Why Bush won't attack Iran
To date, however, nothing suggests Bush is really going to do it. If he were, he wouldn't be playing good cop/bad cop with Iran and proposing engagement. If the bombs were at the ready, Bush would be doing a lot more to prepare the nation and the military for a war far more consequential than the invasion of Iraq. There is also circumstantial evidence that he has decided bombing may be too costly a choice.What we have learned is that the neocons can be beaten down but they won't give up. Has Bush suddenly realized that the insanity of Dick Cheney has already resulted in what will be a dismal legacy? Another factor that Clemons doesn't really mention is the powerful business interests. Big business went along with Cheney's Iraq war because they thought there was money to be made. I doubt that they see such opportunities in a strike at Iran and in fact the inevitable economic turmoil would be very bad for business.
First, journalist Joe Klein documents a December 2006 meeting in which Bush met in "the Tank" with his senior national security counselors and the military's command staff and walked out with the impression that either the costs of military action against Iran were simply too high, or that the prospects for success for the mission too low.After this meeting, Bush immediately tilted away from the Cheney-dominant view that military action was the most preferable course and empowered and released other parts of his administration to animate a third option.
Then Bush asked about the possibility of a successful attack on Iran's nuclear capability. He was told that the U.S. could launch a devastating air attack on Iran's government and military, wiping out the Iranian air force, the command and control structure and some of the more obvious nuclear facilities. But the Chiefs were -- once again -- unanimously opposed to taking that course of action.
Why? Because our intelligence inside Iran is very sketchy. There was no way to be sure that we could take out all of Iran's nuclear facilities. Furthermore, the Chiefs warned, the Iranian response in Iraq and, quite possibly, in terrorist attacks on the U.S. could be devastating. Bush apparently took this advice to heart and went to Plan B -- a covert destabilization campaign reported earlier this week by ABC News.
Secondly, we know via material first reported on my blog, the Washington Note, and subsequently confirmed by the New York Times, Time and Newsweek, that Cheney and his team have been deeply frustrated by the "engage Iran team" that the president empowered and felt that they were losing ground to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and the president's new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten.
One member of Cheney's national security staff, David Wurmser, worried out loud that Cheney felt that his wing was "losing the policy argument on Iran" inside the administration -- and that they might need to "end run" the president with scenarios that may narrow his choices. The option that Wurmser allegedly discussed was nudging Israel to launch a low-yield cruise missile strike against the Natanz nuclear reactor in Iran, thus "hopefully" prompting a military reaction by Tehran against U.S. forces in Iraq and the Gulf. When queried about Wurmser's alleged comments, a senior Bush administration official told the New York Times, "The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff."
We know Bush rebuffed Cheney's view and is seeking other alternatives. That is the most clear evidence that Bush is not committed to bombing Iran. Even if Bush wanted to make the Iranians believe that he could go either way -- diplomacy or military strike -- Bush would not so clearly knock back one side in favor of the other to the point where the "bad cops" in a good cop/bad cop strategy would tell anyone on the outside that they did not enjoy the favor and support of the president.
Bush is aware that America's intelligence on Iran is weak. Even without admitting America's blind spots on Iraq, the intelligence failures on Iraq's WMD program create a formidable credibility hurdle.
Bush knows that the American military is stretched and that bombing Iran would not be a casual exercise. Reprisals in the Gulf toward U.S. forces and Iran's ability to cut off supply lines to the 160,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq could seriously endanger the entire American military.
Bush can also see China and Russia waiting in the wings, not to promote conflict but to take advantage of self-destructive missteps that the United States takes that would give them more leverage over and control of global energy flows. Iran has the third-largest undeveloped oil reserves in the world and the second-largest undeveloped natural gas reserves.
Bush also knows that Iran controls "the temperature" of the terror networks it runs. Bombing Iran would blow the control gauge off, and Iran's terror networks could mobilize throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and even the United States.
In sum, Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now -- and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that "third option," even if Cheney doesn't. Bush's war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he'll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today.
What we should worry about, however, is the continued effort by the neocons to shore up their sagging influence. They now fear that events and arguments could intervene to keep what once seemed like a "nearly inevitable" attack from happening. They know that they must keep up the pressure on Bush and maintain a drumbeat calling for war.