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Two to go

In the leadup to the US elections I voiced concerns at Wordforge that a Bush re-election would herald an even more aggressive foreign policy.

To recap:

The neoconservative thought leadership driving this administration's foreign policy (though, ironically, not through the State Department) will never again have a president as pliable to (or, to be diplomatic, let's say "aligned with") their direction and strategy. Therefore they would not hesitate to push for as many of their aims as possible.

Some people protested that there was no way President Bush would take military action against a second country with so many forces committed to Iraq. This ignores the possibility that the US could - like so many failed campaigners - just declare victory even in the face of a rising insurgency and leave, or otherwise downscale the troop commitment dramatically. It also ignores the (albeit slim) possibility that the level of violence in Iraq could subside so that a pull-out becomes feasible.

That said, I agree that a full-scale invasion of another country is unlikely, not only for the logistical reasons above but because politically Iraq has become a millstone around the administration's neck. Expectations were mismanaged and casualties (on the US side only of course, nobody cares about the tens of thousand Iraqi dead) too high for the electorate to stomach again.

However, military alternatives not requiring hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground have always been open to the US, especially if regime change only, and not occupation, is the primary goal. (The Bush administration would have had its fill of occupation by now, I would imagine, may even have lost its taste for it.)

Among these options are long range missile/bomber strikes, assassinations and utilising proxy forces with limited covert operations support and assistance. This is a military strategy that proved effective in Afghanistan where most of the fighting (and dying) was done by warlord forces bought and paid for by the CIA.

The two other "axis of evil" countries are the obvious targets, with Iran more likely than North Korea. After all, North Korea is in a much stronger position - it probably has the bomb and it has a million men and arms a stone's throw from Seoul.

As part of her confirmation hearings Condoleezza Rice has just named six outposts of tyranny - Iran and North Korea, plus Cuba, Burma, Belarus and Zimbabwe, possibly expanding the target list. (Interesting that she didn't mention Syria.)

And so, before even the second term officially begins, Seymour Hersh reveals in The New Yorker (follow up interview at alternet) that Iran is the next strategic target.

He also reports that the Bush administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran since last summer or earlier, and that military forces have been operating unilaterally in Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Malaysia, among other countries.

Bush is bypassing the CIA and using miliary units even though his CIA director appointee been gutting the agency of anybody critical of the administration. Hersh says this is to get around legislative reporting requirements. While CIA activities have to be reported to Congress, the same arguably does not apply to the Pentagon. White House lawyers have interpreted the president's powers as Command in Chief to be extremely broad, as they have consistently done so to provide legal cover for so many other morally dubious actions.

Predictably, the Pentagon has issued a denial, and a bitchy one it is too. It might even be effective if it wasn't for the fact that the disputed facts come across more like nit-picking, and that the central assertion (Iran is next) is not denied. (Indeed Bush in an interview refused to rule out military action against Iran... though that by itself isn't significant.)

Even funnier is that the Pentagon statement reads like a cut and paste job of an earlier denial when Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we all know exactly how much substance there turned out to be there.

Juan Cole adds further weight to Hersh's report, fleshing out the reasons for Pakistan's support for all this.

James Lindsay at the Council for Foreign Relations thinks that a confrontation with Iran is unlikely: US forces are over-stretched, Iran's Shiites population has ties to Iraq's so the repercussions could be dire, Iran is bigger and its government more legitimate than Iraq. Lindsay's unstated assumption however is that analysis will trump ideology. As we've seen in the past that doesn't always apply to the Bush administration. He also assumes that the prospect of significant collateral damage will act as a mitigator against strikes. As we've seen in the past that doesn't apply to the Bush administration either.

I fear for the worst. More hypocrisy, more Orwellian rewriting of history, more needless death, more destabilisation of the geopolitical dynamic. If a strike (in whatever form) against Iran is considered successful, is there any doubt North Korea will be next, even if (or even because) it's the most difficult of the three "axis" countries to take on?

I also wonder if eventually the Bush administration will be held responsible for the fall of American hegemony, even as ironically it was trying to assert it. Something to expand upon later perhaps.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 19, 2005 9:37 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Seabiscuit.

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