Tristero's post over at my place from earlier today about General Peter Pace's divergence from the administration's talking points may illuminate some of the backchannel infighting going on in the Bush administration over Iran. Here's the nut:
A top U.S. general said Tuesday there was no evidence the Iranian government was supplying Iraqi insurgents with highly lethal roadside bombs, apparently contradicting claims by other U.S. military and administration officials.
Now, we don't know what this really means. It could be that they are playing some sort of elaborate good cop/bad cop routine. (God help us — these people are not very good at complicated tasks.) Or it could be a real revolt of the generals. We can't know for sure. But we do know that as much as a year ago, the administration has been actively planning to attack Iran and the generals have been resisting. Here's Seymour Hersh from April 2006:
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. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”
A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”
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?’ ”
I have believed for some time that the Bush administration is intent upon attacking Iran because they believe that their unpopularity will be redeemed by history for having taken great, bold steps to transform the middle east. The more Iraq looks like a cock-up of epic proportions that results in nothing more than chaos and death, the less likely it is that their "vision" will come to pass. And so they rely more and more on the "big" thinkers who set us on this path many years ago: the neoconservatives who cooked up a document for Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu years ago. A document called "A Clean Break", which many people, including Ambassador Joseph Wilson, have pointed to as the guiding document that took us first into Iraq — and now maybe Iran.
For those of you who may be foggy on the details, I would highly recommend that you read this very interesting neocon primer by Craig Unger in this month's Vanity Fair. It was, at one time, considered to be crazed moonbat conspiracy mongering to talk about "Clean Break." Today those of us who were writing about it prior to the Iraq invasion have been vidicated by events. We were not being hysterical then and we are not hysterical now:
The neoconservatives have had Iran in their sights for more than a decade. On July 8, 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's newly elected prime minister and the leader of its right-wing Likud Party, paid a visit to the neoconservative luminary Richard Perle in Washington, D.C. The subject of their meeting was a policy paper that Perle and other analysts had written for an Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic Political Studies. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," the paper contained the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the U.S. could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.
"It was the beginning of thought," says Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert, who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney. Other signers included Perle and Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy during George W. Bush's first term. "It was the seeds of a new vision."
Netanyahu certainly seemed to think so. Two days after meeting with Perle, the prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress with a speech that borrowed from "A Clean Break." He called for the "democratization" of terrorist states in the Middle East and warned that peaceful means might not be sufficient. War might be unavoidable.
Netanyahu also made one significant addition to "A Clean Break." The paper's authors were concerned primarily with Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but Netanyahu saw a greater threat elsewhere. "The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran," he said.
Ten years later, "A Clean Break" looks like nothing less than a playbook for U.S.-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented-removing Saddam from power, setting aside the "land for peace" formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon-all with disastrous results.
Nevertheless, neoconservatives still advocate continuing on the path Netanyahu staked out in his speech and taking the fight to Iran. As they see it, the Iraqi debacle is not the product of their failed policies. Rather, it is the result of America's failure to think big. "It's a mess, isn't it?" says Meyrav Wurmser, who now serves as director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. "My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don't give it a regional context."
That is the argument that's clearly driving Bush and Cheney today. They have nothing else. Cheney is melting down on national television. Bush in his bubble is as detached and oblivious as ever. I believe that we are at a point where the only things standing between us and the order to attack Iran are the generals. (Forget congress — they can't even pass a toothless resolution against the "surge" in less than a couple of months. The "surge" will have already failed by the time they even stage a uselss protest.) And that is about the scariest thing, out of many scary things, I've contemplated since the beginning of the Bush administration. We are now in a Strangelovian bizarroworld where we must count on General Buck Turgidson to refuse to follow orders. Holy Moly.