An eerie sense of déjà vu has accompanied the latest moves by the Bush Administration and its military commanders to explain away the quagmire in Iraq by claiming that Iran is stirring things up. The leaks by anonymous “senior United States military” officials, the grainy photos of supposed serial numbers, the claims that “senior Iranian officials” authorized the smuggling into Iraq of armor-piercing roadside bombs that might have killed US troops–all recall former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s truth-stretching presentation to the United Nations before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
What is surprising is not that Vice President Cheney and his neoconservative cronies want to expand a war that should never have been waged in the first place. (As Michael T. Klare reminds us on page 4, Iran, a charter member of the “axis of evil,” has long been in this Administration’s cross-hairs.) It is that they seem to be getting away with it.
Day after day, major media repeat pronouncements from the White House or unsourced leaks from the field with only the barest hint of skepticism. As one example, the New York Times‘s nearly 2,000-word lead story on February 10 on Iran’s alleged support of Shiite militias contained the sole caveat that US officials “acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.” Skepticism, when it is voiced, comes only later, after the headlines and television news stories have had their impact, and usually only because someone of national standing has spoken up. It is as if journalists had learned nothing over the past six years about the dangers of relying on official sources and of failing to question and challenge a spin-driven Administration.
Fortunately, some members of Congress are quicker studies. “I’m looking at this report with a degree of skepticism,” said Democrat Chris Dodd, senior senator and presidential contender, of the Iran “evidence.” “I don’t doubt that Iran has been involved to some degree, and clearly that’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but I’m getting uneasy that [the Administration’s] trying to create a premise, set a premise, for some future broader military action in Iran.” Progressives like Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee and conservatives like Republican Congressman Walter Jones are sponsoring resolutions that forbid the Administration from attacking Iran without clear authorization from Congress. “Our Constitution states that, while the Commander in Chief has the power to conduct wars, only Congress has the power to authorize war,” says Jones. “It’s time for Congress to meet its constitutional responsibility.”
That will happen only if Congress aggressively investigates claims of Iranian involvement in Iraq. Administration officials and military commanders should be questioned under oath, not allowed to spin anonymously. Assessments from intelligence agencies here and abroad should be examined by the relevant committees. No statement should be accepted as true simply because it came from an official source. Indeed, at this point Congress has ample justification for passing an updated version of the Boland Amendment, which could restrict funding of fights with Iran in the same way another Congress sought to prevent the Reagan Administration’s schemes to destabilize Nicaragua.
Those who think it impossible that Americans will wake up one morning to the news that US forces have attacked Iran, ostensibly to protect the troops in Iraq, haven’t paid enough attention not just to this Administration but to American history. In the spring of 1970, after weeks of leaks and veiled pronouncements, President Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia–claiming this would reduce US casualties in Vietnam by removing enemy sanctuaries. The bloodshed continued for another five years.
An expanded war in the Middle East could have significantly more serious consequences. The media must be challenged to do their job–as should Congress–by citizens who have decided that they won’t be fooled again.