The president's escalating war rhetoric on Iran

As its provocations toward Iran increase, what could stop the Bush administration from commencing an attack on that country?

Published August 29, 2007 11:11AM (EDT)

(updated below - updated again)

George Bush, speaking before yet another military audience, yesterday delivered what might actually be the most disturbing speech of his presidency, in which he issued more overt war threats than ever before towards Iran:

The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late (Applause.)

Leave aside all of the dubious premises -- the fact that the U.S. is supposed to consider Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism" because of its support for groups that are hostile to Israel; that Iran is arming its longstanding Taliban enemies; that Iran is some sort of threat to Iraq's future even though it is an ally of Iraq's government; and that Iran's detention of American-Iranians inside its own country is anything other than retaliation for our own equally pointless detention of Iranians inside of Iraq, to say nothing of a whole slew of other provacative acts we have recently undertaken towards Iran. Leave all of that aside for the moment.

Viewed through the prism of presidential jargon, Bush's vow -- "We will confront this danger before it is too late" -- is synonymous with a pledge to attack Iran unless our array of demands are met. He is unmistakably proclaiming that unless Iran gives up its nuclear program and fundamentally changes its posture in the Middle East, "we will confront this danger." What possible scenario could avert this outcome?

By now it is unmistakably clear that it is not only -- or even principally -- Iran's nuclear program that is fueling these tensions. As Scott Ritter and others have long pointed out, the fear-mongering warnings about an Iranian "nuclear holocaust" (obviously redolent of Condoleezza Rice's Iraqi smoking gun "mushroom cloud") is but the pretext for achieving the true goal -- regime change in Tehran. Bush all but said so yesterday:

We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people -- instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

In other words, we "seek" a new government in Iran. Are there really people left who believe, with confidence, that Bush is going to leave office without commencing or provoking a military confrontation with Iran?

Bush also added: "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities." To underscore the fact that this is not mere rhetoric, the U.S. military in Iraq, following Bush's speech, arrested and detained eight Iranian energy experts meeting in Baghdad with the Iraqi government -- handcuffing, blindfolding, and interrogating them -- only to then release them when the Iraqi government protested. The path we are on -- with 160,000 of our troops in Iran's neighbor, escalating war-threatening rhetoric, and increasingly provocative acts -- is obviously the path to war.

The Iraq debate is over, at least from the perspective of actual results. It has been over for some time. The Congress is never going to force Bush to withdraw from Iraq. We are going to remain in Iraq in more or less the same posture through the end of the Bush presidency. That is just a fait accompli. The real issue of grave importance that remains unresolved is Iran, and it is hard to find causes for optimism there either.

There are, of course, significant steps that the Congress could take to impose at least some restraints on the Bush administration's ability to attack Iran unilaterally. It could make clear that the existing Iraq AUMF does not include authorization to attack Iran inside Iranian territory. It could enact legislation requiring Congressional approval before an attack on Iran is authorized. It could make clear that no funding will be available for any such attack in the absence of a Resolution authorizing a new war.

But all of that is exceedingly unlikely. The Bush administration is obviously aware of how weak the Congress is. Even the most mild of those measures -- an amendment which would merely have required Congressional authorization before the administration attacks Iran -- was meekly withdrawn by Democratic House leaders back in May because, as The Hill reported, Israeli-centric Congressmen and AIPAC itself "lobbied heavily to remove the Iran provision in the supplemental."

That happened a mere three months ago. Last month, the Senate unanimously passed a Lieberman-sponsored resolution gratuitously accusing Iran of acts of war against the U.S. -- a resolution with no purpose other than to strengthen the case for war against Iran. Clearly, Congress can (or at least will) do nothing to restrain the White House.

More disturbingly still, we have the same exact cast of neoconservative warmongers who brought us the invasion of Iraq, now chirping away ever more loudly, performing their tough guy war dances while courageously beating their little chests and urging on new wars.

More explicit war demands are now issuing from the warped though representative likes of Max Boot (of the Council on Foreign Relations, The LA Times, and Norm Podhoretz's Commentary Magazine) -- who wants to invade Syria and bomb the Damascus airport -- and then fueled by fresh-faced war cheerleaders like James Kirchick, who simultaneously (and revealingly) serves as Marty Peretz's assistant and writes both for the "liberal" New Republic and Podhoretz's Commentary blog. Yesterday, Kirchick -- who has convinced himself and then publicly announced that his desire to send other people off to war proves how much "grit" he has -- swaggered up and showed real grit by proclaiming:

Max is right on the crucial point, which is that Syria and Iran have effectively declared war on us. Make of that what you will. But it's not "warmongering" to simply state the fact that two rogue states are themselves complicit in unwarranted acts of warmongering against the United States and a nascent democracy in the Middle East.

They want a war not only with Iran, but also with Syria -- as do their ideological comrades such as Joe Lieberman, the only person whom Bush quoted yesterday in his speech.

The real tough Max Boot, in responding to Greg Djerejian's arguments that war cries against Syria are based on pure "hysteria," made sure to note yesterday that Djerejian is merely a "a lawyer who works at a financial services company," while Boot's pro-new-wars position is supported not only by Lieberman but also by what he calls "my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mike Gerson." Many of our Serious Foreign Policy experts -- and certainly the ones with the greatest influence within the administration -- are fully on board with these new wars.

The groundwork for an attack on Iran is so plainly being laid in the same systematic way as the attack on Iraq was and by the same people. Last week, Djerejian read and then dissected the full "trip report" issued by Pollack and O'Hanlon following their return from Iraq. In addition to including even more propaganda-bolstering claims about Iraq than was found in their Op-Ed, Djerejian noted that the report also recites the most mendacious aspects of the administration's case for war against Iran, including the truly idiotic accusation regarding "Iran's ability to supply al-Qa'ida" -- an accusation so absurd that nobody other than Joe Lieberman has been willing to voice it until now. Yet now it issues from our most Serious Democratic, "liberal" foreign policy "scholars": Iran is arming Al Qaeda.

The true danger here is that even if there would be marginally more political opposition to an attack on Iran than there was for an attack on Iraq -- and surely there would be, perhaps considerably more opposition -- those who favor an attack are still politically strong within the administration. And there simply are no factions which would oppose such an attack that are anywhere near strong enough to stop one. Who and where are they? What are the political factions which have sufficient political strength and who are willing to risk political capital to stop such a confrontation?

By stark and dispositive contrast, those who are pining for an attack on Iran -- from the Weekly Standard to the AEI and various generic warmongers of the Dick Cheney/National Review strain, as well as our most pious evangelical Christian warriors -- are zelaous adherents, True Believers. Bringing about a military confrontation with Iran has always been, and continues to be, their paramount priority.

As but one example, "Democrat" Hiam Saban, who funds the "liberal" Pollack's work at the Brookings Institution as well as any Democratic candidates he can find, described himself thusly: "I'm a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel . . . .On the issues of security and terrorism I am a total hawk."

The two most extremist factions when it comes to the Middle East -- Israel-centric neoconservatives and Christian evangelicals -- have long been telling the President that stopping Iran is his most important mission, the ultimate challenge that history will use to judge his strength, character and conviction. And it is beyond question that those are the groups who continue to hold the greatest sway over the decision-making process of the Commander-in-Chief himself.

Who is going to match the zeal and influence of these warmongers in order to stop them? The notion of attacking Iran may be insane, but it is not considered such by our mainstream establishment. Those who muse about it openly -- Lieberman, McCain, Giuliani, Kristol, Max Boot -- are not considered fringe extremists or unserious radicals, even though they are. Their views are comfortably within what is considered to be the realm of serious and responsible foreign policy advocacy.

As we march step by step with barely a debate towards a confrontation with Iran -- one that neoconservatives have long been proclaiming is inevitable -- are there any meaningful efforts to avert this? We frequently hear the slogan from war critics about Iraq that "hope is not a policy." The same is true with regard to preventing an attack on Iran.

UPDATE: Kimberly Kagan, of our nation's preeminent War Family (speciality: Advocating Wars, not fighting them), has a new report in The Weekly Standard today melodramatically entitled: "The Iran Dossier -- Iraq Report VI: Iran's proxy war against the U.S. in Iraq." Wow, she has a "dossier." Sounds ominous, and very serious.

She alleges that "Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces" and decrees that "Iranian intervention is the next major problem the Coalition must tackle." In other words, we are at war with Iran. One would be remiss if one failed to note that always fueling these efforts is the incomparably gullible "war reporting" of Michael Gordon and his endless series of NYT front page articles designed to legitimize the war case against Iran.

UPDATE II: With his little self-glorifying "grit" routine, James "Jamie" Kirchick is merely reciting what neoconservatives have long said about themselves. Via Propagandee in comments, this amazing passage appeared in Time Magazine all the way back in July, 2004 -- in an article entitled "What to do about Iran":

But just as Tehran is divided over how to deal with Washington, so is Washington split over how to deal with Tehran. The neo-conservative ideologues in the Bush administration have never made any secret of their desire to see the U.S. military pursue "regime change" in Tehran next. "Real men go to Tehran" was one of their playful slogans during the buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

That passage contains two critical insights into how our country has functioned over the last six years. Neoconservatives like Kirchick think they become real men by sending others into new wars (with Iran as the ultimate prize), while our leading media organs consider such twisted militarism to be "playful."

By Glenn Greenwald

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