News You Can Use*…

(…*To Inspire You To Hide Under Your Bed Until Jan. 21, 2009)

 This must-read report just in from the New Yorker‘s “This Would Be Funny If It Wasn’t So Fucking Scary” Department: “Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush administration steps up its secret moves against Iran” by the ever-vigilant Seymour Hersh.

 Hersch writes:

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.

This may sound like generically scary Bush warmongering, but it’s actually so much more. The story combines “Hey, remember when we used to secretly fund Bin Laden and the Taliban? Wow, that really came back to bite us in the ass” irony, “Remember back when we used covert operations to destabilize various governments in South America? Yeah, a lot of people got killed over that” insanity, “I’m not so sure that the Gulf of Tonkin incident wasn’t total bullshit” suspicion, “Dick Cheney might just be the worst person in the world” cunning, and the Bush administration’s usual bitter cocktail of ineptitude, terrible ideas, executive overreaching, and lack of respect for democracy and/or the other branches of government. Excited to read it yet?

 Clandestine operations against Iran are not new… But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Reportedly, these new operations involve funding and aiding an all-star team of dissident groups inside Iran, including: Sunni fundamentalist Baluchis (1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are both Baluchi Sunnis); the Jundallah, or Iranian People’s Resistance Movement (“A vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists.”); the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (which the State Department officially classifies as a terrorist group); and the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (a separatist group allegedly responsible for attacks against Turkey, our strategic ally and a member of NATO). Of course, we all remember that getting into bed with folks like that has resulted in the occasional unintended consequence (see also: the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein). Perhaps it is no coincidence then, that even the tightly controlled Iranian media has reported a dramatic surge in violence within the country over the past few months.

Hersh goes on to discuss a smorgasbord of Bush/Cheney hi-jinks, such as intentionally blurring the line between clandestine military activity (which falls under the President’s job description as Commander-in-Chief) and covert intelligence operations (which call for congressional oversight) so as to avoid–you guessed it–congressional oversight. Then there is the degradation of military chain of command by the administration in order to marginalize pesky people like former CENTCOM commander Admiral William “Fox” Fallon who persist with administration pet peeves like responsibility, nuance, cogent strategy, and diplomacy, and shun Bush’s favorite quality: blind, unquestioning loyalty. (You can read a great profile on Fallon here.)

Those who thought Bush would totter sheepishly through his last six months are sorely mistaken. The administration (Cheney in particular) still has a hard-on for confrontation with Iran, and they’re apparently going to push it as far as they can. The possibility of Obama being elected also lends a sense of urgency to their desperate effort to escalate tension with the Islamic Republic. Perhaps Bush is trying to bring his administration full circle and end it the way it began: a government handout followed by an ill-advised war in the Middle East. Maybe narrative arc is the only thing they can do well.

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