Monday, June 30, 2008

Congress to Bush and Cheney: Do What You Want in Iran

Congress to Bush and Cheney: Do What You Want in Iran

David Bromwich

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Seymour Hersh's "Preparing the Battlefield," in the July 7 New Yorker, will bediscussed in the coming weeks by everyone interested in our foreign policy andthe future of the American constitution. The complete failure of congressionaloversight, to which the article points, is a larger subject that will be withus until the election and beyond. For if the vice president and hisneoconservative advisers have their way -- and they remain, in spite of setbacks,the most active, energetic, and ambitious faction within the Bushadministration -- the U.S. will be at war with Iran or on the way to war byJanuary 2009. And if that is so, it will matter less than we think who iselected in November. The momentum will be there; the country will be committed.

In late 2007, after winning an election whose central issue was a more prudent and rational policy in the Middle East, congressional Democrats, obedient to the wishes of a Presidential Finding, signed away $400 million for secret operations against Iran. A more craven act of submission would be hard to imagine; and they did this in the glow of victory, in direct contradiction of their mandate. What were they signing for? Sabotage, assassination, covert support for political clients and "destabilization" generally are predictable parts of such a design; but the Democrats, in the months between their capitulation and Hersh's article, made no mention of dissatisfactions at having been cut off from oversight. The truth seems to be that in this area, as in so many others, only the Office of the Vice President oversees the Office of the President. "The process is broken," one of Seymour Hersh's informants told him, "and thisis dangerous stuff we're authorizing." Yet the Democrats in the "Gang of Eight"whom the president consults on classified programs -- Reid, Pelosi, Rockefeller,Reyes -- may prefer to have things broken. What they don't know, can't hurt themat the polls, or so they seem to believe. It is the same passive obedience thatled the Democrats to close the debate early for the authorization of the Iraqwar in 2002, so they could clear the decks for the election; to banish all useof the words Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, in late 2004, so they could clear thedecks for the election; and to confine themselves to flawless platitudes aboutIraq in 2008, so they can clear the decks for the election. The desertion ofprinciple is exceeded only by the evasion of responsibility.

Still, what were they risking when they let the administration go ahead in Iranwithout accountability? The answer was given by Secretary of Defense Gates whenhe met with a group of Democrats late last year. Gates told the Democrats thatif the U.S. made a preemptive strike against Iran, "We'll create generations ofjihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America."Now, what Democrat, in 2007 or 2008, has spoken as if he heard that warningfrom the Secretary of Defense?

To the extent that we have sidestepped a war with Iran, the notable resistancehas been mounted so far by persons within the armed forces like Admiral Mullenand Admiral Fallon -- the latter of whom (according Hersh's informant) got alongfine with President Bush but crossed Vice President Cheney by wanting to knowabout the secret operations officially under his command. Had Fallon consultedthe Democrats, they might have shown him how to hold onto his job by followingtheir pattern of uninformed consent.

The stifling of free discussion within Congress about the American provocationsin Iran, is both a cause and a symptom of the one-sidedness of the treatment ofthe issue in the mainstream media. It is handled as if Iran's nuclear researchwere the sole danger in the case; and as if it were a foregone conclusion thatin this matter, the fears of some Israelis are bound to be closer to the truththan the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007.

Why has House Concurrent Resolution 362 -- a device promoted by AIPAC that commitsits supporters to press for a naval blockade of Iran, which would be an act ofwar -- received so little public attention and debate? AIPAC has denied that ablockade is intended, but the language of its resolution leaves no doubt; itgoes for "imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles,ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibitingthe international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiatingthe suspension of Iran's nuclear program." Nothing except a blockade couldpossibly accomplish the enumerated tasks of interdiction and inspection.

The whole purpose of such a resolution is to herd the Democratic Congress intothe Office of the Vice President until the two spaces are indistinguishable. Avote for the resolution amounts to a vow of silence regarding anything the U.S.chooses to do against Iran. The vice president believed that he had war withinhis grasp when an incident almost erupted in January 2007 between Iranianpatrol boats and American ships in the Strait of Hormuz. There were no cheersof relief in the OVP when the navy stayed calm and the fever went down. A fewweeks later, Hersh reports, the vice president held a meeting. "The subject,"said a former official of the administration, "was how to create a casus bellibetween Tehran and Washington."

Vice President Cheney learned long ago that he can outplay the Democrats in thegame of power, because he is willing to use power. The Democrats, by contrast,don't even want to be responsible for the power that they have. In early 2007,when most voters believed the result of the 2006 election signified a policy ofwithdrawal from Iraq, nobody was surer than Dick Cheney that a plan to withdrawwould never be brought forward. If the Democrats were serious, Cheney said,they would vote against appropriations. He was right. They didn't have thenerve, and they did not mean to withdraw. Instead, they rewarded theadministration, whose venality and recklessness were a matter of internationalembarrassment, with an exorbitant donation of public money to subsidize newacts of violence.

Thanks to Seymour Hersh's reporting, today they are under the glare of publicexposure; and, unlike the vice president, they can hardly invoke a new-modelinterpretation of "inherent powers" or a "theory of the unitary executive" toscreen them from public questioning. Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, Harry Reid,Sylvestre Reyes, John Murtha, David Obey and all the bewildered and negligentDemocrats (to say nothing of the Republicans, who claim nothing for themselvesbut a perfect dependency on the president) -- all may fairly be asked if they arehappy with the Cheney-Bush secret operations in Iran. Are they even interestedin knowing what the operations are? They did not care much about oversight, butnow we are watching them.

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