After all, war is indeed the first resort of a war criminal

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I am seeing a lot of buzz regarding a potential attack on Iran due to its nuclear program. The saber-rattling has proceeded apace even though there remains zero proof of Iranian nuclear military intent. An article on Tehran Bureau led me to suspect it was more of the same old bluster that has worried me so many times in the past (including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). That was in June. This is July. And now I’m seeing a spate of articles.

At a time like this, it is useful to dredge up the advice I assembled back on 14 February 2007:

Media Matters for America has argued that the mainstream media are being insufficiently skeptical about United States military claims that Iran is supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents. It cites Washington Post blogger Michael Froomkin’s advice to journalists:

  • Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.
  • Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.
  • Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should … make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion — or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion — may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.
  • Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

A tidbit appears in the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency story that somehow didn’t make it into the mainstream reports: “[T]he unnamed officials who briefed the media Sunday admitted that the claim is merely ‘an inference’ rather than based on a trail of evidence.” It turns out that the weapons Iran is accused of supplying are widely available on the black market.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace further underlined the weakness of the administration’s case by declaring Monday in an interview with Voice of America, “It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved,” he continued, “but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”

According to Media Matters, “Apparently bearing out Froomkin’s concerns, media outlets such as The New York Times, CBS, and NBC have continued to report Bush’s allegations about Iran’s role in Iraq in a muddled, incomplete manner — at times offering rebuttals to baseless and unsourced allegations of Iranian influence, while at other times serving as little more than stenographers.”

Today, I’d point out that we don’t really have adequate sourcing for all this speculation of an attack on Iran. It’s happened lots of times before: one source feeds two intermediate sources, then the reporter gets corroboration from the intermediate sources and fails to realize or consider that there is in fact only one source and therefore that true corroboration does not exist. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here but with foreign policy news, particularly involving war or potential war, there are very few people whom mainstream media will consider authoritative and seek answers from who really know anything. Until we know otherwise, it is prudent to assume that all this speculation is insufficiently corroborated.

I’d also point out that despite an excessive resemblance, the Obama administration is not the Bush administration. That allows for a couple possibilities:

  1. Hopefully, the Obama administration will not be as stupid as the Bush administration. Sadly, there is considerable evidence to support the claim that they are just as stupid. And Obama did escalate in Afghanistan and he did lie in support of this action.

  2. The Obama administration’s style is, however, different from the Bush administration. That means that saber-rattling or a prelude to yet another war may look different from that conducted under the Bush administration.

Noam Chomsky writes:

The Obama administration has been rapidly expanding US offensive capacity in the African island of Diego Garcia, claimed by Britain, which had expelled the population so that the US could build the massive base it uses for attacks in the Central Command area. The Navy reports sending a submarine tender to the island to service nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines with Tomahawk missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads. Each submarine is reported to have the striking power of a typical carrier battle group. According to a US Navy cargo manifest obtained by the Sunday Herald (Glasgow), the substantial military equipment Obama has dispatched includes 387 “bunker busters” used for blasting hardened underground structures. Planning for these “massive ordnance penetrators,” the most powerful bombs in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons, was initiated in the Bush administration, but languished. On taking office, Obama immediately accelerated the plans, and they are to be deployed several years ahead of schedule, aiming specifically at Iran.

“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” according to Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London. “US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he said. “The firepower of US forces has quadrupled since 2003,” accelerating under Obama.

The Arab press reports that an American fleet (with an Israeli vessel) passed through the Suez Canal on the way to the Persian Gulf, where its task is “to implement the sanctions against Iran and supervise the ships going to and from Iran.” British and Israeli media report that Saudi Arabia is providing a corridor for Israeli bombing of Iran (denied by Saudi Arabia). On his return from Afghanistan to reassure NATO allies that the US will stay the course after the replacement of General McChrystal by his superior, General Petraeus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen visited Israel to meet IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and senior military staff along with intelligence and planning units, continuing the annual strategic dialogue between Israel and the U.S. The meeting focused “on the preparation by both Israel and the U.S. for the possibility of a nuclear capable Iran,” according to Haaretz, which reports further that Mullen emphasized that “I always try to see challenges from Israeli perspective.” Mullen and Ashkenazi are in regular contact on a secure line.

I think it is fair to say that Chomsky is worried. He doesn’t know and does not claim there will be an attack. Certainly he sees saber-rattling.

And once again, I’m worried too.

Just as an invasion of Iraq was a diversion from a dire (but not nearly so as at present) economic situation and from a failure to capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, a carpet bombing of Iran would be a diversion from the present economic situation and from a war going badly astray in Afghanistan. Just as the drumbeat for an attack on Iraq began in 2002 (though the invasion occurred in 2003), prior to midterm elections, the drumbeat may be beginning for an attack on Iran in 2010, prior to midterm elections.

I want to believe it won’t happen. But I also remember thinking that surely, even George W. Bush would not be so stupid as to attack either Afghanistan or Iraq. He did. I would like to believe that Obama is not so stupid as to attack Iran. See #1 above.