“In sum, Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now -- and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that "third option," even if Cheney doesn't. Bush's war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he'll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today.”
“The costs are too high”
Clemons doesn’t explain the “costs” in any detail so here are my thoughts:
All the evidence suggests that Bush isn’t bothered by the financial cost of war. He invests US treasure in Iraq regardless of the actual return and starves needed domestic spending in order to do so. The national debt in total and as a percentage of GDP has reached a record high entirely due to his Iraq adventure and Bush has only ever asked for more and more money—he hasn’t even tried to cap the spending. Ergo financial cost is not his concern.
What about ‘political’ cost? Bush is not running for re-election. He’s not particularly bothered about “the future of the GOP” as an institution otherwise he’d modify some of his positions to help GOP candidates in the upcoming elections.
Bush has claimed such authority that he doesn’t really ‘need’ GOP support as long as they don’t revolt—which they haven’t and they won’t.
Since he claimed a “mandate” from his 1% margin of victory in 2004, Bush has ignored the demands for withdrawal from Iraq as well as a public demands for changes in domestic policies. His plummeting approval ratings have not moved him one bit, so the “cost” in terms of general popularity is not one of his considerations either.
“Cost” in terms of international goodwill and influence has already been amortized and written-off—he obviously never cared much for that anyway.
What about the "cost" to the US military? Bush obviously isn’t concerned about the sacrifices of the troops otherwise they would have been better equipped, the injured better cared-for, their rotations not constantly extended. Equipment losses that ultimately affect overall “readiness” are being dealt-with by increasing the DoD budget to repair or buy new, but apparently without any prioritization—research for future weapons continues apace instead of those funds being diverted to speeding-up the replacement of weapons and equipment the US needs now.
The only “cost” that I can imagine that Bush is considering is the cost of admitting failure, as he defines it. In the instances when he has bowed to external pressure—such as allowing the 9-11 commission after opposing it, allowing Rice to testify after opposing and so on—he has then indulged in revisionism to convince himself that such reverses of position were in fact minor adaptations that still served his overall convictions.
Bush has said that the cost of not invading Iraq was far higher than the cost of invading it. He has since said that the cost of leaving is far higher than the cost of staying. Now he’s claiming that cost of a nuclear-armed Iran is one the US and the region can’t afford. For Bush “cost” is just a concept, not reality.
“There are still many options to be tried”
—Everything Bush has ever said or done reflects a deeply entrenched Manichean view of the world. The only options he permits are minor changes of detail which don’t alter his vision and decisions. We know now that his diplomatic efforts leading up to the Iraq war were a sham. Rice’s diplomatic efforts thus far produced nothing and no other overt efforts at negotiation by the US have been made for a year. Bush’s rhetoric has not lost its belligerence. Bush isn’t talking about continuing IAEA inspections and oversight, nor about “encouraging democracy” in Iran; he’s talking about stopping Iran’s nuclear program with military force. He doesn’t want a “third option. There are no third options for someone who sees everything as a choice between black and white.
Though Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle have resigned, their departures have had absolutely no affect on the continuing disaster that is Iraq. The neo-con team’s bench is deep and there are still plenty of players very much in the game.
Clemons--“Bush's war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he'll be more reserved, more cautious.”
Bush is known for shunning anyone he thinks has failed him, so clearly his regular meetings with Kagan, Ledeen and others of the PNAC crew who developed the Iraq misadventure still have his favor and his ear. With his PNAC advisors still around him, Bush’s “surge” and his current belligerent rhetoric towards Iran does not reflect an ounce of new-found reservation or caution on his part, if for no other reason than to him Iraq is not and cannot be a failure. As far as Bush is concerned “we’re kicking ass!” (Bush's assessment of his 8-month long "surge" delivered in Australia after a six hour "surprise" visit to a US army building in the Green Zone).
Clemons--“That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today.”The decision to attack Iraq in 2003 was made in the summer of 2001. It took until March of 2003 to actually execute that decision, and all the while Bush claimed he had made no decision—that it was actually up to Saddam.
Bush may well have made the decision to attack Iran already—he just needs the time to execute the decision whilst pretending that he’s still just thinking about it, as he did with Iraq ( I'll get to the logistics that affect the timelines for such decisions in part III).
I’m not quite sure what Clemons means by “a classic build-up to war” (which "we don’t have to be worried about", apparently). Does a "classic build-up" mean a draft, war-bonds, victory gardens, rationing? Does he just mean an obvious canceling of leave, mobilization of forces, earnest discussions with allied or friendly leaders, debates in Congress and speeches to them by the President? Does he include a propaganda and public-service message campaign?
If that’s what Clemons means by "classic" almost none of it applied to Iraq, and yet the decision to go to war had been made and off we went, on the basis of nothing more than a media campaign.
I'd add that Bush isn’t even proposing an actual war but a “strike”—for which he doesn’t need to exercise a “classic build-up” of the WWII-type. He didn't propose a war on Iraq either--it was just a battle in the GWOT, a humanitarian mission ("accomplished" supposedly in seven weeks), a pre-emptive police accusation to prevent a heinous crime, but NOT a war, per se. But war is actually what we ( or rather the Iraqis) got anyway.
The signs of impending conflict are obvious—two carrier groups stationed off-Iran in response to nothing in particular, stories of Iran being directly involved in killing US troops in Iraq with sophisticated bombs (based on circumstantial evidence), and constant insistence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (no evidence provided) and that Israel and US are being threatened by Iranian ambitions. If the buildup to the Iraq war is to be our guide, then we are indeed seeing a “classic build-up”, Bush–style, and we should be worried about it !
Clemons has decided that Bush has changed and the balance of power in Bush’s inner-circle has changed apparently because Iraq has not turned-out as well as was hoped and therefore Bush will not make the same “mistake” with regard to Iran.
If Bush were a reasonable man advised by reasonable men, all capable of some introspection, humility, adaptability and honesty then Bush and his policy-makers would have changed in the light of experience and current realities--but Bush isn’t, they aren’t, they haven’t changed and they aren’t going to change because in their world nothing has changed. That’s not just my opinion, that’s demonstrable fact and Clemons has to ignore the arc of the neocons’ and Bush’s history and actions to reach the conclusions he does.
Clemons Ignores the Past Influence of PNAC:
The Project for the New American Century was founded in 1997 (whilst Bush was still busy setting a national record for state executions) and included in its statement of principles;
“Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge […] The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire.”
With such signatories as Elliott Abrams, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Francis Fukuyama, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz it is no surprise that this principle of pre-emption became “the Bush doctrine”.
As to the specific application of pre-emption, the PNAC provided that too when it proposed military action against Iraq in January of 1998:
“If Mr. Clinton is serious about protecting us and our allies from Iraqi
biological and chemical weapons, he will order ground forces to the gulf. Four heavy divisions and two airborne divisions are available for deployment. The President should act, and Congress should support him in the only policy that can succeed.”
This was over a year before Bush even introduced his exploratory committee, let alone actually declaring his candidacy.
In "Rebuilding America’s Defenses—Strategy Forces and Resources for a New Century" (published in September 1999--long-before Bush became the official GOP candidate) the PNAC explains not just its desire to expand the military but the uses to which it should be put—most noticeably to invade Iraq and establish bases there. But that’s not the end of it:
“(page 17) Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region."
The road to Iran obviously goes through the forward-bases that would be established in Iraq first. The overarching ambition of the PNAC and their justification for imperialism applies everywhere, not just to the most “clear and present danger”:
“We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.” [page 87].All of this was publicly available as Bush was just beginning his presidential campaign and demonstrating his unique grasp of foreign policy which amounted to him recognizing that it involved foreigners with funny names. (I've had this PDF on my hard-drive since about January 2003--five years late!--when I finally started paying close attention--as an ordinary citizen, not a "professional analyst").
From the moment he took office Bush’s entire foreign policy has been the PNAC’s foreign policy. The “Axis of Evil” had already been identified (Gerson just provided the pithy moniker), pre-emption has occurred, the Pentagon budget has been increased some 25% (Iraq funding is entirely separate) and now in precise accordance with the PNAC strategy Iran is being set-up as the next step in the PNAC’s imperialist scheme—previously identified, and driven by the exact same “principles” and methods as were applied to Iraq.
For Clemons to imagine that Iran is somehow a different case from Iraq he has to ignore all the above—yet the evidence is there that Bush’s strategy is the PNAC’s strategy and that Iran is exactly the same as Iraq and requires the same approach. Equally egregiously perhaps, Clemons goes on to say:
“There are many who want to use the question of whether we would or would not bomb Iran as a way to criticize "the Decider" and to assert that his anti-intellectualism and perceived disdain for rationality would lead him to Cheney's dark side. I do have a disagreement with those who see Bush this way -- on this specific issue.”There are myriad examples of Bush’s anti–intellectualism (starting with his grades from Harvard and Yale) and his disdain for rationality that encompass every decision he has ever made in office and almost every word he has ever uttered, and to suggest that the issue of his apparent intentions towards Iran are being used as an excuse for scoring personal and political points is ridiculous. There is nothing in Bush’s record that suggests any deviation from “Cheney’s dark side” in the past, and there is none now—Cheney, the PNAC and Bush have been and still are in complete accord.
Clemons Ignores the Present Influence of PNAC
Clemons imagines that the neocons' influence has been reduced by the Iraq debacle, and the Sate Department’s influence has consequently increased, but this is supposition is based on Clemons’ projection of rationality and an acknowledgement of unpleasant realties onto Bush that Bush has not demonstrated and simply does not possess.
As National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice had long been described as a one of Bush’s closest confidants—she was practically as constant a companion to George as Laura Bush herself.
As Secretary of State, Rice’s duties have naturally reduced her contact with Bush somewhat. Since taking-on her new job, Rice has accomplished precisely nothing which is not entirely surprising given the hand she’s been dealt—Bush’s idea of diplomacy is “do it my way or else”. Even so, Bush has no problem with the perceived or actual professional failures of his lieutenants as long as they stay loyal to his demands (just count the Medal of Honor recipients!).
But Rice’s profile is clearly no longer as high as it once was. She rarely appears with Bush anymore. In the drive to war against Iraq and beyond the 2004 elections she was “everywhere”. Now she can’t get an op-ed published or a guest-spot on the Sunday political shows. Why? Because the Bush administration’s current foreign policy focus is Iran and her job as a diplomat and negotiator doesn’t conform to the White House’s modus operandi which is confrontation. Rice is no longer the favored messenger—she’s out of the loop.
For at least a year there have been stories of Iranians being indirectly and directly responsible for sophisticated deadly attacks on Americans, propagated through Pentagon spokespeople, friendly foreign press and newswires, none of which have resulted in any general public outrage one might have expected—because too-much was being made from the “evidence”, and the American audience has finally learned some appropriate cynicism.
The Iranian “nuclear threat” has been trumpeted for at least as long, but now the warnings have become louder, more frequent and more dire. Bush has promoted this theme in his recent speeches, his arguments vociferously supported and expanded-upon by Kristol, Kagan, Podhoretz, Krauthammer, Ledeen and the rest of the neocon and PNAC crowd. In June Joe Lieberman practically demanded a declaration of war against Iran, based on nothing but hysteria and has since managed to in association with Senator Kyl to get an amendment passed expressing the “sense” of the Senate that:
“…it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and [stop] the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies; military action against Iran may be necessary”
Furthermore it was revealed in August that Bush intended to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard edict a “terrorist organization” under Executive Order 13224 (signed in the aftermath of 9/11). This would be an interesting distinction and surely irrelevant since Iran as a whole has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, and the Guard has nothing to do with Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions which is now the greater focus of the Bush administration’s hyperbole and ire.
This unnecessary but pointed action, Lieberman’s speech and amendment, the increased frothing at the mouth of the usual warmongers from their secure pulpits, the continued regular meetings with Bush of the same old boy’s club and the drowning out by their shrill voices of the IAEA’s findings, the petulant dismissal of non-US and objectively qualified expert opinion countering the Bush administrations claims all point to a decision that has more likely than not, already been made: Iran is the “new” enemy, identical to the “old” enemy and the same “crime” demands the same “punishment” administered by the same people for the same reasons, and as always "before it's too late!".
The ‘public debate’ is stacked entirely in favor of the case and the cause to attack Iran. Rice and the State department are utterly mute and impotent. The “failure” of Iraq hasn’t registered with Bush at all. Clemons, like Bush, is living in a dream world. The indications are that Bush has decided Iran should be attacked, and he has expressed that Iran needs to be attacked, in complete accordance with the long established PNAC strategy he so quickly embraced and has acted-upon so diligently—all the evidence points to it.
The neocon cabal is hpwever still thrashing about for a sufficiently strong casus belli. The "case against Iraq" employed an actual attack on the US, supposed past failures of the Clinton administration, anthrax, chemical, biological and nuclear threats and fear for the very existence of our children and our childrens' children and pretty much the rest of the world too. Well now, despite its considerable disregard for public opinion in general, the neocons still need to curry some support from the until-recently ignorant masses that ultimately pay for their private schemes. A handful of US troops possibly being killed by a handful of Iranians in Iraq just doesn’t cut-it as an excuse for nationalistic outrage and violent revenge these days. The US public has more prosaic and tangible crises to worry about—thanks to Bush’s policies at home and abroad.
The neocons basically blew their wad with 9-11, milked it for five years and now the fear has gone. Their GOP suporters and beneficiaries have tried other threats--immigrants, gays, atheists, but nothing's working the way it used-to.
It is the neocons who are facing a crisis—their brilliant plan is not working quite the way they imagined. But rather than finding fault with their own theories and judgment, they have found fault in its execution by others who have been duly excised from the inner circle. Even those now forced to accept sympathy gigs on the right-wing think-tank circuit or to have their memoirs purchased in bulk by Richard Mellon Scaife have yet declare any fundamental misjudgment. They still insist the “intelligence was flawed”, not that it was purposely exaggerated and manufactured by their own cabal. They still insist that Hussein’s possession of WMD was confirmed by non-US sources—even though they refuted at the same time those same non-US sources who begged to differ for good reason, and so on and so on.
Time has been and is running out for the neo-con imperialists. Their entire careers, their lives are based on access to power in order to bend it to their grand schemes. They really believe they are the epitome of intellect and authority and have a right to direct US policy as they see fit. The very real prospect of losing that access to power would be so emasculating, and they have no intention of giving it up; so whilst they still have the opportunity they are advancing the same imperialist scheme and by the same means, military might—only the target has changed, not the goal.
Indeed bombing Iran would be a ‘re-legitimizing’ act—one that the PNAC and the neo-cons desperately need right now, as it would demonstrate that they still have power and influence over US policy regardless of how disastrous it would be (as was/is the case with Iraq). Success would secure their future and as they see it, the future of America. Their one concession to realism is the sacrifice that is required for a better tomorrow. Their sacrifice (the effort they apply to the management of the national future in endless meetings and media appearances) is more than equal to the sacrifices of those who pay in money and blood—after all, money and blood is a loss of the present whereas mapping the future is an investment in the future and someone has to manage that investment rather than fight and die for it. Mitt Romney’s recent comments provide a representative example of that consistent conservative ethos:
“My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard…one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."Romney’s attitude is representative of the monolithic self-referential, self–justifying oligarchy that the modern GOP and neo-conservatives have worked so hard to establish--and he thinks he's "the future"!.
Now having so nearly succeeded they face failure—unless they do something dramatic without undermining their own core beliefs. It is an old story—when nothing is going right, stir up some fear and start a war to distract the yokels. Yet a war with Iran would not be “desperate” in their eyes, but merely necessary—after all it would just be a continuation of their long term strategy and not an admission of any failure on their part—it all has to do with the GWOT and the promotion of freedom and the security of America (and nothing to do with oil, vengeance, xenophobia, machismo or incidentally, personal profit).
So the neocons need a war with Iran to ensure their own future and to justify the current war and frankly to preserve their psychological and philosophical foundations.
But with no public support and a broken military how can Bush and the neocons possibly imagine that they might still be able to start another war? Why would they want to at this point? As as Bush hasn't done anything yet, doesn't that prove Clemon's point? What is stopping Bush from attacking?
I'll address all that in Part III: How Bush Can And Will Start A War With Iran.
Postscript I just want to point out that Cernig and I are not "tag-teaming" on the Iran issue. He writes much faster than I and whilst I've been writing my current opus on Iran I've not been referencing his posts since my "part I" effort--I've had a hard enough time keeping up with current events which have only added to my workload, on this subject (what I have finally posted has been a fifth re-write, on the fly, as things have advanced--compare to Cernig's output!). Though we pretty obviously agree on many things there's no vast liberal conspiracy going on here.