August 31, 2007
If there were a threat level on the possibility of war with Iran, it might have just gone up to orange. Barnett Rubin, the highly respected Afghanistan expert at New York University, has written an account of a conversation with a friend who has connections to someone at a neoconservative institution in Washington. Rubin can’t confirm his friend’s story; neither can I. But it’s worth a heads-up:
They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this—they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”True? I don’t know. Plausible? Absolutely. It follows the pattern of the P.R. campaign that started around this time in 2002 and led to the Iraq war. The President’s rhetoric on Iran has been nothing short of bellicose lately, warning of “the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” And the Iranian government’s behavior—detaining British servicemen and arresting American passport holders, pushing ahead with uranium enrichment, and, by many reliable accounts, increasing its funding and training for anti-American militias in Iraq—seems intentionally provocative. Perhaps President Ahmedinejad and the mullahs feel that they win either way: they humiliate the superpower if it doesn’t take the bait, and they shore up their deeply unpopular regime at home if it does. Preëmptive war requires calculations (and, often, miscalculations) on two sides, not just one, as Saddam learned in 2003. When tensions are this high between two countries and powerful factions in both act as if hostilities are in their interest, war is likely to follow.
It’s one thing for the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard, et al to champion a war they support. It’s another to jump like circus animals at the crack of the White House whip. If the propaganda campaign predicted by Rubin’s friend is launched, less subservient news organizations should ask certain questions, and keep asking them: Does the Administration expect the Iranian regime to fall in the event of an attack? If yes, what will replace it? If no (and it will not), why would the Administration deliberately set about to strengthen the regime’s hold on power? What will the Administration do to protect highly vulnerable American lives and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world against the Iranian reprisals that will follow? What if Iran strikes against Israel? What will be the strategy when the Iranian nuclear program, damaged but not destroyed, resumes? How will the Administration handle the international alarm and opprobrium that would be an attack’s inevitable fallout?
If this really is a return to the early fall of 2002 all over again, then I’m fairly sure that no one at the top of the Administration is worrying about the answers.
Postscript: Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: “I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I’m not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic.”