November 19, 2006

Failing Forward: Time to Throw Another "Crappy Country" Against the Wall

As always, you should read Seymour Hersh's latest article about the administration's Iran plans in its entirety: "The Next Act."

Hersh's first major point is one that has been obvious for some time: even if the new Democratic Congress attempts to constrain the administration's options on Iran, any and all such efforts will be ignored. Several members of the administration have stated explicitly that they believe Congress has already provided full authorization to the executive to wage its inherently indefinable "war on terror" in any way it deems "necessary." That certainly would include an attack on Iran.

I want to highlight two passages in Hersh's article. They reveal in an especially stark manner how this game is played -- and how nothing at all has changed, even after the immoral catastrophe of Iraq. The first concerns Rumsfeld's resignation, and the nomination of Gates -- a nomination that Reid and other Democratic leaders have already announced they expect to be "confirmed easily." Some have concluded this change may mean that diplomacy will now be favored over military force with regard to Iran -- but in fact, the calculus may work in exactly the opposite way:
"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there"—in the White House—"and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell—the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

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. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President’s father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn’t fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "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.’" 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."
I and others have often observed the fundamentalist approach that informs the administration's foreign policy: they have decided upon a certain set of beliefs, and no amount of contrary evidence will cause them to question or alter them. Tragically for all of us, this insistence that there "must" be some "solution" to the Iraq catastrophe infects all our major media -- and it also infects many Democrats. They refuse to acknowledge that no one and no nation can direct Iraq's course at this point -- and that not even the unparalleled military strength of the United States can engineer the necessary miracle, for that is what it would have to be.

As a result, for those who still cling to this myth of Western exceptionalism and the underlying conviction that our "will" can always be made to succeed if only we really "mean" it (which translates only into the willingness to spread destruction widely enough and kill sufficient numbers of people), foreign policy becomes the means by which we tell the world that we will have our way:
[M]any 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."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq."
Banished from this approach is any concern with the regional (or wider) war that might be unleashed by any such bombing -- and any concern with the loss of innocent life, including the lives of all the American soldiers in Iraq. All that matters is that we demonstrate that we mean it. The fundamentalist belief is unshakeable: if we are only "strong" and ruthless enough, all facts will then magically align themselves with our wishes.

So in the end, it all reduces to the Ledeen Doctrine:
[H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
It is tragic, horrifying and more than a little sickening to see unresolved personal neuroses, limitless rage, and incoherent hostility become the entirety of foreign policy -- yet, at this moment in history, that is what America's foreign policy has been, and what it may well continue to be.

I again recommend the Hersh article in its entirety. And here are some earlier related essays of my own:

Our Date with Armageddon

Morality, Humanity and Civilization: "Nothing remains...but memories"

Battling the Ghosts of Vietnam