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By Lieberman's Logic, the US May Have to Bomb Itself

Robert Naiman

Mount Lieberman erupted again on Sunday, perhaps doing the bidding of the "war, not negotiation" faction of the Administration grouped around Vice President Cheney's office. "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Lieberman said in an interview on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," the New York Times reported.

The immediate goal of the Cheney/Lieberman faction is not to launch war in Iran. That's their ultimate goal, but they know that they don't have the strength right now to bring about this goal immediately. Their immediate strategy is to undermine the negotiations with Iran and box the U.S. government into a corner where - from their point of view - war will be inevitable. They are also trying to threaten that if the U.S. doesn't attack Iran, Israel will do it, as if Israel could or would undertake such an attack without approval from the United States.

Lieberman claimed there was "incontrovertible" evidence that Iranians were training Iraqis to use explosives, but, as is usual for these claims, he didn't provide any. The Times article noted that "American officials concede that they are unable to prove that senior Iranian officials are behind the smuggling."

But suppose that Lieberman's claim were true. Would that justify - legally, morally, politically - U.S. airstrikes on Iran? Only on Planet Cheney/Lieberman. Would it be in the interest of the majority of Americans to launch airstrikes on Iran? Absolutely not.

To absorb the full force of how criminally insane Lieberman's statement was, suppose we adopted the following proposition:

"The United States should launch airstrikes against any country which is supplying weapons or other support to insurgents in Iraq."

Who would we have to bomb?

Of course we would have to bomb Syria. There's no question that Syria could be doing more to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the Syrian-Iraqi border. They could, for example, construct a 20-foot high electrified fence along the entire border, with a shark-infested moat. Since they aren't doing this, we'd have to bomb them. But we would also have to bomb Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who could also be doing more to stop the flow of fighters and money from their territory to Sunni insurgents.

But, to be fully consistent, we couldn't stop there. We would also have to bomb the United States.

As the Times reported the same day:

"American commanders are turning to another strategy that they acknowledge is fraught with risk: arming Sunni Arab groups that have promised to fight militants linked with Al Qaeda who have been their allies in the past."

Those weapons could have other uses, the Times reported:

"But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans' arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq's army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves."

So: if we arm Sunni insurgents, as we are apparently doing, and those weapons are used to attack American troops, as they apparently might be, would we have to bomb ourselves in retaliation?

Of course, there is a way to make sense of this. You have to cast aside the silly notion that this is about logic or evidence or morality or international law. You have to see this as a question of raw power. We're the most powerful country in the world, and what we say goes, and that's all there is to it, and if anyone challenges us, we have to smash them.

There's no question that this way of thinking still has wide appeal in the United States, inside Washington and out. You can find it on Mount Lieberman or right-wing talk radio any time you want.

But here's the problem, even casting morality, logic, evidence, and international law aside: that's the kind of thinking that led to the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place. That's the kind of thinking that got more than 3500 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 25,000 wounded. Our way or the highway. It's not just wrong. It's not in the interest of the majority of Americans. One thing is certain: that way of thinking will not get us out of Iraq.

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.

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