War always

General Hassan ShateriI was listening to Hizbullah’s Al Nour radio station two days ago when I heard, in the words of the radio speaker, that the main guy behind the reconstruction of the south, an Iranian engineer, Hassan Shateri, was killed in some kind of an ambush returning from Damascus to Beirut. I was wondering why the Syrian rebels would want to kill an engineer who was responsible for the building of homes in the South and, according still to the speaker, in Iran after the Iran and Iraq war, and in Afghanistan. Basically the guy comes to build after wars in conflict areas.

Next day I stumble across this article in the Guardian titled “Elite Iranian general assassinated near Syria-Lebanese border”. So now things made a bit more sense, although it still is a plus to know that Iranian generals can be sorts of philanthropists after war. Somehow people involved in war do have economic occupations linked to pre-war or post-war possibilities (Dick Cheney may be an example although away from the idea of comparing Shateri to Cheney).

In any case, killing this general along with the multiple events that have been taking place in the past two years are making sure that we are going straight into a regional explosion where Syria will be the main battlefield. For now the forces are not of equal match for a large scale mobilization to become a possibility, although this asymetry unfortunately increasingly resembles the Lebanese wars settings that were prevalent from 1975 to 1990: a weakened state/security complex, lots of parties who stand to gain from keeping it that way, not one party who can (or wants to) actually create a peace situation through hegemonic positioning and a militia economy slowly feeding on itself and largely annoyed if things would come to change.

The nay to break the silence cycle

I have been meaning to write for quite some time, and ideas are piling up in the draft section of this blog without ever having a chance to click on the “publish post” icon. I came back to London a couple of days ago and have been overwhelmed by a new event that will come to form a lifetime reality. I will be staying here for a week or so and then move back to Beirut for good. Well enough of my personal life, the important thing here is the function I have assigned to myself that is writing when I feel certain things need to be pointed out. When I was in Beirut, there were many things I found interesting to develop but either did not have time to talk about or preferred to keep it for the thesis. My main problem is to choose between ideas that should be developed further, those that could be irrelevant in the context of this blog, and those that I simply want to keep for myself for now.

So “without further due” I would like to share with you an anecdote to break the silence cycle. When I was in Lebanon sometimes after the new year, I went to see Atef Wehbe, a nay maker who is from Saksakieh a village in the south that lies next to the coast a bit before Sour. I play the nay myself (it is a reed wind instrument you can find in the Middle East and a bit in Central Asia), and I always go to Atef to try out and buy new instruments. In any case at some point, I was showing him my new Persian nay that I acquired from an Iranian musician living in London. Iranian nays are slightly different. First of all they have 6 instead of 7 hole, you blow in them with your teeth and tongue rather than with your lips as the arabic and the turks would have it, and a bunch of other differences. Among other things, I was telling him that I learned that Iranians sometimes dip their nay in boiling oil in order to strengthen their wood and give it a dark color. To this he answered with disdain that “they don’t know sh.. about nays”, in a nice impulsive and straightforward manner. And then he backed it up by explaining to me why this would cause harm to the instrument.

Of course this does not mean that the guy has disdain for Iranian neys or let alone Iranians; he personally knows how to play the Persian way although does not play anything from the Persian repertoire. His answer was at best an instinctive defensive answer that basically said implicitly it is here that you can find the best nays. And in effect Atef is probably one of the best nay maker in the Middle East but that’s besides the point.

I remember how once I asked Atef who did he consider himself to be with politically, given the fact that their village has equal amount of Amal and Hizbullah flags/posters. He gave this enigmatic and yet easy and correct response: “Ya Bashir, all the south is resistance, but I don’t follow political interests, I’m a musician”. I loved how he would wrap my newly acquired nays in Amal’s newspaper Al ‘Awasif (the Storms). During the latest Israeli war, Atef got a nice Israeli bomb in his garden, where some of his reeds grow. Fortunately enough, the family was safe but had to escape somewhere in the Bekaa.

I leave you now to connect the nods.

Iranian nationalism oblige

I went to the annual exhibition of Iranian products today, right next to the Phoenicia hotel where some of our parliamentary members are being hosted with American and French money(got it from an insider source…). Well at the very least, it is not the Lebanese state that is paying for their expenses there, a good thing I guess, judging from the tight financial fiscal situation.

Anyway, I found the exhibition very disappointing. Apart from carpets, some vases, and some sweets there weren’t any other Iranian products. On top of that, most of the stands in the exhibition were held by Lebanese businesses. Even in the case of Saffron, which is the typical spice you buy from Iran, people were rushing to the Lebanese stand rather than the one selling Iranian packaged products. The reason was simple: The Iranian saffron was already mixed with tea and held in tea bags. The Lebanese stand had the actual saffron leaves, to be sure, imported from Iran. But along with it it had all kinds of spices, herbs and so forth produced in Lebanon, either from the Bekaa or the South. Everytime the woman holding the stand introduced herself as “I am from the south” she would double the quantity of customers buying. I like the marketing strategy.

But this is not the reason why I am writing this post. There was a Lebanese publishing house that had a huge stand with books on religions, Shi’ism, Khomeini, Hizbullah, alternative medicine, astrology, dreams, basically the books you find published by what has lazily been dubbed as the “hala islamiya”. I asked out of sheer curiosity the guy in charge if he has a book of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam. And to my greatest surprise he answered ‘of course’. The book is edited in Tehran, and is based on one of the best translation in Arabic (the one of Ahmad al Safi al Najafi). There is a little introduction by the publisher who opens with “in the name of god the merciful and compassionate”, something that would have probably made Khayyam shiver in his grave. Then he continues with a clarification that if he publishes the Ruba’iyat, it does not mean he agrees with Khayyam views on life and what goes with it, but cannot stand insensitive to the beauty of his writing style, and that hence, cannot but render it visible in the name of Iranian culture. Bear in mind that the introduction by the actual tranlator (al Najafi) that is quite important and sheds light on Khayyam’s thought has been cut down to 3 pages (the introduction in the original edition is kind of 20 pages long). On the front page, there is a picture of the statue of Khayyam, and on the back, of his grave, both being public places in Iran.

In this case, Khayyam is a national symbol that Iran cannot do without, and it is interesting to see how its printing sector tries to circumvent the problem without having to mute it completely. Let me just clarify for those who don’t know and who by now should feel very confused, that Khayyam is a a poet of wine, depraved love, enjoyment of the present, and so one and so forth. Now that I check, I like this line in the wikipedia entry on the guy:

Omar Khayyam’s personal beliefs are not very clearly known, but much is discernible from his poetic oeuvre. However, he was clearly quite liberal in his views; e.g. in one of his rubaiya, he apparently says: “Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion” (emphasis added)

That pretty much sums up at the very least, the impression Khayyam leaves on humanity. Oh and he was a Mathematician too. Incidentally, there are many funny things in the wikipedia entry on the guy. And you can check the statue and the grave.

Of course, I have never been to Iran, don’t know how many versions of the Rub’iyat are in circulation, don’t know how Khayyam persists in the representation of the different social classes, regions, etc. So I’m just taking this book as an interesting example of print strategy to use a figure you don’t agree with in order to prop up the more important goal of imagined collectivities (Persian or Iranian here).

The difference between ideology and reality

Even Iraqi officials acknowledge it:

Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq’s national security adviser… called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and “you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran”.
Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.

Some Lebanese are still fantasizing nonetheless (in awful terms):

America has instigated democracy lovers in Lebanon. Yet now that they have stood up, America seems willing to stand down. It’s taking the easy way out by talking to weakened Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and rewarding him with a free hand in Lebanon to finish off the freedom fighters.

The obsession

Senior Israeli officials warned yesterday that they were still considering a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh US intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons.
However, it is widely assumed that Israel would need US approval, if not cooperation, for a bombing mission. In particular, its air force would need the US flight codes that would allow its planes to cross into Iran. When Israel requested those codes in 1991 to attack Iraq during the first Gulf war, the United States refused and there was no Israeli strike.

Oh when you’re smilin’!

…The whole world smiles with you.

The rituals of legislative rulings

When the U.S. House of Representative voted to put the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on the list of terrorist organizations, Iran’s Parliament agreed on qualifying the C.I.A. and the U.S. army of terrorist organizations.

This can be read as follows: Any form of resistance must pass by the vocabulary of the hegemonic, here being the US definition of terrorism, its various uses, and the ability to ‘institutionalize’ the ruling (becoming law through the parliament). Why do Iran bother to pass legislative decrees stating that that these American institutions are ‘terrorists’? The same reason why it deployed all this effort for the ‘holocaust’ convention. The Holocaust convention was not a case of showing antisemitism etc. It was an effort to show that another ‘normalized’ reality could exist and be debated by people.

So why does it bother? Because the new conceptual and descriptive formulations will be uttered and written, it will enter the terms of speech and thus will exist as a political reality. In fact Iran takes very seriously the inner functioning structures of the international system, the U.N. etc. It uses the available system to voice contention. This is the power of symbols, this is what they actually do in a given reality.

A Reply to an American Mother`s Message

From Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s official blog (once you’re on the page click on the ‘english’ link at the top right):

Venerable mother

First of all, I apologize for the delay of answering your question. This is due to my heavy schedules. So far, I have received many letters – with the same type of messages – such as yours.
If your son opposed to go to Iraq and impose pressure on the people of that region, and then was forcibly taken there, certainly Almighty God would help him. And those who have forced your beloved son to go to the war are responsible for his blood and the bloodshed that they have caused. They should answer Almighty God in the Day of Judgment.
In regard to statement you have made, since I did not want my reply lead to any problem for you, did not send it through e-mail, because if some agents are getting into private life of the American citizens and eligitimatley control them, may create problem for you. Instead, I decided to post the reply on the web log that those who may have the same views such as yours, get the answer …

Written by Mahmood Ahmadinejad at 14:27 (emphasis added)

Carribean Conspiracy …

It seems the forces of darkness are gathering in the Bahamas. I wonder if a certain Lebanese blogger has gotten his swimsuit yet.

Game, Set, Match …

Friends, the Iranians have just done what 1,000,000 speeches at the Arab League Summit never could. And if I may be expansive and hyperbolic for a moment, let me say that American era in the Middle East just saw its first curtain fall. The grotesque spectacle that is Iraq will be next. Let’s see if I have to eat my words, but creative instability indeed. Let’s also hope that the grey-beards in Israel are paying attention. Yes, I am serious, kind of.

And a Cherry on Top …

Ahmadinejad today in fact asked Blair not to punish the sailors for their remarks on Iranian television in which he said they told the “truth” about intruding into Iranian waters.

Whether in diplomacy or dodge ball, there is no beating strategic depth …

Portentous …?

Am I the only one who feels a chill down his spine when King Abdullah calls the U.S. presence in Iraq an “illegitimate foreign occupation” ?
I have been around the block enough times to appreciate the pathetic pageantry of Arab League summits, but a head-on verbal fusillade against the U.S. by its closest ally?
Perhaps, I am being too paranoid, but when the US surrogates/monarchs start refusing to go to White House parties (warning: Hoagland is an idiot), I get really, really worried. Maybe, it is just an acknowledgment of Iran’s popularity and diplomatic and rhetorical skill in assuming regional leadership despite obvious disadvantages. But maybe they know something I do not.
We shall see.

Christmas Come Early …

Hopefully it won’t be long until I am home to get ready for Molly’s birthday party with a present from the Iranian people.

I wanna get taken hostage by Iran …!

More seriously, Iranian propaganda has me impressed. Yes, it is ham-fisted (when is propaganda not?), but it really does the trick. Expect the Iranians to milk the “hostage crisis” — not a crisis at all — for as long as humanly possible.

The Iranian leadership is literally talking its way into being an important country, which certainly must be a more fun way to do it than meeting with Dick Cheney and must be driving the Saudis and Israelis absolutely mad.

Bien joue!

UPDATE: Someone agrees:

Clearly, Tehran’s row with London has had immediate dividends with respect to Iran’s regional clout, causing pro-Iran sympathies in the Arab world. Arabs now see in Iran’s “heroic” standing up to “Western imperialists” a source of much-needed inspiration and hope, in contrast to their own feckless leadership. “The Arabs of the Persian Gulf are now less inclined to join the US and Israel against Iran than they were a mere week ago,” a former Iranian diplomat told the author.

Proceed to Nearest Shelter!

“I want to have my conscience clear with Him. Then it doesn’t matter so much what others think.”

Greenwald, the author of linked piece, is a crank, but the quotes are priceless or terrifying or whatever …

Why I Don’t Vote …

At the same time, we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs.

So sayeth Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama at an AIPAC event a couple of days ago in Chicago. When asked, I will tell people that I was born both a Democrat and a Catholic, but that I regularly fail to meet any of the membership requirements of either institution. As the late great Billmon pointed out before he disappeared from cyberspace, the Democrats are in some ways much more dangerous when it comes to US policy in the Middle East. And thus while Obama will never match Hillary in his support for American and Israeli militarism, I cannot bring myself to support any of the Democratic candidates. I will give Obama credit, however, for directly mentioning the defense programs that drive the relationship.

It should be noted that despite recent conservative inroads, Jewish Americans vote overwhelming in favor of the Democrats as they generally prefer the Democratic position on a host of civil rights and social justice issues. It should also be noted that over 70 percent of Jewish Americans opposed the US war on Iraq.

But we are not talking about Jewish Americans. We are talking about AIPAC and those who butter their bread on the “unique” military relationship between Israel and the United States. One should also note that the vast majority of those who benefit from this relationship are not in fact Jewish and have no particular position on Israeli policies as long as the register keeps ringing.

Indeed, it is my sneaking position that many of these individuals and corporations actually find solace in attacks on the “Israel lobby,” as it works to deflect criticism of the real movers-and-shakers in this unholy alliance. This is the glaring hole in Walt and Mearsheimer’s analysis, as pointed out by no less than Noam Chomsky, and leaves such analysis open to charges of anti-Semitism. One can see this clearly in the trajectory of former AIPAC officials, many of whom move directly on to high-paying positions with various defense contractors and their lobbyists on K Street.

This is the cause and consequence of the US becoming Israel’s largest military supplier and if you need an object lesson in seeing how structure translates into superstructure, witness the dramatic shift in the 1970s and 1980s in magazines such as Dissent and Commentary, which had previously been the site of vigorous debate over the direction of Israeli policy (insert Woody Allen joke here).

As always, do as Obama does, follow the money.

Does Anyone Actually Read …

the British Daily Telegraph, that veritable font of military propaganda …?

And doesn’t chronic incontinence eventually result in dehydration?

Readers will note that the US government is prohibited from disseminating propaganda domestically by the Mundt Act, but it has a free hand overseas (thus VOA and these lovely stories in the British press). I hear that both the CIA and DOD are fairly conscientious in following these legal prohibitions, but these stories like these make the British press look like more of a lackey to US interests than even the British prime minister.

Dollars and Sense …

Iran is to issue a new high-denomination banknote marking the country’s achievements in nuclear technology at a time of mounting tension with the West over its atomic programme …

Speaking of currency, whatever happened to the lawsuit over the 1,000 LL note? Anybody know?

Game Over …?

American officials said Tuesday that they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq. The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.

Actually, I doubt Eliot Abrams et al. will give up so easily, so let the shrieking begin, but let’s see if Ambassador Feltman starts paying fewer and fewer visits to you know who …

The Funny Man Strikes Again …

“One should be aware that our revolution is like a bulldozer … the enemies think by throwing a few small stones and sand they can stop this bulldozer.”

Strange choice of words for the “liberator” of al-Quds.

Hersh, (Sigh) …

Well, just read Sy Hersh’s new piece and must admit I was disappointed. I found almost nothing original in either content or analysis and believe the piece could have been written by piecing together already very public information.

I was not going to post on it, until I heard Wolff Blitzer call the piece “explosive” this morning on CNN. Perhaps the only gaseous discharge I heard was the allegation concerning Negroponte’s motivations:

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

This is absurd puffery and a little reverse engineering leads one to believe that Hersh completely got played by his “sources” on this issue. This is one of the two problems I have with Hersh’s work as it often takes bureaucratic infighting as evidence of the direction of US policy. The blatant ass-kissing of Negroponte suggests that the source may have been Negroponte himself or one of his close aides in Foggy Bottom or supporters on the Hill. Of course, I have no idea, but Negroponte, as the intelligence czar, likely encountered significant antagonism from the DOD and thus one must understand this “information” in this context. To go from that rather quotidian reality to the Contras is ridiculous and the ass-kissing should make all very suspicious. To be sure, many on the Hill and at the CIA and State have bureaucratic reasons to talk with Hersh, but I just wonder how far this really get us with respect to US policy in the Middle East. I agree that the Pentagon has usurped the CIA with respect to covert operations and intelligency, but this is not a new story and evidence can be gathered on this point without polishing Negroponte’s apple.

I would also say that his interview with Nasrallah was really disappointing, or at least what he chose to include in the interview. To be sure, it seems he only included quotes to fit his thesis, but this has the effect of making Nasrallah look like a wild conspiracy theorist, something he is decidedly not:

I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”

For me this is inexcusable, because Nasrallah does not give interviews to American journalists, so when he does, it is an irreducible opportunity that should not be missed.

I would add that Hersh’s descision to quote Armitage and Baer on Hizbullah is a bit ridiculous as their thoughts remain haunted by memories of the 1980s and they expose themselves as idiots when talking about a Hizbullah that no longer exists. To paraphrase and answer Baer, the dog did not bark because it died over a decade ago.

I would add that one part of Hersh’s thesis makes no sense. It has been widely understood that the CIA has been deeply involved in Lebanon, because the activities have been more political and financial, than military. This reality does not fit his contention about the DOD takeover of intelligence or the reporting requirements. I would agree in the case of Iran, but in Lebanon, this seems off the mark.

Again, I would say I was disappointed with the piece. He can do and has done better. I would add that it is a bit odd that the piece works mostly as a summary of the last 10 months, when I had understood that Remnick, his editor, had wanted a more newsy Hersh for the pages of the New Yorker. The quote retread is not good enough given the rapid pace of events on the ground.

Perhaps most distressing is Hersh’s take on the militant Salafi groups in Lebanon. There is some truth to what he says here, but I had hoped that the time he spent in Lebanon would allow him to understand a bit more of the complexity of the situation (his television appearance made me cringe). Sadly, it seems he is just as susceptible to generalities and misrecognition as the Beltway bureaucrats who drive his stories. To be sure, this bit is designed for American audiences, but without the proper local context, it falls flat. In sum, imperial muckraking may be a noble profession, but the full story (elucidating domestic and international connections) is not here and thus one feels the author is mirroring his sources by engaging in a narrowly targeted polemic. Oh, well …


Bloodthirsty …?

Right now I have more opportunities than I’ve ever had to use weapons where we know there aren’t any friendly people. In combat that’s very rewarding.”

Military Revolt …?

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

The propaganda wars are in full swing in the British press. Let the leaks continue …

ADDENDUM: It seems Sy Hersh has prepared an update on US war plans. I think I am on record here saying that Hersh sometimes gets played by his sources and cherry-picks and then over-inflates evidence to fit his particular narrative, but his work is unparalleled here in the US. If it is somewhat conspiratorial in form and content, it seems a necessary evil in the national security state. It is also a bit funny that Nasrallah says he is willing to talk to the Americans, but Jumblatt says he cannot talk to Hizbullah. I had thought Hersh was coming out with a piece on the Hariri assassination. I guess not.

Getting Ready for War …?

“A senior Israeli defence official said negotiations were now underway between the two countries for the US-led coalition in Iraq to provide an “air corridor” in the event of the Israeli government deciding on unilateral military action to prevent Teheran developing nuclear weapons.”

As I have said before, I believe the pro-war faction in the US is delighted over how its opponents insist the Administration is getting ready for just such a war. Here is military analyst William Arkin on the recent BBC report:

I have argued in these pages that that is why it is essential that we not overstate what the United States is really up to and that the Bush administration recognizes that its “planning” might be misinterpreted by Iran and lead to the very thing it supposedly is hoping to prevent.

Stay tuned …

More from the Idiot Nation …

Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It’s because they’ve already decided that they’re going to partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called … the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There’s already an agreement made.
They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.”

I give up.

Tis All a Checker-board of Nights and Days …

where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays: Hither and thither moves, and mates and slays, and one by one back in the Closet lays.
— Omar Khayyam.
PS: Link corrected.

Has the Poodle Been Unleashed …?

Watchers might want to keep an eye on Tony Blair’s trajectory as he winds down his tenure. First, the troop reduction, and now talking with Hamas?

I have also noticed that British military and intelligence have started a rather consistent whispering campaign over US intentions in Iran. Of course, such things cut both ways (doing the bidding of US warmongers or genuine backlash, you be the judge). But the chattiness is interesting, nonetheless, and may reflect a more carefree attitude on Downing Street.

Of course, what Blair does or does not do, says or does not say, is of little consequence to Anglo-America relations writ-large, but we can expect an endless amount of blather about his “legacy” over the next seven months. I recall that Bill Clinton blamed Arafat for the collapse of Camp David in 2000 in an effort to bolster Barak’s electoral fortunes, so I wonder if Blair has any regrets about not doing more for Gore and then Kerry, as surely he paid a cost in their losses.

Perhaps, though, Blair is not looking toward the past, but rather the future — his squelching of the BAE investigation might be what we of more modest means might call retirement planning. He might very well want to join Aznar on Georgetown’s faculty, which soon might be able to re-enact Iraq war-planning on the university’s front lawn, with all the original players (Tenet, Feith, et al.).

As a side note, or two, I could not but giggle over the Chavez oil deal with London’s mayor (I happen to agree that what we need is a war on traffic, not terror). Also, this web site, presumably sponsored and designed by amateurish Tory hands, might be good for some laughs, as the video “A World Without America” had me in stitches. Whatever Labor’s pathologies, I can only be thankful that the party of Margaret Thatcher is in such utter disarray.

The Dark Arts …

“They have a gated community up there,” came the genial reply. “Not really guarded – it’s more gated. They bake really good bread,” he added, smiling.

Deliberate Delirium …?

Sure I’m crazy,
But it ain’t easy.

— Theodore Roethke (unpublished).

With bombs exploding in Iran and the US seemingly on the war path, it might be useful to pause and consider what one author has called “irrational compellence:”

In any case, I suggest a third and more likely reason for Bush’s ambiguity: he is and has been embarked on a deliberate course of projecting his putative irrationality through threats or hints of using military force in order to instill uncertainty and fear among his adversaries. It is, in other words, a coercive strategy directed against Iran and other states, such as North Korea, but also Syria, and perhaps, indirectly, China. Other small states are, of course, also supposed to be intimidated.

It is actually a clever strategy, if it is in fact being employed, in that Bush’s domestic and international opponents end up doing most of the yeomen’s work of telling the world that this administration is capable of anything, even a pre-emptive nuclear assault. No doubt, this would be evidence that Kissinger does indeed have the President’s ear. It would also help explain why the shaped-charge presentation in Baghdad last week and its aftermath were so bizarre.

So when military and intelligence, current and former, start chatting up reporters like Sy Hersh on US war plans, is it all just a psy-op program or is it a genuine backlash? I would assume that it is like most things: a bit of both. Stay tuned, but remember what Marvin Gaye said: Believe half of what you see, and some of none of what you hear.