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Shifting Targets | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Shifting Targets

Last week, the Senate -- via the Kyl-Lieberman Senate resolution -- handed the Bush Administration a close-to-blank check for military strikes against Iran. The resolution accuses Iran of fighting "a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq." (Hillary Clinton, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, voted for it.) Sy Hersh's chilling article in this week's New Yorker ("The Administration's Plan for Iran") shows how the Administration may attempt to use that resolution as it redefines its military and political justifications for attacking Iran.

Hersh reports that the White House has requested that the Joint Chiefs redraw its plans for a possible attack on Iran. Confronted with a lack of public support for a major bombing campaign, with the intelligence community's assessment that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a nuclear bomb, and the growing realization in Washington that Iran is "the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq," the Administration has been marketing a new and dangerous line. The view that has taken hold in the White House, Hersh writes, is "that if many of America's problems [in Iraq] are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians." As a result, "What had been presented primarily as a counterproliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism." The focus is no longer broad bombing attacks--with targets including Iran's known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure cites. Instead, " the emphasis is on 'surgical' strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which the Administration claims, have been a source of attacks on Americans in Iraq."

The revised bombing plan, "with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon," Hersh writes. One former senior intelligence official tells Hersh, " Cheney's option is now for a fast in and out--for surgical strikes." Hersh is careful to state that he was "repeatedly cautioned in interviews" that Bush has yet to issue the "execute order" that is required for military operations inside Iran--"and such an order may never be issued." But, he continues, " there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning."

Hersh quotes former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski: "This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we're going to play the victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand. A lot depends on how stupid the Iranians will be. Will they cool off (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and tone down their language?" How will the Iranians react to more limited bombing strikes? Brzezinski tells Hersh that Iran would likely react "by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, their neighbors, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will be stuck in a regional war for twenty years."

America's allies have shown mixed reactions to the new plans. Strikingly, Hersh reports that the new British government of Gordon Brown has had the most positive response to the plan--even though, as one retired four-star General tells Hersh, the British believe they were "sold a bill of goods" before the war in Iraq and "the burden of proof is high" for action against Iran. There are a few speaking out against plans that could result in disastrous and unintended consequences for US and world security. Hans Blix tells Hersh, "There are important cards that Washington could play; instead, they have three aircraft carriers sitting in the Persian Gulf."

As to the drumbeat for war, Blix says that his "impression is that the United States has been trying to push up the accusations against Iran as a basis for possible attack--as an excuse for jumping on them." David Kay, the former CIA adviser and chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations, tells Hersh that "questions remain about the provenance of weapons in Iraq, especially given the rampant black market in arms." His inspection team was astounded, Kay says, in the aftermath of both Iraq wars, by the 'huge amounts of arms' it found circulating among civilians and military personnel throughout the country. He recalled seeing stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered from unexploded American cluster bombs. Kay also says, "I thought Petraeus went way beyond what Iran is doing inside Iraq today."

Hersh's important and alarming article is a warning that the Administration is intent on taking us into another military disaster--which will destabilize the region and the world and make the US less secure. And actions like the Senate's Kyl-Lieberman resolution, while only symbolic, could be used as a pretext by a White House determined to use military confrontation to avoid blame for the catastrophe in Iraq. It must be repealed. In its place, the Senate should introduce and pass a resolution stating that there are no good military options for solving our disagreements with Iran. Military action will only result in disastrous and unintended consequences for US, regional and global interests. It is time for tough-minded and astute diplomacy and engagement with Iran--so as to weaken the hardliners in that country's government. One tragedy among many: At a time when a majority of Americans appear to have learned that there are limitations to the use of military force, it appears increasingly likely that the hardliners in our country are intent on taking us into another fiasco.

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