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Fri, Nov. 15

Nuking Iran: Speculation or election-year scare?

Here we go again.

With a congressional election looming in November, President Bush's support continues to erode. Fully 47 percent in a recent Washington Post/ABC poll "strongly disapprove" of his leadership. Even the White House's warmest supporters concede that Democrats stand an excellent chance of regaining the majority in Congress. With the majority comes subpoena power.

So it must be time for a nuclear war scare.

Sure enough, the Monday issue of The New Yorker contains an article by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh claiming that the White House is conducting "intensified planning for a possible major air attack," including tactical nuclear strikes against Iran. Hersh's sources, mostly anonymous high-ranking Pentagon officers, claim Bush has conceived a "messianic vision" that he alone can save the world from Iranian aggression.

Presumably caught off guard by what appear to be tactical leaks by opponents of this insane scheme, Bush called them "wild speculation."

Maybe so. On the other hand, underestimating this administration's ruthlessness and dishonesty is always a mistake.

So why wouldn't the White House conjure an Iranian bogeyman in 2006? Two-thirds of Americans polled last February believe a nuclear-armed Iran would attack Israel; 82 percent think the Iranians would give nuclear weapons to terrorists.

Remind voters that the two nations fought a bloody war in the 1980s, prompted by Iraqi aggression, add that Iran is somewhere between three and five times larger than Iraq ‹ depending on whether you're talking about population or land area ‹ and has far more difficult terrain as well as a more unified, nationalistic population, and American enthusiasm for fighting an unnecessary "pre-emptive" war there would likely diminish fast.

It's for all these reasons and more that Hersh's sources appear to have begun a pre-emptive leaking campaign of their own against the neoconservatives. Threatening Iran with nuclear weapons isn't a sign of strength, but a confession of weakness.

As the single greatest strategic beneficiary of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Persians have indulged in foolhardy bluster of their own. The recently elected Ahmadinejad, however, holds office at the sufferance of the Ayatollahs, who wield the real power. Although dogmatic and authoritarian, they also tend to be cautious.

For now, we must all pray that crackpots in both countries can be restrained.

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