Monday, August 14, 2006

Juan Cole Comments on Sy Hersh Article

Middle East expert Juan Cole of Informed Comment has some thoughts on the Sy Hersh article in the current New Yorker:
Seymour Hersh says that sources knowledgeable about Israeli and Bush administration planning maintain that the Israelis laid out last spring in Washington and gained administration support for a plan for a bombing campaign against Hizbullah in Lebanon based on the Kosovo campaign. Moreover, the exercise was intended as a demonstration project and a preparation for a Bush administration war on Iran. The campaign against Hezbollah would have two major benefits. It would remove Hezbollah's rocket capability, which was a form of deterrence against Israeli or American bombing of Iran. And, what Israel learned from attacking Hezbollah would be useful in formulating tactics in the American assault on Iran.

Let me say this loud and clear, drawing on Pat Lang. Any US attack on Iran could well lead to the US and British troops in Iraq being cut off from fuel and massacred by enraged Shiites. Shiite irregulars could easily engage in pipeline and fuel convoy sabotage of the sort deployed by the Sunni guerrillas in the north. Without fuel, US troops would be sitting ducks for rocket and mortar attacks that US air power could not hope completely to stop (as the experience of Israel with Hizbullah in Lebanon demonstrates). A pan-Islamic alliance of furious Shiites and Sunni guerrillas might well be the result, spelling the decisive end of Americastan in Iraq. Shiite Iraqis are already at the boiling point over Israel's assault on their coreligionists in Lebanon. An attack on Iran could well push them over the edge. People like Cheney and Bush don't understand people's movements or how they can win. They don't understand the Islamic revolution in Iran of 1978-79. They don't understand that they are playing George III in the eyes of most Middle Eastern Muslims, and that lots of people want to play George Washington.

The only disagreement I have with Cole's analysis of a major Shiite upheaval in Iraq is that the American military would probably be able to extricate itself, possibly with serious losses, from such an upheavel, but that's the point: our military would be forced to extricate itself and withdraw back somewhere where it had supplies, possibly back to Kuwait. With the possible exception of the Kurdish areas, it would be the end of American presence in Iraq.

Cole goes on to say:
As for the Israelis, the Kosovo analogy is plausible, since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has instanced Kosovo as justification for his actions. The irony is that the Israelis misunderstood Kosovo. Hizbullah is like the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), not like Milosevic's Serbs. If Wesley Clarke had bombed the KLA, the Kosovo war would have failed completely. More ironically, in its decision to expel the Shiite population from the area of Lebanon south of the Litani river, and to make nearly 1 million Lebanese homeless, the Israelis acted more like Milosevic himself than like NATO.

Bombing campaigns rarely do much by themselves. The real key is that Milosevic was thoroughly isolated in the international community; even Russia, though it threatened a UN veto, largely stood on the sidelines. In the Hersh article, Wesley Clark also pointed out that the threat of ground troops was quite real.

The conventional bombing of Japan in the last months of World War II (exempting Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is sometimes used as an example of a successful bombing campaign (the argument ignores present conditions and of course, we can argue about 'success' on several levels). But using Japan as an example of a successful bombing campaign can be highly misleading. Japan's real problem late in the war was simply that the American navy had cut off Japan's fuel supplies. In fact, Japan wasn't getting much of anything in the way of imports. Japan had ships and planes but very little fuel with which to operate them and thus little chance to defend themselves. There's a lesson in this but not the one Bush and Cheney want to hear. The irony of a bombing campaign against Iran is that we're likely to damage the fuel supply for the world's economy not to mention our own. Talk of such bombing completely ignores the strategic situation.

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