Shooting up a hornet’s nest

Published 1:48 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2007

During the Cold War, Moscow had two major newspapers. Propaganda-wary Russians joked bitterly that “There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and no Izvestia in Pravda” (“There is no truth in News, and no news in Truth.”) People didn’t so much read the press as attempt to decode it. Who wants me to believe what, and why?

We’re not there yet, but we’re definitely headed that way. When The New York Times and Washington Post feature same-day, front-page articles stressing the White House’s unhappiness with Iran, it’s definitely no coincidence. Like the proverbial turtle on a fencepost, somebody put them there.

Ah, but who? The Times cites anonymous “senior administration officials,” on both sides of a passionate debate between factions loyal to radical cleric — um — make that Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Needless to say, Cheney’s keen to bomb the Persians back to the Savafid Dynasty (1502-1736), while “friends and associates” say Condi’s “increasingly moved toward the European position,” i.e. the sane one, although there’s no graver insult in the neoconservative lexicon.

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We’ve all seen this movie before, during the run-up to invading Iraq, with Cheney beating war drums, Rice prating about “mushroom clouds” over American cities, and Secretary of State Colin Powell cast as the cautious voice of moderation. We all recall how that ended, with Powell’s lamentable speech to the United Nations touting Saddam Hussein’s apocryphal WMDs.

This time, the Decider himself, George W. Bush, is described as having until “next spring … to decide whether to take military action.” At the expense of being hopelessly old-fashioned, exactly where in the U.S. Constitution does it say the president can unilaterally declare war? Does anybody believe this Congress will allow Bush to bequeath to his successor yet another misbegotten crusade against a Middle Eastern country three times larger than neighboring Iraq?

And with what army, pray tell?

The Post’s contribution consisted of an astonishingly self-contradictory piece about the Iranian regime’s “sweeping crackdown” on domestic dissent. On one hand, “both Iranians and U.S. analysts” liken conditions in Iran to “a cultural revolution” aimed at steering “the oil-rich theocracy back to the rigid strictures of the 1979 revolution.”

The failure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic policies, we’re told, have necessitated stifling academics in particular, after students at a Tehran university booed him. So how bad is Iran’s economy? In the very next sentence, reporter Robin Wright informs us that “(m)ore than 50 of the country’s leading economists wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad this week warning that he is ignoring basic economics and endangering the country’s future.”

So which is it, police state or open dissent? Editors are least apt to notice contradictions like that when they’re taking dictation.

Writing from Cairo, Time’s Scott Macleod supplies some needed perspective: As even a royalist exile group headed by Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah, has warned, the Bush administration’s announcement of a $100 million plan to fund Iranian dissenters could only backfire. Leery of U.S. interference ever since the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup that installed the dictatorial Shah, Iran’s hardliners see dissenters taking U.S. cash as potential traitors. Tehran has its own equivalents of the Dixie Chicks, although the stakes are far higher. “Anyone having the slightest knowledge of the domestic political situation in Iran would never have created this program,” one reformer told Time.

Meanwhile, with U.S. armies occupying Iraq and Afghanistan (Iran’s neighbors to the east and west), two U.S. carrier groups deployed in the Persian Gulf, hostile Pakistan and Israel bristling with nuclear weapons, and U.S. Sens. John McCain and Holy Joe Lieberman calling for pre-emptive bombing attacks against the Tehran regime, it’s supposed to be we Americans who go to bed at night fearing mighty Persia.

To ponder this hallucinatory mindset in all its fullness, I recommend neoconservative elder statesman Norman Podhoretz’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Case for Bombing Iran.” Seemingly unaware that Iran’s constitution gives President Ahmadinejad no authority whatsoever over its armed forces, Podhoretz portrays him as the new Hitler, a demented madman poised to obliterate Israel, convert Europe to “the religio-political culture of Islamofascism” through nuclear blackmail, leading to his stated goal of “a world without America.”

Gee, I wonder how you say “blitzkrieg” in Persian?

To date, Bush administration attempts to drum up a casus belli against Iran have fallen flat. No sooner do U.S. spokesmen claim that Iran’s arming its hereditary enemy the Taliban than Afghan officials call it nonsense. Similar allegations have been dismissed by Iraq’s government. International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei describes attacking Iran as “an act of madness.”

Indeed so. To bomb Iran now would be like taking a shotgun to a hornet’s nest, doing a whole lot of random killing without eliminating the problem, and infuriating the survivors.