Thursday, September 21, 2006

Iran - The October Surprise?

Assume you're George Bush. You're the most powerful man in the world, and infallible (well, almost) 'cause God tells you what to do. But you've got a serious problem. Two of them actually...

Elections are coming, and things don't look good for the home team. Those pesky Democrats might take control of the House, and maybe even the Senate. Which wouldn't matter all that much, since you'd still be The Decider, except you played kinda fast and lose with the rules to get what you wanted. And if the Dems win they'll have subpoena power, and they'll dig through all your dirty laundry. Which wouldn't exactly be good for the old legacy.

The other thing is those damn Iranians. You kicked Saddam's ass, but your popularity just keeps falling because of the Iraq war, while the Iranians are taking home the bacon. They effectively control half of Iraq through their Shi'a party patrons. They're making nukes (thank God for stovepiped intelligence!). And they strut and threaten the US and Israel because they think you've got so many troops tied up in Iraq that you can't do anything about them.

Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to get rid of both those problems at once? Kill two birds with one stone?

Now, how could you possibly do that?

What about a massive air attack on Iran a couple of weeks before the elections? Hit 'em with everything we've got. Blow 'em back to the friggin' stone age. Americans love displays of firepower! Shock and awe! Wave the flag! And say that anybody who opposes the attack is a terrorist-lovin' liberal traitor, and that only Republicans can protect America from all those scary Iranian nuclear warheads.

You know, the nuclear warheads they don't really have, and probably won't have a for at least a decade, or two. But those are details, and you're a big picture guy. More importantly, so is the American public. It'll take them months to figure out the've been used, but by then it'll be too damn late...


Not very likely, right?

I don't know. But there are clues.

It looks like the efforts to corral the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese to agree to sanctions aren't exactly going very well (insert snide remark about herding cats here), so the administration is trying to pressure Iran in other ways.

One tactic is to cut Iran off from the international banking system, which would force Iran to sell oil through middlemen and make it difficult, and more expensive, for Iran to purchase imports. We're also busy grossly exaggerating Iran's nuclear capabilities to make them seem a lot scarier than they actually are. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), not exactly known for boldly sticking their necks out, actually called part of the most recent Bush administration report on Iran's nuclear efforts "outrageous and dishonest".

And it looks like we're well into the advanced stages of planning an attack on Iran, and may have started to move the necessary military assets into the Persian Gulf.

Now, all of these steps are arguably both reasonable and prudent if Bush is serious about finding a diplomatic solution to this issue. But given that we saw a very similar pattern before we invaded Iraq, we must ask if the diplomatic effort is just a sham, and if the President has already made up his mind to attack Iran, given the potential domestic political benefits.

The only way to tell that is to look for political hints, and to watch for military preparations that would indicate such an attack is imminent. In both these areas there's evidence that worries me. According to the conservative website Newsmax, Carl Rove is promising Republicans that there will be an October surprise to help them win the November elections. And on the military side it looks like we may be moving minehunters and minesweepers into the Persian Gulf.

But there's another possibility. Bush may put a partial or complete military blockade around Iran. Of course the Iranians would be kind of pissed, and it's likely this would eventually lead to outright conflict. But this plan could explain both Rove's comments and the ship movements (they would be needed to mine Iranian harbors), and would have some significant political and tactical advantages. It puts off the necessity of an outright attack, and the risk of being seen to do it for political reasons, until after the elections. It can be achieved with relatively limited military assets, many of which are already in the Persian Gulf. And it would virtually guarantee that Iran would be sufficiently provoked to provide the casus belli Bush needs to justify a war down the road, if he wants one.

Keep your eyes open...

No comments: