For long time now, perhaps a year, I've been hearing (we've all been hearing) that the White House is planning to bomb Iran. As the neo-cons say, "Boys go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran." It's a strategy so seductive that John McCain set it to music.
I've been dismissive of these rumors, as have you. Why? Because one would have to be a madman (or Dick Cheney) to start a second war when the first one is going so fucking well.
Unfortunately, this doesn't take into account the way decisions about these things are made; and it neglects to take into account, as well, this particular president's view of himself in history.
As Bush this weekend was disclosed to have said to his biographer, "I made a decision to lead... One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?" [The biography, by the way, is called Dead Certain. How reassuring to the rest of us.]
In the eyes of our president, an Iran with a different government is a world better off. The people of Iran, or what's left of the people of Iran after a 1,200-target bombing campaign, will greet us as liberators. History and Joe Lieberman will judge him brave for having turned the tide in the Grand Battle Against Islamo-fascism -- a battle which, as we now know, had its origins in the Vietnam war.
Still, I was inclined (you were inclined) to dismiss all this bluster as sabre-rattling. Alas, in the past week it has become more likely that those sabres are Tomahawk missiles -- locked, aimed, targeted.
Here are the indications that a large bombing campaign against Iran is not only on the table, but is in fact the main dish -- the turkey, if you will, of Thanksgiving 2007. I list them in order of ascending terrifyingness.
Second: Barnett Rubin, a scholar and one of the Serious people in the academic foreign policy establishment, says we're already committed to an attack on Iran, and that the marketing for this attack will be ramped up after the long weekend. [In this light, Bush's speech to the American Legion and various Cheney remarks of the last month can be seen as test-marketings. As Bush said in that speech, "We will confront this danger before it is too late." Meaning, I suspect: "before I no longer have my finger on the button."]
Third: the foreign press, which during the run-up to Iraq was far less blinkered than, say, the Gray Lady, has been over this weekend treating an attack on Iran as a fait accompli. See this from the Telegraph (UK) . The Times (UK) ran today a headline with the flat declaration, Pentagon 'three-day blitz' plan for Iran. They quote Alex Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center: "Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same." It was, he added, a "very legitimate strategic calculus." [One can't help but recall the strategic calculus of General Buck Turgidson: "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."]
Fourth: I doubt that David Addington believes that Bush, under the AUMF, really needs the permission of congress, or of anyone. As a courtesy, of course, he'd likely, as the planes are on their way, inform a bipartisan leadership group (several Republicans plus an independent from Connecticut). But what's sadder is that this Congress, whose Democratic leadership is talking about opposing the war but not mentioning the words "withdrawal" or "timetable"; which cowed before the FISA revisions; whose Senate this year blithely passed, 97 to zip, a resolution condemning Iran for attacking U.S. forces in Iraq -- When push comes to shove, will Reid and Pelosi (and Clinton, and Obama) put their political capital where their mouth is? As the magic eight ball says, "Signs point to no." (See Glen Greenwald's astute assessment of the political situation.)
Fifth: Regardless of the politics, in the Gulf of Hormuz the ships are in position, and, according to one unverified account, the targets are targeted, the planes are rehearsing even as we speak. In what are purported to be the words of one Navy officer on scene: ""I don't think it's limited at all. We are shipping in and assigning every damn Tomahawk we have in inventory. I think this is going to be massive and sudden, like thousands of targets. I believe that no American will know when it happens until after it happens."
For me (and for you), beginning a war in Iran -- in the midst of the disaster that is Iraq -- is the precise incarnation of Santayana's warning: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." But for Bush and Cheney, two of the ten or twelve people who actually believe that the Iraq war is going well, this new venture would be, in their eyes-- Going from strength to strength.
I've written to my Congressman, and to both Senators. Call me quixotic, for writing; call me naive, for encouraging you to do the same; and, at day's end, call me cynical, for believing that public opinion here makes not one whit of difference.
For this long, hot weekend in Los Angeles, the last weekend before the full roll-out of the Iran Strike Ramp-Up [can't you just see the CNN logo?], we've gone to Video Hut and rented Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We have a 14-year-old in the house, and we thought it would be nice to provide him with some context. As we pray, against all indications, for cooler weather and a peaceful fall. Howard A. Rodman is a screenwriter, novelist, educator. He is professor and former chair of the writing division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts; a member of the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, west; and an artistic director of the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs.
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