Tomgram: Why Cheney Won't Take Down
By Tom Engelhardt
It's been on the minds of antiwar activists and war critics since 2003. And little wonder. If you don't remember the pre-invasion of
Add to that a series of provocative statements by President Bush, the Vice President, and other top
Consider as well the evident relish with which the President and other top administration officials regularly refuse to take "all options" off that proverbial "table" (at which no one bothers to sit down to talk). Throw into the mix semi-official threats, warnings, and hair-raising leaks from Israeli officials and intelligence types about
From the other side of the American political aisle comes a language hardly less hair-raising, including Hillary Clinton's infamous comment about how the
Stir in a string of new military bases the U.S. has been building within miles of the Iranian border, the repeated crescendos of U.S. military charges about Iranian-supplied weapons killing American soldiers in Iraq, and the revelation by Seymour Hersh, our premier investigative reporter, that, late last year, the Bush administration launched -- with the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress -- a $400 million covert program "designed to destabilize [Iran's] religious leadership," including cross-border activities by U.S. Special Operations Forces and a low-level war of terror through surrogates in regions where Baluchi and Ahwazi Arab minorities are strongest. (Precedents for this terror campaign include previous CIA-run campaigns in
Add to this combustible mix the unwillingness of the Iranians to suspend their nuclear enrichment activities, even for a matter of weeks, while negotiating with the Europeans over their nuclear program. Throw in as well various threats from Iranian officials in response to the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities, and any number of other alarums, semi-official predictions ("A senior defence official told ABC News there is an 'increasing likelihood' that Israel will carry out such an attack…"), reports, rumours, and warnings -- and it's hardly surprising that the political Internet has been filled with alarming (as well as alarmist) pieces claiming that an assault on Iran may be imminent.
Seymour Hersh, who certainly has his ear to the ground in
Given the Bush administration's "preventive war" doctrine which has opened the way for the launching of wars without significant notice or obvious provocation, and the penchant of its officials to ignore reality, all of this should frighten anyone. In fact, it's not only war critics who are increasingly edgy. In recent months, jumpy (and greedy) commodity traders, betting on a future war, have boosted these fears. (Every bit of potential bad news relating to
No wonder. It's a remarkably frightening scenario, and, if there's one lesson this administration has taught us these last years, it's that nothing's "off the table," not for officials who, only a few years ago, believed themselves capable of creating their own reality and imposing it on the planet. An "unnamed Administration official" -- generally assumed to be Karl Rove -- famously put it this way to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:
"[He] said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors.... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"
A Future Global Oil Shock
Nonetheless, sometimes -- as in
Possessing the world's second largest reserves of oil and natural gas,
Given that, let's imagine, for a moment, what almost any version of an air assault -- Israeli, American, or a combination of the two -- would be likely to do to the price of oil. When asked recently by Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News about the effects of an Israeli attack on
Those kinds of price leaps could take place in the panic that preceded any Iranian response. But, of course, the Iranians, no matter how badly hit, would be certain to respond -- by themselves and through proxies in the region in a myriad of possible ways. Iranian officials have regularly been threatening all sorts of hell should they be attacked, including "blitzkrieg tactics" in the region. Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari typically swore that his country would "react fiercely, and nobody can imagine what would be the reaction of
Let's take a moment to imagine just what some of the responses to any air assault might be. The list of possibilities is nearly endless and many of them would be hard even for the planet's pre-eminent military power to prevent. They might include, as a start, the mining of the
In addition, American troops on their mega-bases in Iraq, rather than being a powerful force in any attack -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already cautioned President Bush that Iraqi territory cannot be used to attack Iran -- would instantly become so many hostages to Iranian actions, including the possible targeting of those bases by missiles. Similarly,
Imagine, as well, what possible disruptions of the modest Iraqi oil supply might mean in the chaos of the moment, with Iranian oil already off the market. Then consider what the targeting of even small numbers of Iranian missiles on the Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields could do to global oil markets. (It might not even matter whether they actually hit anything.) And that, of course, just scratches the surface of the range of retaliatory possibilities available to Iranian leaders.
Looked at another way,
Such a scenario would result in a global oil shock of almost inconceivable proportions. For any American who believes that he or she is experiencing "pain at the pump" right now, just wait until you experience what a true global oil shock would involve.
And that's without even taking into consideration what spreading chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet might mean, or what might happen if Hezbollah or Hamas took action of any sort against
This, then, is the baseline for any discussion of an attack on
Let's leave to the experts the question of whether
In other words, on the eve of the arrival of a new American administration, Israel, a small, vulnerable Middle Eastern state deeply reliant on its American alliance, would find itself responsible for starting an American war (associated with a Vice President of unparalleled unpopularity) and for a global oil shock of staggering proportions, if not a global great depression. It would also be the proximate cause for a regional "fireball." (Oil-poor
In addition, the latest American National Intelligence Estimate on
Simply put, it is next to inconceivable that the present riven Israeli government would be politically capable of launching such an attack on Iran on its own, or even in combination with only a faction, no matter how important, in the U.S. government. And such a point is more or less taken for granted by many Israelis (and Iranians). Without a full-scale "green light" from the Bush administration, launching such an attack could be tantamount to long-term political suicide.
Only in conjunction with an American attack would an Israeli attack (rash to the point of madness even then) be likely. So let's turn to the Bush administration and consider what might be called the Hersh scenario.
Will the Bush administration Attack Iran If Obama Is Elected?
The first problem is a simple one. Oil, which was at $146 a barrel last week, dropped to $136 (in part because of a statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissing "the possibility that war with the
For those eager to launch a reasonably no-pain campaign against
Now, consider recent administration actions on
It's possible, of course, that Cheney and associates are simply holding their fire for what they care most about, but here's another question that needs to be considered: Does George W. Bush actually support his imperial Vice President in the manner he once did? There's no way to know, but Bush has always been a more important figure in the administration than many critics like to imagine. The North Korean decision indicates that Cheney may not have a free hand from the President on
The Adults in the Room
And what about the opposition? I'm not talking about those of us out here who would oppose such a strike. I mean within the world of Bush's
I mean the adults in the room, who have been in short supply indeed these last years in the Bush administration, specifically Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. (Condoleezza Rice evidently falls into this camp as well, although she's proven herself something of a President-enabling nonentity over the years.)
With former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gates tellingly co-chaired a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations back in 2004 which called for negotiations with
In his Congressional confirmation hearings, he was absolutely clear: any attack on
"It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real… Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize
And perhaps more… That puts it in a nutshell.
Hersh, in his most recent piece on the administration's covert program in
"A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defence Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a pre-emptive strike on
In other words, back in 2007, early and late, our new secretary of defence managed to sound remarkably like one of those Iranian officials issuing warnings. Gates, who has a long history as a skilled
The March "resignation" of CENTCOM commander Admiral William J. Fallon, outspokenly against an administration strike on
His recent public statements have actually been stronger than Fallon's (and the position he fills is obviously more crucial than CENTCOM commander). Lobe comments that, at a July 2nd press conference at the Pentagon, Mullen "repeatedly made clear that he opposes an attack on
Mullen, being an adult, has noticed the obvious. As columnist Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Constitution put the matter recently: "A
The Weight of Reality
Here's the point: Yes, there is a powerful faction in this administration, headed by the Vice President, which has, it seems, saved its last rounds of ammunition for a strike against Iran. The question, of course, is: Are they still capable of creating "their own reality" and imposing it, however briefly, on the planet? Every tick upwards in the price of oil says no. Every day that passes makes an attack on
On this subject, panic may be everywhere in the world of the political Internet, and even in the mainstream, but it's important not to make the mistake of overestimating these political actors or underestimating the forces arrayed against them. It's a reasonable proposition today -- as it wasn't perhaps a year ago -- that, whatever their desires, they will not, in the end, be able to launch an attack on
They would have to act, after all, against the unfettered opposition of the American people; against leading military commanders who, even if obliged to follow a direct order from the President, have other ways to make their wills known; against key figures in the administration; and, above all, against reality which bears down on them with a weight that is already staggering -- and still growing.
And yet, of course, for the maddest gamblers and dystopian dreamers in our history, never say never.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. The World According to TomDispatch:
Copyright 2008 Tom Engelhardt