The Next Act
Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?
By Seymour M. Hersh
The New Yorker
Monday 20 November 2006
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting "shorteners" on the wire - that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put "shorteners" on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.
The White House's concern was not that the Democrats would cut off funds for the war in Iraq but that future legislation would prohibit it from financing operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government, to keep it from getting the bomb. "They're afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war," a former senior intelligence official told me.
In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of "Boland amendments," which limited the Reagan Administration's ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney's story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President's authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President's office said that it had no record of the discussion.)
In interviews, current and former Administration officials returned to one question: whether Cheney would be as influential in the last two years of George W. Bush's Presidency as he was in its first six. Cheney is emphatic about Iraq. In late October, he told Time, "I know what the President thinks," about Iraq. "I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory." He is equally clear that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. "The United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime," he told an Israeli lobbying group early this year. "And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."