Cowboys Differ on Iran Attack

The reaction to the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report suggests that a showdown is shaping up within the U.S. power elite between two different sets of cowboys. On the one hand, there are the George W. Bush cowboys who want to expand their conquests from Afghanistan and Iraq into Syria and Iran. It’s a natural extension of the Manifest Destiny doctrine that underpinned the conquest of the “Wild West,” the annexation of almost half of Mexico’s territory in the 1840s, the “opening of Japan” resulting from gunboat diplomacy in 1854, the Marines’ overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, and the establishment of a colonial empire from the Pacific to the Caribbean following the Spanish-American War. Bush and Dick Cheney saw nothing wrong with the Vietnam War (except the possibility that they might be personally involved, since they had other priorities at the time). They really liked the first Gulf War, but were disappointed it didn’t conquer more. Thus Dubya told Mickey Herskowitz, a Houston Chronicle sports columnist helping ghostwrite his autobiography in 1999 that, “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade [Iraq]—if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it.”

On the other hand, there are the Jim Baker-type cowboys who question the feasibility of further conquest at this time, and want to lasso in their wayward buckaroo buddies and rowdy youngins before they get everybody into deeper horseshit in them foreign parts. The Baker cowboys are saying talk to the natives at least, smoke the peace-pipe if necessary, then ride off into the sunset leaving a fort or two behind proudly waving the tattered flag to help save face.

Dubya’s cowpokes say, “No, we don’t talk to the natives in those rich lands, overflowing with milk and honey and petroleum products, that God made for us.” Like a spirit-filled country parson, Bush declared (to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2003), “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” Solving that problem of course means making all of Southwest Asia U.S. and Israel-friendly.

(Here the concept of the “promised land,” a central theme in the Old Testament which envisions an Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates and deeply affects modern Zionism, nicely dovetails with the entitlement notion so long operative in American psychology and mythology. The Pilgrims felt God gave them the heathen Indians’ land, and even the most progressive American artists, such as Woody Guthrie —“this land is your land, this land is my land”—and Bruce Springsteen—“”I believe in a promised land”—draw on that powerful, ultimately religious concept. The twin myths of divine favor to the biblical Israelites and to the European settlers of America can easily enough in the whiskey-impacted cowboy mind produce the delusion that God wants a Yankee war on any oil-rich Muslim country. Especially after 9-11 because “they” attacked “us.”)

The Bush gang, backed up by an Israeli posse, says the Syrian and Iranian leaders are evil. Dick Cheney, real bold behind his 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun, has declared, “We don’t negotiate with evil. We defeat it.” (Especially in a canned-hunt situation.)
But the Baker cowboys respond, “Well sure they’re evil. They’re murderous heathens. But we have to at least parlay with some of them, if it keeps us god-fearing folks from getting massacred. That’s just common sense.”

The ISG doesn’t question the decision to invade Iraq, problematize its morality or acknowledge the humanity of the Iraqi resistance braves in the face of the Great White Father’s assault. It doesn’t say, “Pardners, you done wrong, and gotta be held to account.” They don’t want to deal with any of that history; they just want to move on. (Just like Rumsfeld deputy Paul Wolfowitz, who having disseminated so much disinformation to get Americans to back the assault on Iraq, dismissed the embarrassing collapse of the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as a merely “historical issue” just a few months after the crime had occurred.) These cowboys aren’t interested in going back and dredging up all that dirt, or questioning the need for the cavalry to stay in Iraq for ages to come. They just want the troops out of rifle range, as much as possible, so that the commonfolk back home don’t start forming a lynch mob marching on DC. That means asking the Syrians and Iranians to help out.
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That recommendation—that the U.S. in the context of a regional conference sit down and talk with those it wants to destroy—was the one most immediately and emphatically rejected by Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other top officials. That rejection is a strong indication that Dick Cheney continues to steer foreign policy assisted by neocon lieutenants such as Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser. From his undisclosed location, undaunted by abysmal popularity ratings, Cheney seems to keep Condi in line and on board the program, and during his weekly lunches with Bush encourages the cowboy president’s messianic vision of a Greater Middle East free of terrorism, dotted with U.S. bases “protecting” the oil fields, friendly with Israel, and affording infinite profit opportunities to U.S. corporations.

Notice how the neocons out of power (including Richard Perle and David Frum) who have recently criticized Bush for his failure to properly subdue Iraq have spared Cheney, no doubt because they see him as their real remaining ally and rock of support in the administration. He may not share their emotional connection to Israel, so central to the neocon movement, but like them he is committed to using U.S. force to refashion the Middle East. He thinks in terms of securing U.S. geopolitical advantage vis-à-vis other imperialist powers and rising capitalist China as the U.S. economy relatively declines. (The U.S. GDP this year for the first time lags behind that of the European Union.) His interests dovetail with those of the neocons, which is why he seeded the administration with them when he constructed Bush’s cabinet after the 2000 election.

As Robert Dreyfuss pointed out in the American Prospect in May 2006, Cheney sees China as the biggest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, if not the world: “For the Cheneyites, Middle East policy is tied to China, and in their view China’s appetite for oil makes it a strategic competitor to the United States in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, they regard the control of the Gulf as a zero-sum game. They believe that the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf states have combined to check China’s role in the region. In particular, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a pro-American regime in Baghdad was, for at least 10 years before 2003, a top neoconservative goal, one that united both the anti-China crowd and far-right supporters of Israel’s Likud. Both saw the invasion of Iraq as the prelude to an assault on neighboring Iran.”

The administration still adheres to its New American Century game plan of toppling the Syrian and Iranian regimes, despite the Iraqi disaster. The “Office of Iranian Affairs,” a successor of the “Office of Special Plans” that prepared the disinformation campaign leading into the Iraq War, occupies the same Pentagon offices as it predecessor and is headed by the same Machiavellian psy-ops specialist Abram Shulsky. John Dean, among others, predicts an assault on Iran next year, following the predictable failure of the UN Security Council to satisfy U.S. demands for harsh sanctions on Iran. A watered-down UNSC resolution will be cited as an international justification for preemptive action, which will blow away the Iranian leadership and produce some sort of friendly Iranian regime. Meanwhile Syria, blamed for political assassinations in Lebanon and support for “terrorist” Hizbollah will also feel Bush’s terrible swift sword.

That’s all impossible, many rational people say. These may include members of the Iraq Study Group, but their report—a shot across the bow of the Office of Iranian Affairs—indicates, it seems to me, some genuine alarm that the president is out to do the impossible, with more disastrous results. Surely they, and administration officials as well, are worried that an Iran attack could produce some embarrassments, like the resignations of high-level military officers. It could produce some seriously painful measures by China, which owns much of the U.S. national debt, and Russia. It would certainly intensify the already soaring anti-U.S. feelings felt throughout the world, and maybe even jeopardize the emerging alliance with aspiring superpower India. But those who brought us the Iraq War have enormous confidence in themselves and the power of their heroic will, which they think can create a whole new reality for generations to come. They feel that more aggression in Southwest Asia—even if it sows chaos, draws Iran’s Revolutionary Guards into the Iraqi conflict, and generates another war between Israel and Hizbollah and its Lebanese allies—is necessary soon, under the current sympathetic president, lest the bold project be lost entirely.

Some suggest that the expansion of the war is inevitable given the internal logic of capitalist imperialism. But clearly many thoroughly invested in the system find the neocons nuts. They want to head them off before they with some of their Christian fundamentalist allies in tow produce an apocalyptic scenario. Baker, Hamilton & Co. seem to doubt that the system’s best served at this point by attacking Syria and Iran, and are deliberating provoking discussion about the wisdom of the near-future, planned stages of the neocon project. If that’s happening at the level of the ruling class, isn’t there an even greater basis for the antiwar movement to agitate against an expanding war? The greatest deterrent of all would be Cheney’s expectation that an assault on Iran might lead a politically informed American people to pour out into the streets as the attack gets underway, denouncing it, informing the world that we reject it and those who planned it and demand regime change right here.

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I’ve been accused of spinning a “conspiracy theory” because I connect the dots between Cheney, the neocons, the Office of Special Plans and the campaign to make war on Iraq. I’m really not a conspiracy theorist, but if I were one, I’d have to bring up the issue of Mary Cheney’s pregnancy. Just bear with me.

On October 26, 1965, the Selective Service listed constraints on drafting childless married men. Cheney was then classified as 1-A , “available for service.” Cheney, who had been married to his wife Lynn for fourteen months, may have been influenced by this policy change to think seriously about parenthood. Daughter Elizabeth was born nine months later on July 28, 1966. Cheney applied for and received a 3-A classification, his fifth and final draft deferment (following marriage and education deferments) during the Vietnam era when, as he has stated, he “had other priorities” than going to war.

Elizabeth, married to General Counsel of the Department of Homeland Security Philip Perry, is now Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and sitting directly atop the spooky “Office of Iranian Affairs” inhabiting the Office of Special Plans’ former offices in the Pentagon and headed by Machiavellian disinformation artist Abram Shulsky. (Such an irony that a child born out of a man’s earnest desire to avoid the battlefield should be assigned to help him later in life rain down terror upon Iran.) Lynn’s a powerful figure too, having spent seven years on Lockheed Corporation’s board of directors, and serving as a “fellow” at the American Enterprise Institutute for Public Policy Research. She founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group that monitors American academia and in November 2001 issued a report entitled Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It. The whole family is nasty, and Mary’s being a lesbian and pregnant doesn’t get her off the hook. She was public relations manager for Coors Brewing Co., for god’s sakes. She was director of vice-presidential operations in the 2004 campaign. She’s an AOL executive. But because she’s a lesbian, and the Christian right hates lesbianism (the sin if not the sinner), she might receive sympathy from Americans who are liberal (or rational) on gay-lesbian issues. And who are also, antiwar and anti-Bush/Cheney.

So maybe Vice President Cheney, who’s gotten women pregnant before to save his skin, might not have said to Mary, some months back, “Why don’t you and your life partner Heather have a baby?” It makes the whole family seem so much more human, and complicated. So many have the stereotype of Cheney as the man who opposed the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa because he considered him a “terrorist” working with communists. A man who, while thoroughly callous when it comes to the well-being of South African blacks or Iraqi civilians, is filled with self-righteousness, telling the world “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.” A man dripping with corporate greed, ruthlessly pursuing his goals, repeating bald-faced lies every step of the way. A man actively planning an assault on Iran as we speak. But a man who supports and defends his gay daughter, expressing his own family values. Couldn’t such a man, whose popularity is at rock bottom, benefit should it be known that in this Christmas season his daughter Mary is pregnant, and that he rejoices?

Cheney publicly disagrees with the president’s position on gay marriage. Can you think of any other issue on which the two men publicly differ? And this isn’t just any issue; it might have been the one that won the 2004 election, skillfully managed by Karl Rove. So it was significant that Bush and Cheney differed on it. Highly significant too that the president just told the press: “I think Mary is going to be a loving soul to her child. And I’m happy for her.” That was a little risky for Bush. His hard-right Christian fundamentalist base, reeling from the revelation that yet another prominent Colorado preacher man has had a history of man-to-man sin, wasn’t real pleased with it. It put Bush on record as saying, I’m not that homophobic. I’ll bet he did it out of deference to Cheney, the man still calling the shots, and Cheney’s family situation.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that the report of the “virgin birth” of the Komodo dragon in the British zoo comes out just as Mary’s pregnancy hits the front pages. The Komodo dragon fertilized her own eggs; some lizards have evolved in such a way that they can do that. A female lizard can produce young without a male (and still be a good mother). A zoologist on NPR stated that by his calculations the earliest likely date for the lizards to hatch is Dec. 25.

Mary Cheney’s special pregnancy. Virgin Mary’s giving birth at Christmas. A lizard virgin birth on that same day. How likely is all this a coincidence?
Ok. I confess I’ve just playing with your mind. I don’t believe Cheney encouraged Mary to get pregnant, or planted the Komodo dragon story in the press, or wants to steer the administration away from its Christian right base towards more gay-friendly stances in order to acquire a reputation for fairness and reason as it plans to attack Iran. I just believe that Cheney still shapes the cowboy mind in Washington, his violent amoral proclivities touched by ordinary family sentiments, to which he’s asked the homophobic Commander-in-Chief to please attach himself. Bush’s public happiness for Mary might be simultaneously a testimony that he is happy to leave the big decisions for his administration, as before, with Uncle Dick.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

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Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: