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And now, Iran
Neither repentant nor reflective, the White House takes aim at Iraq’s giant neighbor. Plus, boycotting Bush.

THE SAME PEOPLE who brought you the disastrously misguided war in Iraq are now setting their sights on Iran. According to a bone-chilling article by Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker, the Bush White House "has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer." The aim: learning as much as possible about Iran’s nuclear- and chemical-weapons capabilities in advance of a possible US-led assault. Even the rhetoric hasn’t changed. According to Hersh, the dreamers at the Pentagon believe that just a limited attack could lead to the collapse of Iran’s theocratic regime. Apparently they have learned nothing from those heady days leading up to the war in Iraq, when we were told that American troops would be greeted with hearts and flowers on the streets of Baghdad.

The shame of this is that Iran — unlike Iraq — really does represent a mortal threat to its neighbors in the Middle East, and beyond. Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was boxed in and weakened by war and a decade’s worth of sanctions, Iran — a far larger, more complex country — has, by most accounts, been developing nuclear weapons with impunity. Iran has long been a leading exporter of terrorism, and if the mullahs were to get their hands on nukes — a development that, by some estimates, could be just three to five years away — the very existence of Israel would be threatened. The efforts of European countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency to persuade Iran to abandon its weapons program have been entirely ineffective.

But, of course, the international community fears and distrusts the Bush administration, and it has every reason to. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al. bullied and blustered their way into the Iraq misadventure, exaggerating and distorting evidence of Iraq’s weapons capabilities, treating their critics with contempt, and mismanaging the war-cum-occupation in a way that has needlessly cost more than 1300 American troops their lives, as well as those of tens of thousands of Iraqis. Just last week it was revealed that the Bush administration has quietly abandoned its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the very reason we supposedly went to war in the first place.

Moreover, Bush’s focus on Iran is wrought with irony, and raises serious questions about the White House’s priorities. The president, in his 2002 State of the Union address, identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil" whose ties to terrorists could not be countenanced. Yet he chose to deal only with Iraq, the least threatening of the three. As for North Korea, which apparently possesses nuclear weapons and whose regime is among the most oppressive in the world, the Bush administration’s approach is to engage sporadically in multilateral negotiations that, so far, have led nowhere.

Perhaps that’s understandable. Still, Bush’s selectivity, seemingly shaped by little more than opportunism, is unnerving. For instance, on Tuesday the New York Times reported that the White House is quietly punishing eight Chinese companies for helping Iran to improve its ballistic missiles. The supposed middleman: the notorious A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program and a hero in his country. Since 9/11, Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, has been a vital ally in the US campaign against terrorism. Yet Pakistan, a nuclear power, is, by all accounts, considerably less stable than Iran, and is a redoubt for Afghanistan’s former Taliban government. Musharraf, who took power in a military coup, has barely escaped assassination on several occasions, and dares not take action against Khan. If Pakistan were to fall into the hands of a Taliban-like insurgency — a very real possibility — what is today an ally would suddenly pose a far greater threat than Iraq ever did, or than Iran currently does.

Make no mistake: based on what we know, Iran represents a real danger. But it’s hard to see how another Bush-led war would make the world a safer place. Quite the opposite.

FROM THE moment George W. Bush won his narrow, three-point victory over Senator John Kerry, he has, contrary to all evidence, claimed a mandate. Never mind that his winning margin was among the narrowest of any president who’d ever been returned to office. Never mind that polls show he has less public support than any re-elected president since Richard Nixon. Asked about mistakes he and his team have made in Iraq, Bush sneered to the Washington Post, "We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections." Now he is embarking upon a second term, determined to keep pushing his radical agenda upon a deeply divided country. This time, he even wants to dismantle Social Security.

What’s a true blue-state American to do? Here are two suggestions: 1) turn your back; and 2) save your money. Today — Thursday, January 20 — is Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, and it’s a day for Bush’s opponents to show how they feel. A group called Turn Your Back on Bush plans to demonstrate today by having its members do a silent 180 as the presidential motorcade passes by.

But there’s another, possibly more effective, movement afoot, and that’s to keep your wallet in your pocket until midnight Thursday night. The folks behind Not One Damn Dime Day have called for a national 24-hour boycott on consumer spending. "The object is simple," says an e-mail put together by the organizers. "Remind the people in power that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal; that they are responsible for starting it; and that it is their responsibility to stop it."

The campaign is unlikely to change the political climate, and it would be too bad if small merchants were the only ones to suffer for Bush’s sins. (Indeed, one of the organizers, Laura Carmen Arena, urges participants to make it up to those small businesses the day before or after the boycott.) Nevertheless, Not One Damn Dime Day is an intriguing idea. If it makes a dent in spending, perhaps Bush will be reminded that accountability isn’t something that comes only once every four years. Rather, it’s something that should happen every day.

For more information, visit www.notonedamndime.com

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: January 21 - 27, 2005
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