Two Wars Too Many


WASHINGTON, D.C.—The neocons who want a regime change in Iran may have dillydallied too long and now must depend on a Chalabi-type terrorist group that was sponsored by Saddam Hussein if they want to overthrow the mullahs and bring democracy to the big oil producer.

In a new book called Losing Iraq, David Phillips, a former senior adviser to the State Department, gives an inside picture of the fighting within the Bush administration between the “Arabists,” or moderates, in the State Department and the neocon ideologues, a/k/a crazies, in the Pentagon. He strongly suggests that Bush long ago decided to attack Iran and today may only be deterred by military warnings that we can’t fight two wars at once. Of course, the neocons might ignore the military warnings and get Bush to sanction an attack anyway. Iran, with its huge gung ho army, wouldn’t be a pushover.

Before and during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to hunt for bin Laden, the Iranians made overtures to the U.S. “We did not want to be America’s enemy,” said Javad Zarif, Iran’s former deputy foreign minister and permanent representative at the U.N. He pointed out that the country’s leaders didn’t trust the U.S. but nonetheless thought it in their interests to start talking. The two nations drew closer under the “six plus two” framework of the U.N., which brings together the U.S., U.K., Afghanistan, and its immediate neighbors in what’s known as the “Geneva process.”

U.S. diplomats began to meet regularly with their Iranian counterparts during the Afghan war, and Phillips writes that Iran “agreed to look the other way if U.S. warplanes or missiles entered Iranian airspace. Iran also promised not to interfere with search-and-rescue operations of U.S. pilots downed on Iranian soil. Through various U.N. agencies, the United States and Iran also developed a protocol for assisting refugees fleeing the conflict.” Both countries were obsessed with Al Qaeda, and after the Taliban went down, Iran arrested 500 Al Qaeda operatives as they fled into Iran from Afghanistan.

But the neocons did everything they could to sabotage these openings. Obsessed with Iran, deeply distrustful of its intentions, and fearing the rise of Shiites in Iraq and the making of another Iran there, the Pentagon lashed out: “A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran’s image will not be permitted to do so,” Don Rumsfeld declared. “We will not allow the Iraqi people’s democratic transition to be hijacked . . . by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship.”

The neocons hijacked the Geneva meetings, and Zarif said they let him know Iran should break off contact with the State Department and start a back channel through the Pentagon.

“The neocons estimated that it would take Iran three years to develop a nuclear weapon,” writes Phillips. “Given the slim prospects for domestic political change in Iran, they argued that the United States should be thinking about preemptive action against selected nuclear sites.”

The neocons also pumped up Iran’s sworn enemy, the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK), better known as the People’s Mujahideen. Beginning as backers of the Iranian revolution, the MEK were driven into Iraq, where they were under the auspices of the Baathist party. Saddam gave the MEK guns, money, and a military base. They ran some successful raids into Iran and were said to have helped Saddam massacre the Kurds at the end of the first Gulf war. (The MEK deny it.) The State Department has listed them as a terrorist group.

A couple of years ago, it might have been possible to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, Phillips said in an interview last week. But he now thinks that Iran’s nuclear projects are now scattered around the country and are no longer viable targets.

Phillips said that Iran’s announced determination to restart its nuclear program spells doom for the European Union’s efforts to negotiate a solution and that Bush will work with European countries to bring the issue to the Security Council, where there will be harsh discussion on clamping down on Iran. However, this may not be possible in light of U.S. troops continuing to be tied down in Iraq, and the admission by General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that we can’t fight two wars at once.

Religious news from all over

“In God all things are possible,” said Tom DeLay on the 54th annual National Day of Prayer, last Thursday. “Even greatness from lowly sinners like you and me—especially me.”

President Bush, also speaking on the National Day of Prayer, talked of evil, telling a Dutch journalist, “Those who kill in the name of a great religion are evil people.” Was he talking about Muslims or about American Christians?

Declaring Jews to be the “most distinctive ethnic and religious group in America,” the American Jewish Committee reports that “they are the least likely of any religious group in America to pray on a daily basis, at 26 percent, compared with 56 percent of non-Jews; they are also the least likely to be sure that God exists.”

Kenya’s parliament passed a measure calling for castration of rapists. The country’s health minister cited the Bible as saying that “if any part of the body causes you to sin, it should be removed.”

Conor Oberst’s song “When the President Talks to God,” includes this passage:

“When the president talks to God

Are the conversations brief or long?

Does he ask to rape our women’s rights

And send poor farm kids off to die?

. . . When the president talks to God

Does he ever think that maybe he’s not?

That that voice is just inside his head

When he kneels next to the presidential bed

Does he ever smell his own bullshit

When the president talks to God?”

Beyond McVeigh and Nichols

Nobody outside the feds thinks Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols acted alone in Oklahoma City. McVeigh went to his death with his mouth shut. But Nichols has become friends with Kathy Wilburn Sanders, grandmother of two little boys killed in the bombing, and has written her a letter naming a third person. From the beginning, Sanders and her husband, Glenn (now deceased), thought there was a wider conspiracy, and they methodically traveled about the country investigating. She became friendly with the McVeigh family and more recently with Nichols. She asked a state court not to kill him. Nichols is in jail for life.

In Nichols’s letter to her, he put the finger on an Arkansas gun dealer named Roger Moore. Nichols claims to have told the FBI where to find bomb materials in the crawl space of Nichols’s old house; he said the fingerprints on the case of nitromethane are Moore’s. “The Fed Gov’t knows of Roger Moore’s corrupt activities and they are protecting him and covering up his involvement with McVeigh at the OKC bombing!” Nichols wrote. Moore has always insisted he’s innocent.

Various investigators, journalists, and McVeigh’s trial attorney all speculated on who might have been in on the wider conspiracy. Some argue they are religious racists living at the Branch Davidian-like Elohim City compound in the hills of eastern Oklahoma. Others say it’s a gang of bank robbers calling themselves the Aryan Republican Army, the already legendary ARA, whose leader dressed in drag. One reporter thinks the crime can be traced through Nichols to the Philippines and back to Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. There’s not much enthusiasm for this last theory, and many skeptics think it’s some combination of Elohim City and the ARA. If true, the real plotters got away, and the FBI once more looks like a bunch of fools.

Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin and Halley Bondy