by William H. White
April 7, 2008
Despite the failed Basra offensive, the Bush administration's actions and related events indicate they are continuing toward carrying out a long planned attack against Iran. In our March 28, 2008 report: War with Iran May Have Begun with Offensive in Iraq, we concluded the attacks against the Mahdi Army, in Baghdad and Basra, were part of a set of preliminary operations in preparation for the main offensive against Iran, and continue to agree with that assessment.
In addition, we now conclude the Basra offensive, having failed spectacularly, undermined the Iraqi government's already diminished political authority, along with the Shiite Dawa Party faction it represents, and any hope the Nouri al-Maliki government had of weakening the Sadr movement before the scheduled October elections. So rather than strengthening the US military's Shiite flank in Iraq, the failed offensive has weakened it, while concomitantly enhancing the standing of the rival Shiite Mahdi Army faction and its leader Moktada al Sadr, much as Israel's attacks on Lebanon failed to weaken the Hezbollah.
Given the Bush administration continues to be far more plan/ideology driven than event/data driven, we do not expect the failed Basra offensive to turn the Bush administration away from its planned attack against Iran; instead, the Bush administration is likely to throw more resources at the US military's now weakened Shiite flank and proceed as though it succeeded. So we expect the Bush administration:
to continue to back its now diminished Shiite partners by increasing operations against and laying siege to the Mahdi Army controlled areas of Baghdad;
to quickly rebuild/reinforce its offensive capabilities around Basra before resuming operations against the Mahdi Army there;
to maintain an overall state of conflict and anti-Iranian environment in Iraq, especially increasing the frequency and volume of apparently baseless accusations that Iran is underwriting attacks against US coalition forces, much as the Weapons of Mass Destruction theme was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, meeting requests for evidence with new accusations, which the media dutifully report without qualification.
Nothing, including a collapse of the Iraqi government, is likely to change Bush's determination to "hit" Iran, although the depth and duration of the attacks might be attenuated by a set of early failures. In fact, attacking Iran could very well lead to the collapse in one or more governments in the region, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Israel.
Presumably, if there are policy level debates within the administration about the wisdom of attacking Iran, the central question before the National Security Council is likely to be whether the attacks on Iran will result in an ongoing war between the US and Iran as well as other likely global consequences, with the Cheney/Israel lobby neo-con faction pressing for an attack and suggesting few consequences, and the Gates/Rice/Paulson realist faction opposing attacks and predicting grave consequences. Because of the ongoing economic crisis, Secretary of Treasury Paulson is expected to play a more prominent role in the deliberations than he might otherwise, lending additional weight to serious consideration of at least some near-term consequences. We assume expected damage to the US and global economies, as well as a de facto world trade embargo against US goods, will likely become increasingly important compared to the concerns advanced by Cheney and the Israel Lobby, such as the dangers Iran presents to the US and Israel from its "support of terrorism" and "nuclear weapons 'programs and knowledge'".
Another factor is the conflict between Bush's father and his segregate, Cheney, whose competing, collective effects on Bush's behavior appear to be critical as well as contradictory and unpredictable, in other words, clearly present but admittedly incomprehensible. Proximate influence is particularly important in Bush's case because, despite significant efforts to create impressions to the contrary, Bush neither reads well nor willingly, so he is uninformed, isolated and unusually dependent on his immediate circle for information and feedback. Also possible, perhaps even likely, is the continued undermining of the Bush administration by elements of the intelligence community, both on and off the record, such as the NIE on Iraq not having a nuclear weapons program and leaks about war plans and preparations.
An alternative assessment starts and ends with George W. Bush, who will make a personal decision, based on what he thinks will be best for himself and the Bush family, with broader considerations largely irrelevant, and deliberations within the administration of no real influence.
As far as can be determined, the US Congress, which abandoned its oversight post long ago, will not be a factor of any consequence in Bush's decision to attack Iran. In fact, the current situation, even before a war with Iran, is one of the great crises in American history, due almost entirely to the actions of a reckless president, through his willful and disrespectful acts of lawlessness, whom the US Congress, weakened and corrupted by the rise of corporate power, failed to impeach, or even confront Bush.
Our own assessment: A major US attack against Iran will ignite a US-Iran war, which will almost certainly result in grave global economic and political consequences as well as the most serious political and economic destabilization of the United States since the Civil War.
The United States military offensive against Iran continues its initial conditioning phase despite the failed offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra, which, retaining its arms, stopped fighting government forces after the release of the text of a negotiated cease-fire agreement between its leader, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government. The Mahdi Army withdrew from the field in response to orders and presumably would reappear when so ordered. The only positive outcome for the US may have been a brief confirmation of Sadr's whereabouts, perhaps with an opportunity to plant a tracking device among his entourage. US operations against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad continue.
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