“Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” began in 1918 as a comic strip featuring unusual, hard-to-believe facts from around the world. Today it is a Web site for a global community that combs cyberspace for events so strange and unusual it is often hard to believe they are taking place. These days, you don’t have to go further afield than Washington, D.C.
The neo-conservatives (neocons) who gave us the “cakewalk” prediction for Iraq before the war are now plugging “a walk in the park” in Iran — i.e., a U.S. bombing campaign to consign the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions to oblivion, or at least to retard the advent of an Iranian bomb for a few years, hoping that in the interim good democrats would rise up and send the clerics and their Revolutionary Guards packing.
Two Washington-based representatives of a global Fortune 100 company told their visiting senior executive this week a bombing campaign of Iran’s nuclear facilities “is inevitable while Mr. Bush is in the White House.” The incredulous CEO thought his Washington eyes and ears were overstating the case. They assured him they were deadly serious.
Leading neocon Richard Perle, who led the intellectual charge for the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, believes two B-2 bombers, each with 16 independently targeted weapons systems, could punch out Iran’s nuclear lights. No Air Force expert we could find agreed. But the Pentagon’s Air Force generals believe it can be done — and successfully — with a much larger operation, including five nights of bombing, some 400 aim points, 75 requiring deep penetration ordnance. Time magazine estimates 1,500 such aim points, or “viable targets,” related to Iran’s widely scattered nuclear development complex. The Navy, with its carrier task forces and ship-launched cruise missiles, does not share the same degree of certainty.
No one has worked more assiduously for military action than Michael Ledeen, a neocon field marshal, who writes frequently about the “horrors” of Iran’s mullahocracy. His National Review Online commentary Nov. 1 was headlined “Delay.” Mr. Ledeen has grown impatient over Mr. Bush’s dangerous postponement of what he considers inevitable. “If the president knows Iran is waging war on us,” wrote Mr. Ledeen, “he is obliged to respond; the only appropriate question is about the method, not the substance. If he does not know, then he should remove those officials who were obliged to tell him, and get some people who will tell the truth.”
The truth has become an increasingly rare commodity in Washington. Mr. Ledeen concludes the president knows the truth, but thinks he may lack the political capital to directly challenge the mullahs. More likely, Mr. Bush’s thinking has changed when confronted by the intelligence community’s assessment of Iran’s retaliatory capabilities. They are described as “formidable.” These include mining the Strait of Hormuz, the channel for two-fifths of the world’s oil traffic, which would send oil prices skyrocketing to $200 per barrel almost overnight.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., headed his country’s intelligence service for 25 years. He warns that an attack against Iran would turn “the whole Persian Gulf into an inferno of exploding fuel tanks and shot-up facilities.” Earlier this month, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards test-fired dozens of missiles, including the long-range Shahab-3 (1,242 miles), Shahab-2 (cluster warhead of 1,400 bomblets), solid-fuel Zalzals, Zolfaghar73, Z-3, and SCUD-Bs, all timed to follow by two days the completion of U.S.-led allied naval maneuvers in the Gulf that Tehran described as “adventurist.” Warships from Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Bahrain and the U.S. participated.
Dubbed “Great Prophet,” Iran’s 10-day war games were designed “to show our deterrent and defensive power to trans-regional enemies, and we hope they will understand the message,” said Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi.
Iran also has control over Hezbollah whose terrorist arm has already reached all the way to Argentina (in the mid-1990s) and whose sleeper cells, from Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields where Shi’ites are the majority, to North America, are still feigning sleep.
Russia and China have made clear they will not be part of any tough sanction regime against Iran. They both have strong commercial ties to Iran. Tehran is paying Russia $700 million for 29 air defense missile systems. China signed a 10-year, $100 billion oil deal with Iran.
What the neocons dismiss as the “nervous nellies” of the intelligence community may have slipped in to President Bush’s morning brief a subversive quote or two from conservative historian Paul Johnson, e.g., “Statesmen should never plunge into the future … without first examining what guidance the past could supply?”
Mr. Ledeen, who acts as spokesman for Iran’s suppressed democratic forces, says, “The first step is to embrace the unpleasant fact that we are at war with Iran, and it is long past time to respond.” The Iraqi debacle, along with the fading image of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower, as well as of Israel as the regional superpower, evidently persuaded President Bush to further disappoint the neocons. The Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton wanted neocon idol Donald Rumsfeld replaced as defense secretary before going public with their findings.
The new defense secretary, former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, a close friend of Mr. Baker, and also a member of ISG, has long favored direct talks with “Axis of Evil” charter member Iran. Mr. Baker, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Gates are now on the same wavelength. They believe bombing Iran would be an unmitigated disaster for U.S. interests the world over. The alternative is to explore a geopolitical deal with a country that has legitimate security interests.
The neocons’ ideas for a walk in the Iranian park are still very much alive in Israel, whose very existence has been threatened by the mullahocracy. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will make clear to Mr. Bush today during a White House visit that Israel is not prepared to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.