The quote for the day is Machiavelli’s speech from Christopher Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta. It’s a curious play, filled with the wonderful blank verse for which Marlowe is so famous—but no part of it ever struck me more than these lines, from which I garnered some keys to understanding the play. Marlowe was assuredly never a particularly religious person, and indeed he is particularly suspicious of those who appear on the public stage manipulating religion for one purpose or another. Look behind their words, he tells us, and see if Machiavellian cunning is not lurking there. Perhaps they’re just using religion to push your buttons. And indeed, I couldn’t think of a better message for this day.
Andy Card famously remarked, when asked about the Administration’s push for the Iraq War starting in September 2002, “When you’re rolling out a new product onto the market, you don’t do it in August—you wait until September.” Today the new rollout draws near—we’re only a bit more than a week from the day on which the war party will launch its major PR effort to sell the American public on the idea of a war against Iran.
This year, on August 28, President Bush spoke to another veterans’ group, the American Legion. He called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” whose “active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” He concluded:
“Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.”
But this apparently is just test marketing, like Cheney’s 2002 speech. After all “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
“They [the source’s institution] have ‘instructions’ (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this–they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is ‘plenty.'”
And over at the New Yorker, George Packer comments:
True? I don’t know. Plausible? Absolutely. It follows the pattern of the P.R. campaign that started around this time in 2002 and led to the Iraq war. The President’s rhetoric on Iran has been nothing short of bellicose lately, warning of “the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” And the Iranian government’s behavior—detaining British servicemen and arresting American passport holders, pushing ahead with uranium enrichment, and, by many reliable accounts, increasing its funding and training for anti-American militias in Iraq—seems intentionally provocative. Perhaps President Ahmedinejad and the mullahs feel that they win either way: they humiliate the superpower if it doesn’t take the bait, and they shore up their deeply unpopular regime at home if it does. Preëmptive war requires calculations (and, often, miscalculations) on two sides, not just one, as Saddam learned in 2003. When tensions are this high between two countries and powerful factions in both act as if hostilities are in their interest, war is likely to follow.
It’s one thing for the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard, et al to champion a war they support. It’s another to jump like circus animals at the crack of the White House whip. If the propaganda campaign predicted by Rubin’s friend is launched, less subservient news organizations should ask certain questions, and keep asking them: Does the Administration expect the Iranian regime to fall in the event of an attack? If yes, what will replace it? If no (and it will not), why would the Administration deliberately set about to strengthen the regime’s hold on power? What will the Administration do to protect highly vulnerable American lives and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world against the Iranian reprisals that will follow? What if Iran strikes against Israel? What will be the strategy when the Iranian nuclear program, damaged but not destroyed, resumes? How will the Administration handle the international alarm and opprobrium that would be an attack’s inevitable fallout?
If this really is a return to the early fall of 2002 all over again, then I’m fairly sure that no one at the top of the Administration is worrying about the answers.
And no sooner does this appear in the blogosphere than we see what may be the first bit of ground-preparation for the rollout: Michael Ledeen’s new book, set for release right on schedule a week after Labor Day, and it’s called—get this–Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction. What’s the point in being subtle when you’re trying to run herd on what Nietzsche called the “bovine masses?” Here’s the blurb:
“Michael A. Ledeen has written a knowing book about Iran’s ways. His is a book that lays bare the cruelties of the radical theocracy and its ambitions beyond its borders. After Ledeen’s book, the illusions about Iran should finally be put to rest. A smart and unsentimental work.”
Ledeen, the author of Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, among other classics, is a fluent Italian speaker with curious connections to the Italian state security and the yellowcake uranium caper. No doubt Michael thinks that somewhere out in the ethersphere, Niccolò is smiling. I think that Niccolò was smarter than that: he’s wincing. In any event: Michael, this Marlowe is for you.