The Cheney tag team is in the ring at the same time versus Iran.
In recent days we've seen headlines from Bush's European farewell tour like this from the London Times: "President George Bush starts talking language of a dove." Also, in an apparent admission that his beef with Iran might not be settled during his presidency, Bush, as reported by Agence France Press, said: "I'll leave behind a multilateral framework to work this issue."
Speaking of multilateral, Steven Lee Myers and Nazila Fathi write in their recent New York Times article, "European Leaders Back Bush on Iran" that, "President Bush won European support. . . to consider additional punitive sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on its banks." In response, Iran has begun "transferring billions of dollars from European banks to Iranian and Asian banks. . . apparently to protect its windfall oil revenue from any new sanctions."
Yet that very oil revenue is already protected, reports Nuclear Threat Initiative, thanks to "Record high oil prices [that] have insulated Iran from U.N. and U.S. economic sanctions." An Iranian banker claimed that, "So long as we are selling the oil nothing [such as sanctions -- Ed.] will work."
But, Bush's conciliatory tone aside, just two weeks ago Elaine Sciolino reported in the New York Times that, "in an unusually blunt and detailed report [the International Atomic Energy Agency said] that Iran's suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained 'a matter of serious concern' and that Iran continued to owe the agency 'substantial explanations.'"
At Asia Times Online, erstwhile Iran commentator Kaveh Afrasiabi felt compelled to ask, "What magic was pulled on the IAEA to bestow sudden legitimacy on [what it previously termed] 'unreliable' and 'dubious' information (other than the heat of US pressure)?"
The information to which he referred is that downloaded from the Laptop of Mass Destruction smuggled out of Iran. It was chock full of nuclear designs that Tehran maintains had been uploaded by the West. "Is this now the end of the IAEA's hitherto heroic standing up to [the US]?" he asked.
As for Europe's motive for backing heightened sanctions, in their Times article, Myers and Fathi quote analyst Julianne Smith: "I think this was a European attempt to show the Bush administration that Europe takes the threat seriously and to [keep] Israel or the United States" from a military strike.
To put a kind face on it, perhaps the IAEA's firmer stance, like Europe's, is also an attempt to preempt Bush & Co.'s preemptive tendencies. Instead it may just be adding fuel to the fire.
Dion Nissenbaum reports for McClatchy on June 12 in "Strike on Iran nuclear sites under discussion again:" "Now, thanks [in part to] newly stated concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the idea of a targeted strike meant to cripple Iran's nuclear program is getting a new hearing." Also, "In public threats and private briefings with American decision-makers, Israeli officials have been making the case [for] a military strike."
Aside from the "decider" himself, our number one "decision-maker" is Vice President Cheney. Wait, isn't he yesterday's news? In "Pentagon blocked Cheney's attack on Iran" at Asia Times Online and other sites, Gareth Porter reported on Cheney's proposal last August to launch air strikes at suspected training camps for Iraqi fighters in Iran. "Pentagon officials argued that no decision should be made. . . without a thorough discussion of. . . Iranian retaliation for such an attack."
In other words, by shifting the focus of the discussion to escalation, the Pentagon was able to push Cheney's pot o'war to the back burner, where it continued to simmer.
But its chances of being turned up to a full boil are increasing. In "Hawks still circling on Iran," Inter Press Service's Jim Lobe reports on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent visit to the US. He appeared to "have left the White House after meeting with President George W Bush and an earlier dinner with Vice President Dick Cheney quite satisfied. . . that the administration plans to carry out a 'massive' attack in the window between the November elections and Bush's departure from office."
Worse, Cheney's aide-de-nepotism -- daughter, Elizabeth -- despite leaving her job as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs two years ago after the birth of her fifth child, has once again rallied to his cause. At the recent AIPAC conference, "Deferment Baby"* attacked her former boss, Condoleezza Rice, and her policies, such as seeking a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority before Bush leaves office.
Lobe quoted fille Cheney: "When we focus on [Israeli-Palestinian peace talks], we don't have time to focus on Iran." If Iran doesn't heed UN Security Council demands to halt enrichment, it "will face military action," she said.
The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes (Cheney's favorite writer according to Lobe) chimed in by accusing Rice of betraying the Bush Doctrine. Lobe concludes that Hayes and Elizabeth's closeness to the vice president and "views [which] are so harsh and so public suggests to me that Cheney feels more confident than he has felt for some time."
Worse, "Bush and Olmert reportedly spent much more time during their meeting on Iran than on [Israel-Palestine]," Lobe writes, "suggesting that the president. . . accepted Liz's notion [that] Iran should take precedence."
"That does not mean they will prevail," he concludes. But it's apparent that "the Cheneys have gained some ground."
Deciphering the Bush administration's signals has become a cottage industry in Washington. But, while nobody keeps a secret better than the vice president, it's no secret that attacking Iran has long been his heart's desire.
With Bush, however, it isn't secrecy that makes reading his tea leaves a challenge. It's that when he's not the Decider, as with Iraq, he's the Undecided, as with Iran. If a political cartoonist hasn't yet, he or she should consider portraying Bush with a devil -- Cheney -- squatting on one shoulder muttering, "Attack." On the other perches an angel -- Rice (okay, fallen angel) -- murmuring, "Palestinian peace process."
By definition, foreign policy is swaddled in secrecy. Will FDR or won't he join England in the war with Germany? Is JFK really going to play chicken with Russia over the Cuban missiles? Thus we fail to notice how submitting to this incessant -- with Iran, at least since 2005 -- guessing game demeans us.
Bush & Co. make wild swings back and forth from sanctions to negotiations to preparing for an attack. Iran, on the other hand, exhibits behavior typical of a state subservient to another more powerful: Test the waters, push the envelope, two steps forward one step back.
Divining the administration's intentions for Iran on any given day is hard enough. But we're also tasked with staring down the two larger issues into which it folds -- first, a foreign policy that's at best peremptory, at worst preemptive, and, second, said secrecy. Reforming the State Secrets Privilege, as John Conyers and the House Judiciary Committee has been trying to do, as well as abolishing warrantless surveillance, would be a start.
*The title of an article on Slate four years ago by Timothy Noah, who wrote that her "birth date falls precisely nine months and two days after the Selective Service publicly revoked its policy of not drafting childless husbands." That is, pere Cheney, needed a child to continue to evade the draft.