Saturday, February 03, 2007

Iran: Red Herring Or Real Deal?

There's a bit of interesting confusion breaking out in the progressive blogosphere about how to react to persistent reports (freshly denied, of course, by the White House) that the administration is planning military operations against Iran on grounds of its meddling in Iraq.

Armando at Talk Left did an impassioned post accusing Matt Yglesias and James Fallows of arguing for a shift of progressive attention from Iraq to Iran. His main arguments are (1) Iran war talk is "bait" from the Bushies aimed at dissipating congressional efforts to end the war in Iraq; and (2) because Bush and Cheney have no legal authority to start a war with Iran, taking military action based on Iran's role in Iraq is how they are going to get there. I get dragooned into the argument as someone who doesn't "get" this latter point, based on a post that expressed incredulity at an Iraqi rationale for an attack on Iran.

McJoan at DailyKos picks up on Armando's post, and clarifies his argument, especially on Point II, suggesting that the only way Bush gets to wage war on Iran is by citing the Iraq War Resolution.

What's confusing to me about both posts is a pretty simple point: is the Iran war talk really a "red herring?" Or is the administration really lusting for immediate war with Iran?

In terms of the "red herring" claim, you have to remember that most of the reports of administration war planning against Iran have been relatively under-the-radar, and have been talked about far more by administration critics than by official or unofficial Bush supporters. I see no particular evidence that congressional Dems are folding their tents on Iraq. And with all due respect to the blogosphere, I don't think the Bushies think they can avoid getting repudiated on Iraq just because some bloggers are arguing about the relative importance of Iran.

If the White House really wanted to throw sand in the eyes of Iraq War critics, including a sizable majority of the American people, they'd be doing some very high-profile Iran scaremongering, not focused on Tehran's role in Iraq, but on the nuclear program, which has indeed gotten significant public and MSM attention.

That brings me to the second prong of the Armando-McJoan argument: the Bushies have to make Iraq the pretext for an attack on Iran because they'd otherwise have to get a fresh war resolution from Congress, which ain't happening. So they are stuck with a transparently stupid and specious rationale for a new war, which would be explicitly described as an expansion of an existing, and overwhelmingly unpopular war. If, that is, they really want to attack Iran, and aren't just creating a "red herring."

You can see how this argument gets to be a bit circular. The administration either wants war with Iran, or it doesn't, and if it does, it needs a plausible rationale a hell of a lot more than it needs congressional authority (remember its continuing claims of all sorts of inherent presidential national security powers?). And there's an obvious scenario where that could happen: the U.S. strongly encourages the Israelis to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, and then intervenes to help our ally as a matter of emergency military action, subject only to after-the-fact congressional endorsement under the War Powers Act, if the need for any authority was admitted.

As for the initial question of how progressive bloggers should think about these tangled questions, I don't quite see how worrying about a new war keeps anyone from stopping the old one, unless you're really into an extreme version of the Noise Machine theory and think any dissent or distraction from the Message of the Day somehow adds strength to Bush's rapidly collapsing support on Iraq.

So let a few bloggers try to walk and chew gum at the same time.
-- Posted at 6:37 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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