And now, a detour into politics. European press coverage of United States foreign policy seems to have fallen off slightly in recent weeks. Maybe because some European countries have their own problems to deal with, or because it’s sunk in that the Bush Administration doesn’t seem likely to change its policies, no matter how loud the chorus of condemnation.
My guess is there’s also a sort of "outrage fatigue" setting in. Unless new revelations come out, there are only so many stories European reporters can write about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Eastern European black sites, the "Nasty-Ass Military Area," and other unwholesome aspects of U.S. policy.
Which brings us to the next topic, Iran. Seymour Hersh just published, in the New Yorker, a piece alleging that the Bush Administration is well advanced in its plans to attack Iranian nuclear-enrichment facilities. The U.S. and other countries have got spies creeping about everywhere in Iran, and may be thinking about bombing as many as 400 targets. The talk is even of using tactical nuclear "bunker-buster" bombs against underground facilities, since they can’t be destroyed any other way. Or so the story goes.
Bush, we’re told is firmly resolved to bomb Iran. A U.S. house member told Hersh: "’There’s no pressure from Congress not to take military action. The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it.’ Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, ‘The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.’"
What on earth are we to make of this? I’m hardly an expert, but I have been following the news very, very carefully. As Orwell once said, "In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’" Plus, as an American, I’ve also got to know which new countries I’m going to be warned against visiting next.
So now I’ll turn my analytical faculties to the following question: do the officials Hersh is quoting (all anonymously) know what they’re talking about? There seem to be three possibilities:
- President Bush is, genuinely, planning to bomb Iran in the near future. American columnist Paul Krugman thinks we should seriously entertain this possibility. The leakers and commenters in Hersh’s article are reflecting the true thinking of the administration. They are leaking and commenting to prepare the justification for military strikes.
- President Bush and senior military advisers are making contingency plans to bomb Iran, but don’t have any firm plans to do so in the near future. The various leakers, for various complex reasons of their own, are trying to convince the public that the campaign has been decided and will happen soon.
- Bush and the military may be working out contingency plans (as all militaries do), but aren’t seriously considering bombing Iran. The Hersh article, as well as many others pieces, is disinformation intended to ratchet up pressure on Teheran.
Now let me link all this up with the "outrage fatigue" I mentioned at the start. If Bush is aware how low the U.S.’s standing in the world is (and he probably is), this supports possibility, #1, the "we’re really going to bomb them" scenario. According to one official Hersh quotes, "[T]he President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”
In other words, since the rest of the world and mistrusts the U.S. right now anyway. Anybody who would dislike the U.S. because it bombed Iran already dislikes the U.S. because it invaded Iraq. As for Bush’s U.S. approval ratings, they’re already scraping bottom. The President doesn’t have much to lose, and a relatively quick bombing campaign that achieves its stated purposes could actually distract attention from Iraq.
On the other hand, this could also be Bush’s "madman" strategy. Richard Nixon, trying to convince the North Vietnamese to offer better terms during the Paris peace talks, pursued a madman strategy: he tried to convince the North Vietnamese that he was so desperate to end the war that he long past caring about U.S. or world opinion. He was capable of anything — anything. Even the nuclear option.
For what it’s worth, my hopes and my opinion coincide; I think number 3 is the truth. The Bush Administration and military planners know that a bombing campaign against Iran would likely be a disaster, and they have no firm plans to start one. The leaked reports look detailed and convincing is because they have to. The only way to get the observers genuinely worried about a possible strike ("could he really be serious?") is to leak all sorts of detailed information about how committed the President and his advisers are to the bombing plan, is and how far advanced the planning is.
There you have my analysis. I would ask the heavy-drinking Iranian exile at my local pub, but his credibility has been shattered since March 23rd came and went without action against Iran.