Attack Against Iran Unlikely
I know it goes against the conventional wisdom in the center-left blogosphere, but I don’t think the Bush Administration plans to attack Iran before it leaves office. Sure, Bush and Cheney will talk a tough game with hollow rhetoric about “World War III” and never allowing Iran to have a nuke, all as part of a testosterone offensive aimed at telling the Iranians not to take us lightly. But CENTCOM doesn’t want a war, and Gates would never allow Fallon to come out and talk against the administration if a war was actually being prepared. And Fallon would never allow himself to be used and his integrity trashed as part of a Cheney misdirection attempt. Pace, yes, and Richard Myers, sure; they allowed themselves to be used. But Fallon? No.
Contrary to what others say in the netroots, I think that Bush is on the verge of achieving major gains in foreign policy on his way out the door, if he is only willing to snatch victory from the jaws of Cheney defeat. Bush was able to rescue Turkey from its own rhetoric about an attack against the Kurds inside Iraq, by agreeing to give Erdogan intelligence about PKK locations, something we should have been doing all along. And I suspect that before it is over, Bush will find a way to get Musharraf to steady himself and go ahead with elections while gradually lessening the chaos that Bush and Musharraf have created inside Pakistan. Bush is on the verge of getting a victory with North Korea; yes, a victory he could have had years ago without lying to the world about Pyongyang’s nonexistent uranium program, and without allowing them to sell plutonium nukes with Pakistani help right under his nose, but a victory nonetheless. Being the world's lone superpower allows even a man who has carried out the most reckless and inept foreign policy of the last fifty years to rescue himself.
Bush can still achieve some consequential results with Iran and Iraq, if he is only willing to seize those opportunities. CENTCOM has released detained Iranians of late, and obtained assurances from the Quds Force that they will stop arming Shiite militias, all after the administration slapped sanctions upon the Revolutionary Guards that didn’t go as far as Kyl-Lieberman did. It’s possible that Fallon and Petraeus, if left to their own devices with Ambassador Crocker, could fashion a deal with Iran and other neighboring states to gradually ratchet down tensions and build a regional security agreement with the Saudis and the Turks that could allow for a major drawdown of our forces in 2008.
This may sound pie-in-the-sky to many of you, and you can accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid if you wish. But Bush and Cheney’s goal all along was to create the environment for a permanent American military presence in the region on top of oil supplies, and the ability for American force to be projected against terrorism and to control that oil. This can be achieved with far less than the stationing 160,000 American troops inside Iraq for the next decade, despite any “Korea model” talk from this administration whose only intention is to send a message that we will not abandon our friends in the region. If Bush allows Crocker, Petraeus, and Fallon the latitude over the next several months to each work at their level with peers in the region unobstructed by the Cheney cabal towards a regional framework, then we could all be surprised by a Bush “legacy moment” next year.
Is this likely as things stand right now? No, given the track record of this administration. But the fact that Gates allows Fallon to speak out against an attack against Iran and to pointedly challenge weeks of White House rhetoric as being unhelpful tells me that Bush cares more about his legacy than we assume he does.