The Next Act: Will the Republicans’ Mid-Term Loss Hurt Chances of a War on Iran?
Tuesday, November 21st, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/21/1518247
In a new article for the New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports Vice President Dick Cheney told a White House meeting one month before the mid-term elections that a Democratic victory would have little effect on the administration’s decision to go to war. But plans for a military option were made “far more complicated” by a secret CIA report which has found no conclusive evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Hersh joins us from Washington. [rush transcript included]
With the Democrats winning control of Congress is the White House and a lame duck president more or less likely to launch an attack against Iran? That’s the subject of a new article by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh writes in the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, that Vice President Dick Cheney told a White House meeting one month before the mid-term elections that a Democratic victory would have little effect on the administration’s decision to go to war. But the article goes on to report that any plans for a military option were made “far more complicated” by a secret CIA report which has found no conclusive evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
Seymour Hersh joins me now from a studio in Washington DC.
- Seymour Hersh. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New Yorker. His latest article is called “The Next Act: Is a Damaged Administration Less Likely To Attack Iran, or More?”
AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh joins us now in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!
SEYMOUR HERSH: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don't you start off by talking about this CIA assessment, this secret report.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah, it simply just says that we’ve been--for the United States, with our allies the Israelis, have been doing an awful lot of collection of intelligence inside Iran, and not only with people on the ground, but also with what they call ‘national technical means’, satellites, other sorta--of passive detection devices you can scatter on the ground, et cetera, inside the country, looking for evidence of a secret, or what they call ‘parallel’ nuclear weapons facility inside Iran.
As you know, Iran has declared a number of its facilities, the underground bunker at Natanz that is talked about quite a bit, a few hundred miles south of Tehran, they've declared them to the International Atomic Energy Agency and they're under inspection. In other words, all of the enrichment that’s going on now, is being inspected by the IAEA to ensure that it's for peaceful purposes and small scale.
So the issue has been whether or not Iran is a--has a covert program and the CIA’s assessment, which may be the core of a new national intelligence estimate coming, that is scheduled to be done on Iran, but I don’t know that for sure. But the CIA statement simply said, told the rest of the intelligence community, we can't find any evidence of a significant program. They don't talk about the intentions. It's very possible Iran is--does intend to do something, but as of this point, what's the rush is the issue.
And the other major point that the CIA made in this analysis, is that if we do -- if the white house does -- the President and Vice President do, decide to attack Iran or permit the Israelis to, given the green light, the consequences could be much worse than we might -- than they might think. You could actually drive the Sunni and Shia worlds, at least the Arab street, both Sunni and Shia together in a way that hasn't been done since the Khaliphates, of 1,000, you know 8-900 years ago.
So you could really polarize the Middle East or at least pull them together in a way they haven't been and the polarization of the various factions and have a unified faction against the west and us, and that was in the report.
AMY GOODMAN: Sy Hersh, what about this month before the elections? The meeting that Vice President Dick Cheney was in, on national security.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well--simply put, look, the White House, the President, the Vice President, can read polls and they knew they were in big trouble. I think, I’d been told they thought—they knew Allen would lose. They thought it would be--the Governor in the race for the Senate seat that Mr. Webb won in Virginia, that sort of amazing victory, but they knew weeks before that Allen wasn't going to make it.
And so I had been told, so they read polls and Cheney was simply making the comment, they anticipated holding the senate and losing the house, by a small ma-- you know, 10 seats or so, which would still be comfortable for them with that, in terms of running the government. But he made the point that in case the democrats won both the house and senate, he had -- he could -- you know, he went and told a long rambling anecdote about his life as a lineman in Wyoming when he was a kid, he worked on the lines. And one of his points was that when you're a lineman in Montana, at the end of the day, for a layering, for an electrical company, rather, they were laying copper wire which was expensive and if the wire -- if they had pieces over three feet in length at the end of the day, they had to turn it into headquarters and write it up and nobody wanted to do that. So what they would do is they would simply cut the pieces into two lengths, the lengths were two feet or less, or ‘shorteners’ he called it and throw them away, because they were under the three-foot limit.
And he said if Congress wins, if the Democrats win both houses and they want to do something about Iran and here's his point, it's understood by this White House that this Democratic Congress will not cut funds for the American troops in Iraq. That's not on the table, nobody will do it, it's politically suicide--cidal. But, the worry that was expressed by Cheney was if the Democrats come in and pass a series of amendments that tell -- not binding in terms of financial issues or troops support, but just say to the White House, if you're going to go to Iran, you must tell us what you're doing in advance. We compel you to tell us all about overt and covert plans.
If you remember, he talked about the Bolan Amendment, a Congressman, a very modest Congressman from Maryland, offered a series of amendments in--beginning in 1982, telling the Reagan Administration they could not do anything to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, they were supporting the contras. And those amendments led the White House in the middle 80's to start--secretly raising money for the contras by selling arms to Iran. The famous Iran-contra scandal. And, of course, Cheney was around for that, some of the people in the White House, I know Elliot Abrams, who is now a big player in the White House was indicted on a couple of misdemeanors for it, lying to congress--withholding information from congress and pleaded guilty to those misdemeanors.
So you have a situation where they were anticipating, in case it went as bad as it went, they were trying to -- he was saying don't worry about it, we've got it covered. This doesn't mean, Amy, that we're going to go to war. I'm not saying that. But it certainly doesn't mean that the democratic victory has done anything to diminish what the people in the White House want to do. It hasn't changed their basic standing.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Seymour Hersh, who has just written a new piece in the New Yorker magazine called The Next Act. The White House has responded to what you've said. White house Spokesperson, Dana Perino, criticized your article, calling it ‘an error-filled piece in a series of inaccuracy riddled articles about the bush administration’. She told Agence France Presse,
- DANA PERINO: ”The white house is it not going to dignify the work of an author who has viciously degraded our troops and whose articles consistently rely on outright falsehoods to justify his own radical views."
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you know, I’m, I’m---look so I'm not going to get invited this year to the White House, you know, christmas party. Ok, that's part of my responses. Presidents have been critical of me. The Clinton Administration said stuff, frankly, that was even just as bad. So that's just -- it goes with the territory. It's just -- it doesn't -- the comment doesn't go to the issue of whether or not there's a secret CIA Assessment. It doesn't matter what they call me. I think it's -- frankly, I think it says more about the white house than it does about me that they have to resort to such name-calling.
I'm saying, that there are people in this administration and serious people who consult for it and people who served at high levels in the government, and these are not radicals, not people who dish the troops, these are people who wore the uniform and took bullets for America. They are telling me things that go contrary to the policy. That's the issue. The issue is not me. It's what the people who tell me, and if there is a CIA Report, the white house should be asked about it very directly. Is there such a report?
And the other side of the story I get into is, that Cheney and the people in his office, the Vice President's office, sat on the report, were not interested in what the CIA had to say, and what drove some of my people a little bit up the wall, my friends inside the government, is, of course, we've seen this before, when the white house chose to ignore intelligence before the war in Iraq.
Any intelligence that suggested there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was dismissed out of hand, as was this CIA Assessment. The White House, in other words, believes there is, the President or Vice President, believe Iran has a has a bomb. And--if the CIA says otherwise, well, they just don't get it. They're wrong. And that's not the way to run the American government, particularly in these perilous times. And that’s the real issue Amy, obviously. I wish—I wish some of the reporters would ask that question and they will eventual. Don't forget the story we just published yesterday, nobody has really had a chance to read it.
AMY GOODMAN: The Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Muhammad Javad Zarif delivered an address at Columbia University here in New York last week. He spoke about ongoing talks with western nations, about what he insisted was Iran's peaceful pursuit of nuclear technology.
- AMBASSADOR JAVAD ZARIF: If you -- if the objective it to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, then Iran has put on the table so many suggestions based on serious research by independent scholars that would, from a legal perspective, from a political perspective, as well as from a technical and monitoring perspective, make it next to impossible for Iran to divert this technology to non-peaceful uses. These suggestions included, for instance, permanent presence of IAEA inspectors, which goes even beyond the additional protocol. On Iranian territory, on the sensitive side, so that they could ensure that nothing would be done in--on these sites that would be a violation of the NPT.
Other suggestions have been made, Iran presented packages to the Europeans Three, when we were negotiating about the so-called objective guarantees. Iran presented packages to the European Three that would have, in--in all possibilities, prevented diversion. That they did not come back and tell us that your package requires this additional element. I'm telling you, as somebody who negotiated with the Europeans until 2005. They did not, they never came back and told us that if you added two more inspections, we will be fine with that. Never. They've simply said that you are not reliable enough to have this technology.
Now, where does that reliability come from? Does that come from the fact that Iran has not invaded another country for 250 years? Now, we have countries that have access to extremely sensitive nuclear technology with a record of invasion, aggression in the recent history. We have countries that have access to nuclear technology, who have used it. We have countries who have access to nuclear technology that have -- let's take any criteria, violations of human rights, state terrorism, noncompliance with the security council, apply each single one of these characteristics and criteria to Israel and see if Israel should have nuclear weapons.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well look, Zarif’s a very dignified, a great gentleman, and I do respect him, I like him quite a bit. But, there’s no question on the other side of the coin you have Ahmadinejad, the President Mahmoud Ahmajine--madinejad of Iran who is really very -- he's very -- he's very mouthy, says all sorts of outrageous things that he should not say, that I think are inappropriate and very counterproductive.
And so you have that issue. and that does undercut, a great deal of what rational people, and good people like Dr. Zarif say. I wish he would shut up because I think the facts are as the CI—as I pretty much said, that there isn't a hell of a lot of evidence that Iran is-- I've been hearing people talk to me for ten years of Iran being three to five years away from the bomb and the Israelis have been saying for many years--that they're on the edge of the bomb. So at some point you have to come to terms.
This White House simply chooses not to listen to Zarif, but Ahmadinejad. And I must say he does it make it easy for them to do so, Ahmadinejad and he is--But the fact of the matter is, above and beyond all the rhetoric, our allies, the British, the French and the Germans, I talk to these people, they all acknowledge as somebody said to me, I think I quoted them in the article, there's no smoking gun. But they all believe that Iran is secretly pursuing a bomb and the Israelis are constantly flooding Washington and the European community with secret intelligence. That they claim supports that view.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the fact that Israel has a nuclear bomb, perhaps many, perhaps hundreds?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well I mean, prob--as you know, I wrote a book about Israel's bomb, what, 15 years ago, and -- and at that time it was 3-400, so we're talking about a country that could have 600. You know, Amy, you know it's funny, when I wrote that book, it was published in 1991, The Sampson Option. I ended up writing a little note about it saying that, you know, one of the problems you have is the West Bank is a big issue and the Palestinian issue, but even if we settle that issue, which I optimistically and stupidly thought could be done in the next decade. Once you got past the Palestinian issue, for the rest of the middle east there would be the issue of a nuclear armed Israel, sitting amid--amidst Arab countries with no nuclear weapons, that would be a huge issue. We haven't even gotten to the point of resolving the Palestinian question of this.
If somebody would’ve told me in 1991 we would still be fighting and we would still be in this terrible position we're in, in Palestine and the West Bank and Gaza, with the violence that's going on now, I would find it hard to believe. I don't know what it's going to take.
I thought the biggest news of the day – today--this morning I noticed it wasn't on the front pages of either the Times--The New York Times or The Washington Post, was the fact that the Syrian Ambassador -- or deputy—or Foreign Minister, Former Ambassador here, Waleed showed up in Iraq and there’s gonna be a conference between Iraq, Iran and Syria.
If you’re going to resolve anything, I think anybody -- anybody that believes, that any plan, the ones that are being talked about now, the new plan that was reported this week in The Washington Post about what the Pentagon wants to do. I read about the same sort of idea, in the --this article, this week of that we have some elaborate new plan to save the day. Any plan that's going to be developed by -- in this country that calls -- that depends on either the Iraqi police or the Iraqi military to stand up, is a nonstarter.
So we have to really start thinking differently about Iraq, and any thought about bringing in, for example, the UN, or even some -- any other group, anybody that comes in to Iraq right now is going to be an outsider, is going to be a target, is going to be accused of being involved with collaborators by either the Sunnis or the Shiites. They're all going to be targeted. This country is really in bad shape.
One solution, obviously, it seems to me, is to do exactly what’s happening. The two countries that seem to have some standing with the insurgency, Syria and Iran, maybe can do something because they have one thing in common with a lot of the people of Iraq; they’re standing up to America. And it is going to be very hard for us to accept the notion that we can’t broker anything. Which, I think is much more likely than not. I think it’s gonna have to come from the other side, that is from the Iranian and Syrian side. Why should they want to see, a Somalia on their borders? They don’t. And so that’s to me, the most important story of the day.