Hersh: 'The Next Act'
November 20, 2006
Too lazy to go over and read Sy Hersh's latest bombshell on the machinations for war with Iran at The New Yorker? Here are the juicy bits.
First off, Hersh confirms what Ray McGovern warned of two weeks ago: don't start celebrating yet over Donald Rumsfeld's replacement, Bob Gates:
Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld’s resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory...
“Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move—‘You’re right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we’re looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.’, ” [said a former senior intelligence official.] But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran’s weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, “He’s not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he’ll be taken seriously by Congress.”
Secondly, Hersh confirms fears that despite one of the most disastrous six months in Middle East policy we've seen in a long time, some haven't learned their lessons, and many still see attacking Iran as essential:
But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. “It’s a classic case of ‘failure forward,’” a Pentagon consultant said. “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” ...
In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he wrote. The President would be bitterly criticized for a preëmptive attack on Iran, Muravchik said, and so neoconservatives “need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.”
The bit that is making the headlines is what comes next. Hersh says that the CIA doesn't even think Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, but that Cheney and his team don't care:
The Administration’s planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House’s assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency. (The C.I.A. declined to comment on this story.) ...
A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the C.I.A. analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House’s dismissal of the C.I.A. findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. “They’re not looking for a smoking gun,” the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. “They’re looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission.”
Worryingly, Hersh provides one of the best explanations yet for why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's always-entertaining president, might be engaging in this particular game of brinksmanship even if it is all a bluff:
According to the former senior intelligence official, the C.I.A.’s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike—especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program—in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the former senior official said. In both cases, a more powerful military force had trouble achieving its military or political goals; in Lebanon, Israel’s war against Hezbollah did not destroy the group’s entire arsenal of rockets, and increased the popularity of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. ...
According to the Pentagon consultant, “The C.I.A.’s view is that, without more intelligence, a large-scale bombing attack would not stop Iran’s nuclear program. And a low-end campaign of subversion and sabotage would play into Iran’s hands—bolstering support for the religious leadership and deepening anti-American Muslim rage.”
That's right, Ahmadinejad might be goading us into attacking Iran because they know it will only make them stronger—‘like Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of the first "Star Wars" movie, guys. The man is a Jedi master and the people in charge of our country are simply not smart enough to realize that.
Go read the full article if you want lots more. The picture Hersh paints is far from simple, and can't be reduced down to cartoonish hero/villain roles at all. Nuclear intelligence is, after all, quite a complex game. But the overall picture means we need to stay on our toes.