Hersch on the administration’s Iran plans

I already put up the link to Seymour Hersch's article in The New Yorker on the administration's Iran war plans in the last Links… post, but I wanted to highlight passages from the article because it's…well…important. And shocking.

I'm a big Hersch fan. Not because he's a member of the "liberal intelligensia" or any such clap-trap, it's because he has yet to be wrong. In 2003, he wrote about the manufacturing of intelligence to make the case for war with Iraq. He broke Abu Ghraib. He wrote about the CIA secret prisons. He told us to get second passports. And in every case, he was right.

And now it's the plans for war with Iran.

The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.


There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change.

Most of us would agree that Iran possessing a nuclear weapon is probably a bad thing (although I would argue that it's not bad for the US, but for Israel). Still the idea of another "regime change" in the Middle East brought about by the same folks who bungled Iraq is downright chilling. For one, Iran's military hasn't been weakened by a war and a ten-year blockade. For another, an invasion or bombing of Iran would ruin any chance we had of involving the militant Shi'ites in an Iraqi democracy. (That is, if you thought the Iraqi insurgency was bad now…)

And we're already crippling our economy to fight the current war. And our military is already overstretched fighting the current war. Basically, there's no way in h*ll we'd be able to pull it off.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Bush administration has learned from its mistakes in Iraq and would come up with a better plan for Iran. Hersch:

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

Indeed. Countries frown on being invaded. (If you don't believe me, go out and rent "Red Dawn," and watch yourself root for the terrorist insurgents as they battle the invading armies of an invading superpower.)

And more:

[Policy-maker and Bush supporter] Clawson said that he fears that Ahmadinejad “sees the West as wimps and thinks we will eventually cave in. We have to be ready to deal with Iran if the crisis escalates.” Clawson said that he would prefer to rely on sabotage and other clandestine activities, such as “industrial accidents.” But, he said, it would be prudent to prepare for a wider war, “given the way the Iranians are acting. This is not like planning to invade Quebec.”

So. In other words, we'll bomb the h*ll out of Iran and its people will welcome us as liberators, and if we don't bomb the h*ll out of Iran, they'll think we're girly-men. So it seems the Bush administration and its supporters are planning to do away with Iran in the same way they went about the Iraqi invasion.

It gets worse.

The only members of Congress the Bush administration is advising are ardent supporters of their Iran plan. (So much for working with the other side, hey partisan haters?) And military planners are considering using tactical nukes.

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the [underground bunker] sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

Do I need to go get the evidence on why nuking another country is bad? Not just for the bombed people, but for the world? Do I? Isn't it obvious? Fallout – mushroom clouds – radioactivity: these are bad things. Nevermind the psychological effect of using nuclear weapons on another country. You think we have problem with Islamic extremism? Using a nuclear bomb will make the moderates extreme. And you know what? I couldn't blame them.

And whoever believes the Bush adminstration's claims about how soon Iran will go nuclear, raise their hands. Nobody? Why would anyone doubt the veracity and reliability of the rhetoric coming out of the Bush administration concerning its case for mounting an attack on a sovereign nation without a declaration of war from Congress?

I believe the US should maintain a large role in foreign diplomacy, and that we should have a strong military as a tool in said diplomacy. There are times when it's right and just to use military power.

Only we're embroiled in a war already, one that we're losing. Why don't we wrap this first one up? And let's actually make some good plans for an Iranian intervention, if we need one.

According to the Washington Post, we've got 10 years before the Iranians develop a nuclear weapon. We have time. And we should use diplomacy. We should sit down at the table with the Iranian government.

We don't need to prove our collective national manhood over Iran.

  1. In general, I agree with the idea that the current administration is considering a move against Iran.

    There are some things here that I would like to discuss, though.

    While it is a wide spread belief (especially with hard core Democrats) that we are ‘losing’ the War in Iraq, or that our military is incapable of gaining a victory there, it is a false belief. We have the capability (using conventional weapons, mind you) to complete pacify that country. We haven’t because that is not the goal of the military in place there. Our role is not to pacify the country but to pacify the insurgancy. Maybe that distinction seems a little fine to you, but as an ex-military man with a son currently in the military, I assure you that they are too different things entirely. We cannot win the “war” in Iraq but we certainly aren’t losing it.

    The point you are absolutely correct on, though is that this ‘war” is bankrupting the US with little sign that anything is being actively accomplished. In that, I totally agree. The reasons are many and varied but the primary one is that we had/have no understanding of what we are actually fighting. We are not fighting a military force. We are fighting 2000 years of religious and social structure. This will not be won in the next year, or the next decade. In fact, WE can’t win at all. The people of that country will have to choose to deal with the issue before anything will be accomplished and they certainly won’t do that painlessly or quickly. The news people tentatively speak in whispers about a civil war in Iraq but it is very real and we caused it (for better or for worse). Our presence there actually insures that it won’t be resolved because we are not allowing them to resolve it themselves.

    Doing the same thing in Iran will only be repeating our mistake in Iraq. Again, it is (sociologically) a war we can’t win.

    What truly terrifies me about both the article you are quoting and your commentary is that nuclear weapons would even be considered to be used. In reality, there is no such thing as a tactical nuke. ALL nuclear weapons are strategic (and therefore the pervue of politics). While Hersch may believe that the current administration is considering the use of nuclear devices, I HIGHLY doubt it. The use of nuclear weapons today is reprehensible and cannot be allowed for any reason. There is no way that congress would agree with it and I am damn sure that the US public wouldn’t.

    I was a nuclear reactor operator on nuclear ballistic submarines in the Navy for many years and take it from me, there is NO such thing as a “limited nuclear exchange”. Those in charge of the military know it too (though there are some that still believe that a limited exchange is possible, most are not that dumb). Even if the administation somehow got a launch order past congress (or in the case of this administration – around congress…), he would have to fight most of his own military to carry it out.

    Your last two paragraphs are almost as short sighted as the idea that tactical weapons are a realistic possibility. First, Iran can have nuclear capability at almost any time they choose. The technology, materials, and technical help is available to them. They have chosen not to go any further with thier nuclear program because they are “testing the waters” to see how the rest of the world will react. Remember that Isreal is not the only country in that area to have nuclear capability. I don’t need BushCo’s cronies to tell me that. Now I am not sure I would believe the administration if they came out and said that Iran had them. I would want to see verifiable proof and even then, I would be skeptical. Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me….

    Diplomacy (specifically American Diplomacy) will have zero effect on that area of the world. It doesn’t matter if we have ten years or one hundred years to sit at the table. We approach diplomacy with middle east countries the same way we approach war with them – and that is with NO understanding of the people we are trying to talk/war with.

    Intellegent Disconnect published an article a number of months ago (I believe from the New York Times) explaining the sociological reasons why war/diplomacy doesnt’ work in the Arab middle east. It is a long article (like 10 pages) but well worth the read. It, by no means, is the only resource material to explain why we are not able to win a war in Iraq (or Iran…) but it is easily understandable and well thought out. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the situation in the Middle East.

    In general, though, I would have to agree with Hersch that the administration is probably working toward a possible showdown with Iran. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen…


  2. I don’t know if you read Hersch’s article, but it seems pretty persuasive about the nuclear “option.” I’ve actually heard rumblings before in the media about the use of a nuclear “bunker buster” (tho’ I don’t have the links with me). Like I said in the intro, tho, Hersch is pretty much always right, so I consider him a very reliable source. (I understand that you still have doubts.) The bottom line: do you trust this administration to do the right thing?

    Here’s the link to the Washington Post article on when Iran would likely have the bomb. There’s no question that Iran has the materials to begin developing a bomb, but it needs time to produce enough enriched Uranium, which intelligence sources put somewhere around 2015. This, by the way, corresponds with Israeli and British estimates. Again, it comes down to who you trust, the WaPo/Britian/Israel or the Bush administration?

    I agree with you that the war is “winnable” in theory, but it would take a hellava lot more troops and a concerted effort with accompanying sacrifices (a draft, eg, or a significant raise in taxes) by the American people. That means that the US population has to believe in the war. We don’t. The current political situation in the country won’t allow for victory in Iraq.

    Can you get me the link to the NYTimes article you mentioned? I’d be curious to peruse it…

  3. While it is a wide spread belief (especially with hard core Democrats) that we are ‘losing’ the War in Iraq, or that our military is incapable of gaining a victory there, it is a false belief. We have the capability (using conventional weapons, mind you) to complete pacify that country. We haven’t because that is not the goal of the military in place there. Our role is not to pacify the country but to pacify the insurgancy. Maybe that distinction seems a little fine to you, but as an ex-military man with a son currently in the military, I assure you that they are too different things entirely. We cannot win the “war” in Iraq but we certainly aren’t losing it.

    I think your distinction is understood by most critics. It’s just that few commentators advocate pacifying the entire country, so winning and losing are taken in the context of ending the insurgency and establishing a stable and democratic government. That is, after all, the stated goal for the administration (at this point, anyway). The fact that we’re failing towards that end is what people are calling losing the war and I think it’s correct to do so.

  4. We’re certainly not losing the battles, I think we can all agree on that. I agree with Jeff that we’re “losing” — because the war is more than the military engagements on the ground. If we don’t achieve our objects, we’ve lost. But those objectives are political and diplomatic, not military.

  5. Jeff,

    Both you and Touchstone have touched (no pun intended…) on the heart of the matter for me, my son, and my many military friends. On a lot of news sites, Blogs, forums, etc, it is common to run across people saying that the military is “losing” the war in Iraq. This is a direct insult to the work, effort and determination of the men and women over there on the ground actually fighting (and dying). The distinction has to be made – clearly – that the situation is not a matter of incompetance or lack of ability on the part of the military. It is a lack of understand of the situation and a lack of responcibility on the part of our administration. I don’t see that distinction being made.

    I also take exception with the idea that we would be “losing” the war if we withdrew. It is not a loss to accept that the people of Iraq need to resolve thier civil war. This is not a case of “freeing” a slave population or trying to stop some other country from invading an ally. Let’s be honest about this conflict (which I have problems calling a war for many reasons…) and simply admit that we went into Iraq to remove Saddam Insane (and to make Hallburton lots of money). That has been accomplished. Let’s leave and allow the nation of Iraq to decide thier own fate.

    What we are ‘losing’ is the perception that we should have been there in the first place and the perception that we could force a people into changing thier basic social, political and religious traditions – traditions that have been in place for almost 2000 years.

    The administration is losing, not the military.

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