By Jeff Huber
Pen and Sword
The "Neo-connecting the Dots to Iran" series in its entirety…
October 07, 2007
If we've learned one thing about the Bush administration, it's that if at first they don't succeed with a stunt, they'll pull, pull and pull it again until they get away with it. Thus it is that even as Senators Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Joe Lieberman (?-Connecticut) attempted to sneak a declaration of war against Iran into the defense spending bill, the military's propaganda machine in Iraq was spoon feeding the press more "evidence" that Iran is helping Iraqi militants attack U.S. troops.
We've seen this sort of thing before.
Have I Got a Used Bomb for You!
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Jim Webb (D-Virginia) called the Kyl-Lieberman proposal "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream." (As journalists like Seymour Hersh, Larisa Alexandrovna and Gareth Porter have been telling us, Cheney has been pressing behind the scenes for war with Iran for some time.)
While Lieberman and Kyl were trying to help Cheney realize his dream in Washington, Major General Kevin Bergner, the chief of public affairs in Iraq, invited members of the press to the latest in a series of Iran bashing dog-and-pony shows in Baghdad's Green Zone. Bergner and his staff let reporters see two roadside bombs disguised as rocks that, according to Andrew E. Kramer of the New York Times, "General Bergner said were likely of Iranian provenance."
Likely of Iranian provenance? Likely? What kind of half-seated accusation was that for a U.S. Army general to level at the Iranians while Congress debates declaring war on them? (Perhaps more importantly: Why do media outlets like the New York Times continue to play echo chamberlain for this kind of irresponsible inflammatory rhetoric?)
The rock bombs were part of a display General Bergner had prepared for the reporters that showcased what "the military says is Iranian support for the insurgency." An "American military explosives expert" was "made available" to reporters. This is like a car dealer making one of his own mechanics "available" to inspect the used Ford he's trying to sell you.
The explosives expert said that the rock bombs
And you're sure to be shocked, shocked to learn that the arms expert only spoke with reporters "on the condition that his name not be revealed."
This press briefing in Baghdad was a continuation of a pattern that began to gel sometime around January 2007--also the time that we learned of the Iraq "surge" strategy.
Claims about Iran's intentions to build nuclear weapons had failed to take sufficient traction and the propaganda vector shifted to accusing Iran of arming and training Iraqi militants. Then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who was also a charter member of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, promised to offer "proof" of "Iranian meddling" in Iraq.
On February 11, Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post was among the members of the press corps invited to a classified briefing that was
By the next day, the "proof of Iranian meddling" had been received with a "healthy dose of skepticism." Even General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted there was no evidence he knew of to support the claim that Iran's government was involved in aiding Iraqi militants.
In normal times, such negative results would have caused the administration to drop its disinformation effort and try a new stratagem. But these are not normal times, and this is not a normal administration.
The long promised "proof" that the Iranian government was contributing to attacks on American soldiers in Iraq presented to reporters in Baghdad on February 11, 2007 was greeted with skepticism--if not downright derision--in the United States and elsewhere. The nearly universal rejection of their claims, however, did not deter the administration from continuing to pursue this line of information operations.
The headline of a July 2nd New York Times story by former Judith Miller cohort Michael R. Gordon read: "U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Iraq Attack." The article was a masterpiece of Rovewellian doublespeak.
It extensively quoted then Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, who only weeks earlier had taken over the job as Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects in Iraq from Major General William Caldwell IV. (Caldwell has since been promoted to Lieutenant General, and Bergner recently advanced to Major General, so this public affairs gig in Iraq appears to be good for one's career these days.) In fact, the piece didn't directly quote anyone except Bergner.
Gordon wrote that unnamed "American military officials" had "long asserted" that the Quds force, "an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, has trained and equipped Shiite militants in Iraq." "The Americans" had also, according to Gordon, "cited exclusive intelligence" that Iran has supplied Shiite militants with shaped explosive charges capable of penetrating armored vehicles and "American officials" had alleged that "Iran has been in a proxy war against American forces for years."
The crux of the article was the claim, attributed to Bergner, that
(It's worth noting at this point that nothing in Gordon's article indicates that any of the officials he or Bergner referred to were at the briefing, or any other members of the press for that matter. In fact, from the way Gordon wrote the piece, it sounds like nobody was in the room except Gordon and Bergner. We can tell from the transcript of the briefing that other reporters and members of Bergner's staff were in attendance, but they may as well not have been. Bergner and Gordon completely dominated the event.)
The most damning evidence of Iranian complicity in American deaths that Gordon related came in the form of information gleaned from captured Shiite militants. From these prisoners, officials learned that
This all sounds compelling until we stop to notice a few things. First is that although Gordon names the captured militants and gives details of their backgrounds, we never heard of them before and nothing about their backgrounds supports the veracity of the information they supposedly coughed up to interrogators. (Moreover, filling a story with interesting but irrelevant details is a standard liar's trick.) Secondly, all this information was relayed to Gordon through Bergner. At the time officials were gaining intelligence from these prisoners, Bergner was back in Washington writing pro-war propaganda for the White House, so the "evidence" Gordon echoed in the New York Times was fourth hand hearsay at the very best. Finally and most importantly, prisoners of this war have been known to tell their interrogators exactly what they want to hear for in exchange for as little as a Twixt bar or a copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
As if all this rhetorical manipulation weren't already enough, the article ended with one of the most exquisite pieces of bull feather merchandising I have seen pulled by a Bush camp reporter and general team to date:
Gee, it would be hard to imagine that prehistoric humans could have made those funny patterns in the desert; therefore ancient astronauts must have done it. And oh by the way, the official transcript of the briefing reveals that the Bergner "was asked" the question by Michael R. Gordon. I guess Gordon wouldn't agree to be referenced unless he promised himself anonymity--due to the sensitivity of the subject, of course.
You'd think this briefing would have been greeted with the same scorn the February briefing received, but no. On July 11th, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would
What "evidence our military has given us" was he referring to? The "forensic evidence" that "senior military officials" had produced at the February press brief and the "new" and "stunning" details Brigadier General Kevin Bergner had provided the week before.
So in July, on the basis of forensic evidence that amounted to the say-so of a single unnamed weapons expert, intelligence gained from prisoners under interrogation, the unconfirmed assertions of anonymous officials and "stunning details" presented by a professional propaganda operative, Joe Lieberman asked the Senate for a "strong unified statement" that would "say to the Iranians that this must stop."
He was desensitizing his audience in preparation for the stunt he was about to pull in September.
-- Gareth Porter, August 16, 2007, writing on Senator Lieberman's vocal support of Dick Cheney's agenda to attack Iran.
The clause in the proposed Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the 2008 military appropriations bill stating
As Gareth Porter suggests, Lieberman's main purpose in the scheme to ferment war with Iran is to act as a desensitizer, and in that role, he has followed two lines of operation. First is to desensitize the public (including the Congress and the media) to the fuzzy nature of the evidence used to argue that the Iranian government is supporting Iraqi militants, which Lieberman largely does by packaging hearsay testimonials from military officials as hard evidence. (In case you haven't noticed lately, whenever a Bush camp general speaks out about the war, you can't count how many politicians' lips are moving.) Lieberman's second rhetorical vector focuses on introducing increasingly bellicose rhetoric to support direct military action, as exampled by the stealth declaration of war in the originally proposed Kyl-Lieberman amendment.
In the first case, Lieberman's methods appear to have been highly effective. Even Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation, normally skeptical of baseless administration claims, seems to have taken the hook on the allegations that Iran is arming the insurgents in Iraq, even though Schieffer himself offers nothing more tangible to support those charges than Lieberman has.
As to the second issue: A preemptive declaration of war is unlikely to sit well with the public these days, but acts of self-defense, well now; those are horse feathers of a different color. As Seymour Hersh points out in the current issue of The New Yorker,
Once the rationalization for war becomes defending the troops, the lid to Pandora's box blows clear off its hinges.
The Inherent Right to "Bring 'Em On"
The "inherent right of self-defense" is the backbone of the Standing Rules of Engagement for U.S. Forces. The concept states that a commander has not only the authority but the obligation to "use all necessary means available and to take all appropriate actions to defend that commander's unit and other U.S. forces in the vicinity from a hostile act or demonstration of hostile intent." This kind of responsibility normally falls to "on-scene commanders," but ultimate responsibility for "national self-defense" falls to the commander in chief. National self-defense involves "defense of the United States, U.S. forces, and, in certain circumstances, U.S. nationals and their property, and/or U.S. commercial assets." One way to exercise national self-defense is by "declaring a foreign force or terrorist(s) hostile," which the commander in chief is authorized to do. Once Mr. Bush declares someone or something hostile, "individual U.S. units do not need to observe a hostile act or determine hostile intent before engaging that force or terrorist(s)."
Based on the Standing ROE and the Bush administration's assertions about Iran's role in committing hostile acts against American troops, we should have turned Tehran into the world's largest solar panel, like, yesterday man! There is, of course, a slight problem in this line of reasoning. The ROE exist under the authority of the NCA, which is the National Command Authority, which is, basically, Mr. Bush. If Mr. Bush authorizes a strike on Iran based on authority he has given himself, someone in his political opposition might just call him on it. The odds of a Democrat in Congress growing that much spine are slim to none, but you never know.
So it's a good thing the Bush team has a couple of fallback positions. The War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973 gives a president standing authority to "introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities" in case of a "national emergency" created by an attack on "the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces" (italics added).
Mr. Bush not only has authority from Congress to defend our troops, but Article 51 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter states that:
Legally, Mr. Bush has his happy highness covered seven ways from Sunday. And since he only recognizes one "Higher Authority," he can bomb-bomb-bomb Iran until Barb-Barb-Barbara Bush tells him to knock it off.
Jim Webb (D-Virginia) has introduced a measure in the Senate that would deny funding for military action against Iran without congressional approval. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) supports the bill, and according to Elana Schor of The Hill,
I too applaud Webb for trying to keep the Bush administration in its box, but even if the measure becomes law, I doubt it will do much good. Funding for everything has to be approved by Congress, so making a separate law that says the legislature has to agree to fund an Iran attack is little more than a symbolic redundancy.
They Don't Need No Stinking Appropriations
Bush has managed to get whatever funding he wants for his woebegone wars under the "support the troops" rubric, and there's no reason to believe that stratagem won't continue to work like a champ. Symbolic gestures made by the Democratically controlled Congress may pay dividends come election time in 2008, but so far, gestures have had as much effect on Mr. Bush as water has on a duck's back. And there's no reason to believe anyone can stay Mr. Bush's hand though legal arguments; in that regard, he has his ducks lined up from here to the horizon.
The administration claims Mr. Bush has a wide range of authorities because of "unitary" and "plenary" powers given to him in the Constitution. That the Constitution says nothing about these alleged powers hasn't kept Mr. Bush from doing exactly what he wants to (or doing exactly what Dick Cheney wants him to do.)
The War Powers Resolution that Congress passed in 1973 allows a president to introduce U.S. armed forces into hostilities in case of a national emergency created by an attack on said U.S. armed forces, which is what the administration accuses Iran of having done.
We have been living under a national state of emergency since Mr. Bush first declared one on September 14, 2001.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed days after the 9/11 attacks gave Mr. Bush specific statutory authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent "any future acts of international terrorism against the United States" by "nations, organizations or persons." That goes a long way in explaining why the administration is eager to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
The foundation of the "Standing Rules of Engagement for U.S. Forces" is the inherent right of self-defense, which gives commanders the authority and obligation to use all necessary means in practicing the self-defense of their units and other U.S. forces. National self-defense calls for the defense of U.S. forces and may be exercised by declaring a "foreign force or terrorist(s)" hostile. As commander in chief, Mr. Bush is empowered to make such hostile designations and may delegate that authority to lower echelons of command.
In case you're wondering how this rules of engagement business sits with the international laws of armed conflict, the United Nations Charter recognizes the inherent right of self-defense.
In all, Mr. Bush has all the legal cards in the deck stacked in his favor should he decide to attack Iran. That presupposes, of course, that the main assumption--that Iran is actively contributing to attacks on American forces in Iraq--is valid. But then again, the Bush administration has led us into misadventures on the basis of faulty assumptions before.
As journalist and historian Gareth Porter wrote in a September 27th piece for AlterNet,
Incredibly, the Bush team has managed to create a compelling narrative about Iran's collusion with Iraqi militants out of gossamer weight evidence that consists of:
a) Allegedly captured documents and computer database files that haven't been verified by any reliable independent source.
b) Intelligence gained from interrogations of captured militants. Officials have not produced transcripts of the prisoner interviews or described what kinds of interrogation methods were used. (Keep in mind too that prisoners have been known to tell interrogators anything they want to hear for as little as a pack of Camels and a roll of toilet paper.)
c) Photographs in a PowerPoint presentation that mortar rounds supposedly made in Iraq. For all anyone really knows, those pictures could have come from an Army Field Manual.
d) The say so of an anonymous "military weapons expert" that the weapons shown and described to reporters in Baghdad came from Iran.
e) Testimony by seemingly thousands of politicians, generals, officials, experts, think tankers, pundits, journalists, talking heads, fakers, fumblers, mumblers, bumblers, gypsies, tramps and thieves who reference things a) through d) and each other over and over and over and over and over and over and over again until you have to believe that the Iranians are killing our boys because that's what everyone says!
As parts I through IV of "Neo-connecting the Dots to Iran" discussed, Congress can't really stop Mr. Bush from attacking Iran if that's what he really wants to do, and before any legal action against Bush reaches the Supreme Court, what's left of humanity may be living in mine shafts. The major media have proven wholly incapable of acting as a power balancing fourth estate. Can it really be that the only institution that can keep America from committing yet another devastating misapplication of military force is the military itself?
According to historian and journalist Gareth Porter, Admiral William Fallon, head of United States Central Command, has
These days, virtually all U.S. combat operations are "purple," a term used to denote joint force endeavors among the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and (sometimes) the Coast Guard. The realities of our current wars, however, dictate that any action against Iran will be more blue (Navy and Air Force) than red (Army and Marine Corps), and Pentagon politics suggest that it will be more light blue than navy blue.
As Seymour Hersh points out in a recent in a recent article in the The New Yorker,
This "surgical strike" talk is just the sort of thing the U.S. Air Force loves to hear, especially at a time when the land-centric nature of America's wars has pushed the junior service even further into the realm of irrelevance. Surgical strike is the kind of combat the Air Force does best, and that it is best at. The Air Force has worked a long, long time to get so good at surgical strike.
Back in the bad old days, Colonel Hogan and the gang flew thousands and thousands of missions to hit one lousy factory. Half of them got shot down and spent the rest of the war pursuing comical misadventures in Stalags throughout Germany. Today, the Air Force can whack that factory with a single stealthy bomber (the Navy can do it a lot cheaper and more safely with cruise missiles launched from ships that never steam in harm's way, but the Air Force doesn't like to talk about that too much). The bottom line, though, is that the Air Force can whack a lot of stuff with very few (though devilishly expensive) airplanes at a combat loss risk that's zeroing in on zero. B-2 pilots can kiss their spouses goodbye in the morning, fly from Missouri to wherever business takes them that day, and be home that night in time to tuck the kids in.
And boy, when it comes to air superiority, the U.S. owns the skies. The only way an American pilot can get killed in combat is by accident, almost. Nobody can shoot down one of our fighter pilots unless it's one of our other fighter pilots, and that could only happen if the other fighter pilot made a mistake. So far, the only mistake remotely like that our fighter pilots have made was when two of them shot down two of our own helicopters, and you can't really count that, can you? I mean, c'mon. Helicopters. Fighters. Different animals, you know?
One of our F-16 pilots got himself shot down by anti-aircraft artillery over Bosnia, but his plane wasn't stealthy, so that doesn't really count either. The F-117 that got shot down a couple years later over Kosovo was stealthy, but that was old stealth, not the new stealth like the kind we have in the B-2, so take that one right off the list too.
What are the odds of a B-2 getting shot down in a combat mission over Iran? Wafer thin. I'm not saying it could never happen. I mean, there was that one instance where a B-2 went down in a training mission over Nevada, but that was in the movie Broken Arrow, so that one definitely doesn't count.
But, yeah, accidents can happen. Things break. Weather gets bad. Pilots make mistakes. Bad guys get lucky. I'd sure hate to see us lose a B-2 bomber over Iran. The Air Force would have to bar them from flying combat missions, and then what good would they be? And we'd be deluged with non-stop footage of the little boy in his flight suit jammies, clinging to his bedtime book, waiting for Daddy to come home from the war and read him a story. There's also a pretty good chance we might have to watch Daddy get dragged naked through the streets of Tehran, because his Iranian captors might not be nearly so jolly as Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz were.
That sort of possibility doesn't phase the Air Force, though. We'll bomb that bridge when we come to it, that's their motto. The problem is that when it comes time to bomb the bridge, they may not hit it, or it may turn out to be the wrong bridge, or we might find out in retrospect that bombing bridges wasn't what we really needed to do after all.
Here's something to keep in mind about the promise of "surgical strikes" on Iran and the people making that promise. The 9/11 attacks were, in essence, fourth generation warfare air raids. America's vaunted air power, as exemplified by the United States Air Force, did not defend us from them not did it deter them.
So don't expect that a handful of flyboys and girls can make things all better with Iran in the course of a business day.
Part VI wraps up the "Neo-connecting the Dots to Iran" series with a sneak preview of Armageddon and beyond.
On October 7th, America's top military commander in Iraq accused Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, of having been a member of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. As the Jerusalem Post noted, General David Petraeus made the charge "without citing any specific intelligence."
Petraeus also told journalists that Iran is
Is it any wonder Colin Powell hasn't volunteered to come back on duty and present all this "proof" to the United Nations?
All the back and forth nonsense between Iran and America boils down to a "did not/did so" contest. U.S. President George W. Bush says the Iranians want nuclear weapons. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says they don't. Dubya and his boys say the Iranians are fomenting violence in Iraq. Ahmi and his guys say they aren't. Who are we to believe?
Ahmadinejad says a lot of stupid things in public, but he's a piker in that department compared to Bush. Unlike Bush, as far as we can tell, Ahmadinejad hasn't lied to us yet. I know, he said there are no homosexuals in Iran, but that's probably true because he or Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei probably had them all killed.
And it's funny how General Petraeus can blithely accuse Iran of supplying arms to Iraqi militants on the basis of fuzzy evidence when the U.S. Government Accountability Office has provided substantial proof that arms were supplied to bad Iraqi actors in 2004 and 2005 by General Petraeus himself.
But what the heck, Bush isn't going to go to war with his "main man" Dave Petraeus for helping screw things up in Iraq, so Iran is the next best scapegoat, right?
A strike on Iran, however "surgical" it might be, could produce a broad range of possible branches and sequels. At one extreme, the earth's surface becomes uninhabitable when action in the Persian Gulf escalates into global thermonuclear war. China and Russia compete with the United States for allies and subterranean living space in a post-apocalyptic "battle for hearts and mines."
At the other end of the spectrum, the Iran attack leads Osama bin Laden to unilaterally declare a fatwah on Islamo-fascism. A Zogby poll reveals that everyone, including the Iranians, feels grateful to the U.S. for taking military action that prevented further bloodshed and suffering. In a show of concession to the human rights concerns of America's ruling Christian right, Iran stops killing its homosexuals but still doesn't allow them to get married.
Neither of these scenarios is likely, but one realistic end game to a U.S. war with Iran has already been played out. In the summer of 2002, the Pentagon sponsored a global war game named Millennium Challenge (MC02), an exercise that tested U.S. force capabilities in a hypothetical conflict with Iran. Afterwards, the Red Force (Iranian) commander, retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul van Riper complained that the game "was almost entirely scripted to ensure a Blue 'win.'" Practicing unconventional, fourth generation style warfare--the kind of warfare Iran would likely conduct against us--van Riper managed to put the entire U.S. fleet on the bottom of the Persian Gulf. The game masters called time out and resurrected the fleet, and van Riper resigned from the game in disgust.
Unfortunately, if Iran manages to sink our fleet in a real war, they're not likely to quit or help us float our ships back to the surface. I don't think Iran can actually sink a significant number of capital ships of the U.S. Navy, but it can do an embarrassing amount of damage to them. A torpedo in the side of an amphibious ship loaded with Marines or an anti-ship cruise missile slammed into the flight deck of an aircraft carrier would be a devastating psychological strategic defeat for U.S. forces--and we've already had enough of that sort of thing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But whatever does or doesn't happen with Iran, American neoconservatives will declare "mission accomplished" and start figuring out what kind of war they want to start next. If recent events are any indication, the neocons will have Israel perform a trial run against a country like Lebanon or Syria before they try anything with American troops again.
And any future military action in the Middle East will no doubt stay consistent with the Bush administration's proliferation policies. America will continue to threaten signatories to the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty like Iran and Syria who pursue nuclear energy programs as allowed by the treaty as an "inalienable right" while we back countries like Israel and India that have nuclear weapons but aren't part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If you're asking yourself whether this is the kind of thing they teach in university political science programs the answer, lamentably, is yeah, it pretty much is. Keep in mind that in 2009, our present Secretary of State wants to return and teach international relations at Stanford University, and Stanford might just take her back.