Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is the United States going to attack Iran after all?

Don't Panic...your war questions answered


I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong.

In 2000, I thought there was no way American voters would let someone as obviously unintelligent and callow as George W. Bush anywhere near the White House. D'oh!

Though I was opposed to the Iraq war, I still assumed Saddam Hussein had WMD. D'oh!

In November 2004, I looked at a bunch of state polls, did what I thought was sound Electoral College math, and predicted a comfortable win for Sen. John Kerry. D'oh!

In 2007, I thought "Cavemen," the ABC sitcom based on characters that first appeared in GEICO car insurance ads, was so funny it was sure to catch on with viewers. D-d'oh-d-d'oh-d'oh!

And late last year, in this newspaper column, I wrote the following sentence:

"By saying that U.S. intelligence does not think Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, this NIE kicks the legs out from underneath White House officials and allies who've spent the last year marching in the direction of war with Iran."

I wasn't just wrong.

I was wrongtastically wrongitty-wrong-wrong. About something important.

My bogus analysis, quoted above, refers to last December's National Intelligence Estimate about Iran's nuclear program. It concluded Iran once had a nuclear weapons program, but halted it way back in 2003.

If the United States' own intelligence collective did not see a nuclear weapons threat from Iran, I didn't see how the Bush administration could convincingly argue to the public that Iran is a threat worthy of inspiring another pre-emptive American war.

NIEs are authored by a committee consisting of a high-level representative from each of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies. Because several competing bureaucracies sign an NIE, its conclusions are considered more meaningful and authoritative than any single report by any single agency. An NIE's conclusion holds sway in the government.

That's not to say NIEs are always correct. On the contrary, they've sometimes been spectacularly wrong.

The most famous recent example of NIE wrongness was September 2002's NIE report that claimed Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, an active nuclear weapons program, and was developing robotic aircraft for germ warfare. In fact, Saddam had neither WMD nor robots. A Roomba with a can of Lysol duct-taped to it is higher-tech germ warfare than anything Saddam Hussein's regime could have mustered.

What I failed to understand last December was that the Bush administration is too lusty for war with Iran to let anyone or anything cock-block it. NIE-be-damned, the Bush White House is going to do its darndest to foment war with Iran.

A new article by Seymour Hersh published in the New Yorker reveals that the Bush administration got $400 million from Congress last year to escalate covert military operations inside Iran.

Note the final four words of the previous sentence – "military operations inside Iran."

The Bush administration is already at war with Iran.

U.S special ops teams are apparently in Iran gathering information about the country's nuclear facilities. Many of these facilities are concrete bunkers, built deep underground, and surrounded by hidden anti-aircraft and anti-missile batteries. Destroying them would require more precise intelligence than U.S. spy satellites can provide.

The United States is stepping up funding numerous violent dissident groups within Iran, including a group called the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. Known in the Western press as the MEK, the group has been on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations for years.

In other words, we hate Iran because we say they're in league with terrorists. So we're paying terrorists to attack Iran.

In recent months, political violence in Iran has spiked. There's no way of knowing how much of that violence is funded and/or encouraged by U.S. operations, but Iranians have every right at this point to assume the Bush administration's war on them is already happening. Remember – the only secular, democratic government Iran ever had was overthrown in 1953 by a covert CIA operation.

The sad irony is that U.S. operations in Iran will only weaken the position of Iranian democrats eager to toss out the idiot theocrats who run the country. As we've experienced in the United States, outside attacks tend to increase the political influence of right-wing religious nuts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is the Surge in Iraq Working?

After Barak Obama met with Gen. Petraeus a couple of days ago in Iraq he stated that, despite what the General had to say about the success of "the surge", he would (given the chance to do it again) still vote against it. He has (of course) been attacked relentlessly in the conservative press about this statement. I'd like to offer this tidbit from Andishes Nouraee as to the "success" of the surge.


Don't Panic...your war questions answered


Since the War On Terror™'s start in late 2001, there's been a metaphorical ping-pong match in the press about mainstream media coverage of the war.

One side says the press is overly critical of the war, downplaying and often ignoring its successes. The other side is critical of the press for eschewing serious analysis of the war in favor of White House spin and/or mindless fluff that takes the public's focus away from the war.

I'm sympathetic to both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, TV news coverage is indeed biased toward dazzling visual content. Explosions are more likely to get on TV than not-explosions. That's why you never hear anything about Canada on TV news. "Nothing burning here in Ottawa, Katie. Back to you in New York."

On the other hand, I've seen more in-depth, thoughtful analysis of Miley Cyrus' bare right shoulder on TV news programs than I have of any political news in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran or Pakistan.

For the first half of the year, the ping-pong match was displaced in the public consciousness by the presidential primaries. With campaign coverage now in its traditional summer lull, the ping-pong match is back.

The loudest paddle-whackers for the pro-war team this time are Jason Campbell, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, and conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times.

With the help of graphic designer Amy Unikewicz, Campbell and O'Hanlon published a chart and short essay in the June 22 New York Times showing an overall improvement of conditions in Iraq.

There were 550 civilian deaths from violence in Iraq in May 2008, according to the chart, down from 2,600 in May 2007, and 2,700 in May 2006. The chart also noted a sharp decline in U.S. troop deaths, daily attacks by insurgents, and the number of civilians displaced by violence.

The reduction in violence, the essay says, gives "reason for hope that the major improvement in security resulting from the surge of American forces may endure even as the surge itself ends."

Two days later, also on the Times' op-ed page, columnist Brooks suggested that people who deny the surge's success are in a state of "intellectual denial" and that President Bush was "courageous and astute" for initiating the troop escalation, which began in spring 2007.

That's the pro-war ping. Here's the pong.

Violence is indeed down in Iraq and the U.S. troop escalation, as led by Gen. David "Don't Call Him Betray Us" Petraeus, undoubtedly contributes greatly to the reduction of violence.

But to describe the situation in Iraq as hopeful bends the definition of the word beyond recognition.

The pro-war crowd will have you believe that Iraq is like a ship. For a while it was headed in the wrong direction. Now it's headed in the right direction.

A more apt metaphor is that Iraq is like a big apartment building. The U.S. set it on fire in 2003 and regularly dumped gasoline on the fire for four years. The fire's less intense today because it's running out of fuel.

Several hundred thousand, possibly up to a million, Iraqis have already died. Another 4.7 million are now refugees. More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country. Another 2.4 million were forced from their homes to other, less immediately dangerous parts of Iraq.

To call the partial reversal of Bush's Iraq war policies "courageous and astute" is a bit like calling someone a hero for shooting you in the chest, then driving you to the hospital. Fewer people are dying in Iraq in large part because there are fewer people around to die.

Less violence is better than more violence, no doubt, but the U.S. has no viable end strategy. The U.S. lacks the money, manpower, and will to stay forever. When it goes, it will leave behind religious sects that have not reconciled. And thanks to the U.S.'s simultaneous arming of Shi'ite-controlled government forces and Sunni tribal militias in the past 18 months, the sects will be more capable than ever of killing one another.

Unless you define success to mean that Bush's successor will be left to deal with a catastrophic catch-22, the surge is not a success.