Thelma and Louise Imperialism

George W. Bush, as US President and Dick Cheney, as US Vice President (r-l) arriving in the White House East Room, Washington DC, 2-22-06 AP, during the height of the controversy over the deal for Dubai Ports World to lease terminals in six major U.S. port cities.
This column was written by Tom Engelhardt.
Let me make an argument about the possibility that a regime-change-style, shock-and-awe air assault might someday be launched on Iranian nuclear facilities and associated targets — based on no insider knowledge, just the logic of George and Dick's Thelma and Louise-style imperialism.

Of course, we all know at least half the story by now. Is there anybody in official Washington — other than our President, Vice President, the Vice President's secretive imperial staff, assorted neocon supporters, and associated right-wing think tanks — who isn't sweating blood, popping pills, and wondering what in the world to do about our delusional leaders?

Senators, House members, former top officials and high military types are now crawling out of the Washington woodwork to offer the kinds of dire warnings that, not so long ago, would have been confined to the distant peripheries of political argument.

After all, to anyone not delusional — which leaves out you-know-who and his Vice President — a massive air assault on Iran, surely involving staggeringly powerful bunker-busting missiles, would seem to be an act of madness. It would be immensely destructive to Iran (and yet almost surely a rallying point for its fundamentalist regime); bloody in its repercussions for US soldiers in Iraq; imperiling to US allies in the region; and, for the global economy, a potential energy catastrophe. A series of explosive events could unravel the oil heartlands of the planet, making the Administration's last several years in Iraq little more than an hors d'oeuvre before a banquet of catastrophe.
You don't have to rely on me for this. In his confirmation hearings, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered his own bloodcurdling scenario for the aftermath of such an assault:

"...[While] Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror both in the — well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real... Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real. So I think that while their ability to retaliate against us in a conventional military way is quite limited, they have the capacity to do all of the things, and perhaps more, that I just described."

Fatwa Time
The possibility of an attack on Iran has long been on the horizon. You'd have to start back before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when, as Newsweek reminded us, one quip of the bolder neocons was: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." You'd have to go back to January 2005, when reporter Seymour Hersh, in a New Yorker piece, "The Coming Wars," wrote, "In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran."

You'd have to go back to August 2005 when, in the American Conservative magazine, former CIA official Philip Giraldi warned: "In Washington it is hardly a secret that the same people in and around the Administration who brought you Iraq are preparing to do the same for Iran" — possibly involving an "unprovoked nuclear attack" on that country. A contingency plan was, he claimed, being drawn up in the Pentagon, "acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office."

You'd have to check out a second Hersh piece from April 2006 in which he reported that, increasingly, insiders believed the President's goal was not simply aborting the Iranian nuclear program, but Iraq-style "regime change," and that, against Pentagon opposition, "the nuclear option" — the possibility of using a "bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon" — had made it into initial Iran planning. You'd have to check out the work of former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, who recently published a book whose title says it all: Target Iran.

These men — some classic conservatives — are now, if anything, even more passionately convinced that the Administration is headed for the Iranian cliff, possibly as early as this Spring.

But it took more than their work for so much of official Washington to panic. It took the Administration's decision to send the USS John C. Stennis, a second aircraft carrier task force into the Persian Gulf (with hints that a third could follow); it took the announcement of what Juan Cole has termed George Bush's " fatwa," allowing the US military to take out Iranian agents anywhere in Iraq; it took the detention by US forces of various Iranian officials in Iraq and the invasion of an Iranian office in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan; it took the President's announcement of a decision to emplace Patriot anti-missile systems in the smaller Gulf states; it took a sudden, massive, eerily familiar ratcheting up of Administration rhetoric about Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq and the cherry-picked intelligence to go with it.; it took the refusal of officials like John Negroponte to say whether they believed the Administration already had the right to whack Iran without returning to Congress for permission; it took reports about the readying of new bases in Bulgaria and Romania for a future Iranian air campaign; it took rumors that the Pentagon's latest strike plan against Iran includes "more than 2,300 'high value' targets."