Fight’n Words

Yesterday, in the hour long news conference at the White House, President George W. Bush fought the idea that his administration might spin information. Especially since that information seems to be pushing the casus belli, against Iran.

From the Washington Post,

The president spent much of the hour-long televised session in the East Room addressing skepticism about his government’s assertions regarding Iran and fears of a widening regional conflict. “The idea that somehow we’re manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing [explosives] is preposterous,” Bush said. Repeating a reporter’s question, he added: “Does this mean you’re trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I’m trying to protect our troops.”

That seems to be the key talking point now. “Protect the troops.” But the questions now are first, is the current information is being invented, and second, whether the argument will protect the troops.

For me, the question of whether Iran is supplying arms to militias isn’t all that interesting.

First, from the images I have seen and the backgrounders I’ve read, the issue could flop either way. Iran has more than enough reasons to keep America busy in Iraq. And, arguably, most of the evidence does point to an Iranian connection to weapons and explosives being used.

On the other hand, the material I have seen, especially the improved explosives (EFPs) might not be that impressive. Building a computer operated mill really isn’t rocket science. (Oh, the Iraqies even have rocket scientists? Oh.) That means making parts to a fairly high tolerance might not be out of the reach of garage based militias. They only need the initial plans and the idea can spread like a (computer) virus.

Probably more worrying is the downing of several helicopters in recent weeks. That might point to much more sophisticated weaponry.

But the second question is whether American troops will be safer?

My unequivocal answer is no. Not unless Bush is willing to go to war with Iran.

How exactly can increasing diplomatic pressure on Iran, increasing troop presence, adding a new carrier to the contingent in the gulf possibly ease the situation?

Especially when the American military is already stretched to the breaking point. Iranian leaders aren’t blind. They know the only way the Bush administration can stop them aiding Iraqi militias is by attacking. That would require the reinstatement of the draft. (And even then I would argue it would take up to a year to get American forces ready for another ground war. Where would the necessary hardware come from?)

But I’m afraid the spin will start to rotate out of control. The increasingly shrill tone taken by the administration, even if the administration doesn’t want to go to war, may achieve exactly that. What does Iran have to lose right now?

How exactly can Iran tell the difference between the build up to war with Iraq and the current “Protect the Troops” rhetoric? How can American citizens tell the difference if something happens on the border? What happens if something really ‘unexpected’ happens, perhaps a carrier gets sunk by a mine?

It seems I am not alone in worrying about this kind of issue. From the NYT

Mr. Bush has said that he has no intention of invading Iran and that any suggestion that he was trying to provoke Iran “is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief’s decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm’s way.” But experts say that the ratcheting up of accusations could provoke a confrontation. Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University, said there was a “danger of accidental war.” He said, “If anything goes wrong, if something happens, there’s an unexplained explosion and we kidnap an Iranian, and the Iranians respond to that somehow, this could get out of control.”

But I found a refreshing and intelligent reason for the verbal escalation. From the far left, liberal rag Marine Corps Times,

Judith Yaphe, a Middle East expert at the National Defense University, said the Bush administration is raising these charges now to shore up political support for its decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

“They need to shift the public debate from the issue of the surge and spread the blame” for the spreading chaos, she said.

The article continues with the predictable response from the military.

[Maj. Gen. William] Caldwell[, the U.S. command’s top spokesman,] defended the timing of the briefing. The armor-piercing roadside bombs, called explosively formed penetrators, first surfaced in Iraq in 2004, but he said the problem became acute recently.

Of course, the timing of these kinds of press releases is always political. Does anyone remember what happened when ill-timed information comes out of the DoD? Something that doesn’t fit the administrations current talking points? (General Eric Shinseki, anyone?)

But I think the current spin is perhaps pointed, not at Iran, but at the Republican party and the American public. This leads to the comforting thought that the Bush administration is not trying to start a war.

Perhaps there are realists in the administration who realise starting yet another war would be catastrophic. This would mean that the government is, however, so disengaged from foreign policy to think domestic issues can be solved by verbally attacking Iran. And that is really worrying.

And maybe that is the war America needs to start fighting. The war against rhetoric.

And that’s just fight’n words.

(Hat Tip: David Hambling/DefenseTech for many of the links and the background for this post)

Updated Addendum: Be sure to read Laura Rozen’s take on this.

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