Seymour Hersh has a "must read" today in the New Yorker entitled "Shifting Targets - the Administration's plan for Iran". Hersh writes:
This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.I have to say that I disagree with Hersh a little - I don't think the White House are really shifting targets at all, it's always been a case of "one way or another". They know, still, that any "surgical" strikes will provoke a response that in turn will provide the cause for the wider campaign they've had in mind all along. The only shift is from all-out to gradual.
The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.
However, Hersh is correct that the Bush administration have run into resistance to their plan to blame their attack on Iran's nuclear program. The rest of the international community have caught a serious whiff of warmongering bulls**t in the White House's stance of criticizing the IAEA and its director for doing what the UNSC said they should - clear up outstanding questions regarding Iran's nuclear activities - and pre-emptively trying to push for more sanctions before the experts have presented their findings. Compare that push with the White House's rhetoric of "give the experts time" over Petreaus' "surge", as other nations have, and the hypocrisy in service to a pre-fixed agenda is obvious. The Bush administration aren't at all interested in solving the Iranian nuclear problem - they're interested in a war and will have it by any means.
If the IAEA were showing signs of what the White House wants found - any evidence whatsoever of an Iranian nuclear weapons program - they wouldn't be so frantic to seal the deal before the experts finish their work. But they aren't. At every step, intelligence provided by the U.S. to the IAEA (often based on the say-so of the MeK terror group and it's political front or the paranoid wing of Israeli intelligence) has proven false. At this point, they only people giving any credence to continued shock-horror anonymous leaks and revelations are the extreme Right's pundit corps and those in Israel and America who "hate all Iranians" in any case.
Thus, the new-found impetus to charges that Iran is meddling with deadly intent in Iraqi affairs. We've seen it before. Back at the beginning of the year, the White House felt such provided their best causus belli and all the talk was of EFP's and Iranian agents. Then came the infamous Baghdad Briefing - a PR flop so disastrous and so obviously motivated by a desire to find an excuse for war that even Secdef Gates and General Pace publicly disavowed the claim that Iran's leadership were provably behind the meddling. Frantic scrabbling to restore message discipline ensued at the White House, and an anonymous Baghdad Briefer was thrown under an anonymous bus when anonymous administration sources told the media he had overstepped his authority.
Since then, the White House and their tame officers in Iraq (both the chief military spokesmen at MNF-I were dispatched there direct from the White House's military press office) have been careful to stick to leaks from "official sources who remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the information" and pronouncements of "assessments" from the Green Zone where "we assess" is a handy euphemism for "we guess". No more big dog-and-pony shows where the paucity of the evidence against Iran as a nation-state can be addressed as a whole body and at one time.
There are good reasons why the White House doesn't want to subject its "evidence" to scrutiny, as Hersh knows full well.
Questions remain, however, about the provenance of weapons in Iraq, especially given the rampant black market in arms. David Kay, a former C.I.A. adviser and the chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations, told me that his inspection team was astonished, in the aftermath of both Iraq wars, by “the huge amounts of arms” it found circulating among civilians and military personnel throughout the country. He recalled seeing stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered from unexploded American cluster bombs. Arms had also been supplied years ago by the Iranians to their Shiite allies in southern Iraq who had been persecuted by the Baath Party...“I thought Petraeus went way beyond what Iran is doing inside Iraq today,” Kay said.Not just Iraqi politicians. In all of this, there has never been a serious attempt by either the US military, the Bush administration or the mainstream media to address the biggest drawback to all of the Iran-pounding - all the evidence can be explained sufficiently well by referring to private, black-market, entrepreneurs. Some, perhaps more than just a few, of those private-enterprise actors may well be in Iranian military uniforms - just as some have been Iraqis, Kuwaitis or in U.S. military uniforms. Like Basra, the simple truth is more likely venal self-interest on the part of a variety of groups, in an area where border control is historically a farce, than some grand Iranian conspiracy.
...In interviews with current and former officials, there were repeated complaints about the paucity of reliable information. A former high-level C.I.A. official said that the intelligence about who is doing what inside Iran “is so thin that nobody even wants his name on it. This is the problem.”
The difficulty of determining who is responsible for the chaos in Iraq can be seen in Basra, in the Shiite south, where British forces had earlier presided over a relatively secure area. Over the course of this year, however, the region became increasingly ungovernable, and by fall the British had retreated to fixed bases. A European official who has access to current intelligence told me that “there is a firm belief inside the American and U.K. intelligence community that Iran is supporting many of the groups in southern Iraq that are responsible for the deaths of British and American soldiers. Weapons and money are getting in from Iran. They have been able to penetrate many groups”—primarily the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias.
A June, 2007, report by the International Crisis Group found, however, that Basra’s renewed instability was mainly the result of “the systematic abuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias.” The report added that leading Iraqi politicians and officials “routinely invoke the threat of outside interference”—from bordering Iran—“to justify their behavior or evade responsibility for their failures.”
It seems certain to me that both these parallel attempts to justify an attack on Iran will continue, with one being given precedence over the other depending on current circumstances until the Cheneyite faction gets its wish. The attack will be motivated primarily by animosity to Iran for insults in the past rather than current events or broad-brush tarring of an entire religion which will then be firmly affixed to Iran as the scapegoat for xenophobia. It will be given a gloss of seeming reason which still, at base, stems from a sociopathic claim that Iran must be guilty because "it's what we neocons would do if we were Iran."
The war with Iran will go ahead purely because "its what we neocons would do if we were in charge" - and they are. As Hersh notes, the world is not unaware of this dynamic.
Another recent incident, in Afghanistan, reflects the tension over intelligence. In July, the London Telegraph reported that what appeared to be an SA-7 shoulder-launched missile was fired at an American C-130 Hercules aircraft. The missile missed its mark. Months earlier, British commandos had intercepted a few truckloads of weapons, including one containing a working SA-7 missile, coming across the Iranian border. But there was no way of determining whether the missile fired at the C-130 had come from Iran—especially since SA-7s are available through black-market arms dealers.
Vincent Cannistraro, a retired C.I.A. officer who has worked closely with his counterparts in Britain, added to the story: “The Brits told me that they were afraid at first to tell us about the incident—in fear that Cheney would use it as a reason to attack Iran.” The intelligence subsequently was forwarded, he said.
The retired four-star general confirmed that British intelligence “was worried” about passing the information along. “The Brits don’t trust the Iranians,” the retired general said, “but they also don’t trust Bush and Cheney.”
Update Be sure to read The Washington Post's primer on the IED problem in Iraq. The first part is out today. I want to draw your attention to a key point that is far too often overlooked by those who want to blame every EFP detonation on Iran.
U.S. strategists, who before the invasion failed to anticipate an insurgency, also drafted no comprehensive plans for securing thousands of munitions caches, now estimated to have held at least 650,000 tons and perhaps more than 1 million tons of explosives. "There's more ammunition in Iraq than any place I've ever been in my life, and it's not securable," Gen. John P. Abizaid told the Senate Appropriations Committee shortly after taking over U.S. Central Command in July 2003. "I wish I could tell you that we had it all under control. We don't."There were literally hundreds of thousands of Saddam-era soldiers made jobless after the invasion, and many joined the insurgency. Many were doubtless already knowledgeable about EFP's as well as IED's, and if they weren't then Shiite contacts with Hezboullah (originally facillitated by Iran in Saddam's time) were doubtless sufficient to import the knowledge. Iraq has plenty of machine shops, plenty of raw materials and plenty of knowledgeable bomb-makers. The idea that EFP's that work properly are assessed as coming from Iran purely because they work properly whereas homegrown Iraqi EFP's are substandard and cooked up on household stoves is counter-intuitive in the extreme.
...More than a year after the invasion "only 40 percent of Iraq's pre-war munitions inventory was secured or destroyed," the Congressional Research Service reported this summer.
Tens of thousands of tons probably were pilfered, U.S. government analysts believe. (If properly positioned, 20 pounds of high explosive can destroy any vehicle the Army owns.) The lax control would continue long after Hussein was routed: 10,000 or more blasting caps -- also vital to bombmaking -- vanished from an Iraqi bureau of mines storage facility in 2004, along with "thousands of kilometers" of detonation cord, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst.
Update 2 Fresh of the presses comes this story from Arutz Sheva: "Bolton, Podhoretz Say: Bomb Iranian Nukes."
Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Conservative Party delegates in Britain Sunday that efforts by the UN to negotiate with Iran had failed and that he saw no alternative to a pre-emptive strike on suspected nuclear facilities in the country. Influential conservative thinker Norman Podhoretz told a British paper that he has advised President George W. Bush to do just that.Bolton also said the UN's involvement with Iran was "fundamentally irrelevant". Podhoretz said he told Bush: "You have the awesome responsibility to prevent another holocaust. You’re the only one with the guts to do it." Still crazies after all these years.