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Saturday, April 08, 2006

US mulling mullah strike? Sy Hersh says plans are being stepped up for war with Iran

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the April 17 issue of The New Yorker, says that the Bush administration is ramping up its planning for a "possible major air strike" on Iran, and that US special operations troops are already on the ground in that country.

According to Hersh, who cites numerous sources, almost all of them anonymous, for his information
Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.
Hersh says there is "growing conviction" that President Bush's goal is nothing short of regime change, and that the White House believes that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a potential Hitler. According to Hersh's sources, Bush believes that "saving Iran will be his legacy," and a member of the House of Representatives says the most worrisome thing about Bush is that "this guy has a messianic vision."

Perhaps Hersh's boldest assertion is that among the plans being seriously discussed is the idea of using the bunker-busting B61-11 tactical nuclear weapon against underground nuclear targets. According to Hersh, the so-called nuclear option has caused much consternation among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who unsuccessfully attempted to remove it from consideration. Two sources tell Hersh that some senior officers and officials are considering resigning in protest if the use of nukes is not taken off the table.

A Pentagon advisor on the War on Terror sums up the White House's mindset thusly:
“[A]llowing Iran to have the bomb is not on the table. We cannot have nukes being sent downstream to a terror network. It’s just too dangerous.” He added, “The whole internal debate is on which way to go”—in terms of stopping the Iranian program. It is possible, the adviser said, that Iran will unilaterally renounce its nuclear plans—and forestall the American action. “God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.”
Hersh definitely has an uneven track record, but when he's right, he's usually dead on. The main problem with this article is its overwhelming dependence on anonymous sources. This may be understandable given the sensitivity of what Hersh is reporting, but after awhile you may start to wonder about the authenticity of what you're reading. I confess to being highly skeptical of the idea that the Administration is seriously considering using tactical nukes. Even if it makes military sense (which given the suspected underground nature of Iran's nuclear facilities it well might), from a public relations standpoint it is conceivably the worst possible idea in the world. As a former senior intelligence official tells Hersh, "we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit." No war has ever required the winning of hearts and minds throughout the world more than the Global War on Terror, and images of mushroom clouds and children with radiation poisoning would damage America's reputation perhaps irreparably. And, maybe even more importantly, nothing would create more jihadists whose only goal would be "death to America."

On the other hand, having senior officials "leak" the "fact" that the use of nukes is being seriously considered is a great piece of psyops if you want to scare the hell out of Iran and bring them to the bargaining table.

There's much, much more in Hersh's very long article. Read the whole thing, as somebody once said.

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