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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Bush administration's provocations towards Iran

(updated below)

By Glenn Greenwald - Over the past several days, there have been reports of increasing U.S. military activity in the Persian Gulf aimed at Iran, and today The New York Times confirms that "the United States and Britain will begin moving additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region in a display of military resolve toward Iran." The buildup includes "a second aircraft carrier and its supporting ships to be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran by early next year."

There is no doubt that these moves are intended to signal to the Iranians (as well as to what the Times describes as "Washington’s allies in the region who are concerned about Iran’s intentions") that we are capable of an offensive military strike against Iran:

Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might well call the growing presence provocative.

One purpose of the deployment, they said, is to make clear that the focus on ground troops in Iraq has not made it impossible for the United States and its allies to maintain a military watch on Iran.

Bush officials cite two "justifications" for these maneuvers: (1) to enforce any sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council as a result of Iran's refusal to comply with its resolutions (sanctions which have not yet been imposed), and (2) to deter Iran from a military blockade of oil shipments in retaliation for not-yet-imposed sanctions.

The President was not even asked about his intentions with regard to Iran at yesterday's Press Conference. He was asked whether he would follow the ISG's recommendation to negotiate with Iran concerning Iraq, and the President gave his standard bizarre answer that he would negotiate with the Iranians once they agreed to suspend their nuclear research program -- i.e., once they agreed in advance to do everything we would demand that they do in negotiations. The Iranians have responded in-kind by saying that they would negotiate with the U.S. only once we left Iraq.

According to the Times, Bush officials "view recent bold moves by Iran — and by North Korea as well — as at least partly explained by assessments in Tehran and North Korea that the American military is bogged down in Iraq and incapable of fully projecting power elsewhere." There is undoubtedly truth in that. For an administration which has operated on the bellicose premise that "weakness is provocative," it has hard to overstate the extent to which the Iraq disaster has -- quite rationally -- emboldened countries around the world against the U.S. and diluted the deterrent threat of our military force.

Any action which brings us even a small step closer to military confrontation with Iran should be, by definition, the most attention-generating news story. Any military conflict with Iran would be so disastrous for the U.S. that it cannot be adequately described. In contrast to the weakened, isolated, universally reviled Saddam regime, the Iranians are smart, strong, shrewd and supported by scores of vitally important allies around the world. And that's to say nothing of the resources that are being drained away, and the ever increasing U.S. isolation, that occurs every day that we continue to occupy Iraq.

It's unclear whether the President really believes that a military confrontation with Iran is inevitable if they do not stop their nuclear program (which they will not do, particularly if we refuse to negotiate). He has given speeches in the recent past in which he spoke of Iran exactly the same way he spoke of Iraq in late 2002 when, in his mind, an attack on Iraq was already a fait accompli.

It's possible that that rhetoric was designed to satiate his hungry, crazed warmongering "base." And it's also possible that it was designed to simply convey to the Iranians that military force is possible despite our occupation of Iraq.

But it's equally possible that he really does believe that some sort of war with Iran is inevitable -- even if it is "just" an air attack -- and recent news events suggesting that public opposition to President Ahmadinejad is growing may trigger the President's messianic complex and lead him to the belief that the U.S. is "called upon" to help bring democracy to that country. And many of the people who convinced the President to invade Iraq have long harbored dreams of regime change in Iran as the Ultimate Success, or at least the Next Step in the Epic War of Civilizations.

The warmongers who unquestionably still have the President's ear immediately transformed the recent debate over whether we should negotiate with Iran (prompted by the ISG) into an argument that Iran is our Real Enemy, not just in general but specifically in Iraq, and that Iran should be attacked, not negotiated with. Those wild-eyed war-loving elements are tempting to dismiss because of how obviously extremist and detached from reality they are, but they continue to occupy places of high influence with the President (both inside and outside of the White House).

Worse, there are convincing signs that the President is one of them, i.e., that he now irreversibly shares their world view that War with Islamic Extremism requires a progressive series of wars with various states, the next of which is Iran. One thing that is so clear that it ought to be beyond doubt: if the President is convinced that some sort of military action is necessary or even warranted, nothing -- not public opinion nor his supposed "lame duck" status nor the sheer insanity of the proposal -- is going to stop him.

Few things have been as disturbing as the President's now immovable belief that he is Harry Truman -- fighting a necessary war even in the face of widespread opposition from weak and blind people in his own country and around the world -- but destined to be vindicated by history. And, as he sees it, the more he fights against anti-war headwinds and the bolder he is in the risks he takes, the greater his vindication will be.

Geopolitical considerations do not determine what the U.S. will do vis-a-vis Iran. The President's personality does.

Even if the President and/or his top advisors are less than clear about their intent with regard to Iran, it may not matter. Military build-ups of this sort, plainly aimed at one country in particular, can easily produce miscalculations or lead to unintended provocations. As but one of countless permutations, if the Iranians -- governed, we are unconvicingly told, by irrational and crazed Hitlers -- perceive that moves of this sort suggest that military confrontation with the U.S. is inevitable, then they can become incentivized to strengthen their position, particularly while the U.S. is weakened in Iraq, which can in turn cause the U.S. to escalate its actions, etc.

Or a restless anti-mullah movement can be quieted by uniting the country behind conflict with the U.S. It is an incomparably dangerous game and the consequences are almost certainly beyond our capacity to predict, let alone manage.

There are also all sorts of constitutional questions about the type of Congressional authorization required in order to interact militarily with Iran, but those would almost certainly be swept aside by an administration that would claim that it already has such authorization either inherently or as a result of Iran's involvement in our war in Iraq. If the President were really intent on war with Iran, it is very difficult to envision Congressional Democrats, or really anything else, stopping him.

None of these issues is clear and I would not describe anything as inevitable when it comes to Iran. But at a time when the country is vigorously opposed to our ongoing occupation in Iraq -- opposition which is being steadfastly ignored by a Washington Establishment that is about to increase our troop presence there -- any actions of the sort we are currently undertaking to militarily provoke Iran should be at the top of the list in our political debates.

While there may be all sorts of nice, clean, abstract theories which even Democrats can embrace about why a military build-up is wise and necessary as a show of force against Iran, it must be kept first and foremost in mind that it is the Bush administration that is overseeing the build-up and will decide whatever steps are taken as a result. That is reason enough not only to justify urgent opposition to these events, but to make such opposition a matter of unparalleled importance.

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UPDATE: Digby -- whose blogging, more than anything else, convinced me of the unique potential of the blogosphere, which, in turn, motivated me to begin this blog -- is asking for reader donations to sustain and help support the truly invaluable blogging that takes place on Hullabaloo. Last year, I donated to Digby myself and encourage anyone who is a fan of Digby's blogging to do so.

Some bloggers have a larger daily readership, but few have as much impact and influence on the content of our political dialogue as Digby does. And that, in my view, is a very good thing that ought to be maintained and encouraged.

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Atrios, whose blog has been down ever since he was hoodwinked by Blogspot into accepting the "quick, easy and painless" upgrade they have been offering (which I have been steadfastly resisting), is blogging temporarily here.

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