A thoroughly moderate, wonky international relations expert I know who spends much of his energy evaluating the efficacy of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan recently offered this summary of the Bush-Cheney Administration’s efforts:
The Bush-Cheney administration has surrendered much of Afghanistan to the Taliban and much of Pakistan to al-Qaida. They have turned most of Iraq over to Iran, creating the very danger over which they now threaten another disastrous war; they have strained the U.S. Armed Forces to the point of exhaustion, turned the Defense Department over to private contractors, the Justice Department over to the Republican National Committee, and the national debt over to foreign creditors, while leading a party whose single most basic belief is supposed to be that individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions. And they dare to lecture us on national security?
Indeed, the guiding star of the Administration appears to be Monumental Stupidity. Presented with two choices, they can be counted upon to pick the wrong one. Which is why the latest chapter in Cheney’s maneuverings to launch the next war can come as no surprise. It’s par for the course.
Writing in the just-out issue of Newsweek, Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball bring us a good deal more information on the strange recent events surrounding the Israeli air strike and overflights in Syria. The speculation for the last week has focused on this being connected with plans for an Israeli air assault on Iran, supposedly as an element in a plan that Vice President Cheney is cooking up for an aerial war against Tehran.
One former U.S. official, who like others quoted in this article declined to be identified discussing sensitive matters, says several months ago Israel presented the Bush administration with reconnaissance images and information from secret agents alleging North Korea had begun to supply nuclear-related material to Syria. Some U.S. intelligence reporting, including electronic signal intercepts, appeared to support the Israeli claims. But other U.S. officials remain skeptical about any nuclear link between Syria and North Korea. One European security source told NEWSWEEK the target might have been a North Korean military shipment to Iran that was transiting Syria. But a European intelligence official said it wasn’t certain Israel had struck anything at all.
While the Bush administration appears to have given tacit support to the Syria raid, Israel and the United States are not in lockstep on Iran. For Israel, the next three months may be decisive: either Tehran succumbs to sanctions and stops enriching uranium or it must be dealt with militarily. (Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes only.) “Two thousand seven is the year you determine whether diplomatic efforts will stop Iran,” says a well-placed Israeli source, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the government. “If by the end of the year that’s not working, 2008 becomes the year you take action.”
Still, Newsweek sees the plans for an aerial war against Iran as far from likely to be executed. Steven Clemons, writing in a column for Salon, concludes that in the end cooler heads will prevail and the drive for an air war will be averted. Newsweek appears to share Clemons’s sentiments. Reports last week suggested that opposition to this idea within the Joint Chiefs of Staff was hardening, and CENTCOM commander Admiral Fallon is reported to be vehement in his condemnation of the plans. Behind the scenes maneuvering in Congress last week by Senator Webb and others has included efforts to get Admiral Fallon’s opinions on the record and out in public—while the Administration has worked hard to try to keep General Petraeus’s immediate boss out of the public eye and off the record.
The push for war can be easily located: it stems from the office of Vice President Cheney. Newsweek reports:
There are still voices pushing for firmer action against Tehran, most notably within Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. But the steady departure of administration neocons over the past two years has also helped tilt the balance away from war. One official who pushed a particularly hawkish line on Iran was David Wurmser, who had served since 2003 as Cheney’s Middle East adviser. A spokeswoman at Cheney’s office confirmed to NEWSWEEK that Wurmser left his position last month to “spend more time with his family.” A few months before he quit, according to two knowledgeable sources, Wurmser told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz—and perhaps other sites—in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out. The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran. (Wurmser’s remarks were first reported last week by Washington foreign-policy blogger Steven Clemons and corroborated by NEWSWEEK.) When NEWSWEEK attempted to reach Wurmser for comment, his wife, Meyrav, declined to put him on the phone and said the allegations were untrue. A spokeswoman at Cheney’s office said the vice president “supports the president’s policy on Iran.”
The notion that Israel would be used as a U.S. proxy in the launch of an air war against Iran is hardly far-fetched. Security experts in Israel now regularly state off-the-record that last year’s disastrously misplanned Lebanese campaign was timed and stage-managed by the White House, and that the impetus for it came from Vice President Cheney with the involvement of Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser. So the tactical notion of using Israel as the “tip of the spear,” which is frequently labeled by Middle East experts as lunatic, has a well established provenance. The real question, of course, is whether Cheney is the author of the president’s policy on Iran. If he is, then another war is on the horizon, no matter what the generals think.