Along with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, the Iranian regime is the scariest on earth. I’ll go so far as to say it’s scarier than North Korea. As best as anyone can tell, Kim wants nukes to ensure that the world will leave him alone. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, seems like a dead cinch to nuke Tel Aviv as soon as he has the capability. We actually find ourselves in the rather excruciating position of hoping that Ayatollah Khamenei, the real power in Iran and not exactly a nice guy himself, is able to keep the Holocaust-denying hothead in check.
Which is why it was so depressing to read Seymour Hersh’s latest New Yorker blockbuster, this one reporting that the White House is increasingly talking about going to war against Iran, and is refusing even to rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. The generals, according to Hersh, are up in arms at this insane idea. The administration appears to have learned nothing from its tragic misadventure in Iraq.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest tragedy of Iraq is that it has completely hampered our ability to do anything about genuine threats such as Iran and North Korea. Who could trust the White House now? I happen to be one of those who believes that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not lie about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities and ties to Al Qaeda; rather, they were the victims of their own insular beliefs. But, in the end, what does it matter? No matter what they say now, it will come off as Chicken Little warning us that the sky is falling. Again.
A war with Iran started purposefully or by accident, will be a mess. What is happening now though is not just an administration prudently preparing for the unfortunate against an aggressive and crazed state, it is also aggressive and crazed, driven by groupthink and a closed circle of bears.
Sadly, “aggressive and crazed” sounds just about right.
Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan doesn’t seem too worried about the chances of Bush and Cheney nuking Tehran anytime soon, believing, instead, that they are merely trying to scare the Iranians, the Europeans both. But who knows with these guys? Indeed, here’s how Kaplan closes:
[M]aybe there’s no gamesmanship going on here, maybe Hersh is simply reporting on a nuclear war plan that President Bush is really, seriously considering, a “juggernaut” that might not be stopped. If it’s as straightforward as that, we’re in deeper trouble than most of us have imagined.
Did Hersh get it right? His story is, for the most part, anonymously sourced, and as Arkin notes, short on details. Still, who can argue with Hersh’s record? In the opening weeks of the Iraq war, he took a lot of heat for passing along the generals’ fear that the war was getting bogged down in unexpected ways — a concern that seemed greatly exaggerated after the first phase of the war was wrapped up quickly.
Several weeks ago, though, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote (sub. req.) a much-commented-upon column in which he noted that it’s now clear — and, in fact, it was clear then — that the unconventional resistance that U.S. troops encountered during those opening weeks was the beginning of the insurgency. And that the commanders on the ground understood it needed to be dealt with, even if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks did not. Brooks does not name Hersh, but he should have. For it was Hersh’s journalism that proved particularly prescient.
Last night I caught a few minutes of Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source,” which devoted a full hour to the topic. It looks like mandatory listening. I’m going to grab the podcast and give it a listen tomorrow morning. As Lydon said last night, this is the only story that adults are thinking about at the moment.