Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GAMESMANSHIP....A week ago, in a reversal of its longtime policy, the Bush administration agreed to hold face-to-face talks with Iran. This decision didn't go over well with conservatives, who believe that negotiation is a sign of weakness, and likely didn't go over well with hardliners within the administration for the same reason.

What to do? Answer: Prove that you're still as tough as you ever were. Perhaps this is why we've seen the following in the past few days:

These actions are probably designed both to put the Iranians on notice and to quell conservative disquiet at home. For their part, the Iranians may be engaged in the same kind of gamesmanship, and with the same two audiences in mind. Perhaps that explains their rash of recent jailings of Iranian-Americans?

Something to think about. I promise not to make it into a hobby horse. But it might explain some otherwise mysterious actions.

Kevin Drum 11:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

I like Kevin's Machiaveillian analysis. His reasoning would be correct if Kevin were President. Whether the Bush administrtion is as smart and as sneaky as Kevin is another question.

I do disagree with Kevin's second postulated goal. I think the actions are designed to pressure Iran, period. Unfortunately, I doubt that they'll work. Iran seems totally committed to becoming a nuclear power.

It's too late for Bush to quell conservatives. His immigration plan (and its clumsy presentation) has got the conservatives up in arms. We're too upset about immigration to worry about meetings with Iran.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 23, 2007 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure about the first item Kevin mentions, because it sounds as if it came from a military source who has good reason to suspect an Iranian reaction to the current coalition course of trying to remove Iranian allies from positions in the Maliki government. I don't have a problem with the third item. The Navy has to exercise somewhere.

But leaks about black operations seem to me likely to come from another source than deliberate administration strategy. Most likely they come from people within the intelligence community (or possibly the State Department) who do not think the supposed non-violent covert project in Iran was a smart idea, or don't think it was likely to work or even object to it because it was (apparently) a strictly CIA operation.

A leak of this kind done deliberately for the reasons Kevin posits sounds much more clever than anything I would come up with (not wise, mind you, just clever). Just by itself this makes me doubt it happened for the reasons Kevin seems to think.

Posted by: Zathras on May 23, 2007 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Just by itself this makes me doubt it happened for the reasons Kevin seems to think."

Agreed. Another instance where Kevin's analysis depends on spun and polished "conventional wisdom".

Posted by: scudbucket on May 23, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just beginning to understand the extent to which the Right has been successful in creating myths. If you have enough 'think tanks' and a compliant media, you can generate your own news, and if it is repeated often enough, the populace takes it as reality.

Posted by: cajun on May 24, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

George eff-Wing Bush has no idea about international relations. He doesn't even know what a Turkman is. Nor the difference between Shia or Sunni, and he's not interested.

There seem to be a whole number of people, mostly abroad but many here, too, that want to stop in its tracks any move to war against Iran. Among these are a respectable proportion of knowledgeable people: generals and admirals, secretaries of state and defence and their equivalents, prime ministers, US presidents, and any number of international diplomats and NGO functionaries.

It's hard to see how you can justify any violence within overseas politics while it is supposedly rejected within our own society.

Different values, right?

Posted by: notthere on May 24, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK


Moving carriers _inside_ the Persian Gulf is cosmically stupid. If push comes to shove, the Iranians can sink them with a flurry of antiship missiles: outside the Gulf, a couple of hundred kilometers out to sea, they probably can't.

Posted by: gcochran on May 24, 2007 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

This country is truly in the grip of fear and war-mongering.

Enough already!

Posted by: j on May 24, 2007 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, let's get racist paranoid tough against another 65 million people and see if it turns out any better than Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. I thought we were tired of the damaged thinking of a Bush Republican.

Attack Iran verbally or actually and solidify the current regime there. Like 911 did for Bush.

Posted by: deejaays on May 24, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

cajun "...generate your own news?..." We were warned! Both by the actions of prior governments but, you'd hope, by literature, too.

I have no idea how old you are, but education is descending to the level of not giving people the informnation they need.

Not the history for reflection, nor the fiction for imagination.

1984 came out in 1949. Brave New World in 1932, and Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. All prescient and valid.

If you haven't read these you have no, No perspective on how this has been foreseen.

Wonder how?

History? Read it. Read it.

Posted by: notthere on May 24, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

We're too upset about immigration to worry about meetings with Iran.

Interesting admission. So, war on terror, loose nukes, death by bearded hordes - all a bunch of crap.

But scary poor brown people coming to clean your local hospital - to the barricades!

Posted by: craigie on May 24, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

History? Read it. Read it.

I'm paraphrasing like crazy, but I think it was Vonnegut that said what we learn from history is that we never learn from history.

Posted by: thersites on May 24, 2007 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Why are Dems so @#$%&! SPINELESS? Is it that they are just simply afraid of the band of pirates that have hijacked the country?

http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/stupak052307.htm

Posted by: @#$%&! on May 24, 2007 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

Vonnegut was a smart, right writing guy, but what he was talking about is the same view I have. A cynicism for humans to learn from experience. Some cut themselves the same way continuously. The less educated, whether by fault or deliberation -- the latter, beyond the uneducated, seems to be the Republicans -- leads inevitably to tragic error.

So there is deliberation behind not knowing. GWB falls very securely in this wedge. And all those who condone his actions. Ignorance is all too prevalent within the USA.

Posted by: notthere on May 24, 2007 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

ex-lib's analysis of the post actually seems thought-through, so dues where they are deserved.
(But is it really he?)

Kevin, it well may be an attempt to step back from the brink without signaling that "weakness" to the nutticons. Ironic, using the "librul" media for a planted story and then watching them get branded as traitors. That has Rove written all over it, does it not? The man never goes for less than a twofer!

Posted by: Kenji on May 24, 2007 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

That seems very plausible. It is dangerous though, sending the aircraft carriers into the region seems like an unnecessary risk and it puts us at the mercy of hardliners who could use the situation to push a worst case scenario. Maybe this administration -or elements inside it- really wants war after all, and maybe it is just waiting for a good excuse to start it.

Posted by: Grigou on May 24, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

ex-lib: I do disagree with Kevin's second postulated goal. I think the actions are designed to pressure Iran, period. Unfortunately, I doubt that they'll work. Iran seems totally committed to becoming a nuclear power.

Unfortunately, George Bush has done nothing but affirm Tehran's percieved need for nuclear weapons. The United States would never have invaded Iraq had Hussein had nuclear weapons, and once the North Koreans got them, well what do you know, W is suddenly all ears. States which feel secure do not pursue atomic weapons, state which feel insecure, or with chips on their shoulders do pursue nuclear weapons. It brings you to the adult table, and gives you a chip with which to bargain. The worst possible thing the United States could have done in terms of a nuclear Iran was to invade Iraq. We were already (probably unavoidably) in Afghanistan, and now we have Iran pincered; a cornered dog. While I doubt there will be nuclear war, this is not likely to end well for the United States because I do not see how we can get out of this situation with Iran without them eventually achieving nuclear technology. Thanks a lot, Bush, you arrogant, short sighted, stain on our national character.

Posted by: Everblue Stater on May 24, 2007 at 3:07 AM | PERMALINK

From tomdispatch.com: Still rings true--

"Wag the Dog suggested, war itself is not the only way to distract public attention from the President's domestic woes. An atmosphere of crisis in which rumors of war or preparations for war come to overshadow all else might well do the trick -- and administration officials don't need fresh armies to accomplish this, only plausible scenarios for the escalation of existing foreign troubles. These, unfortunately, are all too easy to find."

Posted by: consider wisely on May 24, 2007 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK

It is all very worrisome.
Also from the tomdispatch article:

"The Bush administration has already made up its mind on this subject: "Iran [has] concealed a large-scale, covert nuclear weapons program for over eighteen years," then Undersecretary of State (and now U.N. Ambassador) John R. Bolton asserted on August 17, 2004. "The costly infrastructure to perform all of these [enrichment] activities goes well beyond any conceivable peaceful nuclear program," he added. "No comparable oil-rich nation has ever engaged, or would be engaged, in this set of activities -- or would pursue them for nearly two decades behind a continuing cloud of secrecy and lies to IAEA inspectors and the international community -- unless it was dead set on building nuclear weapons."

And this:
"...Here again, the kindling exists for a full-blown international crisis. Although the European trio along with Russia and China are determined to avoid a military confrontation with Iran, the Bush administration clearly feels no such inhibitions. It has already laid the groundwork for air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and has refused -- in Condoleezza Rice's phrase -- to take any "options off the table."
Even the strong hint of an impending assault on Iran would probably push crude oil prices to stratospheric levels and invite anger and concern around the world, but this may not be enough to deter Bush and his advisers from initiating such a crisis if they saw no other way to boost the President's approval ratings..."


Posted by: consider wisely on May 24, 2007 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

The SNAFU over the covert destabalization program mystifies me. We've called Iran a member of the axis of evil. Accused them of sponsoring terrorists, including initiating the capture of the Israeli soldiers last summer. Accused them of arming Iraqi insurgents, which is a causus belli.

So why is it news that we have a covert program aimed at Iran? Shouldn't we expect there to be a covert program? Why wasn't this news greeted with a simple "duh, of course we have a covert program"?

Posted by: VOR on May 24, 2007 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal" wrote: It's too late for Bush to quell conservatives. His immigration plan (and its clumsy presentation) has got the conservatives up in arms. We're too upset about immigration to worry about meetings with Iran.

Nice try at rehabilititaing your image as a conservative, "ex-liberal", but that dog won't hunt. You're on record as recently embracing torture and enthusiastically supporting the political corruption of the DoJ. You aren't a conservative; by your own postings you've revealed yourself as a neocon and an authoritarian.

By this pretense -- as well as repeatedly posting bullshit, discredited neocon talking points as if he/she/it hasn't been corrected, not to mention ignoring numerous other times his/her/its arguments are reduced to smoking rubble without the slightest shred of embarrassment -- "ex-liberal" acts as if the comments on these threads are as transitory as the spoken word, and he/she/it hasn't compiled a shameful record of dishonesty and offensiveness in carrying water for the neocons. Memo to "ex-liberal": Sorry to break it to you, but this isn't 1984, and the record of your failed dishonesties and advocation of torture and authoritarianism still exists.

In addition, craigie had your number at 12:59 am. So immigration is more important than the alleged threat from Iran you so recently trumpeted?

The only pertinent question is, why does "ex-liberal" hate America?

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

"Orwell" wrote: Like how Bush knew about 9/11 before hand

Bin Laden determined to strike in US

Remind us, "Orwell", what action -- any action at all -- Bush took in response to this briefing?

Oh, yeah -- he told the briefer "You've covered your ass, now."

No conspiracy theory is necessary to demonstrate Bush's fecklessness and incompetence over 9/11..the public record speaks for itself.

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Call it gamesmanship and analyze the moves, but remember that the players on both sides have demonstrated ignorance and craziness on more than one occasion. And the weapons are loaded.

Posted by: Dontwannaplay on May 24, 2007 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

"Orwell" wrote: why didn't Bush see that they were actually going to hijack planes and run them into two major buildings in New York? Wasn't it obvious that this could happen since it had happened hundreds of times before?

You're getting warm, "Orwell"! From the PDB: information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks

So yes, Bush did receive warnings of an al Qaeda hijacking -- an undesirable outcome, I'm sure you agree, regardless of what they planned to do with the aircraft once hijacked.

And yes, aircraft hijackings have happened many times before, and it's no mystery how to prevent them. Now all you have to do is name one action -- one will do -- Bush took in response to this briefing. For all your verbiage, somehow you failed to do that. I wonder why?

Needless to say, the whole notion of using the hijacked planes as missiles is a red herring -- if you prevent the hijacking, you prevent whatever they wanted to do after the hijacking -- be it kamikaze-ing into buildigns, holding the passengers for ransom or selling the planes on eBay.

So again, "Orwell," can you cite anything Bush did in response to this warning, other than telling the briefer he'd covered his ass?

Oh, and Orwell? Clinton brought those responsible for the first WTC bombing to justice, and they're in prison now. How's Bush doing with bin Laden again?

Your dishonest partisan drivel is easily dismissed seeing how eager you are to give Bush a free pass for his fecklessness and incompetence.

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

How's Bush doing with bin Laden again?
From this morning's press conference:

"Why is he at large? 'Cause we haven't got him, yet, Jim. That's why. And he's hiding. And we're looking. And we will continue to look until we bring him to justice. We've brought a lot of his buddies to justice, but not him. That's why he's still at large."

Posted by: Nemo on May 24, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is going to win this.

He is about to take on Iran with little challenge from Dems, the American People, the Globe. He is just moving on ahead with his little plans and in the course of 7 years, America hasn't retained enough sense to question this arrogant war-monger on any of his proven war-making tactics, his proven "facts" that get us into war, his proven plans for Victory in yet another country. Folks are buying the Iran stuff with the same ease they bought the Iraq stuff.

This nightmare is going for the full 8 years, and come January '09 Bush will exit the White House with full ceremony, leaving behind him a country embroiled in wars and debt and dead kids, and a global population a few thousand thousand less than it was when he took office.

The rest of the nation and the planet will repair what can be and will bury what cannot, while this man goes back to Texas to take his ease and linger over the days of standing on the decks of aircraft carriers, of flying on Air Force One, of dinners, and pageantry.

The damage sustained by this administration to our country, our constitution, our security might be repaired but only if the next president in the White House isn't another GOP-honed monster without conscience or rational thought for anything other than Party First.

Posted by: Zit on May 24, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing, "Orwell"?

Imagine my surprise...

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

orwell: why didn't Bush see that they were actually going to hijack planes and run them into two major buildings in New York?

using planes as weapons?

“For sheer diabolical genius (of the Hollywood variety), nothing came close to the reports that European security services are preparing to counter a bin Laden attempt to assassinate President Bush at next month’s G8 summit in Genoa, Italy. [Time, 6/20/2001]


June 23, 2001: White House Warned ‘Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent’A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” is sent to top White House officials. The details of this brief are not known. It is probable President Bush received this warning since SEIBs are usually rehashes of the previous days’ President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001). Also on this day a CIA cable is distributed with the title, “Possible Threat of Imminent Attack from Sunni Extremists.” The cable warns that there there is a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]


bush went fishing...

Posted by: mr. irony on May 24, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK


"All that I can tell you is that it was not in the august 6th memo, using planes as a weapon, and I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning that planes might be used as a weapon." - 4/8/2004

Posted by: condi rice on May 24, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, there is no need for supposition. Whatever we hear from anywhere in this government is completely scripted. Beyond contextual rewrites, this includes the time of release, an amorphous and untraceable source, and a modulated array of media outlets. This pattern is so blatant we don't even need Orwellian metaphores.

Star Trek made it easy to identify "expendibles." In our world, Rove, Norquist, Abramov, Gingrich, DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Gonzales, and many "DOJ hay-heys" are that fodder, yet remain untouchable. Who will call out Mom or Dad on these bad boys (or the girls)?

Orwell described and McLuan defined a method for message control. Suskind uncovered, or reiterated, a directed use of these theoretic ideas for political control. That reality can be subsummed is anathema, yet the project proceeds unimpeded.

Bob Johnson
bob_johnson_1@hotmail.com


Posted by: Bob Johnson on May 24, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

"All that I can tell you is that it was not in the august 6th memo, using planes as a weapon, and I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning that planes might be used as a weapon." Condi Rice - 4/8/2004

So what? I've already pointed out that if you prevent the hijacking, you prevent whatever nefarious purposes the hijackers had, even if it was just killing the passengers or selling the planes on eBay. Rice's statement makes no sense -- was she saying the Bush Administration would have taken action if they'd know the planes would have been used as missiles? Then she's as much as admitting their feckless inaction faced with the hijacking warning -- but again, prevent the hijacking -- hardly unexplored territory, that -- and you prevent 9/11.

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2007 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

gregory she is saying basically what monica goodling said yesterday...

"I believe I crossed the line, but I didn't mean to." - GOP Monica Goodling 5/23/07

see...rice as NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR..didn't take any action that summer of 2001...

even after being warned of numerous terror threats..

sure...thousands died on 9-11...

which meant in part that condi and bush failed at their job...

"but they didn't mean to."

so....in their eyes....they don't have any responsibility

Posted by: mr. irony on May 24, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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