Right before the Iraq invasion, I jokingly said that the only Bush administration plan of invasion is based on the alphabetical order of countries: First Afghanistan, then Iran, then Iraq and so on. That Iraq came before Iran has to do with our leader's difficulties with words.
Sadly, this joke may have been no joke at all. Seymour Hersh reports on extensive preparations for a possible military attack on Iran in the latest New Yorker:
The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible," the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.
Some of the missions involve extraordinary coöperation. For example, the former high-level intelligence official told me that an American commando task force has been set up in South Asia and is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists and technicians who had dealt with Iranian counterparts. (In 2003, the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been secretly receiving nuclear technology from Pakistan for more than a decade, and had withheld that information from inspectors.) The American task force, aided by the information from Pakistan, has been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground installations. The task-force members, or their locally recruited agents, secreted remote detection devices—known as sniffers—capable of sampling the atmosphere for radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment programs.
Why they are doing this is a story in itself, but essentially it is what the neo-conservatives in the administration want. In an interview on CNN's "Late Night Edition", Hersh said this:
"The planning for Iran is going ahead even though Iraq is a mess," Hersh said. "I think they really think there's a chance to do something in Iran, perhaps by summer, to get the intelligence on the sites."
He added, "The guys on the inside really want to do this."
Hersh identified those inside people as the "neoconservative" civilian leadership in the Pentagon. That includes Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith -- "the sort of war hawks that we talk about in connection with the war in Iraq."
And he said the preparation goes beyond contingency planning and includes detailed plans for air attacks:
"The next step is Iran. It's definitely there. They're definitely planning ... But they need the intelligence first."
The New Yorker article goes into much more detail about the possible war with Iran, and Hersh argues that Donald Rumsfeld is the central player in all this. He has essentially neutralized the CIA and now runs his hidden commando troups without any Congressional oversight:
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls "action teams" in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. "Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
Well, we have been riding with a different lot of bad boys for four years now, so not much is new about this idea. What was new to me, assuming that Hersh's arguments turn out to be true, is the enormous number of kamikazi fliers in the Bush administration. For surely attacking Iran while the U.S. troops aren't sufficient to even pacify the much smaller Iraq is totally suicidal. A general draft would be absolutely required and large numbers of nonprofessional soldiers would die. No Republican president would be re-elected as long as anyone with the memories of this war would be alive.
Or so the consequences would be if this world was sane. But even in the world as it is, getting the American people to approve of an attack on Iran would require something along the lines of the 9/11 massacres with some proof on the culprits being Iranian. And this is what really worries me: that I find myself seriously considering whether the administration would mind this very much if it gave them a change to go out and play military commanders once again.