April 14, 2006
Seymour Hersh's extensive article
describing plans to attack Iran, including the use of tactical nuclear
weapons, has forced President Bush to respond. Two days after Hersh's
article appeared, President Bush came forward to deny any intent to
attack Iran - calling such claims 'wild speculation.'
Hersh begins his article in the New Yorker
explaining the real purpose of attack on Iran: "There is a growing
conviction among members of the United States military, and in the
international community, that President Bush's ultimate goal in the
nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change."
response, President Bush said allegations that he plans to use force to
halt Iran's nuclear program are "wild speculation." He went on to say
that his focus is on diplomacy: "I know here in Washington prevention
means force. It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case it means
diplomacy." When Donald Rumsfeld, the embattled Secretary of State, was
asked about planning for Iran he was evasive saying "The last thing I'm
going to do is to start telling you or anyone else in the press or the
world at what point we refresh a plan or don't refresh a plan and why."
Hersh seemed to expect this response writing before Bush spoke:
Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to
stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine
activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major
air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence
officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of
targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into
Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact
with anti-government ethnic-minority groups."
And when asked about Bush's comments, Hersh told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:
"It's simply a fact that the planning has gone beyond the contingency
stage, and it's gone into what they call the operational stage, sort of
an increment higher. And it's very serious planning, of course. And
it's all being directed at the wish of the President of the United
States. And I can understand why they don't want to talk about it, but
that's just the reality."
Pressure is Mounting to Attack Iran - a Long-Term Target of the Bush Administration
credibility to Hersh's claims is that removing those in power in Iran
has been supported by many neo-cons since before Bush took office. It
is consistent with the re-making of the Middle East, called for by the Project for a New American Century, as part of ensuring U.S. military and economic dominance of the world.
addition, a paper published by an Israeli think tank, the Institute for
Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in 1996 entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,"
written for Benjamin Netanyahu, set out a plan for Israel to "shape its
strategic environment," beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein
and restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. With Iraq transformed, they
describe a strategic axis of Iraq, Jordan and Turkey that would weaken
and "roll back" Syria and divide the Shia'a in Iraq with those in Iran
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
(JINSA), another hard-line advocacy group, has advocated "regime
change" by any means necessary in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and
the Palestinian Authority. JINSA's board of advisers has included many
Bush administration leaders: Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Richard Perle,
James Woolsey and Douglas Feith. JINSA now sees Iran as THE security
threat saying in an April 12 JINSA Report entitled "Iran, Iran, Iran and Iran:"
we do in Iraq and whatever Iraqi politicians do; whatever we do to
Hamas; however hard we look for Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri; whoever runs
our port terminals; whatever the price of gasoline; however we secure
our borders; whoever leaked Valerie Plame's name - under the shadow of
a nuclear-capable Iran, American and allied options are reduced."
Iran, they say, is "the whole list of national security priorities."
current pressure to attack Iran is building. The hard right Israeli
lobby in the United States is advocating attacking Iran to stop the
development of nuclear weapons. A full page advertisement in The New York Times
on April 4 on page A-15 sponsored by the American Jewish Committee
urged an attack on Iran drawing a map with Iran in the center showing
how far it is from various countries in Asia, Europe and African
asking: "Can anyone within range of Iran's missiles feel safe?" Just as
the pro-Israel lobby beat the war drums for the invasion of Iraq, they
are doing the same for Iran. AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby has
a special page on Iran's escalating threat.
The concern of many has been heightened by reported comments by Iran's
President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad challenging the reality of the Holocaust
and that Israel must be "wiped off the map."
announcement by Ahmadinejad that Iran has enriched uranium in a
164-centrifuge network to 3.5% has heightened the conflict further.
Ahmadinejad says Iran must now be treated as a nuclear country and that
it plans to continue to develop nuclear power. This is far from the
level of enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon - requiring at least
80% enrichment and thousands of centrifuges. Iran says it plans to go
ahead and construct a 3,000 centrifuge network at the Natanz facility
within a year and eventually expand to 54,000 centrifuges. Developing
enriched uranium for nuclear power is legal under the Nuclear
Non-proliferation Treaty but the UN Security Council has given Iran
until April 28 to suspend uranium enrichment.
much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, the Iraq invasion has
strengthened Iran. Noted Middle East commentator, Juan Cole, has
described Iran as the real victor in the Iraq War. Iran has been able
to establish warm relations with the government in Iraq. To have a
member of the axis of evil strengthened as result of U.S. policy is an
unintended consequence the U.S cannot let stand.
mounting in Iraq are a two-edged sword. On one side the U.S. military
is stretched thin and exhausted and opening another front in the Middle
East - with a country four times the size of Iraq - would seem to be
physically impossible. And, an air campaign would be a challenge with
an estimated 400 sites that would need to be targeted. In addition,
there are concerns about an alliance between the Shia community in Iraq
and Shia dominated Iran making the difficult Iraq situation even more
challenging. Then, there are the unpredictable economic impacts - oil
prices, already high could jump higher and the reaction of Wall Street
and the markets could also be
the other edge of the Iraq-quagmire sword increases the chance of an
attack on Iran. Certainly, the administration would prefer to have
discussion of war strategy instead of the fighting in Iraq. And video
of precision air attacks bombing alleged nuclear facilities in Iran
will be preferred to civilian deaths in Iraq. As former national
security adviser Norman Birnbaum recently said "I fear what the French term a fuite en avance, a flight in advance, and an attack on Iran."
Is Diplomacy Possible? Is it Really Being Pursued?
diplomacy is complicated by President Bush's rhetoric. Four years ago
Iran was labeled by President Bush as part of the "axis of evil." Since
then the United States has surrounded the country with troops in
Afghanistan on its western border, Iraq on its eastern border and the
Persian Gulf in the south. And, the rhetoric is escalating.
Since the Iranian Revolution the US has had no formal diplomatic ties with Iran. According to a report in the New York Times,
in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, Iran reportedly made an overture
to U.S. officials to begin what former U.S. policymaker Flynt Leverett,
a former national security adviser, State Department and CIA official
says there was 'a diplomatic process intended to resolve on a comprehensive basis all the bilateral differences between the United States and Iran.'
The United States did not take up the offer. Leverett says that Bush
"is, on this issue, very, very resistant to the idea of doing a deal,
even a deal that would solve the nuclear problem." So, is the
administration serious about diplomacy?
Leverett's view is consistent with one stated by Javad Zarif,
the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, in a NY Times op-ed on
April 6. Zarif made the point that "A solution to the situation is
possible and eminently within reach." And, he emphasized that Iran has
complied with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, indeed, would like
to see it strengthened and enhanced. Further, "Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
the leader of the Islamic Republic, has issued a decree against the
development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons."
Further, he points out that Iran wants "stability" and "never initiated
the use of force or resorted to the threat of force against a fellow
member of the United Nations. Although chemical weapons have been used
on us, we have never used them in retaliation Ś as United Nations
reports have made clear. We have not invaded another country in 250
years." The article also highlights how Iran has gone above and beyond
the inspection requirements of the UN. Zarif concludes saying: "Finding
solutions requires political will and a readiness to engage in serious
negotiations. Iran is ready."
only is the President's rhetoric and record a problem for diplomacy,
but so is modern U.S. history with Iran. In 1953, the Eisenhower
administration engaged in public rhetorical attacks on Iran when they
nationalized the oil industry, seizing a British oil company. The CIA overthrew the democratic government of Mohammed Mossadegh working with Great Britain and installed the Shah of Iran.
most recent Democratic Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, excused
the U.S. overthrow of Mossadegh saying in 2000 that: "The Eisenhower
administration believed its actions were justified for strategic
reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political
development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to
resent this intervention by America."
as Albright excused the overthrow by a Republican president, there is
essential silence by the Democrats in response to the Bush
administration's talk of bombing Iran. While some Democrats have
opposed the use of nuclear weapons, they have not opposed the idea of
attacking Iran with non-nuclear weapons. Senator Hilary Clinton has
said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be "unacceptable." Rep. Nancy
Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House describes Iran as "the
greatest threat to Israel's right to exist." Senator John Kerry, told
Meet the Press on April 10, that he favored keeping the option of air
strikes against Iran on the table. The strongest opposition to
attacking Iran has come from Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) who notes there is little resistance in Congress and it appears we have not learned anything from three years in Iraq.
reports on a Member of the House of Representatives describing meetings
where carefully selected Members have been briefed on Iran, he writes: "'There's
no pressure from Congress' not to take military action, the House
member added. 'The only political pressure is from the guys who want to
do it.' Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, 'The most
worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.'"
diplomacy means gaining international support then the Bush
administration has problems. There is opposition to an attack on Iran
around the world. The U.S. may only have Israel as a serious ally in a
military attack. The Washington Post
reports that the Russians and Chinese won't even go along with economic
sanctions. And in the recent security council resolution Russia and
China edited out the threat of sanctions if Iran did not stop its
enrichment of uranium. Further, Saudi Arabia has asked
Russia to use its position on the Security Council to prevent a U.S.
military attack on Iran. Even Great Britain is unlikely to participate
in an Iran attack.
consensus seems to be that while many would prefer Iran not to have a
nuclear weapon, Iran is certainly not an immediate threat to the U.S.
or surrounding countries. U.S. intelligence agencies and Hans Blix,
chief UN weapons inspector have reported that Iran having a bomb is five to ten years away. As author Mike Whitney point out,
"IAEA chief Mohammed Elbaradei has repeatedly stated that his team of
inspectors, who've had the opportunity to "go anywhere and see
anything," has found nothing to corroborate the assertions of the US or
Further, would Iran use a nuclear weapon offensively?
Iran does not have any modern history of attacking other countries.
Certainly, with Israel having 250 nuclear bombs and the U.S. with its
large arsenal, would leave Iran to recognize that the use of the bomb
would result in the destruction of Iran. A nuclear response would be
something that Israel and the U.S. could easily justify and the world
Hersh is Not Alone Reporting on Iran Attack Planning, Including Nuclear Weapons
Sy Hersh is not the only one reporting on military plans being developed. According to Philip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative,
last year Vice President Cheney ordered the Strategic Command to
develop plans to attack Iran if there is another 9-11 type attack on
the United States. These plans include a large-scale air assault on
Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.
points out that within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic
targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program
development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep
underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence
the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not
conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism
directed against the United States. Giraldi reports that several senior
Air Force officers involved in the planning are appalled at the
implications of what they are doing - that Iran is being set up for an
unprovoked nuclear attack - but no one is prepared to damage his career
by posing any objections.
Further, the Washington Post also wrote
that intense planning was underway including the nuclear option in an
article published on April 9. The Post reports that while U.S.
officials continue to pursue the diplomatic course they privately are
increasingly skeptical that it will succeed. And, that last month the
White House's new National Security Strategy labeled Iran the most
serious challenge to the United States posed by any country. They
described two levels of air attack - a quick and limited strike against
nuclear-related facilities and a more ambitious campaign of bombing and
cruise missiles leveling targets well beyond nuclear facilities. The
White House is also considering 'nuclear penetrator munitions' to take
out buried labs.
Hersh describes specific plans using tactical nuclear weapons stating:
of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House
by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster
tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground
nuclear sites. One target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz,
nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer
under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to
hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried
approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of
centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty
nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept
the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A.
inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by
the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a
major setback for Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the conventional
weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of
facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if
they are reinforced with concrete."
describes the nuclear option as creating "serious misgivings inside the
offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," with "some officers have talked
about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to
remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for IranŚwithout
success . . ." Further "some senior officers and officials were
considering resigning over the issue" and "the Joint Chiefs had agreed
to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are
strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran."
also comments that the Defense Science board, chaired by William
Schneider, Jr., an Under-Secretary of State in the Reagan
Administration, which has urged the development of tactical nuclear
weapons. Schneider served on an ad-hoc panel on nuclear forces
sponsored by the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative
think tank in January 2001. Hersh states: "The panel's report
recommended treating tactical nuclear weapons as an essential part of
the U.S. arsenal and noted their suitability 'for those occasions when
the certain and prompt destruction of high priority targets is
essential and beyond the promise of conventional weapons.' Several
signers of the report are now prominent members of the Bush
Administration, including Stephen Hadley, the national-security
adviser; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for
Intelligence; and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms
Control and International Security."
While seeking to stop Iran, the Bush Administration has made upgrading US nuclear weapons a key goal. The Los Angles Times reported
on April 6 that "The administration . . . wants the capability to turn
out 125 new nuclear bombs per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires
older bombs that it claims will no longer be reliable or safe." The
last nuclear bomb was built in 1989 but the Bush plan also "calls for a
modern complex to design a new nuclear bomb and have it ready in less
than four years, allowing the nation to respond to changing military
Thus, the Bush administration is moving to
upgrade U.S. nuclear weapons, develop tactical nuclear weapons and even
use nuclear weapons against Iran - in an effort to stop Iran from
developing a nuclear weapon. The irony (or is it irany) of this
hypocrisy will not be lost on the world and it is likely to further
weaken U.S. alliances around the world.
Who to Trust Hersh or Bush?
So, back to the original question - who to believe the commander in chief or the investigative reporter. Sy Hersh
is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who gained international fame for
exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and more recently the Abu
Ghraib prison scandal.
President Bush has most recently been
tied to the leak of a CIA agents name in retaliation of her husband's
report criticizing claims related to nuclear weapons in Iraq. He has
been widely criticized for exaggerating the threat of Iraq regarding
weapons of mass destruction. And he has claimed that the United States
does not torture people it detains, when photographs and other evidence
indicate that it does.
Right now the U.S. public is divided on attacking Iran. The Los Angeles Times reports
that 48% would support an attack if Iran continued to develop nuclear
weapons, while 40% opposed. In January a Times/Bloomberg poll found 57%
support so support is dropping. But, there is loss of trust in Bush,
with 54% saying they do not expect him to make the right decision. Bloomberg reports that only 37% of Americans believe Bush when he claims progress is being made on Iraq. And, according to a Washington Post poll,
55% of Americans do not find Bush to be "honest and trustworthy." So,
Bush has a lot to overcome to convince the public to believe him on
Hersh obviously struck a cord deep enough that the
president felt he had to respond. Hopefully, shining the light on the
plans to go to war will result in a more informed electorate and
opposition in Congress that stops the expansion of the war in the
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