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David Bromwich Headshot

Congress to Bush and Cheney: Do What You Want in Iran

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Seymour Hersh's "Preparing the Battlefield," in the July 7 New Yorker, will be
discussed in the coming weeks by everyone interested in our foreign policy and
the future of the American constitution. The complete failure of congressional
oversight, to which the article points, is a larger subject that will be with
us until the election and beyond. For if the vice president and his
neoconservative advisers have their way -- and they remain, in spite of setbacks,
the most active, energetic, and ambitious faction within the Bush
administration -- the U.S. will be at war with Iran or on the way to war by
January 2009. And if that is so, it will matter less than we think who is
elected in November. The momentum will be there; the country will be committed.

In late 2007, after winning an election whose central issue was a more prudent
and rational policy in the Middle East, congressional Democrats, obedient to
the wishes of a Presidential Finding, signed away $400 million for secret
operations against Iran. A more craven act of submission would be hard to
imagine; and they did this in the glow of victory, in direct contradiction of
their mandate. What were they signing for? Sabotage, assassination, covert
support for political clients and "destabilization" generally are predictable
parts of such a design; but the Democrats, in the months between their
capitulation and Hersh's article, made no mention of dissatisfactions at having
been cut off from oversight. The truth seems to be that in this area, as in so
many others, only the Office of the Vice President oversees the Office of the
President.

"The process is broken," one of Seymour Hersh's informants told him, "and this
is dangerous stuff we're authorizing." Yet the Democrats in the "Gang of Eight"
whom the president consults on classified programs -- Reid, Pelosi, Rockefeller,
Reyes -- may prefer to have things broken. What they don't know, can't hurt them
at the polls, or so they seem to believe. It is the same passive obedience that
led the Democrats to close the debate early for the authorization of the Iraq
war in 2002, so they could clear the decks for the election; to banish all use
of the words Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, in late 2004, so they could clear the
decks for the election; and to confine themselves to flawless platitudes about
Iraq in 2008, so they can clear the decks for the election. The desertion of
principle is exceeded only by the evasion of responsibility.

Still, what were they risking when they let the administration go ahead in Iran
without accountability? The answer was given by Secretary of Defense Gates when
he met with a group of Democrats late last year. Gates told the Democrats that
if the U.S. made a preemptive strike against Iran, "We'll create generations of
jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America."
Now, what Democrat, in 2007 or 2008, has spoken as if he heard that warning
from the Secretary of Defense?

To the extent that we have sidestepped a war with Iran, the notable resistance
has been mounted so far by persons within the armed forces like Admiral Mullen
and Admiral Fallon -- the latter of whom (according Hersh's informant) got along
fine with President Bush but crossed Vice President Cheney by wanting to know
about the secret operations officially under his command. Had Fallon consulted
the Democrats, they might have shown him how to hold onto his job by following
their pattern of uninformed consent.

The stifling of free discussion within Congress about the American provocations
in Iran, is both a cause and a symptom of the one-sidedness of the treatment of
the issue in the mainstream media. It is handled as if Iran's nuclear research
were the sole danger in the case; and as if it were a foregone conclusion that
in this matter, the fears of some Israelis are bound to be closer to the truth
than the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007.

Why has House Concurrent Resolution 362 -- a device promoted by AIPAC that commits
its supporters to press for a naval blockade of Iran, which would be an act of
war -- received so little public attention and debate? AIPAC has denied that a
blockade is intended, but the language of its resolution leaves no doubt; it
goes for "imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles,
ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting
the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating
the suspension of Iran's nuclear program." Nothing except a blockade could
possibly accomplish the enumerated tasks of interdiction and inspection.

The whole purpose of such a resolution is to herd the Democratic Congress into
the Office of the Vice President until the two spaces are indistinguishable. A
vote for the resolution amounts to a vow of silence regarding anything the U.S.
chooses to do against Iran. The vice president believed that he had war within
his grasp when an incident almost erupted in January 2007 between Iranian
patrol boats and American ships in the Strait of Hormuz. There were no cheers
of relief in the OVP when the navy stayed calm and the fever went down. A few
weeks later, Hersh reports, the vice president held a meeting. "The subject,"
said a former official of the administration, "was how to create a casus belli
between Tehran and Washington."

Vice President Cheney learned long ago that he can outplay the Democrats in the
game of power, because he is willing to use power. The Democrats, by contrast,
don't even want to be responsible for the power that they have. In early 2007,
when most voters believed the result of the 2006 election signified a policy of
withdrawal from Iraq, nobody was surer than Dick Cheney that a plan to withdraw
would never be brought forward. If the Democrats were serious, Cheney said,
they would vote against appropriations. He was right. They didn't have the
nerve, and they did not mean to withdraw. Instead, they rewarded the
administration, whose venality and recklessness were a matter of international
embarrassment, with an exorbitant donation of public money to subsidize new
acts of violence.

Thanks to Seymour Hersh's reporting, today they are under the glare of public
exposure; and, unlike the vice president, they can hardly invoke a new-model
interpretation of "inherent powers" or a "theory of the unitary executive" to
screen them from public questioning. Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, Harry Reid,
Sylvestre Reyes, John Murtha, David Obey and all the bewildered and negligent
Democrats (to say nothing of the Republicans, who claim nothing for themselves
but a perfect dependency on the president) -- all may fairly be asked if they are
happy with the Cheney-Bush secret operations in Iran. Are they even interested
in knowing what the operations are? They did not care much about oversight, but
now we are watching them.