The Enemy of my Enemy is my Enemy
August 3, 2005
By Bucky Rea
this scene: FDR, heavily armed, wheels his way through the Reichstag
into Hitler's office, grabs a hostage, puts a gun up to his hostage's
head, and screams, "Put down your weapons, Hitler, or the rabbi
The same scene was played out last week with Cheney in the FDR
role, terrorists as Hitler, and Iran as the rabbi in the wrong place.
Like many of my fellow sane people, I was initially stunned, if
not terribly surprised, when I read about Dick Cheney's directive
to the U.S. Air Force to retaliate against Iran, should the United
States be hit by "another 9/11" whether or not the actual source
of the attack is Iran or terrorist proxies supported by Iran. Here's
quotes the magazine American Conservative's "Deep Background"
column on the matter:
The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick
Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command
(STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in
response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States.
The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing
both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.
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.
Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are
reportedly 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.
Four hundred and fifty targets. Wow, I thought, that's a pretty
impressive deterrent. Unless, of course, there happens to be a terrorist
organization out there that happens to hate Iran. Iran, like most
Middle East players, does have its pet terror organization. However,
Iran's terrorism budget goes to Hezbollah, the religious Shi'ite
militia based mostly in Lebanon. Hezbollah doesn't like the United
States very much, but they've really not done anything against us
lately. Their concerns are opposing Israeli and Syrian Ba'athist
domination of Lebanon.
The terrorists who've been doing the deadliest mischief in the
world are extreme Wahhabists
like al-Qaeda. They thoroughly despise the Iranian revolution -
not least because Iran as late as 2002 was providing intelligence
support for the U.S. forces tracking down al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Iran loathed al-Qaeda and its dominance of Afghanistan. They rightly
understood that al-Qaeda was the secret weapon of Wahhabi extremists
in Saudi Arabia, another old enemy of Persia. Thus, the Cheney directive
serves as one big fat incentive to the most dangerous and active
terrorist groups in the world to take a shot at the United States.
Pop a suitcase full of anthrax at your local American Greyhound
station and you get two for the price of one. Your two enemies would
then go to total war.
I've got to question whether Mr Cheney thought that one through
too carefully. I'm not sure I'd like the answer either way.
But upon reflection, I think it's a little too soon to panic over
this. First off, these sorts of leaks don't just happen for no reason
at all. Someone close to the source, close to Vice President Cheney's
office, thought our side would benefit if this information got out.
They wanted to remind the mullahs on Iran's ruling council, called
of Experts, that the United States is big, bad, and not to be
trifled with. Led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei,
the Assembly of Experts (and not Iran's elected president) control
all of Iran's security forces. It is they, under Iran's constitution,
who give permission for Iran's nascent democratically elected government
Certainly, the intent here in leaking this information is to scare
the Iranians into some kind of desirable behavior, rather than to
freak out you, me, and the American Air Force generals with the
thought that Mr Bush's court-appointed guardian has truly lost his
marbles. Cheney's directive should be understood in the light of
a few basic realities - psychological, diplomatic, historic, and
Psychologically, this directive is the equivalent of an alpha
male dominance display. In primate terms, it's a big silverback
gorilla beating his chest and hollering "I'm in charge!" to his
local competitors. "Don't touch my bananas!" The problem is that
this particular gorilla is a little too busy guarding the "bananas"
in Iraq for this to be a credible bluster. Our options against Iran
are very limited and the silverbacks in Tehran are just as set on
getting their bananas as we are.
Diplomatically, this leak might serve as the United States playing
the "bad cop" to the "good cop" efforts of European diplomats who
are trying the novel approach of negotiating with Iran to keep them
from developing their nuclear weapons program. If that's the case,
intention could be to scare the Iranian diplomats into coming to
the table in good faith to appease that scary dude in Washington.
Unfortunately, here too the approach taken is not going to be very
productive, serving more to remind the mullahs just why they wanted
some nukes in the first place. When it comes to national pride,
their colors don't want to run, either.
In historical terms, Cheney is mimicking a strategy that was effective
in preventing superpower clashes during most of his lifetime, Mutually
Assured Destruction (MAD). If you hit me, I'll hit you back with
everything I got, so you better seek peace. Sadly for the cause
of world peace, the historical parallel fails on two key points.
First off, MADness works when you have roughly parallel powers -
you say nuclear, I say nucular, let's call the whole thing off.
But the vice president's directive is applying a deterrent to what
military planners call an asymmetrical threat. We've got nukes,
but the Iranians don't. Their defense right now would have to be
conventional (tanks and troops) or non-conventional (covert operations).
Perhaps this was a warning to Iran not to start up supporting covert
terrorists to counter our nuclear threats to them.
If this is Cheney's thinking, he's essentially escalating tensions
in order to then stabilize their relationship with the West. This
is what happened in the Cold War and, as horrendous as the threat
was, it's hard to argue with the results.
Unfortunately, even MADness won't work here. The second point
about MAD is that it succeeded because it dealt with a bilateral
conflict, us versus them. For all the Manichean rhetoric coming
out of this administration, the reality of the Middle East involves
multiple parties who loathe each other as much as they "hate freedom."
The adage, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," comes
about because it makes sense if you can get all your enemies to
fight each other.
Which brings us back to all the people in that dangerous region
who are already in the terror business, or close to it, and would
love to see the U.S. blast Iran to smithereens: the Wahhabists,
the Saudis, al-Qaeda crazies, and the secular Ba'athist extremists
in power in Syria and underground in Iraq. They'll get Cheney's
The last light bulb to shine on Dick Cheney's thinking is the
military realities that the U.S. faces right now. Cheney and his
fellow neoconservatives may not precisely want a war with
Iran, but it's a price they seem willing to risk in order for them
to reduce Iran down to a third rate power in the region. Militarily,
Iran's got two big cards in its hand. They've got a big population.
Given time to mobilize, they could put an army of several million
men in the field to defend themselves against any US threat. But
more importantly, they've got missile bases all along their Persian
Gulf coast and more than enough ordnance to shut down the flow of
oil by fat slow supertanker coming out of Iraq.
Compare that to the U.S.'s position. We've got a standing army
half a million troops, dwindling enlistment rates, and a populace
dead set against a draft. A recent Democratic proposal to increase
force strength doesn't enjoy administration support. U.S. forces
are deployed to scores of outposts around the world. Over 100,000
are tied down in Iraq by the (mostly) Ba'athist insurgency and almost
all the rest are recovering from and/or planning to return to new
deployments in Iraq. The army has dramatically accelerated the troops'
rotation schedules going in and out of Iraq, but eventually that's
going to impinge on morale. We have no conventional deterrent against
Iran's threat to the Persian Gulf and Iran knows it. Our navy could
probably take out most of their coastal missile batteries, but not
without suffering a lot of casualties, something the American
public is not very open to. The full Air Force tactical Monty is
about all the neocons have left to bluster with.
So desperation and weakness are behind the Cheney directive to
the Air Force to plan a massive strike on Iran. Desperation and
weakness are behind his office deciding to leak this Unilaterally
Assured Destruction of Iran policy. He might like to take them down
a few pegs, sure, but it's a war that he and the United States cannot
realistically fight. Such a strike would turn America into a pariah
nation; it would end our brief career as the world's sole superpower.
But why is Cheney so angry at Iran? Part of his anger stems from
something that he should have copped to long, long ago. In the shadowy
world of espionage and geopolitical power politics, Mr. Cheney is
coming to realize that he and his fellow PNAC-ers have been played
for saps by the Iranians.
Iran, unlike the Bush Cheney White House, understands those Middle
Eastern adages. Iran's spymasters, probably directed by Ayatollah
Khamenei, got con-artist Ahmed
Chalabi to convince the neocons to take down Iran's worst enemy,
Saddam Hussein. One big reason why your next door neighbor is flying
her flag at half staff, or why your ex-classmate needs his parents
to build a wheelchair ramp before he can come home, is that Ahmad
Chalabi convinced the Project for the New American Century's own
council of experts in Rumsfeld's Pentagon that Iraq really had "massive"
WMDs and ties to al-Qaeda, and all that other crap they've been
Chalabi, fed DOD
officials Doug Feith, Richard Perle, and assorted other chickenhawks
a steady diet of misinformation about Saddam Hussein. His "inside
information" was critical in helping the neocons override the arguments
by the CIA that the weapons may not be there. He assured them that
we'd need only 100,000 troops to play this game. "They're gonna
love you, baby, they'll throw flowers at you." He sold them a war
they lusted for and they in turn sold it to America. But the whole
was working for Iran.
"Let's you and him fight" is not a new game in southwest Asia.
Iran played that game and succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. Today
Iran is negotiating numerous
business deals with Iraq's new Shiite government, from flour
sales to pipeline projects. Iraq's new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari,
has declared the U.S. won't be permitted to stage an invasion of
Iran from Iraq, amid numerous
new security agreements between the former enemies. Fat chance
that was gonna happen anyway, given our current force levels, but
it's still not exactly a warm embrace of Iraq's supposed "liberators."
There's a clear road to peace that can evolve in the Persian Gulf
region, but the United States is not part of that final picture.
Iran is. Mr Cheney's directive is not a credible threat so much
as a big whiny temper tantrum, a cornered bully screaming "I'll
knock your block off" when he sees how powerless, and how foolish,
he's become. As Juan Cole points out in a recent Salon article,
Iraq war is over, and the winner is Iran."
Halliburton isn't even running a close second. And to think they
call George Bush the dumb one.
Bucky Rea writes the
Brown Bag Blog and teaches world history and geography in Houston,