As the week ended, Friday, April 14th, those who spend some of their time thinking about what's happening in the country were making efforts to make some sense of the events of the last six days. Setting aside the questions swirling around what we should do about the problem of all these illegal immigrants - a problem not exactly suddenly discovered, but one that now had to be solved before November's mid-term elections when every member of the House and a third of the Senate is up for reelection - and setting aside the new revelations about the CIA leak scandal (it seems that Cheney may have ordered the secret agent exposed and Fitzgerald was after the vice president all along, if you consider this) - the real issues that seemed to puzzle people centered on the New Yorker item Seymour Hersh stunned everyone with last weekend (the item is here and a summary here) - are we planning another preemptive war, this time with Iran, using tactical nuclear weapons to set back their efforts to become a nuclear power, or is this all either, possibly, just the usual contingency planning we always do, or posturing to let them know what we could do, in a heartbeat, if they don't shape up? And then there was the revolt of the generals, six or more now, calling for the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to resign or be fired. What's up with that? And what does it mean that one of them ran CENTCOM, one the 1st Infantry, one the 82nd Airborne, and one was the head planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff? It's not like they're minor figures. And then, are the two things connected - did the generals speak up because of this incipient third war, or what the White House will probably explain when the president announces we have just used nuclear weapons on Iran, this third front in the Global War or Terror, or the Long War as they sometimes call it? Yeah, the generals were saying Rumsfeld was micromanaging the war, and doing it badly - tactically, strategically and operationally as one of them said. And yes, one or two of them said the war in Iraq was in itself a bad decision, as Iraq wasn't ever the real problem. And yes, they resented being undermanned, saying so, and having Rumsfeld publicly say no one ever told him such a thing. And they didn't like their men and women dying because of all these things. But why now?
Gee, you might think something is up. Could it be this third war is already underway and these guys want to stop it before it comes to the massive bombing and the nukes, thinking things are just out of control and getting really absurd, and really dangerous? It's possible, but then maybe it's just a coincidence that both stories broke in the same few days.
Or maybe it isn't.
The week ended with usual from Baghdad, as in this - "Two U.S. Marines were killed and 22 wounded - two of them critically - in fighting in western Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday. It was the biggest number of American casualties reported from a single engagement in weeks."
And that AP item also had this -
More of our guys die and almost four months after the parliamentary elections they may meet and talk about how to form a government, or meet and shout and bag it for another month.
Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term has blocked progress toward a new government.
Leaders of the Shiite alliance, the dominant bloc in the legislature, said they would attend Monday's parliament session, called to break the political logjam. Shiite politicians had earlier suggested they would boycott the session unless the dispute over al-Jaafari as well as other political posts that require parliamentary approval were resolved first.
The generals are miffed, to say the least. You can see why. Just what are we doing?
But that's just immediate context. Shouldn't we talk the long view of things?
Michael Kinsley does that here in an item published Friday morning -
This is followed by discussion of the history of how we've operated in those parts - the story of how Iran once had a democracy of sorts, a parliament balanced by the shah. But when the elected legislature there voted in Mosaddeq as prime minister, who said things about nationalizing the oil industry, the Eisenhower administration had the CIA instigate some riots and stage a coup. So we got the shah in power in 1953, and a bunch of very angry people, all leading to Ayatollah Khomeini and a strict Islamic state in 1979, with the shah ending up retired in Panama, and sixty-six Americans held hostage in Terhan for more than a year in our own embassy.
So, after more than half a century of active meddling - protecting our interests, promoting our values, encouraging democracy, fighting terrorism, seeking stability, defending human rights, pushing peace - it's come to this. In Iraq we find ourselves unwilling regents of a society splitting into a gangland of warring militias and death squads, with our side (labeled "the government") outperforming the other side (labeled "the terrorists") in both the quantity and gruesome quality of its daily atrocities. In Iran, an irrational government that hates us with special passion is closer to getting the bomb than Iraq - the country we went to war with to keep from getting the bomb - ever was.
And in Afghanistan - site of the Iraq war prequel that actually followed the script (invade, topple brutal regime, wipe out terrorists, establish democracy, accept grateful thanks, get out) - the good guys we put in power came close, a couple weeks ago, to executing a man for the crime of converting to Christianity. Meanwhile, the bad guys (the Taliban and al-Qaeda) keep a low news profile by concentrating on killing children and other Afghan civilians rather than too many American soldiers.
When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?
What about Iraq? Kinsley frames things there this way -
And course there's Afghanistan. We arm the mujahideen and help them toss out the Russians, and they do, and they morph into the Taliban, and we had to go in and take care of them - "Then we marched into Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. Now we're - well, we haven't figured out what, but we're hopping mad and gonna do something, dammit, about Iran."
Meanwhile, next door in Iraq, an ambitious young dictator, new to the job, named Saddam Hussein sensed both danger and opportunity in Iran's chaos. So he decided to invade. Thus began the Iran-Iraq war, lasting eight years. It turned hundreds of thousands of people into corpses and millions into refugees. When it was over, nothing had changed. But it wasn't a complete waste. It provided another opportunity for the United States to promote its interests and values.
On the "enemy of my enemy" principle, the United States all but officially backed Iraq. We overlooked Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers (many of them children), and against his own people. Many of the human rights abuses President Bush and others have invoked two decades later to justify the decision to topple and try Saddam were well publicized in the '80s. But in the '80s, we didn't care. President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, then a drug-company executive, as his "special envoy" to tell Saddam that we didn't care.
Meanwhile, of course, Reagan was also secretly selling weapons to Iran.
So the generals want Rumsfeld out, but it won't make much difference. This brief history gives the facts of the matter. The problem is bigger than this secretary of defense, and perhaps bigger than this administration, although this administration is well on its way topping anything done previously, with some of the same players from the past, like Rumsfeld. It's not that hard to understand how these generals, and others who have been silent so far, might have had enough. What's been done tactically, strategically and operationally for the last fifty years or more has been a bit absurd. Rumsfeld just wants to extend and amplify it all - but when you send troops, for whom you are responsible, out to fight for all this and face death, sometimes enough is enough.
Not that anything will change - "Pulling rank, President Bush on Friday rebuffed recommendations from a growing number of retired generals that he replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. 'He has my full support," said the commander-in-chief." Rumsfeld himself dismissed all the chatter - just three or four people disagree with him, so there's really no problem. Such things happen.
So the president sees no problem, things are going well, our strategy is working, and Rumsfeld is doing just fine. Pay no attention to the generals. What do they know?
And all those reports about the operational plans to nuke Iran are just "wild speculation" - so everyone calm down.
By why all this, now?
Digby over at Hullabaloo has some ideas -
It's obvious to me that this call for Rumsfeld's resignation by six generals is about stopping this operation in Iran first and foremost. It is not a coincidence that the first salvo came from Sy Hersh last Sunday.
The question I had to ask myself was whether it was really about the nuclear thing or something more that had the military up in arms. In reading back over Hersh's articles of the last year or so, it became quite clear to me that this has something to do with the fact that Bush instituted the plan to invade Iran more than a year ago when he believed he had been crowned Emperor in the 2004 elections - and that the plan has gone forward without any consideration of changing circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Furthermore, the plan itself comes from the same comic book from which Rummy and Newtie cooked up their RMA fantasy about invading Iraq with only 30,000 troops, a cell phone and a toothpick.
And the beauty of it is, the clandestine operation on which it depends has been folded into the Pentagon and has no congressional oversight.
Well, there is this from the same New Yorker reporter back in February 2005 (emphases added) -
The obvious conclusion? After the last election, which the president interpreted as a mandate on all he had done and said he would do, he authorized a covert war with Iran, with no congressional oversight and without the cooperation of the commanders-in-chief. As Digby says - "This makes Iran-Contra look like the Canuck letter." (Only politcial junkies and policy wonks will get that, of course.)
George W. Bush's reelection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as "facilitators" of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.
Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush's reelection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America's support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon's civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second guessing.
"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone," the former high level intelligence official told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah - we've got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism."
Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong whether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s' vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld's dismissal, and he is not widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.
Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld's responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon's control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.
The President's decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) "The Pentagon doesn't feel obligated to report any of this to Congress," the former high-level intelligence official said. "They don't even call it 'covert ops' it's too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it's 'black reconnaissance.' They're not even going to tell the cincs" the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. "Everyone is saying, 'You can't be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,' " the former intelligence official told me. "But they say, 'We've got some lessons learned not militarily, but how we did it politically. We're not going to rely on agency pissants.' No loose ends, and that's why the C.I.A. is out of there."
Digby's conclusion -
We'll see about that, but Rumsfeld stays, because "the problem may be that Bush can't replace the person who is running his secret war."
These retired generals are speaking for a military establishment that has been used like monopoly money by Rummy his fellow magical thinkers (like his "advisor" Newt Gingrich) who have spent the last five years attempting to destroy the military with their useless, incompetent war planning and their surreal Toffler-esque vision of a military that doesn't require an actual army.
I realize that the armed forces always resist change. But I think it's fair to assume, considering the Iraq cock-up, that Rummy doesn't know what in the hell he's doing. The military is finally saying "enough." We are witnessing a coup by media.
The congress has completely abdicated its oversight responsibility, the media is shallow and incompetent, our allies are considered irrelevant, the UN is being run by a nutcase even more far-out than Rummy and the wishes of the people are, as usual, not considered. It looks like the only institution in America that can bring us back from the brink of a tragic, tragic mistake is the military itself.
If these guys can't get through, and it doesn't appear that they will, then it's time for some of these active duty officers to resign in protest. It would take a lot of guts, but that's their business, right?
Now there's an interesting take on things - we are not considering war with Iran. We've been waging war for there for two years, but no one was supposed to know.
Digby also notes Colonel Sam Gardiner, the retired colonel who taught at the National War College, the Air War College and the Naval Warfare College, on CNN, Friday, April 14th, in this exchange with Jim Clancy, CNN's International Anchor (emphases added here too) -
Digby - "My tin foil hat is beeping and honking like crazy right now. These generals coming forward is huge. I really think it's possible that Bush and Rummy have already got a secret war going on, one that has not been revealed to congress in any form. It's designed that way. Bush is not going to fire Rummy - he can't. He's already committed himself to this thing. This could be the ultimate action of the unitary executive."
CLANCY: Well, Colonel Gardiner, from what you're saying, it would seem like military men, then, might be cautioning, don't go ahead with this. But what are the signs that are out there right now? Is there any evidence of any movement in that direction?
GARDINER: Sure. Actually, Jim, I would say -- and this may shock some -- I think the decision has been made and military operations are under way.
GARDINER: And let me say this - I'm saying this carefully. First of all, Sy Hersh said in that article which was...
CLANCY: Yes, but that's one unnamed source.
GARDINER: Let me check that. Not unnamed source as not being valid.
The way "The New Yorker" does it, if somebody tells Sy Hersh something, somebody else in the magazine calls them and says, "Did you tell Sy Hersh that?" That's one point.
The second point is, the Iranians have been saying American military troops are in there, have been saying it for almost a year. I was in Berlin two weeks ago, sat next to the ambassador, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. And I said, "Hey, I hear you're accusing Americans of being in there operating with some of the units that have shot up revolution guard units."
He said, quite frankly, "Yes, we know they are. We've captured some of the units, and they've confessed to working with the Americans."
The evidence is mounting that that decision has already been made, and I don't know that the other part of that has been completed, that there has been any congressional approval to do this.
My view of the plan is, there is this period in which some kinds of ground troops will operate inside Iran, and then what we're talking about is the second part, which is this air strike.
CLANCY: All right. You lay this whole scenario, but there are still a lot of caution flags that one would see out here.
GARDINER: Sure. True.
CLANCY: If they do decide on a military option...
CLANCY: ... what's the realistic chance of success? What's your - your prognosis for that kind of reaction here?
GARDINER: Yes. Let me give you two answers to that. First of all, the chance of getting the facilities and setting back the program, I think the chances go from maybe two years to actually accelerating the program. You know, we could cause them to redouble their efforts. That's on one side.
The other side is this sort of horizontal escalation by the Iranians.
My assessment is - and it's because of regime problems at home - that if we strike, they're likely to want to blame Israel. Now that's - because that sells well at home.
Blaming Israel means that there's a chance that we could see Hezbollah, Hamas targeting Israel. We could very easily see this thing escalate into a broader Middle East war, particularly when you add Muslim rage.
You know, if you take the cartoon problem and multiply it times a hundred - you know, the Danish cartoons, you could see how we could end up very quickly with a very serious problem in the Middle East.
CLANCY: Former U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. Not a very rosy outlook here. A man who thinks the decision may have already been made.
That would explain things. It's an odd sort of grand unifying theory.
But there's an even grander unifying theory of what this is all about, as Arthur Silber in "The Power of Narrative" explains here -
But we are exceptional aren't we? We can nuke the bad guys and irradiate the region, because it's the right thing to do.
... an attack on Iran, even if confined to the use of conventional weapons, would confirm beyond the point of any remaining dispute that we have abandoned all the constraints on military action that the world has accepted for some time. We would make indisputably clear that we believe we have the "right" to make war on any nation, at any time, and on the merest whim. The existence of a threat to the United States is irrelevant and unnecessary to our actions. In effect, we will have declared war on the entire world, at least by implication. No one will be able to view themselves as safe: those we consider allies today might be viewed as enemies tomorrow. All concepts of "right" and "morality" would be jettisoned forever. We will have entered a world where brute force and military superiority are all that matter. Since no other nation can view itself as safe from our wrath, we can expect the rest of the world to make plans accordingly.
When the unprovoked, aggressive and non-defensive use of nuclear weapons is added to this picture, we will have entered a world of potential global holocaust.
... we like to tell ourselves that the United States represents the highest point of human development. ... Since we have the best solution to human existence, it is our right - indeed, our obligation - to share it with the rest of the world. At this critical juncture in history, anyone who gives a damn at all must step beyond partisanship: this perspective is not limited to the right or the left. It is a Western perspective, found in its most extreme form in the United States.
... It is this same perspective that results in our political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, and in most Americans minimizing the horror of an attack on Iran, or of our war on Iraq. The worst criticism to be offered about the catastrophe in Iraq by most members of the political establishment is that it was handled "incompetently." They are unable to say that our invasion of Iraq was immoral at the core, because they refuse to surrender the belief that we act for the "right reasons" and on behalf of history's "ultimate solution," which only we have. We may execute the plan remarkably poorly, but it can never be doubted that we had "good intentions."
The same kind of thinking will cause them to minimize the meaning of an aggressive, non-defensive use of nuclear weapons. Since many of the national Democrats have been out-hawking Bush on the question of Iran's potential nuclear capability, probably the strongest criticism they will offer will be that we should have tried diplomacy longer, and that it was not yet the time for military action. But they will not dispute that Iran cannot be "allowed" to have nuclear weapons - because they will not dispute that it is our "right" to dictate the course of events across the entire world, even if those events do not directly threaten us. And no politician will dare to say that we will have ushered in a new Dark Ages and a time of barbarism, because that would directly call into question America's innate "goodness" and "nobility." That can never be permitted, even as nuclear clouds spread across the globe - clouds that we first created.
Well, yes and no -
Too broad? Okay, a bunch of general are mad at Rumsfeld, but that will settle down, and that reporter from the New Yorker is just too excitable, as we're doing all sorts of diplomatic stuff, even if we refuse to speak with anyone in Iranian government. And the war is going well - we're winning. And things will be just fine.
We may tell ourselves that we have the "right" to engage in monstrous acts on this scale because of our "exceptionalism," and the majority of Americans and our political leaders may successfully delude themselves on that point. Let us grant the fantasists their rationalization: let us say that we are that "exceptional," and that we do possess history's "ultimate solution." Even if that were true, it does not change the brute reality on the ground: if we can make that argument, others can as well. And make no mistake: they will. If we can repeatedly engage in aggressive, non-defensive war - and if we can use nuclear weapons offensively - other countries will make the same arguments. Self-justification is not our exclusive domain. We may want to believe that we can control events across the world: the last few years have demonstrated conclusively that we cannot control events even within Iraq. But if we continue to seek to control events on a worldwide scale in the manner we do today, we will achieve one end at some point: destruction of a kind that will make the twentieth century pale in comparison.
It is understandable that most people prefer not to grasp the full nature of the situation in which we now find ourselves. The possible end of civilization as all of us have known it, either in slow motion or on a faster schedule, is almost impossible to comprehend. It is the material of science fiction, not of real life. But whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, this is the nature of where we are today, and this is the critical historic juncture at which we stand.
Oh, and it rained all day here in Los Angeles.