefariously... they also occasionally let out a sinister "mwhahahahahah" laugh while contemplating the fruits of their meddling.

On a more serious note: the "meddling" verbiage concerns me. It's one of those indications that we don't understand how others perceive us. If we don't understand how others perceive us, how can we be effective in the world?

Prediction: We will attack Iran as soon as we have sufficient forces in the region. At this point, as the fictional Cheney above points out, the administration motive is compelling. Creating the casus belli is easy. The rest is just logistics.


Spy Scribbler said...

I had to laugh when he said mistakes surrounding the war left Iraq more unstable. That almost seems to say that since we were actually in the war and not surrounding it, we're not culpable.

Bush used 9/11 to sidestep into Iraq, so why not? It's not all that different of a move, and, from his point of view, is probably even an improved one.

"Has" to? I'm starting to feel like we've got a Mad King George of our own ...

aaron said...

That American troops would pursue Irainians into Iran is not a given. After all, we could do that from Afghanistan, and have not. As a (non-)surprise, Iran has "meddled" :-) there, as well.

Not that I necessarily disagree with your main premise, that certain less-that-savory elements are politically preparing to attack Iran (I agree), but that the how portion perhaps assumes facts not in evidence.

It seems more likely that there will be some effort to push Iran into attacking us in Iraq, or elsewhere, in such a way that it paints us in a much more non-agressive light. After all, pursuing them into their own country sounds a lot like we "started it", which, whether we did or not, is not socially acceptable.

Maybe an embassy bombing? An attack on an FOB/FB? A homeland attack uncovered, a plot foiled? WMDs have already been used...maybe we will discover Iran has/had plans to/is in the proccess of invading a neighboring "peacefull" country that we must rush to the defense of through some long-obscured treaty, ala 1991?

These are just my thoughts. Glad to see you blogging more!!

Mark Terry said...

The administration has the casus belli it needs to attack Iran. We launch air strikes at Iranian nuclear and command and control facilities. Think adding 20,000 troops to the war is "doubling down?" Try war with Iran, instead.

Well, hopefully not. Iran has tended to fight proxy wars utilizing Hezbollah and other forces, for instance their skirmishes in Beirut against Israel.

On the other hand, if you want a worst case scenario situation, China and France line up behind Iran because of their need for Iranian oil; Russia trades with Iran, so they provide lukewarm support or proxy support to Iran and the whole thing blows up into World War III.

This game is starting to seem like it has pretty high stakes.

PBI said...

A grim and all-too-plausible scenario, Barry.

Still, I'm not sure that at this point - even with their best efforts to whip up anti-Iranian sentiment - the administration can count on the sort of wartime support that was there after The Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin incidents. Unfortunately, I also think that the viability of spreading the war to Iran is wholly dependent on whether Congress actually fulfills its duties and has the spine to say "enough." Given the track record of recent legislatures, that's a calculus that Mr. Bush may already figure is in his favor...

Sensen No Sen

Anonymous said...

Bush, Cheney and co derive a lot of their money from oil and weapons. To them, there would be nothing better than starting a regional war in the Middle East. It would require large quantities of arms purchases and will force up the price of oil. They must be licking their chomps already.

Plus, when the Saudi's get involved and start buying arms, the flow of oil money from the U.S. to the Saudi's will finally reverse.

They could kick start a huge regional war, loose a few troops, and then pull out once all cylinders are firing. They'll be watching from the sidelines.

But I'm one of the sceptical ones.

Barry, its great that your blogging again. And I look forward to John Rain's next adventure!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

And the Executive pissing matches continue.

If the President wants to send troops somewhere he can do it through an Executive Order. If the Congress wants to slap him for it, they need to get together, vote on it and hope they have the votes necessary to overcome his almost inevitable veto.

In some cases, it can be used to win the political cage match. Theodore Roosevelt did that during his second term with the Great White Fleet, wanting to send the U.S Navy on a circumnavigation of the globe when Congress didn't want to fund it.

He sent them, anyway, and told Congress that they had enough money to get halfway 'round. If they wanted to see the fleet come back, they'd better cough up the cash.

Bush has, in essence, done the same thing. The troops are over there. They can't just shut off the money spigot. Aside from the reality that an army marches, either to or from a war, on the paychecks of taxpayers, it's not popular to be labeled as not supporting the troops. Cutting off the funds would do more harm than good to soldiers who are already dealing with insufficient support and the new Democratic majority is hesitant to lose the goodwill of the people when they have such a narrow majority.

If the administration is pushing for a fight with Iran, which I suspect will happen whether it's planned or not (much as with the Chinese, but that's another discussion), I think your scenario may very well be how it will play out. The Bush administration doesn't need a strong excuse to go in there, it just needs one plausible enough to suck us in and force Congress to play along.

As to the point if it was going to happen it would have happened already via Afghanistan, I disagree. They're still doing the diplomatic cha-cha right now. There needs to be a build-up in Iraq, first, possibly a smaller, more quiet build-up in Afghanistan.

Then the U.S. moves in from both the east and west with ground troops while the Stennis and the Eisenhower handle air strikes from the Persian Gulf.

This is provided that the Israelis don't drop bunker busters on Iranian targets first, of course, which would get us in there even faster.

Barry Eisler said...

Well, let's hope we're all wrong...

Oblivious to oblivion said...

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has completed a contract to deliver its TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, Itar-Tass news agency quoted Sergei Chemezov, head of state arms exporter Rosoboronexport as saying on Tuesday.

"(Russia) fully completed delivery to Iran of the TOR-M1 missile complexes at the end of December 2006," Tass quoted Chemezov as saying. The deal to supply the missiles has angered the United States and Israel.

Debra Parmley said...

"Congress obviously has to ..."

Any time I hear that kind of language my eyebrows raise. No one has to do anything but live or die. The rest is all choice.

I've never been a cynical person, but the language coming out of the White House makes me distrust the present administration to the point where I don't believe anything they say.

So nothing would surprise me at this point. (Other than George W ordering a complete withdrawal tomorrow.)

Focusing blame takes energy away from taking action. It's a sneaky stall tactic. And 2008 is a long time away so I hope they don't go there.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to think that war with Iran is an indirect attack at China, by messing with the price of oil it can take out China and make more open to US/corporate financial invasion/dominance. Think of how effect oil price hikes were at democratising (through need for change) the old Soviet Bloc countries. It's a bit of an off the wall idea but war with Iran would have many benefits for western regimes and their palls so who knows.

Barry Eisler said...

Jason, good to hear from you! I'd love to drop you a line, but you didn't mention your email address...