In his latest New Yorker piece Seymour Hersh connects the resignation of Adm. William Fallon as CENTCOM commander in March to his efforts to control “Special Operations” conducted by CIA and U.S. military personnel within Iran. These operations, designed to produce regime change in Iran, have been conducted outside the normal chain of command and beyond the pale of congressional oversight, although the Democratic leadership in Congress (including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes) has accepted the presidential “Finding” that authorizes them.
Adm. Fallon, according to a former colleague interviewed by Hersh, “said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing. The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed [Fallon], and so they began to talk to him. [Fallon] would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.” [emphasis added].
You can draw your own conclusions from that. Cheney, as everybody knows or should, wants to attack Iran. His closest adviser on the issue is Elliott Abrams, the neocon of Iran-Contra misdemeanor conviction fame, son-in-law of neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz who has publicly prayed for Bush to bomb Iran in order to save Israel. But this Hersh piece supplies new details. It suggests that Cheney’s circle is now driving clandestine efforts in cooperation with Baluchi and Ahwazi Arab separatists as well as the MEK organization (which the State Department labels “terrorist”) to conduct attacks in Iran. Fallon apparently sought input into these activities but was frozen out by the Vice President.
Cheney wants to control the clandestine activities, alienating some of the professional people involved. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” a former senior intelligence official told Hersh, referring to persons targeted for assassination in Iran. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results.”
When in the history of this country has a vice-president exercised such power?
The Cheney-neocon cabal was at loggerheads with the CIA during the propaganda campaign leading up to the Iraq War. Cheney and his sidekick “Scooter” Libby had to repeatedly visit the Pentagon to browbeat agents into validating what turned out to be disinformation about Iraqi WMD and al-Qaeda ties. Then the Cheney camp blamed the Agency for “intelligence failures,” and reorganized it, driving out many of those alienated by the rising levels of dishonesty they had to accept if they wanted to stay in. Even so, conflict between Cheney and the intelligence people continues; the Special Ops guys are today upset by Cheney’s efforts to supervise their work.
Hersh cites a Gallop poll in November 2007 showing that 73% of respondents favored diplomatic and economic measures and only 18% military action, and suggests that the Cheney camp worried about these figures. But their spirits lifted in January, when Iranian patrol boats briefly approached U.S. war ships. Iranian ships—it was reported at the time—had issued via radio transmission a threat to “explode” a. U.S. vessel. The “intelligence community” has since dismissed the threat as the invention of a known radio prankster with a Filipino accent, and the mainstream press did raise questions about official reports, partly because the reports were contradictory. The Iranians released video evidence for the professional behavior of their radio operators aboard the patrol boats. At no point were U.S. forces threatened. Indeed, Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, commander of U.S. naval forces in the region, publicly downplayed the incident saying that the navy had had routine contact in the Persian Gulf with the Iranian Navy and the Revolutionary Guard and had not felt threatened by the five Iranian patrol boats. His statements reportedly displeased Cheney, conflicting as it did with his desire for an excuse for war with Iran, although I take it that Cosgriff still has his job.
Hersh reports specifically, “a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office.” There, according to a “former senior intelligence official” the “subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington.”
Repeat: Cheney and his circle want to stage or provoke a “cause for war” with Iran. War with a country that, as Fallon told Hersh, is 80 million people, all of them different.
We should all really think a bit about this country, before the attack. Iran has restive ethnic minorities but its population is generally nationalistic and supportive of the nation’s nuclear power program. While subject to British infringements on its sovereignty, Iran was never colonized. It’s proud nation dating back to the Persian Empire of 2600 years ago. It’s a center of Shiite Islam, practiced by about 160 million people who are a minority within Islam but spread out for the most part in an arc stretching from India (20 million) and Pakistan (27 million) through Iraq (about 17 million, over 60% of the population) to Lebanon where they form the largest religious community. They also form the majority religious population in Azerbaijan (61%) in the Caucasus, and in the small pro-U.S. Kingdom of Bahrain (65%) located on an island in the Persian Gulf and ruled by the Sunni Khalifa emirs. There have, by the way, been many reported demonstrations in Bahrain by Shiites protesting discrimination over the last few years.
Shiites comprise about 15% of the population of Saudi Arabia, which is governed by a strict Sunni interpretation of the Sharia. (Relations between the Sunnis and Shiites in Saudi Arabia are such that some neocons have proposed splitting off the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, where the main oilfields happen to be located, and creating a pro-U.S. Shiite state. But the Iraq experience has shown how difficult it is to sever Shiites from Iran.)
160 million people, from the Mediterranean to the Punjab, with a common religious faith emphasizing historical experiences of victimhood and martyrdom. A faith nobody in the executive branch or Congress seems to have any inclination to study. The faith of an international community which will feel itself attacked as the American or Israel missiles or bombs hit their targets.
Shiites from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the tomb of the eighth imam, located in the holy city of Mashhad. The holy city of Qom in Iran is the world’s greatest center of Shiite scholarship. All the key leaders in the al-Maliki government have visited the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini (whom most Americans most immediately associate with the U.S. Embassy Hostage Crisis of 1979-81) and paid their respects. (These are men who, hating the Baathists’ secularism and aspiring to create an Islamic state, draw on the Iranian experience. Sometimes they raise criticisms or argue that the Iranian model is unsuitable for Iraq. In any case, they respect their eastern neighbor and do not want the U.S. to use Iraqi soil or territorial waters to mount an attack on Iran, or fly over Iraq airspace in doing so.)
The neocons, typically ignorant of the Arabic language and of the Arab world in general, have suggested that the historical Arab-Persian animosity, and fear in Riyadh and some other Arab capitals of the rise of Shiite Iran, will produce Sunni Arab support for an attack on Iran. But there seems little evidence for that. Rather, there is alarm that a U.S. attack will lead to greater militancy among Iran-backed groups in Lebanon and Palestine and more warfare throughout Southwest Asia.
Cheney in March responded to a reporter’s observation that 75% of American’s don’t think the Iraq War’s been worth it with his famous “So?” Perhaps he’d ask the same if told that a U.S. attack on Iran will (as IAEA chief ElBaradei recently put it), transform the Middle East into “a ball of fire.” The construction of the U.S. empire in the region requires the attack on Iran. It looks like House Resolution 362, essentially endorsing President Bush’s right to provoke war with Iran through a unilaterally imposed blockade, will sail through Congress. Are these brainless elected lemmings rushing to the cliff? Or are they somehow acting in their own interest by provoking a regional war and destroying the global economy?
Time and again in recent years Hersh has exposed plans to attack Iran, but how can those made aware of those plans take action to prevent their execution? Especially when, as Hersh shows, the Congress and mainstream press are so actively complicit in preparing the attacks? Or failing to prevent the contemplated crimes, how can we in the eyes of the world dissociate ourselves from them?