Where We Are and Where We Are Going

March 1, 2007

Talk for Renesan
Santa Fe, NM

My good friends, I hope you will forgive me today if instead of my usual positive spin, I bring to you what must be something of a Paul Revere speech, for I fear that we are on the brink of a foreign policy mistake of historic significance and are facing into a catastrophe likely to spread flames of sectarian contagion throughout the whole of the Middle East. Awakened by such likelihood, I find myself compelled like Paul Revere to ride through my own little village crying out a warning.

In my judgment, and in the judgment of a substantial number of independent observers, the United States is now careening toward the most dangerous international confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and, I believe, an event of potentially historic consequences as great as those of the unfortunate Crusades, 1000 years ago. If, as a result of our escalations now underway, Saudis come to war to aid Sunnis and Iranians come to war to aid Shiites we are likely to trigger and then to witness a general Middle Eastern conflagration.

A third carrier task force is now steaming to the Persian Gulf. Carrier task forces do nothing to strengthen Baghdad or Al Anbar province. From Bulgaria and Rumania come news reports that we have this year established bases in those two countries as staging areas for stealth bombers and attack fighters. A Bulgarian newspaper reports that these bases are intended for launching attacks against Iran in April of this year. In Azerbaijan, negotiations are reportedly underway for similar bases. Azerbaijan does not border Iraq. It does border Iran. Last spring Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that the Iran attack plans include the use of nuclear weapons. This week he reports, again in the New Yorker,

The Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran, a process that began last year, at the direction of the President. In recent months, [a] former intelligence official told me, a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.

In the past month, I was told by an Air Force adviser on targeting and the Pentagon consultant on terrorism, the Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment: to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities and possible regime change.

On February 11, the administration began parading photos before the American press showing that Iranian explosives are killing Americans. The evidence is supposed to prove that it is Iranians, not our own failed policy, causing trouble in Iraq. Media are now also supplied by the White House with lists of violations by Iran in past years of Security Council resolutions. Just as before the invasion of Iraq, these documents lay the foundation for CNN and Fox News to proclaim outrage and rail against Iran as a “threat.”

At a news conference on February 14, 2007, the president looked at the camera and said

… we'll continue to work toward achieving our common objectives, with other nations in the world, in a peaceful way.

But he also said:

... we know they're [the Iranian weapons] [are] there and we're going to protect our troops. When we find the networks that are enabling these weapons to end up in Iraq, we will deal with them.

Some of us remember Secretary Rumsfeld on the subject of WMD saying, in June, 2002: “We know where they are; they are east, north, south and west”? Now the President is saying again, “we know they’re there,” and “we will deal with them.” This is very ominous, indeed.

A reporter at the press conference then asked:

Q: .... Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq — specifically about WMD — that turned out to be wrong, and that you are doing that to make a case for war against Iran.

Is that the case?

BUSH: I can say with certainty that … a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops.


And so we will continue to protect our troops.

The President gave no indication that the solution might be diplomatic.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the President that same evening. She said, in effect, “It will be OK, protect the troops so long as the President does so in Iraq.” She repeated the point: “in Iraq.” The meaning was clear: Congress has not given the President authority to attack Iran.

The President, however, has made clear that he will not be limited by Congress. He said:

… our strategy is comprehensive in order to resolve problems that will affect our own peace and the peace in the world.

The word “comprehensive” signals an intention bigger, more regional, than Iraq. He went on to explain:

… the biggest problem I see is the Iranians' desire to have a nuclear weapon. And, as you know, we've been dealing with this issue ever since you've been covering me, and pretty much ever since I've been the president.

It has been on his mind for a long time, and it seems highly probable that he has been preparing for this action since the Axis of Evil speech, naming Iran, in 2002.

As in Iraq, the President has made advances that are intended to look like diplomacy, but which have the regular, and predictable, result of increasing tensions.

This week, for example, Secretary Rice announced that the US will sit down with the Syrians and Iranians at a meeting called by the Iraqis. A State Department spokesman clarified, however, immediately: “This is not a negotiation.” That is to say, the US will be there but will not talk substantively, will not be prepared for a give and take. If the talks fail, as is highly likely if no negotiation occurs, the President will nevertheless be able to say that we tried diplomacy. Before the invasion of Iraq he was fond of saying that 12 years of waiting for Iraq to comply with UN resolutions was enough. Now, even though he will not negotiate, he will say that the path of diplomacy has been tried and failed. It all has a very familiar ring.

At the press conference on the 14th he said:

…. we've made it very clear to the Iranians that, if they would like to have a dialogue with the United States, there needs to be a verifiable suspension of their program.

The United States therefore will not actually negotiate with the Iranian government unless that government meets our pre-condition, which is to give up the uranium enrichment program. At first, this sounds reasonable. But, for the Iranians it is not reasonable at all.

The right to enrich uranium is guaranteed to Iran by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to which both Iran and the United States are signatories. Mr. Bush is offering to negotiate therefore, only if Iran gives up and forfeits a right to which it is already entitled under international law. That is, if and only if, Iran is willing to give away the very core of the dispute, in advance, before the negotiation, will we meet to negotiate. Iran is invited to come to the table on condition that it forfeits the reason for coming to the table. No Iranian government can make that concession and remain in power. The president and his advisors know that. While therefore the president appears to be making an offer to talk he is in fact making an offer designed to reinforce the stalemate that then will be used as a justification for attack. It is a demand designed to fail, and as such, a follows a formula for inevitable escalation.

This is the same formula Mr. Bush used when negotiating with Saddam Hussein: The President repeatedly told the nation that if Hussein would show us proof that he had no nuclear weapons we would not attack. Hussein could not do that. He could not prove nothing was nowhere. He tried. He let inspectors in, but Rumsfeld said that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. So Hussein provided 12,000 pages of documents. Rumsfeld said that is too much evidence of absence; it is a smokescreen to confuse us.

The whole demand to prove no WMD in Iraq was intended to look like diplomacy, but was a demand which had to fail because no proof would be accepted, and therefore the whole diplomatic charade had the effect to increase rather than decrease tensions.

Two weeks before the last invasion the President said again: “bring your weapons out into the parking lot and show us them and we will not go to war.” Saddam, however, could not bring nothing out into the parking lot. Again, the president was acting as if he intended peace but making demands that inevitably increased the excuses for war.

This formula for inevitable escalation is now being used in the build up to Iran. The administration is making an impossible demand that that country forgo a legal right to enrich uranium before we will even talk and as Iran refuses to give up that right, the administration is positioning itself to use such recalcitrance as an excuse for war.

Again, on February 14th, the president said:

.... my focus is on making sure that this weapon [Iran’s nuclear weapon, which it does not yet have] is dealt with, the program is dealt with in a constructive, peaceful way.

If you are tempted to believe that the President is really searching for a peaceful path, let me refer you back to March 6, 2003, two weeks before unleashing his invasion of Iraq. The president then told the nation in a similar press conference that he sought peace, that he wished for peace; that he prayed for peace. In fact, he repeated that or a similar phrase 11 times. He had positioned 100,000 troops in Kuwait and was ready to begin the assault and told the country: “I seek peace.” He looked us in the eye and said, “I pray for peace.” “But if Saddam forces us to act, we will act.” Eleven times he repeated his earnest desire for peace and put the responsibility for war on his adversary.

Now once again it is spring, the war season and again he says he seeks peace, putting full responsibility for war upon his adversary. And again he is unwilling to engage in substantive conversations, or negotiations, with that adversary.

A part of our population and especially our main-stream media argues that the commander in chief, the president, the head of state, should be followed because in the war on terror someone must lead. That is also what conservatives said about George III of England prior to the American revolution. The king should be honored and followed because someone has to be king and chaos is the result if we do not follow the leader.

The President understands this. On February 14, he said again:

… to say [we are] provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief's decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm's way.

“Protecting the troops,” therefore becomes code for respecting the commander in chief. Or, that is, the slogan “protecting the troops” becomes the excuse for allowing the commander in chief to take any such action in Iran as he might himself unilaterally determine. “Protecting the troops” as a formula is, unfortunately, a test that cannot be defined, has no precedent in international law, and lies totally within the sole discretion of Mr. Bush himself. It is of course a self-serving formula, but the President has used it to gain considerable support in the right wing media.

Possibly overwhelmed by the imminence of this catastrophe, those of us who are not on the right wing might now ask, “Where did it come from? What are the origins of this thinking that seems so un-American?

Ever since the arrival of Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration 30 years ago, a gradually increasing circle of advisers to Republican presidents has begun to advocate that in an unstable world the remedy is military power. That is to say that our strength does not come from respect for the working poor, or the huddled masses, or civil rights, or from our reputation for generosity. To the contrary, the danger of instability was to be overcome through strength and the Kissinger illusion was that our strength is measured in warships and nuclear weapons.

Kissinger in his early years authored a book on world politics entitled A World Restored. In this volume he did not celebrate Lincoln or Jefferson or even Woodrow Wilson. Rather, he celebrated Prince von Metternich of Austria and the doctrine that kings and ministers must do what they must do, including lying and deception in order to retain power. Prince von Metternich had written:

"To me the word freedom has not the value of a starting-point, …. The word order designates the starting-point. It is only on order that freedom can be based. Without order as a foundation the cry for freedom is nothing more than the endeavour of some party or other for an end it has in view.

-- Catholic Encyclopedia, Prince von Metternich

Order, therefore, for Kissinger, brought its own requirements that may or may not be consistent with democracy. This was not his view alone. It was a particularly European view. Until Kissinger, however, it was not an American view.

The architects of the Iraq war and the bid for American dominion in the Middle East are now called neo-cons. They include Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith who were disciples of the so-called “Chicago School,” led by Leo Strauss who had been an émigré from Nazi Germany and taught at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. The descent into facism in Nazi Germany had seemed to Strauss to be a result of democratic masses running amok. Strauss had no good experience with such masses. He did not trust them. Nor did therefore, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith.

The inauguration of George W. Bush saw the ascendance of such advocates of raw power as Wolfowitz, Perle and Feith. Feith was recently in the news accused of doctoring the intelligence for the Iraq war. It is consistent with these neo con views that this country will now be taken into war with Iran with whatever excuse is available. No amount of public protest, no democratic congress, is apt to deter Mr. Bush who says he will do “what he has to do protect our troops.”

If foreign policy were governed by American common sense, there is no way we would now brand Iran as a threat and start a third war. But this is not practical thinking; this is ideological thinking. This is thinking, say the neo-cons, who trace their mentors back through Kissinger and Strauss, according to instructions from Plato and Machiavelli. This thinking runs parallel to and feeds into the theology of the President, who tells us he is getting his instructions from the Bible, or from God, and therefore such instructions need not be practical.

If the Bulgarians are right, look for war with Iran in April. It will come contrary to every ounce of common sense, fabricated with the same sort of trumpery that took us into Iraq in 2003. The excuses will be blossoming on the front pages these next few weeks. But never doubt that they are excuses. This war has been in the planning since this administration came to power. It is practical nonsense. But it is the politics of empire and today that is the politics that guides the neo cons who control America’s president.

Finally, if Seymour Hersh is right, and if the speculation in the independent press is right, that Iran’s nuclear facilities will be taken out with American nuclear weapons, the danger to world order will be incalculable. It will make the United States a target for every patriotic Islamist from Indonesia, to Pakistan, to Spain, to London and Paris. Not only New York and Los Angeles will become desireable targets. It will also make Los Alamos and Sandia highly important symbolic targets. We, here, will be threatened. The gloves will be off of the most horrendous weapons ever developed with the potential to extinguish life on this planet.

If nuclear weapons are used, and if it is done without authorization from Congress, is done by the President acting upon his own will and without restraint, acting as kings have acted in centuries past, as if he were the law, then it will no longer be time to talk quietly about resolutions in Congress to provide body armor for the troops in Iraq. It will be time to take action such as we the people have not taken since 1776. When a people are no longer governed justly or legally, when our very lives and sacred fortunes are threatened by a modern, power-deluded war lord, we shall have to act and it will not be comfortable, or pretty.

Let everyone of good will attempt now to head this catastrophe off. Do your best. This is not the battle we thought, as school children, we would have to fight, against our own emboldened presidential scofflaw. But this is the battle that is being brought to us by a president who leads by deception and prefers force of arms to politics or diplomacy, smashing the innocent, reviving the crimes of aggression, unraveling 700 years of the rule of law. Do your best to stop it.

Thank you.

"We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference," Cheney said.

"But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table," he said, leaving open the possibility of military action.

Cheney in Australia, February 24, 2007