Five years ago, in September of 2002, President Bush went before the United Nations to announce—as his then chief of staff explained—“ a new product.” His “product,” as it turned out, was the upcoming war on Iraq. From that time on it was clear that the president intended to attack Saddam Hussein. Out here in the hinterland we knew.
The president used the UN to present his rationale to invade, and if necessary destroy, the country of Iraq. This year, same time, same place, he laid out a rationale to confront, and if necessary, destroy, Iran. In 2002, the case was based upon suspicion of Saddam’s potential for nuclear weapons and human rights abuses. This time the case rests upon Ahmadinejad’s potential for nuclear weapons and the regime’s human rights abuses. To these complaints the president now adds that Iran is aiding our enemies in Iraq, which is quite like saying that Saddam was likely to supply nuclear materials to terrorists.
Following the president’s 2002 speech, the Congress approved vigorous demands on Saddam. Last week Congress sought vigorous sanctions against Iran, curbing US investment, supporting confrontation. Senators Lieberman and Kyle additionally proposed authorizing the use of any means necessary to suppress Iranian support of the fight in Iraq.
If the president follows the same scenario as in 2002-2003, he will build up a crescendo of complaints against Iran through the fall and into the winter, unleashing his attack sometime in the spring. We know from New Yorker reports of Seymour Hersh that the Pentagon has laid elaborate plans for air attacks, perhaps including nuclear weapons. Three naval task forces are already positioned in the Persian Gulf with no ostensible purpose other than to attack Iran.
In his 2007 speech, the president paraded before the UN a laundry list of human rights abusers around the world, carefully leading up to Iran. He listed those countries with which we do not have alliances such as North Korea and Zimbabwe, but neglected to list Pakistan, or China, or Mexico. He also failed to mention his own kidnappings on foreign soil, his locking up prisoners for years without lawyers or bail, his attempted retraction of the age-old right of habeas corpus, or his torture. Such abuses are justification for us to attack Iran but could not, he seems to be saying, be cause for Iran to want to attack us.
The president of Iran, for his part, is not much better. He lists all the American abuses but fails to know that there is any such phenomenon as same-sex relationships in Iran, and will not retract his denial of the holocaust. The two of them, Ahmadinejad and Bush are like two boxers trading insults and nowhere on the world stage, nowhere in Washington, nowhere in an anchor chair (with the exception of MSNBC), is there a voice of prominence telling them that war is not a sporting match.
The president of the United States is telling the world that the immediate case to support his attack will be to protect our troops in Iraq. The Congress, instead of saying, “Are you serious?” is acting like a megaphone: “Yes, Iran is very dangerous, very dangerous, indeed.” Out in the country where we have already paid 700 billion in taxes for the current war and are faced with the prospect of another war, we are saying, “You have got to be out of your mind.” But no one in Washington, and almost no one on the campaign trail seems to be listening.
Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich are exceptions. They have each very clearly stated that troops must be brought home from Iraq. Richardson, in particular, made a strong case for diplomacy in his recent interview on the Lehrer News Hour. He said that rather than trading insults the two sides should engage the discussion, lock horns around a table rather than risk thousands or even millions of lives. Richardson looked better, more experienced, and wiser, than he has shown in any interview or debate so far. He brought credit to himself, if for no other reason than that he seems to be pulling out of the Washington trance of militarization and confrontation.
Did he do so for political reasons? Well, no doubt. But if politics and good sense combine that is not a reason to reject good sense. Three cheers for any candidate who can counter the president’s Iranian obsession and his rush down the road toward another disastrous war. Three cheers and good luck.