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We are spared, this go-round, from "mushroom clouds." But racing to a bomb? Never mind that the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a formal National Intelligence Estimate last November that work on the nuclear weapons-related part of Iran’s nuclear program was halted in mid-2003. And never mind that Thomas Fingar, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell’s deputy for national estimates, reiterated that judgment as recently as Sept. 4. Never mind that the Post’s own Walter Pincus reported on Sept. 10 that Fingar added that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons work. Hey, the editorial fellows know best.
The good news is that the bottom line of the Sept. 23 editorial marks one of those rare occasions when the Post’s opinion editors have managed to reach a correct conclusion on the Middle East. It is true that the likelihood of an Israeli or U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran has receded in recent months. The more interesting questions are (1) why? And (2) under what circumstances might such an attack become likely again?
The Post attributes the stepping back by Israel and the U.S. to "the financial crisis and the worsening violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan." These are two contributing factors but, in my judgment, not the most important ones. Not surprisingly, the Post and other charter members of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) omit or play down factors they would prefer not to address.
Russia and Deterrence
More important than the bear market is the Russian Bear that, after a 17-year hibernation, has awakened with loud growls commensurate with Russia’s growing strength and assertiveness. The catalyst was the fiasco in Georgia, in which the Russians saw the hands of the neo-cons in Washington and their Doppelganger of the extreme right in Israel.
You would hardly know it from FCM coverage, but the fiasco began when Georgian President Mikhail Sakashvili ordered his American- and Israeli-trained Georgian armed forces to launch an attack on the city of Tskhinvali, capital of South Ossetia, on the night of August 6-7, killing not only many civilians but a number of Russian observers as well.
It may be true that our State Department officials had counseled Shakashvili against baiting the Russian Bear, but it is abundantly clear to anyone paying attention to such things, that State is regularly undercut/overruled by White House functionaries like arch-neo-con Elliott F. Abrams (F. for Fiasco). His encomia include those earned for his key role in other major fiascos like the one that brought about the unconscionable situation today in Gaza. (Would that the president’s father had let Abrams sit in jail, rather than pardoning him after he was convicted for perjuring himself in testimony to Congress on the Iran-Contra fiasco.)
In any event, it is almost certainly true that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin saw folks like Abrams, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their Israeli counterparts as being behind the attack on South Ossetia. For centuries the Russians have been concerned—call it paranoid—over threats coming from their soft southern underbelly, and their reaction could have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Russian history—or, by analogy, those familiar with American history and the Monroe Doctrine, for example.
Even neo-con Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain and former lobbyist for Georgia’s Sakashvili, would have known that. And this lends credence to speculation that that is precisely why Scheunemann is said to have egged on the Georgian president. Russia’s reaction was totally predictable, and enabled McCain to "stand up to Russia" with very strong rhetoric and not-so-subtle suggestions that his foreign policy experience provides an important advantage over his opponent in meeting the growing danger of a resurgent Russia.
Russia’s leaders are likely to have seen in Sakashvili’s provocation, in the attempt to get NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, in the deployment of antimissile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, and in hasty U.S. recognition of an independent Kosovo, indignities that Russia should no longer tolerate.
I can visualize Russian generals telling Putin:
Enough! Look at the weakened Americans. They have destroyed what’s left of their Army and Marine Corps, spreading them out and demoralizing them in two unwinnable wars. We know how bad it is with just one unwinnable war. It has not been that long since Afghanistan. But, Vladimir Vladimirovich, before we indulge ourselves with Schadenfreude, consider what such actions betoken—total recklessness of a kind we have seen only rarely in Washington.
Periodic attempts by Congress to require President Bush to seek congressional approval before ordering a strike on Iran have failed miserably. So his hands are free for another "pre-emptive war" before he leaves office. After all, Bush has publicly promised the Israelis he will deal with the "Iranian threat" before then. Besides, our political analysts suggest that Bush and Cheney might think that wider war would help the Republicans in the November election
No big bear likes to have a nose tweaked. But the Russian reaction to Georgia was not merely one of pique. It became a well-planned strategic move to disabuse Israel and the United States of the notion that Russia would sit still for an attack on Iran, a very important country in Russia’s general neighborhood. After Georgia, the Russians were bent on sweeping such plans "off the table," so to speak, and seem to have succeeded.
The signs of new Russian assertiveness are in the public domain, although the FCM has not given them much prominence. What is more telling is the effect on Israel and the United States. Since early August there has been a sharp decline in the formulaic rhetoric against Iran’s "path toward nuclear weapons," especially among U.S. policy makers and in American media following the conflict in Georgia and the expiration of the latest "ultimatum" served on Iran to stop its nuclear program.