- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2007

Journalism of verification in the blogosphere has been displaced by a journalism of assertion where rumors become facts and facts are censored by omission. Hardly surprising then that 200 million Americans, two-thirds of the population, concede they don’t understand foreign policy issues. And only one third say they understand major domestic issues.

Jay Leno’s jaywalking interviews confirm these higher and lower percentages. With 80 million blogs and more than 1 billion people now online, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort factoid from fact and truth from untruth.

Today, all you need to become an online know-it-all is a Web site, a blog and an attitude. Creative reporting is the new genre. And you achieve instant mass readership by turning your darkest suspicions into reality.

No wonder newspapers are losing readers and advertising revenue — and shedding domestic and foreign bureaus. Newspapers are dull next to the fantasy lucubrations dished out as hard news, or an unconfirmed front-page report next to the hard “fact” moving through the blogosphere courtesy of electronic tools that ensure mass diffusion.

A conservative journalist, speaking at a think tank meeting, said he hoped President Bush would order the bombing of Iran in his last few days at the White House in January 2009. Iranian retaliation? “The Iranians are already attacking us in Iraq,” he responded matter-of-factly. The bombs-away-over-Iran advocates are unfazed by Iran’s retaliatory capabilities. They dismiss a wider conflict, much the way the way they portrayed a cakewalk in Iraq.

But “What World War III May Look Like” is already a cyber favorite. Picture a minor incident involving a U.S. Marine patrol operating out of the new base at Badrah on the Iranian border, posits former CIA operative Philip Giraldi.

Superior Iranian forces claim the Americans strayed inside Iranian territory, and surround the Marines. They refuse to surrender and open fire. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (which the Senate branded an “international terrorist group”) return fire. Helicopter gunships are called in and artillery fire is directed at Iranian military targets. Mr. Bush calls it an act of war and, in an emotional speech to the nation, orders U.S. forces into action.”

The rest of the scenario has a plausible ring. The U.N. Security Council votes 17-1 (U.S. veto) urging restraint. In the U.N. General Assembly, only the United States., Israel, Micronesia and Costa Rica support Mr. Bush’s decision.

Overwhelming U.S. air and naval superiority destroy Iran’s principal air, naval and army bases. Revolutionary Guard facilities are obliterated, as are known nuclear research and development sites. Population centers are avoided, though smart weapons destroy communications centers and command and control facilities. But there are still large numbers of civilian casualties and widespread radioactive contamination as many targeted sites are in or near population centers.

The U.S. media, which had (by and large) backed the administration’s plans to engage Iran, rallies round the flag, praising the surgical strikes designed to cripple Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

No sooner do the Pentagon and the White House call the attacks a complete success than Iran strikes back. With five years to prepare, Iran has hidden and hardened many military and nuclear facilities. A large percentage of them are undamaged.

The aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower operating in the Gulf is hit by a Chinese Silkworm cruise missile. Three other support vessels are also hit and are severely damaged when attacked by small craft manned by suicide bombers. Pro-Iranian riots break out in Beirut. Lebanese soldiers open fire at the crowds. In the south of Lebanon, Hezbollah fires salvoes of rockets into Israel. The Israeli Air Force responds by bombing Lebanon and Syria. Iranian Shahab-3 missiles also strike Israel, killing a number of civilians. The Israeli Defense Force is mobilized. Syria and Lebanon also mobilize.

Baghdad rioters attack U.S. troops. Insurgency mortar shells hit the U.S. Embassy. Snipers attack U.S. soldiers all over Iraq. Shi’ite oil workers sabotage Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields. Hundreds of alleged saboteurs are shot dead by Saudi security forces. An oil tanker hits a mine in the Strait of Hormuz. Oil tops $200 a barrel. Wall Street suffers its biggest loss in 20 years. The Dow plummets more than 800 points.

The U.S. offers Iran a cease-fire. Iran rejects it. Tehran orders the assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistan‘s Pervez Musharraf flees to Dubai. Pakistan’s tribal areas that shelter Osama bin Laden declare their independence. U.S. troops fight their way out of Baghdad with heavy casualties. Rioters in Basra cut the main roads to Kuwait that supply U.S. forces.

And it’s downhill from there. Anti-U.S. Pakistani forces seize control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. NATO’s European forces in Afghanistan disengage from what they say is now a civil war. Taliban reconquers Kabul. The Shia Afghan north and Mazar-I-Sharif secedes to join Iran. Waves of Iranian troops cross into Iraq where they are greeted by Iraqi militias. Shi’ite clerics take over the government in Baghdad. U.S. troops fight their way back into their bases.

A Hezbollah-led coalition takes over in Beirut. Iranian Silkworm missiles set Saudi’s eastern oil fields ablaze. The Saudi monarchy declares its neutrality and pledges not to assist the U.S. Kuwait and Egypt follow suit.

In Bahrain, rampaging Shi’ite crowds depose “King” Sheik Khalifa, establish an Islamic Republic and demand the U.S. 5th Fleet dismantle its headquarters and go home. The Dow Jones loses another 1,000 points.

China and Russia refuse U.S. requests for mediation. Suicide bombers attack London, Washington, New York and Los Angeles. The attacks are poorly planned and produce few casualties, but panic sets in. The White House tells Iran’s theocracy to cease and desist or nukes will be used on select targets. Tehran refuses.

Israel is shelled from Lebanon and Syria. Rioting rocks the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas flees to Cairo. The U.S. drops a neutron-type bomb on Iran’s nuclear center at Natanz, already bombed and destroyed.

Defiant Iran fires volleys of Silkworms at U.S. ships. Russia and China place their nuclear forces on high alert. Pakistan’s religious extremists, backed by radical elements in the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, occupy parliament. India launches a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan’s suspected nuclear centers. But the nukes are elsewhere and Pakistan strikes back — bombing New Delhi.

At this point, World War III is under way — or World War IV, as the neoconservatives now call what we’re already in against al Qaeda. World War III, for them, was the Cold War.

Those hoping Mr. Bush will bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before he leaves office should think again.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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