Is the United States about to attack Iran, perhaps with nuclear "bunker buster" bombs? American planes are patrolling the border between Iraq and Iran, US forces have been authorized to kill Iranian agents in Iraq and two US aircraft carriers and missile defenses are in the Gulf.
These actions have been accompanied by a rhetorical bellicosity not equaled since the invasion of Iraq. During a mid February press conference: The president asserted that and Iranian paramilitary group, the Quds "was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did. Either they knew or didn't know, and what matters is, is that they're there. What's worse, that the government knew or that the government didn't know? What's worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?"
I have never been comfortable suggesting that the president is lying, not because that is a harsh accusation but because lying touches on questions of individual knowledge and motivation. It has become popular now even in mainstream circles to charge that presidential lies about Iraqi weapons led not only to the war but to widespread initial support for that war. Blaming the Iraq invasion and occupation on presidential lies takes the press and opposition political leaders off the hook. In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, even the mainstream press contained occasional articles contesting the plausibility of administration claims about Iraq weaponry and Saddam's ability or desire to invade his neighbors, let alone to launch any direct attack on the US. The mainstream treated the evidence even in their own papers with eyes wide shut.
An invasion of Iran would at least initially distract attention from the escalating failure of the Iraq occupation. And unfortunately, even after the Iraq intelligence fiasco, Bush could probably count on the mainstream media to fall in line. The New York Times has already without embarrassment chimed in with new articles about Iranian weapons being used to kill US troops, a piece filled with anonymous quotations.
Bush may be lying, but as I watched his recent press conference, my impression was of an embattled man deeply convinced of the righteousness of his mission, a cause so good and noble that only a powerful and singularly wicked nation state could stand in its way. Iran has always been part of Bush's axis of evil. If the noble Iraq venture is collapsing, the fault must lie with powerful outsiders. The role of Saudi Arabian dissidents in aiding Iraqi Sunni attacks on US troops seems not to fit the president's Manichean view of the world.
A president on a mission, especially one who views that mission as inspired by God, may be singularly blind to counter evidence. Self-deception, at least in its practical implications, may be more dangerous than lying. In a recent interview on Democracy Now, former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges captured the ways in which financial and ideological/moral views may come together in a dangerous push toward ever expanding war: "What they've done is -- or what Karl Rove has done-- is essentially adopt a corruption of Leon Trotsky's notion of a permanent revolution -- only, it's permanent war. Now, you know, the military-industrial complex, which is making huge profits off the war in Iraq, let's not forget, is essentially driving this administration. I think these people live in an alternate reality. I think they really do believe that dropping cruise missiles against supposed sites that they've targeted in Iran will bring the Iranian regime down.. But a strike against Iran would be, in the eyes of Shi'ites throughout the Middle East, a strike against Shi'ism. You have two million Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia, many of whom work in the oil sector and, of course, most of Iraq is Shia. And I think that that kind of a hit has the potential to unleash a regional conflict."
Hedges' greatest fear is that the resulting economic and political instability would expand the opening to cultural and political currents in the US committed to imposition of their Manichean world view. The Patriot Act and the repression it has encouraged would be only a pale foretaste.
Most disturbing to Hedges is the relative quiescence of the Democratic candidates on the possibility of an Iranian invasion. Witness Hillary Clinton's blank check to the president to take whatever steps regarding Iran he deemed appropriate.
Hedges is careful in his articulation of these as only possibilities. He is not presenting a left-wing version of inevitable Armageddon. There is, however, ample reason to take action. We must press our congressional delegations not only to end the occupation of Iraq but to resist -- and treat as an impeachable offense -- any effort to spread war to Iran.
John Buell lives in Maine. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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