Wednesday, May 23, 2007

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Context is everything

I have two reactions to this ABC News Blotter post:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region....

The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community....

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.

"Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike," said former CIA official Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides."....

The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.

Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.

"I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow," Nasr said.

On the one hand, of course the CIA should be doing this kind of thing. Iran's current regime -- whether of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-let's-wipe-Israel-off-the-face-of-the-map-crazy variant or the Ali Kamenei let's-act-in-a-more-prudent-fashion-to-establish-our-regional-hegemony-and-then-wipe-Israel-off-the-map variant -- clearly respresent a challenge to U.S. interests in the region (Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, etc.). It's natural for the U.S. to pursue covert policies to encourage a new regime in a country who's populace is pretty pro-American.

On the other hand, I have four qualms with this:

a) The CIA has a mixed track record at best when it comes to peaceful regime change. And the agency's particularly baleful history in Iran means the deck is already stacked against ay success.

b) Look, maybe I'm biased by past events, but I simply don't trust the Bush administration to competently manage this kind of operation. Any other administration, the fallout from a failed attempt would be contained. With this administration, I can't help but think that a failed attempt would have regional implications. The fact that current personnel are blabbing to the press also suggests to me that there isn't unanimity on this, which lowers the odds of success.

c) If I have to choose between a 20% chance at regime change (I'm being generous) or an 80% chance of Iran's current regime agreeing to suspend its nuclear weapons program (equally generous), I'll take the latter option. For that option to succeed, the CIA can't be doing this kind of thing (or, at the vey least, be so fractious that ABC can report about it).

d) The timing of this news story could not be worse for Haleh Esfandiari. It actually gives Ahmadinejad a rhetorical leg to stand on.

So, in the abstract, I'd have no problem with this kind of intelligence finding. In the here and now, yeah, I've got big problems with it.

posted by Dan on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM


It looks like you are pinning the failings of the CIA on the Bush administration. If the administration has one major problem here, it is in not taking control of the CIA. The CIA’s complete inability to keep a secret should be a sign. This leak has also reduced the probability of success of regime change in Iran.

Your percentages are way off too because you have not included all the options. Maybe:
20% chance of regime change occasioned by US efforts;
50% chance of an Israeli preemptive strike;
10% chance of a U.S. preemptive strike;
5% chance of suspension of the program by the current Iranian regime (generous); and
15% chance of an Israeli retaliatory nuclear strike.

Oh and a 100% chance that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons that the House of Saud will follow. They didn’t pump billions into the Pakistani program for nothing.

Look at the list and pick the best outcome for the US and the region. The US should work toward the best outcome while preparing for the worst.

posted by: BlueOx on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

I agree with BlueOx - why in the world do you think there's an 80% chance of the Iranians suspending their nuclear program? And who thinks that it's *not* part of American policy to try and effect a regime change in Iran? Surely the Iranians already think so - they are our enemies, right?

posted by: Michael Simpson on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

a) You may very well be correct on this.
b) Are you serious? There is never unanimity on any policy position by any individual under any circumstance. There is always blabbing to the press. You really think a failed attempt by the Carter administration, or Reagan administration, or Clinton administration, wouldn't have 'regional implications,' and that ONLY a failed attempt by the Bush administration would have 'regional implications?'
Summary: this whole point is ridiculous.
c)Support the previous two posters: you've defined options incorrectly, and haven't included all options.
d) Bah. If this came out at any time over the last four years, it would have similar implications. This is just rhetoric.

Thus, you're probably 25% right.


posted by: Sk on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

"who's populace is pretty pro-American."


--‘Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?’ Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS’ The News Hour. ‘There is no question but that they would be welcomed,‘ Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces.”--

--William Eustis, the U.S. Secretary for War declared:"We can take the Canadas without soldiers, we have only to send officers into the province and the people . . . will rally round our standard."--

there's a big difference between not being a fan of your country's government and just cheering on the actions of another government as they attempt to overthrow your own government.

And the no of iranians who want to swap the torture chambers run by the iranian goverment for the torture chambers run by the US government will be pretty low.

posted by: KB on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

I hope Iran is developing its counter-attack strategy. we all know that the usa is going to attack Iran soon, whether openly or in secret. i just hope Iran is setting up counter-attack bases in the USA, Iraq, and around the world where american interests are. I hope that Iran blows up all the Saudi oil fields and shuts down the 50% of the world's production of oil as a result of america's attack. Further, with hundreds of thousands of troops in the region, i hope they bomb the sh#t out of the sitting duck American bases in Qatar, Dubai, Kuwait and Iraq. Iran is not a helpless country like Iraq was before the war, or like somilia or afghanistan. Iran can defend itself from american uber-terrorism. If Bush tries it, I hope he suffers greatly.

I am absolutely against war generally. I do not want what i said to happen. But IF the USA decides to attack Iran, then i do hope it Iran fights back big time. The USA has no right. And the only hope i have in the longer-run for a middle east region that is independent of American domination in the future is for America to suffer when they try to control things in their interests. They have no right to control the world. and they have no right to attack every country they want. Afghanistan was nothing, Iraq was nothing, but Iran can fight and i hope they do. The USA is an evil terrorist state. If the American people want war with iran, or the american government wants war, i hope iran makes the cost very very very very high for you.

overthrow their government, bomb them.... do whatever you want... but see what happens to you. If America starts a war, I hope iran destroys the USA.

posted by: Joe M. on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

And you have a nice day, too, Joe.

posted by: srp on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

I don't think we're going to do a military attack on iran. I think the chinese government privately told us not to, and we don't dare disobey them.

We can support ethnic terrorists, but that isn't going to accomplish much.

We can support political parties and insurgents, but say they win -- are they going to shut down the nukes? Iran is going to need nuclear power no matter who's in power.

I think the most promising item on the list is currency manipulation. We can disrupt their trade, and they can't stop us. We're vulnerable to that sort of thing ourselves, but not from iran. Does iran have any friends who'd retaliate for them?

China, japan, and india want iran's oil. They want pipelines that can't just be embargoed or impounded, not like tankers. We want to stop china from getting that oil. Would china want to "rescue" iran from their implacable enemy, us -- while leaving iran so totally indebted to china that the oil deals aren't in question?

When large nations manipulate currencies there's big money to be made by people who are absolutely fearless. Don't bet more than you can afford to lose.

posted by: J Thomas on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

Since the amazing reports by both Steve Clemons and Joe Klein that Cheney is actively trying to sabotage Bush's Iran negotiations in order to literally force him to declare war on Iran -- and that Bush rejected such an attack, at least for the moment, on the JCS' recommendations and instead ordered this CIA scheme as a substitute -- the question of just who in the government leaked its existence, and why, has become, shall we delicately say, more important. (The problem with Sober, Realistic Policy Analysts is that -- as Goebbels, among others, pointed out -- they're consistently unprepared for those occasions when a government decides to go utterly bugfuck.)

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

I don't see the chance of Iran being stopped nonmilitarily from proliferating as anything like 8Q%. 20%?

But, I'm with Drez is having no confidence in the Bush administration to carry out a helpful regime-change program.

After all that correct talk about the importance of democracy in the Middle East, what sort of groups has CIA so far been supporting? Democratic peaceful OR rebel groups? Of course not. Nope, they've been supporting tribes that would just make things worse if they actually seized power (hard as it is to believe). This belies all our rhetoric.

How are people supposed to believe us about this Democracy stuff when the CIA puts its funds into stupid, regressive, autocratic and/or tribal groups? Hell, how is it even supposed to be successful when it's just a random collection of tribes that only have hating Iran in common, and not any ideas for government if they got there? Who on earth thinks they can win a fight when our support is split so wide, and military wins require unified commands and forces?

posted by: Jon Kay on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

The Iran destabilisation fund is nothing new, right?

Maybe the biggest issue is the willingness of iranians to listen to US-funded radio broadcasts about "freedom," given the history of US-Iran relations, and Iraq, etc etc etc....

posted by: George on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

there's a big difference between not being a fan of your country's government and just cheering on the actions of another government as they attempt to overthrow your own government.

There's also a difference between supporting another government's attempt to overthrow your government and acting on that other government's blueprints for you yourself to overthrow your government, provided you believe that those blueprints have a chance. That provides the reasoning for supporting the effort in the abstract. However, the leaking of it reduces the chances of success, reducing the likelihood of getting support, particularly among the Persians. Also, if Cheney does succeed in getting any action (like an Israeli preemptive strike) aimed at tying Bush's hand, it would also reduce the likelihood of getting local support.

posted by: Scott Smith on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

Iranian regime is a terrorist one created and supported by the filthy Brits in 1979. They overthrew the peaceful and progressive regime of the late Shah because of his oil policy and his efforts to advance Iran. Jimmy Carter and his administration came to the British help. Now Iran is in the hands of another HITLER. Since the imposition of the mad Khomeini regime, millions were killed, millions were displaces and had to go to exile. Several hundred thousand executed.
Over 9 million addicts, high inflation, under aged homeless kids are everywhere. High unemployment, many still homeless after the war with Iraq ended nearly 20 years ago. The rich oil Iran and the second largest oil producer cannot provide petrol for the internal use of the nation. Daily exaction and mistreatment of women, suicide, poverty and prostitution are only few of the Mullahs crimes yet filthy Brits and the EU who are milking Iran oppose regime change in Iran. Brits are Iran’s number one enemy.
Mohammad-Reza Pardisan, London.

posted by: Mohammad-Reza Pardisan on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

Intelligence Report Logs Bleak Outlook for Iran: Washington. A draft intelligence report on Iran suggests a change in the Tehran regime appears unlikely any time soon despite growing public anger over the country's economic woes, U.S. officials said Thursday.

According to the latest in a series of reports from the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is nearly complete and could be shared with President Bush and other policymakers within weeks, said the officials. One said it is expected to be completed as soon as next week.

And Why?
Please read my comments before reading the Intelligence Report:

believe it or not I always knew this. With Americans wasting time
in Iraq where they should have focused on the head of the snake,
Iran. With Europeans who now give two fingers to the Americans
by cutting deals with the Mullahs. With the Russians and the Chines
who oppose every American move on Iran and off course with the
Brits helping their beloved unruly child, the Islamic Republic in every
way they can, nothing better can be expected.

I am sure there are many Americans who are very concerned about
the situation in Iran but I do not believe that the U.S. administration
is either seriously thinking that way or indeed after wasting good five
years has any idea on what to do with the Mullahs.

Another problem is that the Americans listen too much to the Brits
and they will not understand that it is foolish to seek help of those
who are responsible for creating the mess in the first place. The day
President Bush said to his audience in front of Tony Blair
in Capitol Hill that: "America does not have a better friend than
Britain in the world", I told myself that he is badly mistaken and he
will not succeeded in war against terror.

One need to come to London and see the depth of anti-American
feelings amongst the Brits before making such untrue statement.
The US intelligence agencies should investigate Britain as their
hostile enemy. Britain has done everything in her political power
to destroy America's reputation and influence around the world.

The Brits achieve things differently. They do things indirectly as
they have mercenaries around the world who take their orders.
With there help of their Mullahs, Britain will not rest until they
absolutely destroy the Americans.

We are talking about a country that has created Islamic fundamentalists
in the early 19th century. We are talking about a country that
engineered the Khomeini madness in 1979 as a way to drive the
Americans out of the Middle East.

We are talking about a country that not only promote Islamists
around the world but indeed is harbouring Muslim terrorists from everywhere. The British Government is now making it illegal to
criticize Islamists while the Muslims are allowed to burn books,
shout death to America and Israel. It is going to be a crime
punishable by British law to criticize Islam.

We are talking about a country that regards President Bush as Hitler.
In Britain's white Hall which is the sit of the British Government, the
British Parliament and even in Downing Street where their Prime
Monster is based, they refer to President Bush as imbecile yet
President Bush regards the Brits as America's best friends.

There are enough reasons for confronting these animals in Iran.
There are enough Iranian opposition to support but as Britain's top
hooligan and the world war II criminal, Winston Churchill once said :

"I am confident that the Americans will finally get things
right after doing everything wrong".

But this time it will be too late for everyone concerned including the

Regards and best wishes,
Mohammad-Reza Pardisan, London.


posted by: Mohammad-Reza Pardisan on 05.23.07 at 08:16 AM [permalink]

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