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King of the world

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Are you paying attention? Now it's Iran that is harboring terrorists. And building nuclear weapons. And developing biological and chemical weapons. And, says the Bush administration, Iran is stirring up trouble in Iraq.

                  The drumbeat is quickening: Iran needs a regime change.

                  Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that "hard-liners" in the administration "have been arguing for several months that the US should adopt a more confrontational stance toward Iran."

                  The Associated Press reported that some members of Congress --- Democrats as well as Republicans --- say Iran's government should be replaced. California Democrat Jane Harman says Iran is "more of a clear and present danger than Iraq last year."

                  The official word is that the US will try to bring about regime change through diplomacy. But several news media, quoting anonymous sources, say the administration plans to use covert action to destabilize the religious leaders who control much of what happens in Iran. The administration is said to be considering working with an organization called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq --- which the US itself has listed as a terrorist group.

Well, why worry? The Bush people are privy to information we worker bees don't have. Who are we to second-guess them?

                  There's plenty of reason to be suspicious of the administration's saber rattling, though. Americans may have a short attention span, but surely we remember the build-up to the war against Iraq --- the insistence that Iraq was harboring terrorists and building weapons of mass destruction, the dissension in the administration.

                  Surely we've noticed that we have found no weapons of mass destruction. Surely it is a shock that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now suggests that maybe Saddam had destroyed them. (And we thought we attacked Iraq because we were certain that he hadn't destroyed them --- and wouldn't.)

                  And surely we're noticing the charges that the administration played fast and loose with evidence about the Iraqi threat.

                  Those reports have been published in a variety of US and British media. And New YorkTimes columnistNicholas Kristof wrote last week that he has gotten "a torrent of covert communications from indignant spooks who say that administration officials leaned on them to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and deceive the public."

                  A retired State Department staffmember charged that the Bush administration "was grossly distorting the intelligence" on both the Al Qaeda-Iraqi link and nuclear weapons, said Kristof.

                  "The outrage among the intelligence professionals is so widespread," wrote Kristof, "that they have formed a group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, that wrote to President Bush this month to protest what it called 'a policy and intelligence fiasco of monumental proportions.'"

                  Nothing about Iran is settled yet, apparently. According to the Wall Street Journal, some administration officials dispute Rumsfeld's contention that Iran is protecting Al Qaeda members. And there seems to be a division between the diplomacy-seeking State Department and the fist-shaking Donald Rumsfeld. We remember who won that argument in the case of Iraq, however.

                  We've known for years that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. We knew he had murdered his own people. We knew it before we began finding the mass graves; we knew it before we launched our attack in March.

                  Maybe, if our victory holds, Iraqis will be grateful to us for bringing about their regime change. But Saddam's brutality wasn't the reason the Bush administration gave for the war.

                  And regarding Iran: Maybe the region would be more stable, and the Iranian people more secure, with a different government. But who should make that decision? The US? And in what other countries is a regime change needed?

                  Who will pay for these efforts? And how do we weigh the need for regime change against fighting hunger in Africa, or finding paths to peace not only in the Middle East but also in places like the Congo?

                  The vision keeps popping up in my mind of Donald Rumsfeld as madman, shaping the United States into a monster, building the US military into his personal strike force --- and deliberately crippling crucial domestic programs in the process.

                  I'm trying to keep that vision out of my mind. But it's getting harder by the day.

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