How Badly This Administration Wants War

Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker:

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations.

This sum, 400 million dollars is larger than the 350 million requested to bail out bad loans in the current mortgage crisis.

So what is the U.S. government purchasing with this princely sum?

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Is the U.S. government targeting individual Iranian officers? Probably not. In all likelihood, The U.S. is providing dissident groups with money and arms in exchange for intelligence – and has little control over what these groups do.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?”

The groups that the U.S. are funding are, to be frank, what George Bush likes to pretend what the war on Terra’ is dedicated to eradicating:

The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

And, as usual, the amateurish attempts to play “the Great Game” are backfiring:

In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

At this point, I would ask all readers to consider what would happen if Canada or China was spending this amount of money to destabilize” the United States through targeted assassinations and the like? How would average U.S. citizens respond to such acts of war? Would they turn against a belligerent government in Washington DC? Or would they rally behind the U.S. government and support it?

The effect of U.S. policy in the region is quite predictable. The United States government, and by extension the United States people, will be seen as a dangerous aggressive enemy. Make no mistake, since 1953 the United States has been in a war with the Iranian people. Every escalation of the conflict has taken the form of the U.S. government initiating an escalation, the Iranians responding and providing the U.S. government with a casus belli for another escalation.

Absent U.S. meddling, the Iranian people would probably be ready to throw out the religious authorities who have ruled the country since 1979. The religious authorities have wrecked the economy through excessive taxation and a loose monetary policy. By attacking the Iranian government, the U.S. is strengthening it. Iranians who would otherwise see a nuclear weapons program as a dangerous misuse of resources become convinced that it is the best hope for a defense against U.S. aggression. They are not blind to the fact that the government of Pakistan has prevented the u.S. government from hunting systematically for Osama bin Laden. They see how the Pakistani nuclear arsenal deters the U.S. from attacking it, and they cme to the logical conclusion that they need one too.

A war with Iran is absolutely not in the interests of either the United States government nor the people of the United States. The American people will lose a great deal of treasure and find themselves confronted by numerous implacable enemies. The U.S. governments will earn enmity and hostility from governments it seeks to dominate. These governments will not only be unwilling to work with the U.S. government but may even provide safe haven for those who wish to kill Americans.

The only people who benefit from this action are those who wish to infuriate groups like Hezbullah while depriving it of monetary support. In other words, a faction of Israeli politicians who seek to expand settlements in the occupied territories and to keep the Israeli policy of anti-Arab apartheid in place.

The fact that the U.S. government is willing to spend a princely sum in an attempt to trigger such a war does more than shock me. I think it borders on treason.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.
  • UCrawford


    I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, now that he’s a lame duck, Dubya very likely doesn’t give a shit. He knows that the chances of him ever being held accountable for anything he does are pretty much zero. So why not try to roil up more problems with Iran and force his successor to stay in Iraq longer? It’s not like it’s his kids getting shot at over there.

  • Akston

    What we need to do is to install a Shah there. That’ll settle things down.

  • mahdi

    You’re totally right man . Actually my father who was a shoemaker was brutally assassinated by MKO (mek, pmoi) terrorist elements in Iran during the early years of Iran after revolution. This designated terrorist cult by the us, eu and many coutries across the world is responsible for killing over 16000 innocent civilians and government officials in Iran. During Iraq-Iran war they served Saddam as his private army while fighting their own people. They have also assisted Iraqi dictator suppress Shiaats and massacre Kurds in Iraq .

  • Peter Orvetti

    I wonder if it is still possible for a U.S. attack on Iran to take place before 1/20/09. What are the logistics?

  • Austin T

    Here’s how the logistics will look:

    Israel carried out extensive war games activities earlier this month with a range almost exactly equal to the distance between major Israeli air bases and the Iranian nuclear reactor at Nantaz. Twenty years ago Isreal bombed a similar site in Iraq, and mere months ago hit a reactor site in syria.
    Isreal will strike Iran first which will prompt responses from Shiite militant groups as well as the Iranian government. At the first sign of distress on behalf of Isreal, or the mere mention of the word “Nuke-U-Lerr” by Iran, the US will enter the fray, guns blazing, shocking and awing some more muslims to the wrong side of the dirt. This will happen, watch.

  • LBest

    So how does everybody here suggest we stop Iran from getting nukes? Or is it ok for sombody who said they will use them on another country to abtain them because it is their right?
    By the way I do not think the USA should be helping, funding or arming the nuts. I just dont see anybody giving solutions.

  • Akston

    Pragmatically: Nukes are notoriously difficult and expensive to build. Recent intelligence reports suggest Iran is years away from even having one. If they ever do get one, the odds of them using it capriciously (like attacking Israel with it) seem pretty small. Why blow your big new toy enraging a country with 300 nukes (or the U.S. with several thousand)? If they do eventually make one, their more practical avenue would probably be to make a big deal about testing it, then shake down the U.S. for big bucks in aid a-la North Korea. That worked great for them.

    Philosophically: If the U.S. has the right to prevent other countries from building nukes, wouldn’t that suggest that other countries have some sort of claim on whether we can do the same? If a country isn’t posing a clear and present danger of attacking us, and we haven’t declared war on them, where would we get such an authority? As we saw in Iraq, bluster does not necessarily equal threat.

    Personally: I agree with Eisenhower – “All of us have heard this term ‘preventive war’ since the earliest days of Hitler…I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”

  • tarran

    The simplest solution is to stop threatening Iran. Seriously.

    Since the U.S. decided to overthrow the Iranian government as a favor to the British Foreign Office in the 1950’s, the U.S. government has been threatening Iran unless it behaves like a client state. Look at a map of Iran, and you will notice that practically every country that borders it has a significant military presence. The U.S. government is making the same mistake it made with Japan in the 19th century. After being subjected to Americna gunboat diplomacy, the Japanese intellectuals concluded, quite logically, that if they either became an imperial power like the Western powers or to be looted and partitioned like China. They chose the former, and the result was the slaughter of millions of Chinese.

    If I were an American official who cynically wanted to Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons, I would goad the Iranian government by threatening them in precisely the same manner as the Bush administration.

  • Eric

    A couple of things that most people may not understand about the physics and cost of nuclear weapons.

    1. Every nuclear reactor has a unique fingerprint. The reactor that produced the bomb can be determined by the mixture of isotopes in the bomb fallout. If an Iranian nuke were set off, we would be able to tell where it came from pretty easily. All credible physicists, including the ones working on the Iranian nukes, know this.

    2. Making a nuke isn’t difficult in terms of science, but is quite difficult in terms of money and engineering. While Iran may be able to build one, they really are not very likely to be able to build more than a few. Setting one off in a hostile situation will almost certainly ensure that Israel, the US, Russia, Britain or France (depending on the scenario) annihilates Iran. Given the reality of #1 above a terrorist use of an Iranian nuke is almost certainly not a reality. Much more likely is a “lost” Russian nuke for the terrorist scenario.

    3. Iran, like Russia, China, Cuba and many other totalitarian states, can best be defeated through information sharing, not confrontation. I am always amazed that we fail to learn the lesson of the Cold War. Make the bad guys spend money that a centrally planned economy can’t afford and then tell the people of that country what idiots their leaders are. It worked in Europe and it will work here.

  • Norm Nelson

    The modern definition of “Covert” would be operations that are hidden from the citizens of the government that is conducting them. Those that the operations are against become quite aware of them.

    As such this is the main ingredient for another batch of Blow-back.