Muhammad Cohen / Asia Times – 2008-05-28 22:00:24
NEW YORK (May 27, 2008) — The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently.
Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear.
The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC’s elite Quds force. With an estimated strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Quds’ stated mission is to spread Iran’s revolution of 1979 throughout the region.
Targets could include IRGC garrisons in southern and southwestern Iran, near the border with Iraq. US officials have repeatedly claimed Iran is aiding Iraqi insurgents. In January 2007, US forces raided the Iranian consulate general in Erbil, Iraq, arresting five staff members, including two Iranian diplomats it held until November. Last September, the US Senate approved a resolution by a vote of 76-22 urging President George W Bush to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization.
Following this non-binding “sense of the senate” resolution, the White House declared sanctions against the Quds Force as a terrorist group in October. The Bush administration has also accused Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program, though most intelligence analysts say the program has been abandoned.
An attack on Iraq would fit the Bush administration’s declared policy on Iraq. Administration officials questioned directly about military action against Iran routinely assert that “all options remain on the table”.
Rockin’ and a-reelin’
Senators and the Bush administration denied the resolution and terrorist declaration were preludes to an attack on Iran. However, attacking Iran rarely seems far from some American leaders’ minds.
Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain recast the classic Beach Boys tune Barbara Ann as “Bomb Iran”. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promised “total obliteration” for Iran if it attacked Israel.
The US and Iran have a long and troubled history, even without the proposed air strike. US and British intelligence were behind attempts to unseat prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who nationalized Britain’s Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company, and returned Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in 1953. President Jimmy Carter’s pressure on the Shah to improve his dismal human-rights record and loosen political control helped the 1979 Islamic revolution unseat the Shah.
But the new government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned the US as “the Great Satan” for its decades of support for the Shah and its reluctant admission into the US of the fallen monarch for cancer treatment. Students occupied the US Embassy in Teheran, holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Eight American commandos died in a failed rescue mission in 1980. The US broke diplomatic relations with Iran during the hostage holding and has yet to restore them. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric often sounds lifted from the Khomeini era.
The source said the White House views the proposed air strike as a limited action to punish Iran for its involvement in Iraq. The source, an ambassador during the administration of president H W Bush, did not provide details on the types of weapons to be used in the attack, nor on the precise stage of planning at this time. It is not known whether the White House has already consulted with allies about the air strike, or if it plans to do so.
Sense in the Senate
Details provided by the administration raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill, the source said. After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike, Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece “within days”, the source said last week, to express their opposition. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate offices were closed for the US Memorial Day holiday, so Feinstein and Lugar were not available for comment.
Given their obligations to uphold the secrecy of classified information, it is unlikely the senators would reveal the Bush administration’s plan or their knowledge of it. However, going public on the issue, even without specifics, would likely create a public groundswell of criticism that could induce the Bush administration reconsider its plan.
The proposed air strike on Iran would have huge implications for geopolitics and for the ongoing US presidential campaign. The biggest question, of course, is how would Iran respond?
Iran could flex its muscles in any number of ways. It could step up support for insurgents in Iraq and for its allies throughout the Middle East. Iran aids both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Israel’s Occupied Territories. It is also widely suspected of assisting Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.
Iran could also choose direct confrontation with the US in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a long, porous border. Iran has a fighting force of more than 500,000. Iran is also believed to have missiles capable of reaching US allies in the Gulf region.
Iran could also declare a complete or selective oil embargo on US allies. Iran is the second-largest oil exporter in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and fourth-largest overall. About 70% of its oil exports go to Asia. The US has barred oil imports from Iran since 1995 and restricts US companies from investing there.
China is Iran’s biggest customer for oil, and Iran buys weapons from China. Trade between the two countries hit US$20 billion last year and continues to expand. China’s reaction to an attack on Iran is also a troubling unknown for the US.
Three for the Money
The Islamic world could also react strongly against a US attack against a third predominantly Muslim nation. Pakistan, which also shares a border with Iran, could face additional pressure from Islamic parties to end its cooperation with the US to fight al-Qaeda and hunt for Osama bin Laden. Turkey, another key ally, could be pushed further off its secular base. American companies, diplomatic installations and other US interests could face retaliation from governments or mobs in Muslim-majority states from Indonesia to Morocco.
A US air strike on Iran would have seismic impact on the presidential race at home, but it’s difficult to determine where the pieces would fall.
At first glance, a military attack against Iran would seem to favor McCain. The Arizona senator says the US is locked in battle across the globe with radical Islamic extremists, and he believes Iran is one of biggest instigators and supporters of the extremist tide. A strike on Iran could rally American voters to back the war effort and vote for McCain.
On the other hand, an air strike on Iran could heighten public disenchantment with Bush administration policy in the Middle East, leading to support for the Democratic candidate, whoever it is.
But an air strike will provoke reactions far beyond US voting booths. That would explain why two veteran senators, one Republican and one Democrat, were reportedly so horrified at the prospect.
Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air (www.hongkongonair.com), a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.
(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd
ACTION ALERT: Conyers to Bush: Iran Attack = Impeachment. Ask Your Representative to Co-SignDavid Swanson / After Downing Street.org
WASHINGTON (May 8, 2008) — Please call your Congress Member and ask them to co-sign a letter to President Bush from House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers threatening impeachment if Bush attacks Iran. Below is a note from Conyers asking his colleagues to co-sign. Below that is the letter to Bush.
Join Me in Calling on President Bush to Respect Congress’ Exclusive Power to Declare War
Dear Democratic Colleague:
As we mark five years of war in Iraq, I have become increasingly concerned that the President may possibly take unilateral, preemptive military action against Iran. During the last seven years, the Bush Administration has exercised unprecedented assertions of Executive Branch power and shown an unparalleled aversion to the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution’s framers.
The letter that follows asks President Bush to seek congressional authorization before launching any possible military strike against Iran and affirms Senator Biden’s statement last year that impeachment proceedings should be considered if the President fails to do so.
I hope that you will join me in calling on the President to respect Congress’ exclusive power to declare war. To sign the letter below, please contact the Judiciary Committee staff at 225-3951.
John Conyers, Jr.
Dear Mr. President
May 8, 2008
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to register our strong opposition to possible unilateral, preemptive military action against other nations by the Executive Branch without Congressional authorization.
As you know, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power “to declare war,” to lay and collect taxes to “provide for the common defense” and general welfare of the United States, to “raise and support armies,” to “provide and maintain a navy,” to “make rules for the regulation for the land and naval forces,” to “provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions,” to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia,” and to “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution … all … powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.” Congress is also given exclusive power over the purse. The Constitution says, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”
By contrast, the sole war powers granted to the Executive Branch through the President can be found in Article II, Section 2, which states, “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual Service of the United States.” Nothing in the history of the “Commander-in-Chief” clause suggests that the authors of the provision intended it to grant the Executive Branch the authority to engage U.S. forces in military action whenever and wherever it sees fit without any prior authorization from Congress.
In our view, the founders of our country intended this power to allow the President to repel sudden attacks and immediate threats, not to unilaterally launch, without congressional approval, preemptive military actions against foreign countries.
As former Republican Representative Mickey Edwards recently wrote, “[t]he decision to go to war … is the single most difficult choice any public official can be called upon to make. That is precisely why the nation’s Founders, aware of the deadly wars of Europe, deliberately withheld from the executive branch the power to engage in war unless such action was expressly approved by the people themselves, through their representatives in Congress.” (1)
Members of Congress, including the signatories of this letter, have previously expressed concern about this issue. On April 25, 2006, sixty-two Members of Congress joined in a bipartisan letter that called on you to seek congressional approval before making any preemptive military strikes against Iran. (2)
Fifty-seven Members of Congress have co-sponsored H. Con. Res. 33, which expresses the sense of Congress that the President should not initiate military action against Iran without first obtaining authorization from Congress. (3)
Our concerns in this area have been heightened by more recent events. The resignation in mid-March of Admiral William J. “Fox” Fallon from the head of U.S. Central Command, which was reportedly linked to a magazine article that portrayed him as the only person who might stop your Administration from waging preemptive war against Iran, (4) has renewed widespread concerns that your Administration is unilaterally planning for military action against that country. This is despite the fact that the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, a stark reversal of previous Administration assessments. (5)
As we and others have continued to review troubling legal memoranda and other materials from your Administration asserting the power of the President to take unilateral action, moreover, our concerns have increased still further.
For example, although federal law is clear that proceeding under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance” can be conducted within the US for foreign intelligence purposes, 18 U.S.C. 2511(2)(f), the Justice Department has asserted that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping in violation of FISA is “supported by the President’s well-recognized inherent constitutional authority as Commander in Chief and sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs”. (6)
As one legal expert has explained, your Administration’s “preventive paradigm” has asserted “unchecked unilateral power” by the Executive Branch and violated “universal prohibitions on torture, disappearance, and the like.” (7)
Late last year, Senator Joseph Biden stated unequivocally that “the president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach” the president. (8)
We agree with Senator Biden, and it is our view that if you do not obtain the constitutionally required congressional authorization before launching preemptive military strikes against Iran or any other nation, impeachment proceedings should be pursued. Because of these concerns, we request the opportunity to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss these matters.
As we have recently marked the fifth year since the invasion of Iraq, and the grim milestone of 4,000 US deaths in Iraq, your Administration should not unilaterally involve this country in yet another military conflict that promises high costs to American blood and treasure.
1. Mickey Edwards, Dick Cheney’s Error, Wash. Post, March 22, 2008, at A13.
2. Letter from Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., and 60 other Members of Congress, to President George W. Bush (Apr. 25, 2006) (on file with the Committee on the Judiciary).
3. H. Con. Res. 33, 110th Cong. (2008)
4. Thomas E. Ricks, Top U.S. Officer in Mideast Resigns, Wash. Post, March 12, 2008, at A1.
5. Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick, U.S. Finds That Iran Halted Nuclear Arms Bid in 2003, Wash. Post, Dec. 4, 2007, at A1.
6. Department of Justice, Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Secuirty Agency Described by the President, Jan. 19, 2006 at 1.
7. David Cole, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror, 2007 at 2.
8. Adam Leach, Biden: Impeachment if Bush Bombs Iran, PORTSMOUTH HERALD, Nov. 29, 2007.