George W. Bush has been making increasingly threatening noises in the general direction of Tehran, leading many people to believe that he plans an attack on Iran before he finally, and mercifully, leaves office in January of 2009.
In fact, Bush's recent speech to war veterans in Nevada, in which he prognosticated a "nuclear holocaust
" in the Middle East if Iran is allowed to develop a nuclear program (Iran denies it's for weapons), sent shockwaves through much of the world, as did his call for U.S. troops to seize any Iranian that Bush claims is causing havoc inside Iraq. This comes on the heels of the Bush administration's decision this month to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards -- its highest level military establishment -- as a terrorist group. Put it all together, and up goes the temperature.
The subsequent arrest of a group of Iranians inside Iraq has only made things worse. Reports the Asia Times
With Congress gearing up for a fight with the White House on the "surge" policy in Iraq, Bush has arguably many reasons to talk up tensions with Iran. Focusing on Iran may help deflect attention away from the "surge" strategy's failure to turn the tide in Iraq. It can also help convince Congress that Iran is responsible for US misfortunes in Iraq and that cutting the funds for the war would embolden the clergy in Tehran.
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is certainly not making the work of the administration more difficult. Shortly before Bush's address to the Nevada war veterans, Ahmadinejad did his part in ratcheting up tensions.
"Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region," he predicted at a press conference. "Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation," he continued in a clear reference to the US's declining position in the Middle East and Iran's bid to reclaim a regional leadership role.
Still, the nature and implications of the Bush administration's recent moves do not have the characteristics of a customary rhetorical deflection exercise. Accusing Iran of seeking to put an already unstable Middle East under "the shadow of a nuclear holocaust" and promising to confront Tehran - whose actions "threaten the security of nations everywhere" - before it is too late echo statements made by the Bush White House about Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein prior to the invasion of Iraq.
In fact, Bush's speech to the veterans in Nevada has several similarities to his address to the nation on January 10. That was also slated as a major speech on Iraq, though it spelled out little new about Washington's strategy except to call for staying the course. Instead, it revealed key elements of the US's new aggressive posture on Iran.
For the first time, the president accused Iran of "providing material support for attacks on American troops" while promising to "disrupt the attacks on our forces" and "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq".
Moments after the president's speech in January, US Special Forces stormed an Iranian consulate in Irbil in northern Iraq, arresting five Iranians who Tehran said were diplomats. Washington described the detained Iranians as agents and members of the IRGC. Later that day, US forces almost clashed with Kurdish Peshmerga militia forces when seeking to arrest more Iranians at Irbil's airport.
The US move drew stark criticism from the Iraqi government. "What happened ... was very annoying because there has been an Iranian liaison office there for years and it provides services to the citizens," Iraq's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshiyar Zebari told Al-Arabiya television.
The administration has since declared the seizure of the Iranians to have been an unfortunate misunderstanding, as the BBC reported on Wednesday
BBC World News reported Wednesday that "an embarrassed American military has said it regrets that eight Iranians ... were arrested, handcuffed, and blindfolded by US soldiers in Baghdad." The US now acknowledges that the Iranians are engineers who were in Iraq to help rebuild the local electrical system.
According to BBC, "the eight Iranians were taken away from the Sheraton Hotel in the dead of night to be interrogated. American troops also seized their bags, a laptop computer, and phones. All this just a couple of hours after President Bush began a speech to American veterans which included a bitter attack on Iran, accusing it of arming and training Shiite militants inside Iraq."
"I have authorized our military commanders inside Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," promised Bush in that speech. ...
... but that hasn't stopped many nervous Bush watchers
from predicting that the provocative actions are a prelude to yet another war, particularly as it might be the only thing a lame duck, woefully unpopular president could do to help his party, heading into the presidential election... And its not just Bush critics on the left. Smart journalists like Sy Hersh
and analysts like The Washington Note's Steve Clemons are saying the same thing. In fact, Clemons sees some of these neocons fishing around to make a buck
off the next war.
Besides that, Bush is still being advised by a coterie of neocon advisers who dearly want to attack, not just Iran, but also Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Check Joe Lieberman
On the right, Pat Buchanan, a former Republican and unrestructed paleoconservative, has been sounding the alarm
Let's hope that all of these voices are wrong. But don't count on it.