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William Rivers Pitt: A Cornered Animal

A Cornered Animal

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Friday 26 January 2007

He's A Ghost, He's A God,
He's A Man, He's A Guru,
You're One Microscopic Cog
In His Catastrophic Plan,
Designed And Directed By
His Red Right Hand...

- Nick Cave

Question: What is the connection between a possible American attack on Iran and the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby?

Answer: Vice President Dick Cheney.

Wariness over a potential American attack on Iran has been on the rise for months. This wariness became outright fear in certain circles as last November's midterms approached; the idea of an Iran assault being used as the "October Surprise" to change the electoral geometry was bandied about extensively. No such attack came, but attention has not wandered far from the possibility since.

Concerns rose again over the last several weeks after Bush's poorly-received speech justifying the "surge" of US troops into Iraq. A centerpiece of that speech was his blunt threat to the government in Tehran about any meddling with the situation in Baghdad. Astute observers of the Iraq situation found this threat both odd and disturbing.

On the one hand, it is axiomatic by now that the Shia majority in Iraq's government is being guided by the Shia government in Iran. This victory for Iran was made possible by our invasion and occupation of Iraq, and by our ham-fisted manufacturing of a shaky Shia-dominated government. The alliance was almost fated to happen after our invasion, which makes barking at Tehran today because of our actions these last few years almost too absurd to comment on. Mr. Bush gift-wrapped Baghdad for Iran, and quacking about it now is a useless gesture.

On the other hand, however, we are dealing with an American government that has allowed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to spiral into chaos. The brain-trust surrounding Mr. Bush had, at virtually every turn, made the exact wrong decision at every available opportunity. They invaded Afghanistan, but moved nearly that entire force into Iraq for the invasion and occupation there, thus allowing the Taliban to regain control again. They invaded Iraq - itself a calamitous decision - with a small force that was not prepared to fight a years-long urban warfare conflict that has transmogrified into a vicious sectarian civil war.

This list goes on, and is almost entirely comprised of decisions made with mean considerations of domestic politics in mind. To dismiss out of hand the idea that these same people might embark upon an equally foolish course against Iran is folly.

The combination of Iranian influence over Iraqi politics, bombast from the Bush administration, their execrable decision-making to date, and the fact that a second US carrier battle group has steamed into the Persian Gulf is disquieting in and of itself. If you add to this already-volatile mix the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the potential for an explosion increases by orders of magnitude.

Why does Libby's trial matter in this? It matters because of Dick Cheney.

News reports of the opening statements from both prosecutors and defense attorneys appear to place Mr. Cheney at or near the center of the plot to out former CIA agent Valerie Plame. The defense, in a surprise move, went so far as to describe Libby as a "scapegoat" for White House actions against Plame, which were done to silence Iraq critic Ambassador Joseph Wilson. As this trial proceeds and more witnesses testify, the trail of evidence could very well lead to the Vice President's door.

The importance of this possibility lies in the power wielded by Cheney. Only the most devout Bush-worshippers continue to believe he is the master of events in the Executive branch. Everyone else has correctly concluded that the ideological fuel and bureaucratic muscle in this administration flows from Cheney.

Though his policy initiatives are greeted with failure after failure, though the poll numbers continue to wither, Cheney and the remaining true-believers continue to slog onward, dragging all of us deeper into the morass. Should the trial of Libby present a definitive threat to the political standing and power of Dick Cheney, all bets may be off regarding Iran. We will be faced with the possibility that an attack may be ordered for no better reason than to redirect attention and change the subject.

An attack on Iran would be calamitous on many levels: our military is already strained to its limits, our forces in Iraq would be left wide-open to counterattack, the home front would be susceptible to terror attacks by Iranian special forces, and the missile batteries arrayed across the Iranian mountains overlooking the Persian Gulf would wreak devastating havoc on our fleet.

Sober heads see an attack on Iran as both essentially baseless and an invitation to a widening war we are not prepared to fight, thanks to Iraq. Because of this, the idea that such an attack may be undertaken is not considered a pressing reality by many analysts. Ali Larijani, Iran's top national security official, shares this view. "The possibility of this is very weak, and it's more a matter of psychological warfare," said Larijani on Thursday. "The Islamic republic's armed forces are in a state of complete readiness and are monitoring everything in order to give a crushing response to even the smallest aggression or threat." Larijani concluded his remarks by stating, "I advise Mr. Bush and his advisors to be rational and think about their own nation's interest."

This would be sage advice if Mr. Bush were the one doing the thinking. These days, all the thinking and management is being done by Dick Cheney, and if this Libby trial comes to pose a danger to his standing, all the sober analysis by policy experts may turn to dust. Nothing is more dangerous, after all, than a cornered animal.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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