How Crazy Are They?
Tuesday 11 April 2006
I had a debate with my boss last night about Sy Hersh's terrifying New Yorker article
describing Bush administration plans to attack Iran, potentially with nuclear weapons. After reading the Hersh piece,
my boss was understandably worried, describing his reaction to the article in road-to-Damascus-revelation terms. They're
going to do this, he said.
I told my boss that I couldn't believe it was possible the Bush administration would do this. I ran through all the
reasons why an attack on Iran, especially with any kind of nuclear weaponry, would be the height of folly.
Iran, unlike Iraq, has a formidable military. They own the high ground over the Persian Gulf and have deployed missile
batteries all throughout the mountains along the shore. Those missile batteries, I told him, include the Sunburn
missile, which can travel in excess of Mach 2 and can spoof Aegis radar systems. Every American warship in the Gulf,
including the carrier group currently deployed there, would be ducks on the pond.
The blowback in Iraq would be immediate and catastrophic, I reminded him. The Shi'ite majority that enjoys an alliance
with Iran would go indiscriminately crazy and attack anyone and anything flying the stars and stripes.
Syria, which has inked a mutual defense pact with Iran and is believed to have significant chemical and biological
weapons capabilities, would get into the game.
China, which has recently established a multi-billion dollar petroleum relationship with Iran, might step into the fray
if it sees its new oil source at risk.
Russia, which has stapled itself to the idea that Iran's nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes, would likewise
get pulled in.
Blair and Britain want nothing to do with an attack on Iran, Berlusconi appears to have lost his job in Italy, and
Spain's Aznar is already gone. If the Bush administration does this, I told my boss, they'd instantly find themselves in
a cold and lonely place.
The nuclear option, I told my boss, brings even more nightmarish possibilities. The reaction to an attack on Iran with
conventional weapons would be bad enough. If we drop a nuke, that reaction will be worse by orders of magnitude and puts
on the table the ultimate nightmare scenario: a region-wide conflagration that would reach all the way to Pakistan,
where Pervez Musharraf is fending off the fundamentalists with both hands. If the US drops a nuke on Iran, it is
possible that the Taliban-allied fundamentalists in Pakistan would rise up and overthrow Musharraf, thus gaining control
of Pakistan's own arsenal of nuclear weapons. All of a sudden, those nukes would be loose, and India would lose its
It was a cogent argument I made, filled with common sense. My boss seemed mollified, and we bid each other goodnight.
Ten minutes later, I had an email from my boss in my Inbox. He'd sent me Paul Krugman's latest editorial from the New
York Times, titled "Yes He Would."
Krugman's piece opens this way:
"But he wouldn't do that." That sentiment is what made it possible for President Bush to stampede America into the Iraq
war and to fend off hard questions about the reasons for that war until after the 2004 election. Many people just didn't
want to believe that an American president would deliberately mislead the nation on matters of war and peace. "But he
wouldn't do that," say people who think they're being sensible. Given what we now know about the origins of the Iraq
war, however, discounting the possibility that Mr. Bush will start another ill-conceived and unnecessary war isn't
sensible. It's wishful thinking.
Things have come to a pretty pass in the United States of America when the first question you have to ask yourself on
matters of war and death is, "Just how crazy are these people?" Every cogent estimate sees Iran's nuclear capabilities
not becoming any kind of reality for another ten years, leaving open a dozen diplomatic and economic options for dealing
with the situation. There is no good reason for attacking that country, but there are a few bad reasons to be found.
The worst of the bad reasons, of course, is that an attack on Iran would change the conversation in Washington as the
2006 midterm elections loom. Bush and his congressional allies are about as popular as scabies right now, according to
every available poll. If the current trend is not altered or disrupted, January 2007 may come with Democratic Rep. John
Conyers Jr. sitting as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee with subpoena powers in hand.
"As Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently pointed out," continued Krugman in his
editorial, "the administration seems to be following exactly the same script on Iran that it used on Iraq: 'The vice
president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East.
The US secretary of state tells Congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of
defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on US troops.'"
For the moment, one significant departure from the Iraq script has been the Bush administration vehemently denying that
an attack on Iran, particularly with nuclear weapons, is an option being considered at this time. Bush himself called
the Hersh article "wild speculation," and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan bluntly stated that the US is
committed to diplomacy. Gary Sick, an Iran expert quoted by columnist Jim Lobe in a recent article, seems to think the
reputation for irrational and dangerous actions enjoyed by the Bush administration is being used as a psychological
lever. "That is their record," said Sick, "so they have no need to invent it. If they can use that reputation to keep
Iran - and everybody else - off balance, so much the better."
Then why this cold feeling in the pit of my stomach? Julian Borger, writing for the UK Guardian, has some added
insight. "Vincent Cannistraro," writes Borger, "a former CIA counter-terrorism operations chief, said Mr. Bush had not
yet made up his mind about the use of direct military action against Iran. 'There is a battle for Bush's soul over
that,' he said, adding that Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser is adamantly opposed to a war. However,
Mr. Cannistraro said covert military action, in the form of special forces troops identifying targets and aiding
dissident groups, is already under way. 'It's been authorized, and it's going on to the extent that there is some
lethality to it. Some people have been killed.'"
A battle for Bush's soul? Some people have been killed? It's a wild day here in Bizarro World when I find myself in
total agreement with Karl Rove. It is the uncertainty in all this that makes the situation truly terrifying. No sane
person would undertake an action so fraught with peril, but if we have learned anything in the last few years, it is
that sanity takes a back seat in this administration's hayride.
I bought a coffee this morning at the excellent café‚ around the corner, which is run by a wonderful Iranian woman. I
asked her point-blank what would happen in her home country if we did attack. She dismissed the possibility out of hand.
"I read that Krugman article," she said, "but there's no way they would do this. They'd have to be crazy."
Indeed. Too bad that hasn't stopped them yet.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know
and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence