Wednesday, April 05, 2006

President Bush and Iran

There are signs that Bush, who isn't too bright, and Iran, which is led by people who also aren't too bright, are on a collision course over Iran's current nuclear program and its perceived desire for nuclear weapons. We could have war by the November elections. See the Washington Monthly for the growing possibility we may be headed for war.

Now there's a certain amount of sabre-rattling going on by both sides. Iran, by displaying it's super-fast torpedo, may not be aware that it's increasing the chances of war, not decreasing those chances. The Seattle Times has an AP story that offers some perspective:
Iran has unveiled with great fanfare a series of what it portrays as sophisticated, homegrown weapons — flying boats and missiles invisible to radar, torpedoes too fast to elude.

But experts said Tuesday it appears much of the technology came from Russia and questioned Iran's claims about the weapons' capabilities.

Still, the armaments, tested during war games by some 17,000 Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, send what may be Iran's real message: its increased ability to hit oil tankers if tension with America turns to outright confrontation.

To underline that message, the maneuvers — code-named "The Great Prophet" — have been held since Friday around the Strait of Hormuz, the 34-mile-wide entrance to the Gulf through which about two-fifths of the world's oil supplies pass.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, proclaimed Tuesday that Iran was now able to defend itself against "any extra-regional invasion."
What Iran needs to understand is that Bush is not particularly rational. For one thing, he does things by gut feeling. Second, if he feels threatened, his gut response is to find a way to strike back without doing much thinking about it.

Another thing Iran needs to understand is that sabre-rattling plays more into Bush's hands than theirs. Bush wants a war. Iran, by showing videos of super-fast torpedoes, simply make it easier for Bush to make a case for war. Elections are coming. His poll numbers are falling. Bush has wanted to do something about Iran anyway. Keeping in mind the president's deluded vision of the world, he probably has it in his head that a war with Iran will cause Americans to rally around him. His poll numbers, according to his thinking, will go up and Congress will become more Republican than ever; there's a small chance he may be right and it may be a chance he will gladly take. The world needs to understand that Bush may not know much but he knows how to win elections and he will do what he thinks it takes even if the rules are beginning to change on him, because elections and campaigning are all he knows.

Because of the way Bush thinks, he makes blunders. First, he tends to dig a hole for himself. When he notices that the hole is getting bigger, he panics; he immediately starts digging a hole nearby (which conveniently changes the subject) and uses the dirt to fill up the first hole. But then he double-panics because the second hole is even bigger than the first. And so it goes with the third and fourth holes and so on. Iraq is the second hole; he wants to use Iran as his third hole to cover up his mess in Iraq.

Now here's what everybody needs to understand: guys like Bush tend to get more reckless as their blunders grow bigger. Iraq, up to now, has been a limited war; the bombing in Iraq was not all that remarkable in March and April of 2003—it was deliberately restrained and limited; in 2006, the situation is different. No one, including Iran, should make the mistake of underestimating the firepower of the United States. If the US bombs Iran's nuclear facilities and Iran defends itself as it is capable of defending itself, it has a good chance of militarily doing some significant damage to the US; however, taking out a single warship in the Persian Gulf or doing significant damage to an American base or blocking the Strait of Hormuz has a good chance of removing any restraint that Bush may feel when it comes to bombing. And he might have the American people behind him if the damage to the US reaches a certain level of significance. If Bush feels he is politically protected, a good part of Tehran, as just one example, could disappear in a matter of days just by using conventional weapons. I'm not predicting this will happen. I'm just saying that if cooler heads do not prevail, Iran will be badly damaged and its nuclear pride isn't going to mean much.

Of course, if Iran knows what it's doing, the odds are quite high that the US will also be badly damaged, and in a variety of ways, including gas at $8 a gallon or higher. But people, Iranians included, need to understand that the full damage to a country as large and powerful as the United States will take time to run its course, perhaps even years, and that damage, along with the likely resentment that will go with it, will impact on the rest of the world and is likely to come back and haunt Iran and its neighbors in one form or another; if there is war, there are no good scenarios here, not for the US, not for Iran, and not for the world. Bush is blind to these dangers and is unlikely to do anything useful to mitigate the dangers. In the short term, a war with Iran might allow Bush to pull off Congressional gains in the November elections, particularly if he is cynical enough to dig into our national oil reserves for two or three months. But after that? After the November elections? Slowly, we in America will begin to understand the significant damage that Bush's third major foreign policy blunder will have caused. Iran, of course, has a good chance by then of being far more damaged than it was during its war with Iraq. These things will happen, but only if cooler heads do not prevail. There are solutions.

Whether its war or agreement on nuclear issues, Bush is desperate for some good news for his presidency. Given the choices, it's not difficult to see what the president will do depending on what the Iranians and the rest of the world do. The real key is what the Iranians will do as the November elections draw closer.

The irony is that Iran is not likely to have nuclear weapons for another five to ten years and the people in our government who know this stuff are saying it's the later period. Bush's strategic vision is flawed on several levels. For example, in just one year, we are likely to be in a better strategic position than we are now, though after that it will likely be different if Bush continues his inept level of foreign policy thinking. But Iran's strategic vision of returning Bush's sabre rattling with their own sabre rattling, particularly at this time, is also highly flawed since Bush's stupidity regarding oil and energy issues is only likely to continue, thus strengthening Iran's position for the remainder of the Bush presidency.

If war is to be avoided, the US, Europe, Russia, China and even Japan need to be involved. In the end, unpleasant though it may be to deal with Bush, it's in everybody's interest to do so. And everybody needs to do more.


Blogger Van said...

Thank you for that insightful post. Your observations are right on the mark.

"What Iran needs to understand is that Bush is not particularly rational. For one thing, he does things by gut feeling. Second, if he feels threatened, his gut response is to find a way to strike back without doing much thinking about it."

I'm afraid that this is not possible - Iran is provoking a bully. They are just as clueless as the Bush Administration.

If Bush goes to war with Iran, it's the end of the already jeopardized Republican Revolution. But this action could promote more than a footnote in history. It could provoke a dirty bomb attack or worse.

Let's hope for the best, but expect the worst.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

"Another thing Iran needs to understand is that sabre-rattling plays more into Bush's hands than theirs. Bush wants a war."

Two and a half or three years ago, I probably would've agreed. Now, I tend to doubt it.

I don't see Bush being chastened much by the death and terrible injuring of so many of our troops. I do see him being chastened by other factors.

He's just about shot his bolt militarily. The forces are stretched and material and weapons stockpiles are depleted. The financial cost has been hugely more than anticipated.

Bush sees his poll numbers precipitously low, his self-proclaimed political capital gone, his heretofore loyal lockstep supporters in Congress growing independent and the real possibility of two years of sturm and drang if Democrats win either house of Congress, gaining subpeona power.

His and his cronies' apparent assumption our traditional allies would get in line and be cooperative once we'd done the deed in Iraq, and it was turning out well, didn't pan out for obvious reasons.

Additionally, I suspect there are still some knowledgeable, sane people in the departments of State and Defense who are pushing back with realistic assessments of what war with Iran would entail.

That is, a country much bigger, stronger and better organized than Iraq. A ground war in Iraq would make the Korean War look like a walk in the park. And as in Iraq, there's the aftermath to reckon with — something even Bush must find off putting by now.

Yes, Bush is dense. But these things, I suspect, have penetrated his consciousness.

As for a tail wagging the dog scenario, I once suspected he might try that. But the public mood is sour enough about our Iraq misadventure that I suspect Bush, Rove and Cheney see an attack on Iran as too risky of a political backfire at home.

Of course, if Bush et al do think that, they don't want the Iranians to know about it.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., I would normally agree with your rational assessment and I hope you're right.

You're correct that Bush has overextended the military, but I believe that applies primarily to ground operations. If anything, our air power after the initial invasion three years ago has been largely unused except for brief campaigns such as in Fallujah. An air campaign can probably achieve Bush's immediate goal of crippling Iran's nuclear program but of course there's always that nasty business of what happens next.

There has been a bizarre philosophy from the beginning at the White House and the Pentagon that we need to whack the hornet's nest in the Middle East and deal with the aftermath later. I'm not convinced these guys have learned anything and if anything they may be putting more options on the table this time around.

As for Bush's poll numbers, Bush would not be the first leader to consider military action as a desperate way to salvage his position. If there's a bunker mentality at the White House, the polls may not mean much. On the other hand, if Rove thinks there's a way to parley a military strike into better poll numbers, I could see Bush grasping at that chance. If Bush decides on an air campaign against nuclear facililties, he may, as one possibility, be counting on an overreaction by the Iranians to give him a big bounce in the polls. I'm not saying he's right and that this will happen but we have seen a kind of desperation on the part of Bush; as things get worse, he and his friends get more reckless; the outing of Valerie Plame was purely an act of recklessness.

And yes, there are still knowledgeable people at Defense and State, but a lot of the more rational outspoken top officials have been removed and the leadership is basically a small circle of Bush loyalists: Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, John Bolton and a few others. These are the kind of Cold War hawks who don't bluff. I don't think a military decision has been made and I hope a diplomatic solution can be found, but these are the kind of people that when it comes to military action, they absolutely mean what they say, damn the consequences.

Just one last thought though it may not be that consequential. I've been checking a few right wing sites and these clowns are pushing hard for war. That doesn't reassure me.

A number of world leaders have trouble taking Bush seriously, and we all understand that, but the Iranian situation needs to be taken very seriously.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Your case is persuasive and therefore worrisome.

[i]"I've been checking a few right wing sites and these clowns are pushing hard for war. That doesn't reassure me."[/i]

In line with that, Fox News has been flogging the Iran situation every weekend for months. That has caused me to wonder if they're helping beat the drums for if and when Bush is ready to roll out his "new product,"
to borrow Andy Card's term from the period when drum beating was getting under way for the Iraq invasion.

7:33 PM  

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