Bloggers — and at least one newspaper columnist — are taking Seymour Hersh’s alarming new piece in The New Yorker very seriously. The man who brought us the My Lai massacre and, more recently, the Abu Ghraib abuses, now presents us with the prospect that the Bush administration is hip-deep in preparations for a strike against Iran. And that’s not all — we’re talking specifically about a nuclear strike capable of reaching the underground bunkers where the Iranian regime might be hiding its bomb-building capabilities.
The piece’s money quote: “One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that ‘a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.’ He added, ‘I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’”
Paul Krugman, the New York Times op-edsman, is buying it (subscription required). Bush, “whose presidency is increasingly defined by the quagmire in Iraq,” he writes, “may believe that he can redeem himself with a new Mission Accomplished moment.”
By contrast, righty bloggers responded mostly by questioning Hersh’s credibility and launching ad hominum attacks like this one by the aptly named Really Ugly American: “Hey I have an idea why can’t you as a nice Jewish guy from New York head on over to Tehran and sit down with Achmadiawhackjob and settle this thing over a cup of tea? What you don’t wanna go? Oh yeah that’s right HE WOULD CHOP YOUR FREAKING HEAD OFF!! You can read this jerkoff’s [Hersh’s] entire article if you like but I found him mostly to be full of crap.”
At the same time, the left hasn’t done much more than stuck its figurative head between its figurative knees and started kissing its figurative behind goodbye. Sifu Tweety from the The Poor Man Institute writes, “This might sound strange, but I really, desperately hope Sy Hersh is wrong. Got played by a source, didn’t fact-check to his usual rigorous standards of accuracy, was misinformed as part of an ongoing strategy of misdirection. Whatever. I just really, really, smoking-glass-hole-in-the-desert really hope that his latest New Yorker article is not just inaccurate, but a wildly inaccurate fantasia with no bearing on how apocalyptic the next several years will be. But I doubt it.”
But the most interesting responses have been those taking Hersh’s scoop at face value and trying to play out the possible implications of a nuclear strike on Iran. Global Researcher is certain Iran would retaliate: “Tehran promised a ‘crushing response’ to any U.S. or Israeli attack, and while the country — ironically — doesn’t possess nuclear weapons to scare off attackers, it does have other options. Iran boasts ground forces estimated at 800,000 personnel, as well as long-range missiles that could hit Israel and possibly even Europe. In addition, much of the world’s oil supply is transported through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of ocean which Iran borders to the north. In 1997, Iran’s deputy foreign minister warned that the country might close off that shipping route if ever threatened, and it wouldn’t be difficult. Just a few missiles or gunboats could bring down vessels and block the Strait, thereby threatening the global oil supply and shooting energy prices into the stratosphere.”
Even though Hersh thinks, as he told Sunday morning audiences yesterday, that Bush has a messiah complex that would preclude any realpolitik thinking about the political fallout of such an attack, David Larison at Eunomia writes that, “For the next generation at least, ‘conservative’ would be a word associated purely and simply and without any qualification with belligerence and nuclear attacks, and the GOP would truly be considered the preserve of the sort of trigger-happy maniacs who used to exist only in the perfervid imaginations of the far left. If these nuclear strikes did not result in a new war, or some even larger escalation with other nuclear powers, everyone might breathe a sigh of relief and never trust these sorts of people with power again. In a perverse way, that would be the ‘bright side.’ More likely, this sort of ‘strong’ stand against the ‘new Hitler’ would be wildly popular, and Mr. Bush’s ‘decisiveness’ would be praised to the heavens … at least until the costs it will impose on us in the future begin to hit home.”
One thing is certain, the president himself sure isn’t doing much to squash the proliferation of rumors about what might happen. As Eurotrasher points out, this is how Bush commented earlier today on the issue: “And by the way, I read the articles in the newspapers this weekend. It was just wild speculation, by the way. What you’re reading is wild speculation. Which is, kind of a — you know, happens quite frequently here in the nation’s capital.”
Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.
Eurotrasher says, if he were president, this is what he would have said: “‘We won’t use nukes against Iran’ or ‘We have not ruled out using nukes against Iran.’” At the very least the former would reduce both our collective blood pressure and the uncomfortably high number of hits on Technorati for the phrases “Iran” and “nuclear attack.”