Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Column 81 (National) - Iran

Try out this scenario: In the Middle East there is a country populated almost completely by Muslims. The political leader of that country is notoriously intemperate in his public remarks, including being publicly committed to his country’s right to develop, own, and if need be to use weapons of mass destruction, though the evidence that the country has, at present, more than trace amounts of WMD materials is scanty at best. What should the US do?

Based on past experience, the answer for President Bush might well be a preemptive strike.

Preemptive warfare by presidents is not a new phenomenon. In 1848 a young congressman expressed his opposition to going to war against Mexico in this way: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.' “ That congressman was Abraham Lincoln.

As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. points out in a recent article in the Washington Post, this is precisely how George W. Bush sees his presidential prerogative: Be silent; I see it, if you don't .The guiding strategy during the Cold War was the formula developed by George Kennan of “containment plus deterrence.” Remember, our enemies in the Cold War had real WMDs. For those keeping score at home, we won the Cold War without invading anyone. Now George Bush has changed US strategy from the Kennan formula to Be silent; I see it, if you don't and the 33% of Americans who still support him blindly follow.

There is no question that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands would be a disaster. The Iranian President has called for the destruction of Israel, has denied the Holocaust, and is an avowed enemy of the West. But Iran does not have nuclear weapons now and has a long ways to go until they have them (even the Bush Administration is not pretending that WMD’s currently exist this time). This means plenty of time to bring international pressure to bear and if that fails to put together a true military coalition so that turning Iran from a destructive path is a world, effort, not another US solo adventure.

Unfortunately we have an election coming up in November, one in which the Republicans stand to lose a lot of their power and that will be seen as a referendum on the Bush Administration. With Karl Rove now giving his full attention to politics and Bush’s demonstrated win at any cost mentality, we can expect lies, dirty tricks, smears, and the probability of an “October surprise” is high. Some think that surprise will be the resignation of Dick (the mighty hunter) Cheney and his replacement with someone more popular to gain votes in ’06 and tee up a candidate for ’08. I fear, however, that there will be “evidence” produced in August or September that will lead to the bombing and/or invasion of Iran in October, and that will be a disaster that will cost thousands of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.

It’s time for Americans to stop buying “'Be silent; I see it, if you don't” from an president and an administration that has consistently lied and distorted the facts. The Kennan formula was good enough for Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and even Nixon, in the face of a genuine nuclear threat, and it is what will work now – contain Iran in a circle of international pressure and deter them by threat of worldwide retaliation. Preemptive war is not a viable option.

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