Neocons vs. Iran: Final Scouting Report

 Skrevet av F. M. Arouet - Publisert 17.10.2007 kl. 19:24 (Oppdatert 18.10.2007 kl. 00:05)

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As the Bush/Cheney White House appears to be "catapulting the propaganda" to prepare the way for attacking Iran, perhaps for a change we should try the novel approach of thinking and asking about the possible consequences before actually launching another "preemptive" war.


We cannot predict whether Bush and Cheney, from their thought-proofed bunker with its constantly recirculating neocon air, would wish to start a war against Iran with merely "surgical strikes" (whether against Revolutionary Guard facilities or nuclear facilities) or would prefer to implement a massive "shock and awe" campaign against 10,000 targets. Neither do we know if they would incorporate a ground action to seize Iranian oil and gas fields in Khuzestan along the Iraqi border, though it is hard to imagine that Cheney would attack Iran without planning to seize a good portion of its energy resources and trying to secure the Iranian side of the Strait of Hormuz, as in an updated OPLAN 1002-4, the “Khuzestan Gambit.” But we can at least raise questions about some of the potential consequences of an attack.

Here is one possible framework to order our thoughts; others in the blogosphere will certainly have more coherent outlines than this one. This framework is simply a series of commonsensical questions that any rational actor would want to ponder before making so momentous a decision as to launch a war and unleash large-scale death and destruction.

For more graphic detail than the map above offers to provide context for these questions, here is a good zoomable map of the region.


I. Initial Iranian Responses: Limited and Calibrated? Or Swarming and Massive?
A. Immediate military capabilities for responses against U.S. forces and bases, i.e., SAM defenses (such as the TOR-M1), anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, air force, and navy

B. Capability of ground forces, especially Revolutionary Guards, perhaps with aid of Iraqi Shiite militias, to cut off U.S. supply lines through Basra area in Iraq

C. Capabilities for immediate responses against key military facilities or infrastructure in regional states enabling and supporting a U.S. attack. (Is the Shahab-3 ballistic missile sufficiently accurate to be militarily useful? With a CEP of 30 meters, yes. With a CEP of 190 meters, not so much.)

D. Immediate capabilities for sabotage and terrorist responses (assassinations of pro-U.S. leaders, etc.) throughout the region. including various U.S. base facilities and Saudi oilfields (with a large Shiite population)

E. Ability to close the Strait of Hormuz to all commerce by deploying indigenously produced Noor anti-ship missiles or more advanced Russian missiles (Yakhont? Moskit? Alpha?) in its arsenal (the Noor system alone seems sufficient to close the Strait)

F. Capacity to launch paramilitary or surrogate attacks on U.S. military, governmental, or commercial facilities worldwide

G. Capacity to retaliate with asymmetrical cyber warfare disruptions of the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure, and perhaps even of the U.S. military's unclassified NIPRNet for logistics traffic. (For eye-opening, though dated, details on Iranian cyber warfare preparations, scroll to page 59 in this report.)

H. Israel: varsity starter on the U.S. air assault team and therefore an immediate target for Iranian retaliation? Or just a head cheerleader for the prewar pep rallies? Interested but not-so-innocent bystander and spectator? What Israeli targets would be most vulnerable to Iranian Shahab ballistic missiles? Perhaps the Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona?

II. Degree of Likely Intelligence and Ongoing Logistical Support and Resupply from Russia and China

(Note Russian President Vladimir Putin's public expressions of support for Iran during this week's Caspian Summit.)

A. Providing Iran with early warning of U.S. (or Israeli) initiation of attacks from SIGINT, reconnaissance satellites, or human sources within U.S. or allied armed forces or policy levels

B. Providing Iran with satellite photography and coordinates of U.S. ships and ground forces in the region (BTW, note the Russian launch of what appears to be a rudimentary Iranian photoreconnaisance satellite in October, 2005. China is scheduled to launch the SMMS for Iran this fall.)

C. Providing electronic jamming and countermeasures assistance

D. Replenishing SAMs, radars, anti-ship missiles, and anti-armor infantry weapons used or destroyed in early stages of conflict

E. Possibility that Russia or China might provide weaponry directly to Shiite militias in Iraq--or even to the Iraqi Government, if it turns against the U.S. (note in this context Iraq's recent order for $100 million worth of Chinese weapons)

III. Possible Iranian Regional Political and Paramilitary Responses

A. Iraq: would al-Maliki's Iraqi Army turn its weapons on U.S. troops in country?

B. Turkey: would the Turks join with Iran, Syria, and perhaps even with a suddenly unified Iraqi Shiite coalition under al-Maliki, al-Hakim (Badr Brigades), and al-Sadr (Madhi Army) to try to crush the Kurds once and for all? Would the Turks permit basing and overflights of U.S. aircraft for attacks on Iran? (Unlikely: Turkey denied such permission for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S.-Turkish military relations are currently foundering. Watch for signs that Turkey may intend to restrict U.S. Air Force activities at the key base at Incirlik.)

C. Kuwait, whose Defense Minister has declared that Kuwait would not allow itself to be used as a launching point for attacks on Iran

D. Gulf States, notably the U.A.E., whose President has declared that no attacks on Iran would be launched from its territory

E. Bahrain: Shiite majority; major U.S. base; likely very nervous; note Bahraini Parliament's opposition to permitting U.S. to use Bahraini territory for launching attacks on Iran

F. Afghanistan: might Iran withdraw support from Karzai and switch sides to support Taliban, or perhaps urge its old allies in the Northern Alliance to behave more independently?

G. Pakistan: pay off tribal chiefs to create disruption in Baluchistan? Or perhaps collaborate with Pakistan to throw support behind the Taliban--Pakistan's real preference--to squeeze the U.S. out of the region? The latter seems at least possible in view of the recent Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal, which seems likely to be extended to India.

H. Syria: coordinate to step up pressure against Israel via Hezbollah?

I. Lebanon: promote all-out civil war via Hezbollah? Could Iran supply large numbers of anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah for use against Israeli navy ships and commercial shipping bound for Israeli ports?

J. Saudi Arabia: offer modus vivendi and cooperation in oil pricing in return for Saudis' distancing themselves from fealty to U.S.? Here is one analytical perspective on Iranian-Saudi relations.

K. Egypt: funnel weapons through Egypt to Hamas in Gaza to help Egypt redirect rising domestic pressures to a foreign focus?

IV. Possible Medium-term Iranian Military Responses in the Region

A. Flooding Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq with man-portable SAMs, such as the Iranian-produced Mithaq-2? Remember how U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles quickly turned the tide against the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1986?

B. Flooding the region with guided, standoff anti-armor weapons, such as the Iranian-produced equivalent of the Sagger portable anti-tank missile, thereby escalating the challenges to occupying foreign forces and making their positions increasingly untenable?

C. If Israel (or U.S.) escalates to nuclear strikes on Iran, what is Iran's capacity to retaliate with chemical or biological WMD against Israel?

V. Reponses--Political, Economic, Military (if any)--among Key U.S. Allies, Especially Euroopeans

A. Will the UK salute and join? Or hunker down and seek safe passage from the Iranians and their Iraqi Shiite allies for withdrawal from their remaining base at Basra in Iraq?

B. Will Germany edge toward the Russian and Chinese position? (German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has been touting Germany's ”strategic relationship" with Russia. Putin has promised to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany on time.)

C. What does French President Sarkozy expect to get out of supporting a U.S. attack? Just cheap oil (unlikely to happen)? Or is Dassault complaining to him that Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and the UK's BAE are scarfing up all the big arms contracts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and that he must insure that the Saudis follow through with their pre-purchase agreement for twenty Falcon 2000XL aircraft?
D. Will any other major players, notably Italy or Spain, support, or actively oppose, an attack on Iran?

E. Impact of UN propaganda battles, especially considering likely resistance to U.S. military strikes from Russia and China and the independent approach by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and the IAEA (i.e., searching for evidence rather than merely accepting neocon assertions)

VI. Likely Impact on Oil Prices and World Economy

A. Effects of sharply rising oil prices on U.S. economy, now teetering on brink of recession

B. Effects on already plunging U.S. dollar

C. Effects on economies of key allies in Western Europe and also on Japan (which depends on the Middle East for 89 percent of its oil, most of it tankered through the Strait of Hormuz)

D. Effects on economies of geopolitical rivals, such as China and Russia. Key question: are the Chinese likely to help finance an attack on Iran. as they have done with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, by continuing to make massive purchases of U.S. T-Bills? If not, what will happen to the T-Bill auction market?

VII. Likely Reactions by al Qaeda and its Affiliates

A. Would a U.S. “preemptive” war against Shiite Iran deliver an undeserved, unexpected strategic victory to the radical Sunni movement of Osama bin Laden?

B. Would resulting public outrage throughout the Islamic World blur the age-old hostilities between Shiites and Sunnis, as well as bring legions of new recruits to al Qaeda?

C. Might a U.S. attack on Iran even push Iran and al Qaeda into a strategic alliance of convenience, perhaps to provide joint support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and radical Islamists in Pakistan? (Remember: Pakistan actually has components for a few dozen nuclear weapons. The vast bulk of Pakistan's fissile material is highly enriched uranium, which is suitable for the kind of gun-barrel nuclear device that that even a non-state actor could engineer and assemble.)

D. If the Saudi Royal Family decides to provide full military, diplomatic, and economic backing to a U.S. assault on Iran, might Iran seek also to collaborate with al Qaeda to disrupt Saudi oilfields and pipelines and step up internal subversion against the Saudi regime?

VIII. Likely Impact on U.S. Domestic Political Order

A. Censorship (even more than now) of media?

B. Censorship (using Chinese or Saudi methods of IP address filtering) of the Internet--including blocking progressive blogsites--to tamp down potential dissent and organized resistance?

C. Surveillance (primarily electronic) and arrest of anti-war activists, perhaps as "illegal enemy combatants" for refusing to support the new war against Iran? Easy to do with current warrantless programs.

D. Disruption (with unquestioning collaboration by telecoms) of e-mail exchanges and cell phone communications among known political opponents? Simple step beyond current warrantless programs.

E. Use of military forces or security contractors to maintain public order and suppress any potential street demonstrations, just as the Pinkerton men did in yesteryear, or as Blackwater did after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

F. Implementation of secret provisions of Executive Orders and exploitation of provisions in Homeland Security legislation to suppress civil liberties and detain intractable political opponents, independent journalists, and anti-war organizers--real or merely suspected?

G. Likely responses by the Democratic leadership--well, on second thought, not much reflection is required on that point. We can expect Nancy, Steny, and Harry to declare:
My goodness! How dreadful! Oh, and here's the money you wanted for the war. Now don't you dare accuse us of not supporting the troops!
A little later, when the compounding scope of the accelerating new debacle becomes evident to all sentient observers, the Democratic leadership will of course add with apparent consternation:

But we never intended for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment to authorize the President to launch a war against Iran. It was just a non-binding resolution! And we had no way of predicting that things would turn out this badly!

Blogosphere to Congresscritters: "non-binding" in practical terms means pretty much the same thing as "enabling." Shall we take up a public collection to provide a thesaurus and a dictionary for each Senator's and Congressman's office?

Are the widespread reports that AIPAC actually drafted the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment true? If so, why would our Congress allow a lobbying organization acting on behalf of a foreign power to write U.S. legislation?

IX. Likely Cost in Blood, Treasure, and Time--for U.S. and Region

(Paul Wolfowitz once assured Congress that the oil that we would grab from Iraq would pay for that preemptive war. Doesn't seem to be working out that way. So far, projections point to a cost of more than $2 trillion for the Iraq War.)

A. Projected casualties: U.S., Iranian (military and civilian), and other (Iraqi, Israeli, Lebanese, etc.): tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands, as already in Iraq? When all is said and done, even millions?

B. Anticipated refugee flows, internal and cross-border; reserve capacity of UN and other international aid organizations to respond to multiple new humanitarian crises in region

C. Cost projections, please. How much? How to finance? Chinese purchase of T-Bills?

D. Duration? A few weeks, as “planned” for Iraq?

E. What are the metrics for achieving and declaring “success” in a preemptive war against Iran?

F. And what are the metrics for acknowledging failure? At what point must the compulsive gambler be stopped from doubling down, compelled to gather up his remaining chips, and dragged from the table before he loses everything?


In a few minutes of similar reflection and outlining, each of us can do his own "blink" analysis. A moderately alert college freshman or ordinary voter who follows the daily news online (or at least Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report at Comedy Central on cable TV) could probably do as well in an hour or two. All it takes is common sense, an Internet connection, and an adult's discarding of credulity to recognize the catapulted propaganda and disinformation for what they are. While the purpose of this thought experiment is to raise questions rather than to provide answers, even this modest effort quickly demonstrates that there are so many unpredictable variables, many with obvious and substantial downsides for U.S. economic and geopolitical interests, not to mention the interests of U.S. allies, that it would be beyond madness to expect a manageable “cakewalk” against Iran.

After cobbling together this outline of questions and trying to apply what Napoleon called the coup d'oeil to encompass reality at a glance, the truly tectonic scale of five potential Iranian reactions to a U.S. attack seems to leap out:

(1) If the Iranians are able to coordinate swarming, simultaneous salvos of anti-ship missiles from multiple directions against U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, two or three days of intensive combat could leave much of the U.S. fleet badly damaged or even sunk. Such a scenario would instantaneously vaporize the credibility of the long-feared U.S. carrier strike force as the ultimate, heretofore invincible tool for modern gunboat diplomacy and military intervention. A single major engagement in the Persian Gulf could thereby bring an abrupt, disorderly end to U.S. regional and global hegemony. Impossible, you say? Check out this account of the abortive start of the U.S. military's massive Millennium Challenge 2002 war game. And BTW, what would be the environmental implications of a nuclear reactor oozing radioactive material from a sunken U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz? And might China take advantage of a U.S. military humiliation--or at least preoccupation--in the Persian Gulf to ratchet up political and perhaps even military pressure against Taiwan?

(2) Iran's closing the Strait of Hormuz and sabotaging Saudi oifields, ports, and pipelines would likely bring most industrialized nations economically to their knees within months, if not weeks--despite rationing and the existence of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve with its current 56 days of import protection. Economic disruptions would surely be followed in many countries by political turmoil. Japan is highly dependent on Iranian oil, and has acceded to Iran's request in July to be paid in yen instead of U.S. dollars. China would also be a very interested party, for it imports 13 percent of its oil from Iran.

(3) A major, lengthy disruption of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf region would strengthen Russia's energy leverage with Europe. Besides the Nord Stream to Germany, a trans-Balkan pipeline will also connect Western Europe to Russian supplies. Remember that Putin is an expert in judo, and has even co-authored a book on the sport, Judo: History, Theory, Practice. Putin understands principles of timing and force, and in his book he notes the importance of choosing the right moment to "unlock" and give one's stronger opponent the chance to lose his balance, plunge forward, and fall clumsily. The bigger the opponent, the heavier the fall. Would not a U.S. attack on Iran be such an "unlocking" moment to Russia's immediate advantage, especially if Russian-manufactured anti-ship missiles proved their effectiveness against the U.S. Navy and if the Europeans were forced to become more reliant on Russian oil and gas?

Russia would certainly seek to gain political advantage from such an enhanced position as a vital source of Europe's energy. It would not be long before NATO would develop fissures. U.S. allies would display growing disinclination to support future or even current U.S. interventions in the Middle East. U.S. allies would also ask hard questions about the wisdom of allowing the U.S. to install on European territory missile defenses that Russia might consider to be strategically destabilizing.

Remember, too, that virtually any educated Russian knows how to play chess. Putin himself seems to take some interest in the game. Chess is a game of great subtlety, complexity, patient positioning, artful sacrifices, and multi-move combinations, unlike the dice-rolling, winner-take-all Parker Brothers board game Risk that Bush liked to badger his fellow Yalies into playing, even when they had better things to do, such as study for a test. Is there an allegory here?.

Which leader, Putin or Bush, is intellectually better equipped to look several moves ahead in a period of geopolitical complexity and turmoil? Does your answer to that question help you sleep better at night? Maybe it does--if you happen to be Russian.

(4) An Iranian decision to provide large numbers of man-portable SAMs and portable guided anti-armor weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza could switch the military balance substantially in favor of such resistance groups throughout the region. Further U.S. or Israeli invasions and occupations in the area suddenly would become even more costly in blood and treasure, and perhaps even untenable altogether. U.S. casualties and losses of vehicles and aircraft (especially helicopters and transport planes) in Iraq would soar. It is even conceivable that the Iraqi Government under Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Talabani could turn to Iran, Russia and China as primary patrons and switch overnight to oppose the U.S. occupation. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites, is becoming increasingly vocal in his criticism of foreign (i.e., U.S.) contractors and occupation forces.

From Abu Ghraib, to the Marine killings of civilians at Haditha, to the casual killing of civilians by Blackwater and other mercenary contactors, to civilian casualties caused by frequent U.S. air strikes in urban areas, to U.S. detention of Iranian officials present in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, to the rapid spread of cholera (largely because the U.S. will not allow trucks carrying chlorine into the country for fear of their falling into the hands of insurgents), to Senator Biden's ill-advised resolution effectively calling for the three-way partition of Iraq, even America's Iraqi clients seem to be approaching the critical snapping point of: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"

(5) If a U.S. attack pushes Iran's mullahs to go against historical precedents and ideological inclinations and instead negotiate a strategic alliance of convenience with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and its affiliates, such as the Taliban, the brittle regimes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia would quickly find themselves under enormous internal military and political pressure. This outcome would be supersaturated with irony, for in its wake the quickest path both for Iran and al Qaeda to acquire components for nuclear weapons--those currently under Pakistan's control--could emerge as an unintended consequence of America's launching a preemptive war against Iran. Such Iranian strategic flexibility is not inconceivable; after all, one current client, Hamas, is Sunni, not Shiite.


It seems odd that the public debate omits the obvious common interests between the U.S. and Iran: (1) keeping the oil flowing (our way) and the money flowing (Iran's direction); (2) establishing a stable Iraq (Iran seems perfectly happy with the Shiite-dominated proto-government which the U.S. has installed as its client); (3) supporting the Karzai government in Kabul against a resurgent, Sunni fundamentalist Taliban; (4) curbing the influence of Sunni fundamentalist al Qaeda sympathizers in the region; and, obvious at least from Iran's standpoint, (5) avoiding the immense death and destruction that would follow in the wake of a major conflict with a military superpower. There are also obvious differences, based largely on unwavering U.S. support for Israeli policies in the region, while Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and Syria in its quest to regain the Israeli-occupied Golan. It is difficult to see why those differences should impel the U.S. to attack Iran, nor is there any good reason to insist that U.S. policy toward the region must be subservient to the wishes of the current hard-line Israeli governing coalition under the corruption-plagued Olmert.

{ad align='right' size='250'}The dispute over Iran's nuclear program is the one being pushed to the forefront by the neocons, as was the case with supposed Iraqi nuclear weapons program and other WMD before the invasion of Iraq. Just to review the reality under international law, remember that Iran (unlike Israel, Pakistan, or India) is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles III and IV of that treaty grant each party the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as long as it negotiates appropriate safeguards with the IAEA. As IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei pointed out in September, the IAEA has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material by Iran. The IAEA and Iran continue to work on a comprehensive agreement regarding safeguards. While it is certainly possible that Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program, the IAEA (or anyone else) has no proof of such a program. Dr. ElBaradei's international reservoir of credibility on this issue remains full from his careful, skeptical, analytical approach to now-disproved allegations regarding an Iraqi nuclear program in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Rice's international reservoir of credibility on such issues was long ago drained dry by her credulous (or, more likely, cynical) catapulting of propaganda claims conforming to the neocon agenda for Iraq and Iran. But the IAEA safeguards process with Iran is far from dead and has certainly not reached an impasse.

If we ordinary observers in the blogosphere can figure these things out by sifting through information available to everybody on the planet, why cannot the few ideologues who, within the confines of their apparently windowless and soundproofed neocon echo chamber, make policy and decide to launch preemptive wars, do the same? Besides willfully ignoring publicly available information, do the neocon policymakers also willfully ignore the U.S. Government's expensively gathered and analyzed classified intelligence if it happens to contradict neocon dogma?

It is astonishing that such ever-loyal neocon apparatchiks as National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem not to have mastered the first steps of elementary information gathering and cost-benefit analysis, despite their many years in the neocon national security "Establishment." Their assigned task seems to be merely to implement by rote the received "unitary executive" policy, not to question it, much less inform its creators. Rice and Hadley seem to have clicked their heels and saluted. At least Rice still gets to have her photo taken often as she flies, waves, meets, and smiles—though she seemed not to have had much to smile about during her most recent, generally tense and bungled visit to Moscow, along with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

How was the subject of Iran handled by each side at the meetings in Moscow? Did Russian Defense Minister Antoli Serdyukov warn that a U.S. attack on Iran would meet with a surprising response with the help of Russian weapons systems already provided to Iran? The French press has been citing intelligence sources in reporting that Russian President Putin has warned Iran of Israel's plan, with U.S. help, to strike Iranian nuclear facilities toward the end of 2007. The U.S. would then follow with its own assault on Iran. Are the Russians simply trying to make sure that Iran would not be caught unawares by an Israeli and U.S. “shock and awe” campaign? The same French reporting asserts that the Russians are now sending anti-ship missiles and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Speaking at the Caspian Summit in Tehran this week, Putin issued a stern public warning against using military force in the region. Putin's visit was the first by a Russian leader to Tehran since Stalin attended the Tehran Conference with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943.

Recall that in March rumors swirled that the Russians were predicting a U.S. strike on Iran for April 6th. Obviously, the strike did not occur. Is it possible that the carefully executed Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors and marines in disputed waters on March 23rd may have thrown a wrench in U.S. planning and thereby averted a regional disaster?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates surely is up to the task of asking tough questions about the consequences of attacking Iran. Unfortunately, Gates, a long-time loyal Bush family retainer, simply may not be up to the task of insisting on credible answers or of putting a stop to the madness, although since April, 2007 some reporting indicates that he has been putting up a stout effort to thwart Cheney's ”fondest pipe dream” to attack Iran.

Even if a member or two of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or perhaps the very sane and reality-based CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon, were to resign rather than carry out an arguably illegal and certainly irrational order to launch preemptive strikes (framed, of course, as "defensive" in nature) against Iran, there will be an ample supply of tail-wagging, eager-to-please sycophants in the mold of General David Petraeus to take their places.

The Boys in the Bunker will always be able to find enough ambitious, heel-clicking apparatchiks who will say: “Yes, sir,” and ask no irritating, troublesome questions.

And the "deciders" can probably find and co-opt enough short-sighted and even complicit Democrat in Congress, too, as the 76-22 vote on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment in the Senate demonstrated.

Is it possible that the Boys in the Bunker are asking questions like the common sense ones in the outline above? Not likely. Bush has repeatedly demonstrated that he is intellectually impaired, incurious, and millennialist. And what about Cheney? Isn't he smart enough to ponder such questions? Here is the reality check: even the incurious Bush managed to squeak through Yale with a “gentleman's C-minus average.” Cheney flunked out of Yale not merely once, but twice. He lacked the intellectual capacity and discipline even to complete the work assignments and hang on with grades of C-minus or D. Cheney is not especially bright, but he is paranoid, authoritarian, and malevolent.

Displaying a relentless will in pursuit of corporatist, neocon interventionist, and “unitary executive” agendas obviously does not correspond to any particular ability to distill truth from facts or to reflect on the larger consequences of one's actions.

And remember that the Bush/Cheney White House team has a proven track record: a confirmed debacle in Iraq and an emerging debacle in Afghanistan. So does Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's Kadima-led coalition: the embarrassing invasion of Lebanon in 2006--with obvious U.S. encouragement--in a futile effort to crush Hezbollah.

By now we are compelled to conclude that the "deciders" both in Washington and Tel Aviv (and the enabling U.S. Senators and Congressmen as well) have learning curves coinciding with the X axis on the strategic graph.

Even if it is all mainly about the oil, as Alan Greenspan let slip in his recent memoir and as former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid (Ret.) asserted recently at Stanford ("We've treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations."), at what point do the vast amounts of blood and treasure expended to secure the oilfields of Iraq and perhaps also of Iran surpass the return on investment? Could we not just let the Iraqis and Iranians run their own countries, manage state-run oil companies if that is their preference, and contract with them to purchase their oil (even if they want yen, yuan, or euros instead of dollars), rather than occupy their territory for decades in an effort to enforce production sharing agreements advantageous mainly to Big Oil?

Will the Boys in the Bunker give the order to try for a hat trick with Iran? Will they move beyond mere debacle to outright catastrophe? If a quagmire is the best that they can manage in Iraq, imagine what they can accomplish in Iran, a nation of four times the size and three times the population, not to mention one possessing a disciplined and well-led military with high morale and infused with the Shiite willing acceptance of martyrdom. And while the Iranian military is certainly not up to the technical standards and awesome firepower of the U.S. forces in the region, remember that Iran possesses a large arsenal of lethal anti-ship missiles. Given Iran's commanding position along the Strait of Hormuz, such missiles, along with Russian intelligence support, may well be the only weapons it really needs to neutralize a seemingly overwhelming American military advantage in sheer firepower.


Ken Burns' magnificent and profoundly moving The War series on PBS has reminded us how even an unavoidable, necessary, defensive war like World War II is marked by horrendous human blunders (even by the good guys) and by pointless destruction, death, maiming, and untold human suffering.

What words can we possibly summon to describe what launching an unnecessary war of "preemption" (i.e., a war of aggression under the precedents of the Nuremberg Tribunal) brings in its wake?

Who would launch such a war?

Simpletons? Check. X
Lunatics? Check. X
War profiteers, i.e., Big Guns, Big Oil, and Big Wartime Contractors? Check. X
Sociopathic, Nuremberg-caliber war criminals? Check. X

Are these "deciders" actively seeking Armageddon on the hill of Megiddo? Or are they yearning for a Wagnerian Götterdämmerung?

Or are the U.S. "deciders" simply incurious about the likely consequences of their actions and incapable of considering alternatives? The late historian Barbara Tuchman, author of The Guns of August and The March of Folly, had a word for such behavior: wooden-headedness.

No matter what Cheney and Bush decide to do with the massive U.S. destructive power that they have deployed to the Persian Gulf, the geopolitical tectonic plates have begun to slide swiftly. Will the plates arrive at a new equilibrium with--or without--the shock of a regional (and perhaps global) cataclysm that would be triggered by a U.S. assault on Iran?

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