Campaign 2006: The Iran Strategy

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Mark Weisbrot
Payvand Iran News, April 13, 2006 
Salt Lake Tribune,
April 15, 2006
Columbia Tribune
(MO), April 18, 2006

“Fool me once,” said President Bush in 2002, “shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” We all know what he meant: Fool me twice, shame on me.

And we should be more than ashamed if Americans are fooled again. Another unnecessary war – this time with Iran – could accelerate a cycle of warfare and terror that could plague the world for many years to come.

There is another issue raised by recent press reports that the Bush Administration is moving rapidly ahead with extensive and detailed preparations for military strikes against Iran: what are the consequences of allowing our government to consolidate its grip on power simply by creating an international crisis and preparing for war in an election year?

It all looks remarkably similar to 2002. At the time, the Republicans were facing what looked like potentially serious scandals: alleged accounting manipulations at the Harken Energy Corporation (when President Bush was a director) and Halliburton (under the chairmanship of Vice President Cheney, who was also accused of insider trading), the Enron fiasco, and the intelligence failures leading up to September 11. Democrats were leading on the issues that seemed to matter most to the electorate: the job market, the economy, Social Security, and Medicare. Millions of people had lost their retirement savings in the stock market crash of 2000-2002, and exposures of corporate fraud were erupting every week. The economy was still down more than 200,000 jobs from when President Bush took office.

The Bush team changed the channel, and their problems vanished. From August 2002 to the November 5 election, the national news was all about Iraq. The Republicans picked up six seats in the House and took majority control in the Senate.

This time the Republicans are facing a worse electoral situation than in 2002. The economy has recovered, but the scandals have multiplied like rabbits. A partial inventory: the horrifically botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the indictment of I. Lewis Libby (Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff), the indictment and resignation of House Majority leader Tom Delay, the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, the latest revelation that President Bush himself authorized selective leaks of the National Intelligence Estimate to bolster his case (now discredited) that Iraq posed a serious security threat to the United States.

The Medicare prescription drugs bill, which the Republicans passed in the middle of the night on a straight party-line vote, has turned out to be a nightmarishly complex and expensive boondoggle, tailored to the needs of pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It has angered millions of senior citizens, who are a big part of the electorate in a non-presidential election year.

And then there is the war in Iraq, which the majority of Americans now believe was not worth fighting.

President Bush has fallen to a low of 38 percent approval. In answer to the question, which party should control Congress, the latest polls give Democrats a 49-33 percent advantage.

Everything is in place for a repeat of 2002. Although Iran is believed by our own intelligence estimates to be ten years away from a nuclear weapon, the timetable for confrontation is being fitted to the seven months remaining until the election. A former official of the International Atomic Energy Agency told Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh: “there’s nothing the Iranians could do that would result in a positive outcome. American diplomacy does not allow for it.”

The Bush Administration won’t try to occupy Iran. They may not even need the war itself – in 2002 they secured the Congress just by changing the channel, and there are undoubtedly some of Bush’s team who now regret having followed through with the invasion of Iraq. But unless the American public can build a very strong opposition, and expose the Iran strategy for what it really is, the winning formula of 2002 might well triumph again in November.

And if the Bush team can create the right political and media climate – a recent poll showed 80 percent of Americans believe that if Iran had a nuclear weapon they would give it to terrorists to use against the United States – they might even go ahead and start another war.


Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C.