"Team B" Forever....
Seymour Hersh's latest article on Iran intrigues within the government is online, and due out in the coming week's edition of The New Yorker.
As is so often the case, it is not full of bombshells, but, rather, nuggets.
The first, buried down in the first page, is the prevailing view inside Cheney's office, as espoused by David Wurmser:
But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney’s office “want to end the regime,” the consultant said. “They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran.”
In other words, no victory in Iraq without destroying Iran, too. As said so often here, the "Axis of Evil" was not a metaphor. It was an action plan. It's not unreasonable to surmise that had the Iraq invasion gone as the White House had wished, Iran would have already been attacked. Failure to pacify Iraq has only slowed down Cheney's plans, not halted them.
Moreover, deeper in the article, Hersh quotes an unnamed "former senior intelligence official":
The former senior intelligence official noted that at the height of the Cold War the Soviets were equally skilled at deception and misdirection, yet the American intelligence community was readily able to unravel the details of their long-range-missile and nuclear-weapons programs. But some in the White House, including in Cheney’s office, had made just such an assumption—that “the lack of evidence means they must have it,” the former official said.
This is precisely the sophistry used by the so-called "Team B" (neo-conservative think-tankers and intelligence gadflies assembled to review CIA raw data and analytical methods in 1975-6) to assert that the Soviet Union was growing ever more powerful while the CIA dithered about the quality of their evidence. As history has shown, even the CIA's less-dire estimates of USSR strength were more imaginary than prescient, and that the Soviet Union was literally coming apart at the seams, fraying internally precisely because its economic system was hemorrhaging.
On becoming Defense Secretary in 1975, Donald Rumsfeld used the same reasoning to exhort the public to new fears of the Soviet Union, and to justify large increases in defense spending and skepticism for arms control initiatives. Team B, in the meanwhile, selectively leaked their own conclusions about the evidence, without acknowledging that it was their opinion alone, rather than a consensus from the intelligence community based on a thorough vetting of the evidence. Altogether, Team B was completely, horribly and laughably wrong. The raw intelligence data was merely something onto which the "evil empire" faction could project their own fears, intentions and desires.
Hersh describes a similar situation going on now. The CIA is currently circulating a draft NIE inside government, for comment, which makes plain there is no hard, conclusive evidence of a current, active bomb-making program by Iran. This is countered by the White House insisting on the validity of unsubstantiated reports by Israeli spies within Iran which say that the Iranians are testing the triggering mechanism for a bomb at facilities in Parchin, outside Tehran. Defense officials give credence to the spies' claims. CIA does not (or, more accurately, insists they be verified before giving them credence).
Now, common sense would say that Israel's notions about sharing intelligence have always been one-sided--they spy on the US, for example, because they believe it's in their interest to do so--and, because the spies have no evidence per se (“... there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.”), one could reasonably infer that Israel would have an interest in goading the US toward a military strike it would like to undertake itself. Good intelligence analysis is intended to separate the wheat from the chaff--to ascertain fact wherever possible and ascertain the provenance of evidence which might further individual ambitions, whether personal or at the state level.
And the Team B approach is to assume the worst on the flimsiest of evidence (manufactured or otherwise--see Mr. Curveball) and to act on those assumptions. In the 1980s, this approach cost the taxpayers a trillion or more dollars in unnecessary arms production and associated debt to counter an imploding Soviet Union. At the turn of this century--against best advice--it produced the Iraq invasion, with the further expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of uncounted lives, both American and Iraqi. Now, the White House is doing the same thing with Iran.
In all of these instances, Cheney had a hand, either advisory, as in the Ford administration, or legislative, as in the Reagan administration, or in policy implementation, as in the current administration. His thinking is involved, one way or another, in prominent policy disasters of the last twenty-five years. That he has currently surrounded himself with neo-cons who are of clearly divided loyalty when it comes to Israel only exacerbates the problem. Israel has a strong desire to prevent other countries from developing nuclear weapons, mostly because that would shatter its nuclear hegemony over the region (one can't discount, in US policy, that all the things over which the US is complaining with regard to Iran are also matters tolerated or even encouraged in Israel).
If one thinks about it dispassionately, why wouldn't countries such as Iran be interested in obtaining nuclear weapons? Such would very possibly prevent Israel from using same on those other countries (as it threatened to do during the SCUD attacks from Iraq during the Gulf War).
So, would Israel manufacture evidence of an active Iranian bomb program where none existed to prompt a US attack? Of course, it would. The right wing in Israel's government has been closely connected to the right wing in this government, and did everything possible to further and implement an attack on Iraq, perceiving that to be in its best interest (Ehud Olmert just this past week was extolling the virtues of the US invasion of Iraq, perhaps only proving that he's as delusional as Cheney and his crew). The main difference between now and with prior administrations is that prior administrations usually acted to restrain Israel from acting in the larger region, while looking the other way at Israel's actions near its borders. Now, the two administrations are aiding and abetting each other and goading each other into action.
Regardless of how one feels about Israel, this is hardly a situation out of which a net good will arise. The momentum is toward attacking Iran, rather than negotiating from a solidly moral position (that is hardly possible, given the hypocrisies within the administration regarding its support for Israel's doing precisely that for which it condemns Iran), and another attack on a Muslim country can only reinforce the belief that the US is on yet another crusade against Muslims. As importantly, it cannot accomplish its intended aims--Iraq will not become docile, as Hersh suggests, if an attack is made on Iran with the intention of killing off its current leadership, as the current policy implies. It will, if anything, rally the Iranians around the hard-liners and prompt them to actually do in large fashion what they may be only doing in small, insignificant ways at present. As well, as Hersh suggests, yet another attack on a Muslim country may cause Shia and Sunni to bind together to destroy their common enemy. Backlash against both the US and Israel would be almost certain, and in unpredictable ways.
In terms of actual worst-case scenarios, a large-scale attack on Iran is, paradoxical as it seems, far worse in outcome for all countries in the region--and the US--than the eventual attainment of a bomb by the Iranians. Proliferation of weapons is by no means a good thing, but even with them, there's opportunity for continued negotiations (South Africa and Brazil, for example, have abandoned nuclear weapons development and signed onto the non-proliferation regimen, and South Africa had already built several gun-type bombs and tested one--likely with the help of the Israelis). While the popular press wrings its hands over a "terrorist" nation such as Iran obtaining the bomb, there's little evidence to indicate that security over such a weapon would be fundamentally different there than in other nuclear countries. Use of such a weapon anywhere in the world would likely subject Iran to a retaliation which would annihilate it. As stated, the most obvious aspect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be its deterrence to other military actions by the US and/or Israel. As such, it cuts the number of future military options available to those two countries. It would, in effect, force Israel and/or the United States to negotiate in good faith on a host of issues, including current sanctions against Iran.
And the effects of a large-scale invasion and/or attack on Iran? Let us count the ways:
- Disruption of oil shipments in and out of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, causing prices to float upwards due to speculation. Good for Cheney's pals, bad for the rest of us.
- Chances of escalation due to Iranian defensive actions. It's absurd to conclude that the Iranians would simply roll over and dig in against such air attacks. There would be likely loss of aircraft (something the US has been careful to avoid ever since Vietnam by attacking only targets without air power and without significant air defense capability), and possible loss of US ships and tankers in the region. Escalation could cause the US to conclude that ground invasion was necessary.
- Arousing Muslim sympathies world-wide. This could result in volunteer attacks on US interests in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and western Europe and could restart ethnicity-fueled hostilities in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
- Renewed strength of attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Redefining the US as the common enemy might cause small gains made in either of those countries to evaporate. Supply lines to troops in both places could be interfered with by Iran. Additional consequences to Pakistan could occur if Iran decided that Iran was helping US interests more than it was hurting them, despite Pakistan's current status as a US ally.
- Alternately, radical Muslims in Pakistan might overthrow the military government there and ally with Iran, thus greatly compounding the nuclear issue well before it becomes a real problem in Iran.
- Iran shares borders with or is in close proximity to almost all the countries of interest in the region--the various `stans to the north, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, all with borders that are either not well-defended or are mountainous and difficult to defend for that reason. Iran's capable of disruptions, on the ground, in most of these places and has the manpower to undertake such excursions, which are relatively cheap and difficult to stop, and they would feel within their rights to disrupt US operations in those countries (or use places antagonistic to the US, such as Syria, for staging areas) as necessary for their own defense.
- Increased attacks on Israeli forces south of Lebanon, and increased sympathy attacks on Israel proper. This is a no-brainer. Possible collapse of UN peacekeeping regime in Southern Lebanon.
- Would do nothing to further the progress of tracking down remaining al-Qaeda membership, and might well hinder such progress, along with fostering associations with al-Qaeda and Iran where none existed before. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes.
- Would likely convince western European countries that the US had never intended to negotiate in good faith and had been using western European efforts to that end as cover for preparations for war. The loss of essential good will and negotiation support in those countries would be almost certain.
- Accelerated decline in world opinion of US (little more decline is possible for Israel, as it has few friends left in the world because of its actions with regard to Palestine occupation). Such an attack would sway popular opinion in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan against the US, possibly resulting in internal disruptions or demands to sever military, economic or diplomatic ties. Kuwaitis, particularly, have never been favorably disposed toward the US and life could become difficult for troops at bases there.
- Dissolution of the "coalition of the willing." Tenuous as that coalition has always been, the remaining countries with troops in Iraq would sense that their continuing presence in Iraq would be of no value and would quickly withdraw them, leaving the US with additional security holes in that country at a time when attacks on US troops would certainly be increasing.
- Further degradation of the armed services while trapped in both urban and desert combat.
And, yet, with all of those potential consequences, an attack on Iran might happen, no matter what. If Sy Hersh and his sources are right, the cautious voices in the government have not been able to tamp down the smoldering ardor of the vice-president and his office for an attack, one that is large enough and sustained enough to destroy Iran's military, its (possibly still peaceful) nuclear infrastructure and its leadership.
Unfortunately, the public in the US saw fit to return the modern-day equivalent of Little Lord Fauntleroy to office, all ego and no brains, and with him, close to his ear, his very own mentally-deficient Mephistopheles, whispering, whispering, whispering to him with words full of urgency and ambition, imagined threats and irrevocable deeds, all in furtherance of an unspoken subtext of oil, wealth, the exercise of raw power and brittle dreams of world domination.
H.L. Mencken said, "As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." --The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920
Mencken undoubtedly said that expecting Warren G. Harding to win the upcoming election. But, even he could not anticipate the debilitating effects of one moron, cloaked in the flag and steeped in religious delusion, in league with yet another moron, demonically possessed of faith in his own befuddled judgment and determined to prove, once and for all, that 2 + 2 = 5.
Team B has morphed into Team B & C.