Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Watching the Canaries

I, as with others, am uncertain about the Bushies' timing and techniques for the end game with Iran. As with another (ongoing) military conflict, Bush has said he wants to use all available diplomatic tools regarding Iran's nuclear program (snickers here, as required).

Thus far, the agency with the most information on that program is the IAEA, and they've been pretty clear, from report to report, that they've found no hard evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran's facilities. Nevertheless, the Bushies tried to create a set of circumstances where Iran would have to suspend activities it can legally pursue under the NNPT before any negotiations could begin, i.e., it would have to give up all its negotiating points first.

Sort of a sure way to be able to say, later, "we had to do something militarily. Iran wouldn't negotiate in good faith." In its effect, that predictable response will be founded on the same logic which Bush used in stating that "Saddam wouldn't disarm."

The extreme right has been getting into quite a lather about bombing Iran, lately, and Fox News has been doing its part to stir them up.

The only way to bring the rest of the population into the frenzy, however, is via the broader news media. Bush was able to do this before the Iraq invasion because he had the AUMF from Congress in his pocket. He, Rummy and Cheney have been hitting the airwaves in the last few days trying to gin up enthusiasm for their war in Iraq in particular, and for the "war on terra" in general. But, they haven't exactly been trying to specifically promote war against Iran--yet.

Will they begin that process immediately after Labor Day, as with the last war (Iraq's WMDs available to attack us on forty-five minutes' notice)? I don't know--the crystal ball's in the shop for a tune-up. But, given how badly wrong Iraq has gone, the Bushies might get their collective head handed to them if they try to push through yet another AUMF, this time against Iran, before the election. No Republican in Congress in his or her right mind would jump onto that bandwagon close to an election which will hinge on war so completely as the upcoming one--unless there's public opinion to support such a move. (Note, though, that there are any number of Republicans, and not a few Democrats, who are not in their right minds and would support such a resolution, but likely not nearly enough to force it through, if the majority thought such was politically iffy).

That eventuality would leave Bush with the choice to wait for public acceptance of yet another war to build, or to act on his own without the approval of Congress. The former would provide the Republicans with no bounce before the election, and the election might bring in a change of control of either House or Senate, or both, which would effectively bring to an end any prospect of Bush obtaining his new war from Congress without his first finding some resolution of the situations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps, not even then.

The latter option would require Bush (read Cheney) to either ignore the War Powers Act, or to manufacture some fig leaf of an imminent threat from Iran (and a difficult task that would be--simply arguing that Iran didn't roll over on demands for it to end its nuclear power program wouldn't cut it). Bush (read Cheney) could likely count on a dead-duck Republican Congress to roll over on the issue--as they have done on every other matter of Bush exceeding his Constitutional and legal authority, but that would only last until the 110th Congress was called to order. Then, hopefully, all hell would break loose.

If we assume, for the sake of hypothesis, that Bush/Cheney decide to attack Iran before the election, without an AUMF, what happens to public opinion? The Bushies had already begun softening up Iraq in August, 2002, with the bombing of strategic targets (the news of which, with the complicity of the media, did not appear until more than a year later), and had almost seven months to soften up the American public before the invasion began.

No such options exist today with regard to Iran. There aren't any no-fly zones in Iran to disguise the actions of the military ahead of an attack, as with Iraq. Neither Bush nor Cheney nor Rumsfeld could depend upon the military agreeing to an invasion of Iran (given the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan), and available reporting on the matter consistently suggests that only a massive air bombing campaign is being contemplated and it is that for which planning proceeds.

Bush would necessarily have to spring the news of such an attack on the nation as it was happening--to avoid alerting Iran's air defenses--or after it had taken place. If it were kept secret until that time, there would be no media coverage until after the fact. Without the media to provide the spin background, what on earth might the public think, left as it were to draw its own conclusions? The White House--and the military--can't depend alone upon military briefings from that expensive PR set in Qatar--with no reporters in the audience, or on a few videos of satellite-guided bombs striking Iranian dirt (which is about all one would see, since the prime targets are said to be deeply buried).

No, what's needed are reporters secretly embedded on aircraft carriers, providing color commentary for film of the night-time launches of aircraft, full of afterburner flames, on missile destroyers to get videotape of cruise missiles being launched, in England and Diego Garcia to record the B-52s and B-2s taking off, all of which can be used as a backdrop for the networks' military experts to expound on the precision and efficacy of and necessity for the attack. There will be no tanks speeding to Teheran, or pictures of ground artillery exploding, or interviews of grunts saying, "hi," to the folks back home to add a human touch.

The press has been extraordinarily cooperative with the Bushies to date when it comes to covering their wars, so one can't rule out their complicity in the secrecy necessary to pull off such a stunt, but, one thing's for sure--Bush can't get away with an unprovoked war without the help of the press. If there's nothing to counter the inevitable pictures of dead civilians, Bush will appear to even the western nations as an aggressor and a war criminal. (He will, anyway, but American public opinion is what counts to this bunch.)

Yes, a last couple of possibilities exist. The Republicans could retain Congress despite the lack of a war-fever bounce, and could pass an AUMF at any time, giving Bush the latitude to have his war at the time of his choosing, and with the press singing his praises beforehand in four-part harmony. Second, yes, even if the Repugs lose in November, they can come back to Washington and ram through an authorization for an attack, which could be completed well before the new Congress was sworn in, and public opinion be damned.

So far, the Bush war cohort has just been making vague noises about "Islamic fascists" and, maybe, that will be enough to rouse the faithful and pull them into the voting booths in November. But, that's a big gamble, given public sentiment at the moment. It's no accident, though, that the ultimatum given Iran comes due on August 31st, four days before Labor Day, Andy Card's "launch date" for "new products."

If the rhetoric coming out of the White House doesn't change substantially in September, it will be up to the people watching the media to see if there are reassignments of reporters, above and beyond the usual, to places such as Bahrain (Fifth Fleet headquarters), Qatar (Air Force Middle East headquarters) and the UAE (short-notice US Navy dock facilities), because when it comes to war, Bush can't do it without the press. In this instance, reporters and news teams from the networks will be the canaries in this particular coal mine, and there would be some doubt we're going to see any other indications, other than perhaps some vague and unstructured talk, that an attack is imminent.

Bush thinks his legacy is at stake (little does he know that he's already buggered himself as far as the historians are concerned), and Cheney knows his fortunes are tied to those of the oil companies, to which Cheney owes his only true loyalty. If the Repugs don't pull off an election win in November, both Bush and Cheney will spend their last two years in office fending off all manner of Congressional investigations and living with the prospect, as more and more dirt is revealed (as it will be), of impending impeachment. They may come to believe that a surprise attack on Iran is politically vital, fabricating a win for themselves out of the whole cloth of the flag. But, without the press to add the pizazz, the rah-rah commentary and flashes of red, white and blue, Bush could end up just looking like a war criminal to most of the voters in November.

If, though, after Labor Day, they send out all their minions to the four winds and all the Sunday talk shows to make unverifiable statements such as, "Iran will not give up its programs of weapons of mass destruction," or, "Iran is currently resupplying Hezbollah with long-range missiles capable of hitting the U.S.," then, all bets are off. In that case, they'll be trying to work up public opinion as fast as they can and they'll try to force an AUMF in early- to mid-October. These assholes are nothing if not predictable--their cynicism about their ability to manipulate the public mind knows no bounds.


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