Wednesday, April 26, 2006

PNAC, PNAC. Who's There? Iran. Iran Who? Iran Away From The IAEA and There's Nothing You Can Do About It.

Iran is rattling sabers this morning. Nothing terribly new there, or is there? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is threatening to take Iran's nuclear project underground (figuratively, literally that's where much of it already is in order to avoid bombing attack) and Iran Focus is reporting that "Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a direct threat at the United States on Wednesday, saying that it would 'harm' American interests all over the world if an attack was launched against its nuclear installations, state television reported." The problem is not the threats, but the likelihood that they feel comfortable enough to possibly go through with them with the US completely bogged down in Iraq.

And things were looking so good in Iran not so long ago. We had figures like Mohammed Khatami who was the voice for a new generation of Iranians for whom the revolution was a chapter of history. Significant democratic reforms seemed imminent. Relations between the US and Iran were beginning to thaw. There was so much promise. Now the country is ruled by the hard-line ultra-conservative Ahmadinejad, is, or is about to be, a nuclear power, and is threatening to make $3/gallon gas look cheap. How did we get from point A to point B in so little time?

Part of the answer surely is comes from Khatami failing to deliver on big campaign promises. Despite a few head to heads with the old guard controlled Guardian Council -- many of which he lost -- major social changes didn't occur. But the international surely was as important as the domestic. Nothing helped the Iranian conservatives more than the American conservatives. In the 90's, when America could not be easily portrayed as the Great Satan, the pull of the clerics was diminished. When my cousin visited her in-laws in Tehran during this period, she found them, literally, doing the Macarena. But now, it is quite easy to redraw the old cartoon of America and have it pass as a portrait. The hatred is back and we have the neo-conservatives, in large part, to thank.

When George H. W. Bush replaced Ronald Reagan, he brought in his own people. He replaced many of the names we see today with a group that has come to be known as the "realists." Where Reagan's people saw the military as a tool of foreign policy to be freely used in places like Panama and Granada, Bush's people like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell saw the military differently. Their picture was that the military ought to be used only when necessary; before committing troops, there must be a clear plan for going in, doing what needed to be done, and getting out; the military would go in heavy "with a big footprint" of overwhelming force and then get the hell out. The Reagan people had other ideas.

While on the outs, especially through the Clinton years, they organized themselves into a group called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Their founding figures are now household names: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, and our current ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. When Cheney was appointed the chair of the committee to find a vice-presidential running mate for George W. Bush, the return to power of this group was all but assured. All that needed to happen was for G.W. to be installed in the White House.

The group included Francis Fukuyama who argued that liberal democracy had triumphed over all other political systems and that there was an emerging consensus about this across the globe. Like Hegel and Marx, who posited an "end of history," Fukuyama saw liberal democracy as the ultimate resting point towards which we as a planet were moving. The idea was simple. People want to be like the US, if we simply eliminate the obstacles, it will happen on its own. The central PNAC picture would be to eliminate authoritarian rulers, allow democracy to spontaneously appear, with it would come free market economies. This would be aided by our major corporations who would be part of the plan so that they would be right there on the ground behind the troops to provide the necessary technologies to bring the occupied country up to speed. They would have immediate access to the market and be able to corner it before anyone else stepped in. Democracy would spread and US based corporations would rake in HUGE profits. What could be better?

The only question was how to get rid of those pesky governments already in place. For this, we needed to reshape our military. No longer the 800 pound gorilla, it would become a cobra. No heavy footprint that required a lot of logistics and time, it would be quick, silent, and lethal. The rules against assassination would be lifted, special forces elevated, covert operations made easily available for foreign policy use. As soon as Bush Jr. was sworn in the changes started. Rumsfeld began working on transforming the military, Cheney began working on dismantling the standard diplomatic means, and Iraq was put immediately on the table as the first domino that would tip. It was easily vilified, it was under sanctions and so had a weak military that didn't require concern, and it had some of the largest petroleum reserves in the world.

Once Iraq was converted, every nation in the world would have two choices: fall behind us or fall because of us. You were in or out; and if you were out, you would soon be out. It would lead to American hegemony and any nation that was seen as a potential rival in power was seen as an enemy. Domestically, the quick victory with few casualties would win over the public. There would be none of the Viet Nam style pictures of coffins coming back and anti-war sentiment could be easily branded as anti-American because this would not be a protracted war, but the taking out of a dictator who opposed democracy and, after all, everyone loves a winner. If war could be waged with all the patriotic hoopla and none of the sacrifice, it could be easily sold. Inside and out, the world would have to follow the neo-cons. The 21st century would be the American Century.

And so we invaded. When Army General Eric Shinseki suggested that several hundred thousand troops on the ground would be necessary to secure Iraq after an invasion, he was immediately attacked in the media by PNAC founders Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and pressured out of the job into retirement. That many troops was old school, this was PNAC time. It would be done quickly with fanfare, embedded media for PR, and...

The spokesman had to sell the new branding. We needed the President to draw the line between us and them. He needed to use phrases like "us vs. them," "you are with us or against us," "dead or alive." Black and white language would mirror a distrust of diplomacy. We talk with our fists, so that we don't need to talk much. The initial group of targets would be set out as an "Axis of Evil."

But there were two main problems. First, the world did not fall in line. Europe -- old Europe, at least -- and much of the rest of the globe saw exactly what the plan was (of course, it was posted on their website, so this was not really very difficult) and didn't like it. Second, things in Iraq didn't quite shake out as planned. The result was a one-two punch to US foreign policy interests: on the one hand, the countries we most worry about perceive a pressing threat to their own well-being and feel the need for the most powerful weapons to defend themselves, on the other hand, with the US mired in Iraq, they see that we are virtually powerless to stop them.

And now, instead of having everyone cowering at our feet, they are laughing in our faces. By being school yard bullies, we have legitimized all the other school yard bullies. We taunted instead of talking and now we are getting taunted back. We're like the wide receiver who spikes the ball and does his in-your-face touchdown dance only to realize that he never really made it into the end zone, but spiked the ball on the 5 yard line. When Iran approached the US to discuss the situation under the former president Khatami with whom we surely could have done business, Dick Cheney's response was "We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it." General Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff said "The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran." PNAC made our bed and now we are laying in it. Damn shame the pillow is radioactive.