The Long War Moves to Iran

On Jan. 10, one day before his televised speech outlining a "new way forward" in Iraq, President Bush spoke to representatives of several network news organizations on the condition that he not be quoted. His purpose was to provide those individuals with more background and context than he would offer in the speech itself, and rely on them to deliver his full message to the American people.

A lot of folks who listened to the President's speech got that message quite clearly, without any help. The first clue came just 193 words into the script, when Bush read the following words from his teleprompter – "Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads."

We've heard this kind of diversion before, where a partial truth is inflated into an active threat and given a false priority. Introducing Iran into a speech about Iraq is the same tactic as introducing Iraq into speeches about Al-Qaida, a diversion that Vice President Cheney still uses today.

Three paragraphs later, the President was more direct: "Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons." And one sentence later came the phrase that is always written into Bush's speeches: " On Sept. 11, 2001..."

We've heard this kind of verbal linking before, too. It was pretty successful four years ago, when half of America came to believe that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were partners in crime. A surprising number of people still hold that false belief, despite the fact that the two men were cultural enemies with nothing but contempt for each other.

Bush's speechwriters, who are quite good, got the key elements of the new link into the same paragraph and in their proper order. First the word "Iran", then the phrase "nuclear weapons", followed by the date the towers fell in New York. The rest of the speech was very Presidential – eloquent phrases containing little or no content, aside from the no-surprise announcement that 21,500 more troops will be added to the US forces occupying Iraq.

The spokesperson for Military Families Speak Out, an organization of over 3,100 military families opposed to the war in Iraq, certainly got the escalation message. "Military families across the country were deeply saddened and outraged to hear President Bush once again engage in fear-mongering to continue and expand the war in Iraq," said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of the group, before reciting the long list of lies used by the administration to justify the original invasion.

Bush's pre-speech briefing featured the same warlike message the rest of the country heard the following day, according to television news reporters Tim Russert and Brian Williams, who shared their reaction to the briefing in their own words.

"There's a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue – in the country and the world – in a very acute way," Russert said after Bush's speech.

"The President's inference was this: that an entire region would blow up from the inside, the core being Iraq, from the inside out," Williams said.

In his briefing, Bush defended the invasion of Iraq by arguing that if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, "... he and Iran would be in a race to acquire a nuclear bomb and if we didn't stop him, Iran would be going to Pakistan or to China and things would be much worse," Russert said. "That's the way he sees the world. His rationale, he believes, for going into Iraq still was one that was sound."

Chris Matthews, another news show host invited to the briefing, added to Russert's comments by saying, "And it could be the rationale for going into Iran at some point."

This not-so-new Bush/Cheney message of increased US military action in the sands of Arabia and Persia was previewed in public weeks ahead of Bush's speech. Just before Christmas, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was quoted as saying, "I think the message that we are sending to everyone, not just Iran, is that the United States is an enduring presence in this part of the world. We have been here for a long time. We will be here for a long time and everybody needs to remember that."

In his speech, Bush showed his willingness to extend military action beyond Iraq's borders, saying it was necessary to "disrupt the attacks on our forces" in Iraq.

"We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria," Bush said. "And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

The next morning Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began spreading the message by saying, "The President made very clear last night that we know Iran is engaged in activities endangering our troops... and that we're going to pursue those who may be involved in those activities."

And on that same day, US soldiers entered Iranian government offices in northern Iraq, detained six people, including embassy diplomats, and seized documents and computers. Iran, of course, condemned the raid, calling it an "extreme provocation" and Bush's speech "a declaration of war" on Iran.

In the week before Bush's speech the Treasury Department named Iran's Bank Sepah as a "proliferator of weapons of mass destruction", banned all US companies or citizens from doing business with the bank and seized all of its assets that are under American jurisdiction.

During that same week Bush replaced his two top-ranking military commanders in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, who both had opposed sending more soldiers into Iraq or sending any across the border into Iran. Bush also demoted Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who insisted that intelligence estimates showed no near-term threat from Iran's nuclear program.

"Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade," Negroponte said last April. "I think it's important that this issue be kept in perspective."

Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Gates have a different perspective; when they look at the Middle East, they see "The Long War". They clearly believe that US soldiers, innocent Iraqis – and now, innocent Iranians as well – must continue to sacrifice their lives in "the decisive ideological struggle of our time", as Bush's own words reveal:

"Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue, and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties."

In closing, he added a statement that many other leaders have made before: "Fellow citizens, the year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve."

If President Bush had shown patience with international efforts to deal with Saddam Hussein; if he had sacrificed the neoconservative dreams of a global American Empire: if he had kept his resolve to pursue the true terrorists of Al-Qaida – if the President had done four years ago what he asks of us all now, several thousand Americans and untold thousands of Iraqis would still be alive.

Instead we will have more war, more "preemptive military action", and more innocent victims bombed in their own homes. The President has made his decision and he cannot be stopped – because in the aftermath of 9/11, the American people traded their ownership of the Republic for a false promise of safety.

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