Listening to Hillary Clinton’s top aides trying to put a good face on the results of the Indiana primary had the same surreal quality as an aide to Hitler reporting “encouraging news” from Stalingrad. Her candidacy died on May 6. She needed at least a 10 percent win in Indiana, and in the end she scraped through by not much more than 16,000 votes. Every day she stays in the race means more zeroes on her campaign debt, which probably tops $25 million right now, when all the IOUs are counted. Hillary might have to go back into the cattle futures business.

There’s talk of Mrs. Clinton telling Obama that the price of concession is that he settle her campaign debt and take her on the ticket. He’s got the money, though he should use it for worthier purposes. As for the number-two spot, what does it take to keep the Clintons clear of the White House? A stake through both their hearts? If ever a campaign disclosed low moral and political fiber, it was this one. Bill ended up as a petulant sleazeball and Hillary as a war drum thumper, marching shoulder to shoulder with John McCain.

Prison is the leitmotif of this year’s campaign. Obama was–and may remain–the prisoner of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Hillary was the prisoner of her yes-to-war-on-Iraq vote. McCain owes his whole political career to his stint in a prison in Vietnam. Nervous though liberals are of the issue, the real extent of McCain’s collaboration with his Vietnamese captors should be a hot issue in the fall. There are more prisoners here per capita than in any country in the world. We have prisons where Americans torture their captives into madness and suicide. America itself is prisoner of the economic philosophy of neoliberalism, dying before our eyes.

In the White House now is our top POW, the war in question being the one in Iraq. Will Bush compound this disaster by launching an attack on Iran? Many have predicted it, though I’ve never thought it would come to full-scale open conflict. But Bush and Cheney are certainly upping the ante. Andrew Cockburn reported on our CounterPunch website on May 2 that “six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, is ‘unprecedented in its scope.’ Bush’s secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area–from Lebanon to Afghanistan–but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines–up to and including the assassination of targeted officials.”

The source for Andrew’s major scoop, a former official on the National Security Council, indicated that the new program of destabilization will mean money and weapons showered on dissident groups in Iran, Iranian Kurdish nationalists and the Ahwazi Arabs of southwest Iran. “Operations against Iran’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon will be stepped up, along with efforts to destabilize the Syrian regime.”

The covert program is budgeted at $300 million, which Democratic leaders in Congress approved in a secret session after listening to the request for a special appropriation. No doubt the ardent support of the Israel lobby for escalation toward war on Iran played a significant role in the Democrats’ green light. In rhetorical terms, the stage scenery is all in place.

“Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?” Senator Joe Lieberman asked Gen. David Petraeus in recent hearings. “It certainly is…. That is correct,” the general dutifully replied, testifying the next day that “unchecked, the ‘special groups’ pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”

CBS has reported that the State Department is at work on an ultimatum, presumably advising Iran of drastic military sanctions unless it quits all its current activities in Iraq. US military deployments to the Gulf buttress this rhetorical barrage.

Will we see Condoleezza Rice doing a reprise of Gen. Colin Powell’s notorious briefing to the UN, only this time targeting Iran? I still doubt it. On such matters US credibility remains at an all-time low, and the US economy is not in fit shape for another war. Citigroup, the world’s largest financial services company, is headed for bankruptcy, held clear of immediate ruin only by giving Abu Dhabi 11 percent interest on a bailout loan.

But the evidence for continued escalation is thick on the ground. Congressional resistance, always frail, was broken last fall. The only significant resistance to war is a very significant number of ordinary Americans, and who cares about them?

The USS Jimmy Carter

I had some sarcastic words in my column about enthusiasts for nuclear submarines such as former President Jimmy Carter, who expressed his pleasure back in 2000 at having a Seawolf-class sub named after him.

A reader took umbrage at my reference to the irony of peace-seeker Carter being associated by name with an instrument of war that could shower a city with nuclear missiles. The USS Jimmy Carter, the reader said, is not armed with nuclear munitions. Maybe, maybe not. Pesky arms accords did take the nuclear warheads off the Tomahawk missiles of these subs, but who’s to know if Bush and Cheney haven’t ordered them to be put back on?

At all events, tasked with attacking underwater communications systems and other subs, the USS Jimmy Carter will be in the thick of nuclear conflict, perhaps starting with George Bush’s or John McCain’s war on Iran. Carter should get his name off the sub or, better still, emulate the radical Catholics and go and pour blood over it next time it shows up in port.