During the propaganda campaign preceding the invasion of Iraq, it was still possible to delude oneself about the Bush administration's integrity, competence and respect for democratic institutions. Even a skeptic like me of White House claims about Iraq's arsenal of WMDs thought it made sense to vote for the president authority to use military force if Saddam Hussein refused U.N. weapons inspections. The issue needed to be resolved.
This time, there's no kidding ourselves. Judging by his recent address to the nation, President Bush's intentions could not be more ominous. To secure his place in history, The Decider intends not only to "surge" troop levels in Iraq, but also to launch an unprovoked attack upon neighboring Iran. That this would be a strategic blunder on a par with Napoleon's (or Hitler's) invasion of Russia deters him not. Instead of negotiating with the Persians, as the Iraq Study Group advised, Bush evidently means to bomb them to smithereens.
Along with the Israeli extreme right, the same neoconservative fantasists who sold Bush on "regime change" in Iraq have clamored for the United States to make war on Iran. They see their last hope expiring with Bush's political power. So they've amped the rhetoric.
Last December, Israeli cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman, a West Bank "settler" who emigrated from Russia in 1978, told The New York Times that "the Iranian problem … (is) the biggest threat facing the Jewish people since the Second World War." (Lieberman also advocates revamping citizenship laws to eliminate most Israeli Arabs.)
Stung by Israel's bloody, inconclusive war with Iranian-supported Hezbollah militias in southern Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has compared Iran with Nazi Germany. Two weeks before Bush's speech, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote a very peculiar Washington Post op-ed arguing, "(if) Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for Al Qaeda and Iran."
At the time, pairing these two mortal enemies appeared entirely bizarre. Hadn't Lieberman noticed Shiite and Sunni death squads butchering each other in Iraq? Then Bush adopted the same rhetoric, aimed at blurring the distinction exactly as he'd conflated 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.
Declaring that Iran was providing "material support" to Iraq's insurgents, Bush vowed to, "interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria … and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Bush also announced that he was adding an aircraft-carrier battle group to naval forces already patrolling the Persian Gulf, and equipping them with Patriot anti-missile batteries useless against Iraqi insurgents. The next day, U.S. soldiers raided an Iranian consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, arresting diplomats and confiscating computers.
Like an earlier raid on the compound of Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (soon after his White House visit), the raid was conducted without the knowledge of Iraq's government, which promptly demanded the Iranians' release.
In a coordinated propaganda blitz reminiscent of October 2002's crackpot warnings of Iraqi "mushroom clouds," the selfsame White House spokesmen — Condi Rice, Dick Cheney and national security advisor Stephen Hadley — hit the TV talk show circuit. Exactly as it was once Saddam, Saddam, Saddam, suddenly it was Iran, Iran, Iran.
It's merely bitter irony that the Iraqi dictator's last words were to curse the "devil-worshipping Persians." If the United States didn't want Iranian influence inside Iraq to increase, it shouldn't have invaded at all, much less supervised elections certain to empower Shiite religious-based parties. (Prime Minister al-Maliki himself spent years in Iranian exile.) It's too late now for Bush to scapegoat the Persians for incoherent U.S. policy.
Evidence of Iranian misdeeds is laughably thin. Unnamed American officials charge Iran with providing "infrared triggering devices," for roadside bombs. People, that's a TV remote.
But getting sucked into one of these tit-for-tat debates about technicalities — aluminum tubes, yellowcake uranium, etc. — Iranian President Ahmadinejad is precisely what these warmongering loons want. Let's stick to the big picture: Yes, Iran has an authoritarian religious government. Yes, like virtually every Muslim country, it's unfriendly to Israel. President Ahmadinejad's promotion of a Holocaust-deniers convention in Tehran made him look like a Persian George Wallace. He also lost support in recent elections, and has no authority over Iran's military whatsoever.
The Iranian "threat," exists mainly in the fevered minds of neoconservatives. Persians generally mistrust Arabs and despise Al Qaeda. Iran made several attempts to help the United States in Afghanistan after 9/11. It hasn't launched an aggressive war for centuries.
But even if you think I'm wrong about all that, do yourself a favor and spend five minutes scrutinizing a world map. Iran's population is three times larger than Iraq's. Its land area is twice Texas, five times Iraq's. It has a more cohesive, nationalistic populace, and a mountainous landscape. It's precisely halfway around the world. Even if war with Iran were inevitable, the United States is in no shape to fight it.
This crackpot scheme must be prevented by any legitimate political means.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at email@example.com.