Monday, April 10, 2006

Shucks. There he goes again (Bush and Iran)

Ronald Reagan’s oft-used rejoinder to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 debates when Carter would bring up Reagan’s past statements on issues was a shake of the head and a “There you go again!”

While Ronald Reagan is no longer with us, his statement is right on the mark when applied to George Bush’s foreign policy. Bush seems intent on finding as many countries as possible to back into the proverbial corner by threatening military action should they not fall into line with the administration’s view of how the world should conduct itself.

Compounding this combative approach, which in itself accelerates events down the road to armed conflict, is the seeming proclivity to read every challenge to his idea of how the world ought to be ordered as an affront not only to the United States’ “right” to run global affairs but also a personal affront to his personal “vision” – what, in his latest article for The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh calls Bush’s messianic complex.

Further compounding these aspects is Bush’s inability to see through to its end the use of military force in one area before launching a new war on another opponent. It’s as if a form of attention deficit disorder comes into play in foreign affairs.

First came Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime refused to turn over to the UN Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members. The bombs began to fall October 7, 2001; by December Kabul and then Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, fell to the combined Northern Alliance and U.S.-led western coalition. But neither bin Laden nor the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, was captured. One recent result, among others, is a very non-spiritual increase in attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians and, more recently, on UN and NATO bases and personnel.

With large areas of Afghanistan still not under the firm mandate of the central government in Kabul, Bush turned to Iraq – “unfinished business” from his father’s presidency. Seizing on every tidbit of information that favored the already-decided war policy while discarding everything that pointed to other explanations, the Bush White House pushed through Congress what the administration regarded as unrestrained consent to wage war whenever and however the president chose. Three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, only three of Iraq’s 18 provinces are considered stable by Pentagon and State Department people on the ground – and those three are the Kurdish areas that have been semi-autonomous for a dozen years.

Now Bush seems intent on taking on Iran. It is as if, having taken on Afghanistan’s 31 million and Iraq’s 27 million citizens, he reckons it’s but a step up to Iran’s 69 million. But an attack on Tehran would be on a country whose population is in no way as deeply fissured as Afghanistan’s was or as Iraq’s became. Iran is also physically larger than Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Moreover, Iran has not been at war for 18 years while the past three years have taken a toll on U.S. equipment. Moreover, recruiting for the army is proving increasingly difficult, witness the additional money and personnel devoted to that task after the army missed its goals for 2005.

In March 2003, Bush unilaterally ended the UN mandated inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN chemical and biological weapons inspectors by launching U.S. missiles, bombs, and personnel to topple Saddam’s regime. The IAEA is in Iran right now inspecting declared nuclear sites and tracking down undeclared sites. Late reports from unnamed Pentagon sources suggest the White House has moved from contingency planning to operational planning for a strike should Tehran not give up its right to run the entire nuclear fuel cycle from enrichment to fuel rod reprocessing.

The latest cause for concern is speculation that President Bush may be considering seriously a nuclear option against deeply buried targets in Iran. Beyond being a risky military venture given the time the Iranians have had to strengthen their air defenses, the long-term consequences would be diplomatically, economically, and environmentally disastrous.

As a rejoinder, “There you go again” won’t do any more. “Stop now!” is today’s order.

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