Pankaj Prasoon

 Iran has never attacked another country. It was the subject of a covert US-British operation in 1953, and a failed US armed operation in 1980, both of which violated its territorial frontiers. Also in 1980, the Iraqi government, with US and British support, attacked Iran and waged war against it for eight years. Iran has not been implicated in any act of terror against a Western country since 1996.

In sum, Iran is not a threat. It is not about to attack anybody. There is no reason to attack Iran. But there are threats to attack Iran. Who is responsible, and why? In November 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on the US and British governments to attack Iran once they are finished with Iraq. The Israeli defence minister said in November 2003, "In no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession." The head of Israel's intelligence service said that nuclear weapons in Iran were the greatest threat to Israel since 1948.

In August 2004, Condoleeza Rice declined to comment when asked if the US government would support an Israeli attack on Iran. On 8 September 2004, Sharon said that the international community had not done enough to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons and warned that Israel would take its own measures to defend itself. That same month, the US government sold Israel 500 bunker-busting BLU-109 bombs and 2,500 one-tonne bombs.

Bush claims he now has a mandate to democratise the Middle East and has not ruled out attacking Iran. Vice President Dick Cheney called Iran one of the biggest threats to world peace and warned Iran that the US government would not tolerate their ambitions to obtain or develop nuclear weapons.

He said, "You look around the world at potential trouble spots and Iran is right at the top of the list. One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if in fact the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had a significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of the state of Israel, that the Israelis might well decide to act first and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward." Cheney did not warn Israel against acting as he outlined.

No Security Council Resolution has authorised the threat or use of force against Iran. Any attack on Iran would be illegal, a breach of the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force. Article 2 (4) states, "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any member or state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."
After his January talks with Rice, Jack Straw welcomed Bush's inaugural address in which Bush declared America's global mission to be the spread of democracy to the darkest corners of the world. Straw added, "I expressed support for what President Bush had said. After all, what he was saying was endorsing the very eloquent central tenets of the UN charter democracy." Actually, the Charter is about preventing the scourge of war by respecting every nation's right to sovereignty and self-determination, the basic principle of international law.

During the 2004 election, President George W Bush famously proclaimed that he didn't have to ask anyone's permission to defend the United States of America. Does that mean he can attack Iran without having to ask Congress? A new resolution being drafted by Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio may be a vehicle to remind Bush that he can't.

Bush has called news reports of plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" and declared that the United States is on a "diplomatic" track. But asked if his options included
planning for a nuclear strike, he repeated that "all options are on the table".

The president is acting as if the decisions that may get Americans into another war are his to make and his alone. So the Iran crisis poses not only questions of military feasibility and political wisdom but of constitutional usurpation. Bush's top officials openly assert that he can do anything he wants - including attacking another country - on his authority as commander-in-chief.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whether the president would circumvent congressional authorization if the White House chose military action against Iran or Syria. She answered, "I will not say anything that constrains his authority as commander-in-chief."

When pressed by Senator Paul Sarbanes about whether the administration can exercise a military option without an authorization from Congress, Rice replied, "The president never takes any option off the table, and he shouldn't."

The founding fathers of the United States were deeply concerned that the president's power to make war might become a vehicle for tyranny. So they crafted a constitution that included checks and balances on presidential power, among them an independent congress and judiciary, an executive power subject to laws written by Congress and interpreted by the courts, and an executive power to repel attacks but not to declare or finance war.

But the Bush doctrine of preemptive war, as laid out in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States and reiterated this year, claims for the president the power to attack other countries simply because he asserts they pose a threat. It thereby removes the decision of war and peace from Congress and gives it to the president. It is, as Senator Robert Byrd put it, "unconstitutional on its face".

Congressional response

DeFazio is now preparing and seeking support from other House members for a resolution asserting that the president cannot initiate military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

"The imperial powers claimed by this administration are breathtaking in their scope. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues were willing to cede our constitutional authorities to the president prior to the war in Iraq. We've seen how that turned out," DeFazio told the New York-based Nation newsmagazine. "Congress can't make the same mistake with respect to Iran. Yet the constant drumbeat we're hearing out of the administration, in the press and from think-tanks on Iran eerily echoes what we heard about Iraq.

"It likely won't be long until we hear from the president that he can take preemptive military action against Iran without congressional authorization, which is what he originally argued about Iraq. Or that Congress has already approved action against Iran via some prior vote, which he also argued about Iraq," DeFazio said. "That is why it is so important to put the administration, my colleagues and the American people on notice now that such arguments about unilateral presidential war powers have no merit. Our nation's founders were clear on this issue. There is no ambiguity."

There is considerable evidence that military action against Iran has already begun. Retired air force Colonel Sam Gardiner told the Cable News Network that "the decision has been made and military operations are under way". He said the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency recently told him that the Iranians have captured dissident units "and they've confessed to working with the Americans".

Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that "American combat troops are now operating in Iran". He quoted a government consultant who told him that the units were not only identifying targets but "studying the terrain, giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds".

Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has written to Bush, noting, "The presence of US troops in Iran constitutes a hostile act against that country," and urged him to report immediately to Congress on all activities involving US forces in Iran.

Bipartisan concern

Concern about presidential usurpation of the war power is not just a partisan matter. Former vice president Al Gore this year joined with former Republican congressman Bob Barr to express "our shared concern that America's constitution is in grave danger". As Gore explained, "In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power."

One of the stunning revelations of a recent spate of news stories is that top military brass are strongly opposed to the move toward military strikes. The Washington Post quotes a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Middle East specialist that "the Pentagon is arguing forcefully against it". According to Hersh's reporting in The New Yorker, the Joint Chiefs of Staff "had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran".

The Bush administration is putting military officials in a position where they will have to decide whether their highest loyalty is to the president or to the country and the constitution. Retired Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold, who recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has criticized the US military brass for its quiescence while the Bush administration pursued "a fundamentally flawed plan" for "an invented war". Now he is calling on serving military officers to speak out.

The "generals' revolt" has not publicly targeted the plans to attack Iran. But its central critique concerns Rumsfeld's disregard for the US military's evaluation of the costs of the Iraq war and the scale of commitment it would require. Even if the generals don't speak about Iran specifically, their arguments about the costs of the Iraq war logically fit a future Iran war too.

The American people are by now deeply skeptical of Bush's reliability in matters of war and peace. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 54% of respondents said they did not trust Bush to "make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran", compared with 42% who did. Forty percent said the war in Iraq had made them less supportive of military action against Iran. But Americans are being systematically deprived of any alternative view of the Iranian threat, the consequences of US policy choices, or the real intentions of the Bush administration.

Congress and the US military allowed the Bush administration to bamboozle the country with false information and scare talk prior to the Iraq war - and they share responsibility for the resulting catastrophe. Now we're hearing again talk about mushroom clouds. It's up to Congress and the military to make it clear that the president does not assume monarchical power over questions of war and peace.

Congress and the American people - who should make the decision about war and peace - haven't even heard the forceful arguments of military officials against military strikes. Calling those Pentagon officials to testify - and protecting them against administration reprisals - would be a good place to start.

Gardiner, who specializes in war games and conducted one for The Atlantic Monthly magazine that simulated a US attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, concluded, "It's a path that leads to disaster in many directions." Unless preceded by a United Nations endorsement or an imminent Iranian attack, it's also aggression, a war crime under international law and the UN Charter. If Bush or his subordinates have already ordered military operations in Iran, it should be considered a criminal act, Gardiner said.

The DeFazio resolution could provide a rallying point for a coalition to act preemptively to put checks and balances on the Bush administration's usurpation of constitutional powers. Indeed, the growing evidence that the United States is already conducting military operations in Iran demonstrates the urgency of placing limits on executive power.
Anyone in the United States who wants to avoid national catastrophe should get busy defending it. Otherwise, Bush's legacy may be: "He bombed Iran, and the collateral damage wiped out the constitution."

Psywar to keep Tehran on tenterhooks

The United States has already embarked on a psychological warfare (psywar) campaign to keep Iran on tenterhooks in the hope of thereby breaking its will to resist US pressure to agree to the dismantling of its uranium enrichment capability.

It is in this context that one has to view the rhetoric of "no option excluded" coming at regular intervals from President George W Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US leaders, orchestrated leaks to the media of Pakistan's cooperation with the US in a possible covert action against Iran's military nuclear capability, of increasing Israeli contacts with Pakistan, of US drones (unmanned surveillance planes) flying unhindered over Iran's nuclear establishments from bases in Iraq, and the latest reports of a mysterious blast near the southern port city of Dailam in Iran .

Iranian leaders would be making a serious miscalculation - as Saddam Hussein of Iraq did - if they underestimated the determination of not only the US, but also of Israel, to see that Iran does not acquire a capability for the production of nuclear weapons.

It would be a serious mistake on the part of Iranian leaders and policymakers to think that the disastrous consequences of the US-led military intervention in Iraq and pressure from the rest of the world - with even the United Kingdom reportedly hesitant to go whole hog with the United States in the case of Iran, as it did in the case of Iraq - would deter any US military or paramilitary action against Iran, despite undoubted difficulties.

In its efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring any capability that might bring a nuclear weapon within its reach, the US has three options. The first is military - an open military intervention, as in Iraq, to bring about regime change and the dismantling of Iran's nuclear capability. The Iraqi experience and the continuing instability there, two years after the US occupation, ought to discourage such an adventurist course of action.

The US underestimation of the sense of patriotism and national pride of the Iraqis is largely responsible for the mess it has created for itself in Iraq. The Iranians have even a much stronger sense of patriotism and national pride than the Iraqis, and the US would be landing in another mess if it invaded Iran.

The second option is to do an Osirak in Iran - destroy its nuclear establishments through clandestine action, either from the air or the ground or both, as Israel did to Iraq's French-aided Osirak reactor in the early 1980s.

Both the US and Israel have the capability to do so, acting in tandem or independently of each other, but a repeat of Osirak in Iran would be beset with serious difficulties, the likes of which Israel did not face in Iraq. Osirak was still under construction when Israel attacked it and it had not yet been commissioned. Hence Israel did not have to worry about collateral damage to civilians and the environment in the area due to possible radioactive leakages or other hazards. Moreover, the French engineers working on the construction quietly collaborated with the Israelis by remaining absent from the construction site at the time of the bombing. This helped minimize, if not avoid, French casualties.

In Iran, the US and Israel face two types of nuclear establishments - those already constructed and possibly already secretly working - and those still under construction and yet to be commissioned. In the first category would come the nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz and possibly one other place? Under the second category would come the nuclear power stations at Bushehr under construction by the Russians, despite US pressure to stop?

A clandestine US and/or Israeli strike on the construction sites at Bushehr should be feasible without causing much collateral damage to Iranian civilians and the environment. But how about the Russians employed for the construction? Will they cooperate by remaining away from the site at the time of the raid?

A strike against Bushehr, even if successful, would not put an end to US concerns. The real source of concern at present ought to be Iran's uranium-enrichment capabilities. They would have the first priority for both the US and Israel. Here, the dangers of incalculable collateral damage to civilians and the environment could be high. This ought to act as a deterrent, but if the concerns of the US and Israel crosses the limits of tolerance, they may not hesitate to organize a raid, even at the risk of serious collateral damage.

The third option is psywar, utilized with the aim of breaking the Iranian will so that the other two options become unnecessary. This option has no unacceptable risks, but its ability to produce the expected results is uncertain.

The US has already embarked on this option. The psywar is being waged at two levels - the political and the paramilitary. The political psywar, which is democracy-centric, is directed at the Iranian people and is being waged through Iranian dissidents in the US and elsewhere. It aims to keep alive and aggravate the divide between the reformists and the fundamentalist clerics and the liberals and the conservatives in Iranian civil society. It also seeks to exploit the already existing pockets of alienation inside Iran - and create more. The flow of US funds and sophisticated means of propaganda mounted from California and Iraq play an important role in this.

The paramilitary (covert) psywar, which is nuclear-centric, seeks to convey a message not only to Tehran, but also to Moscow, about the consequences of Iran pressing ahead on the nuclear path in disregard of the concerns of the US, other Western countries and Israel. This psywar is being waged from bases in Iraq and Pakistan. Its purpose is to create fear in the minds of Tehran and Moscow about the inevitability of US paramilitary action against Iran's nuclear establishments if they do not see reason and give up their present obduracy. The actions mounted by the US also seek to demonstrate its capability for paramilitary action, if it decides to act.

It is in this context that one has to view the reported mysterious blast at Dailam, which is in Bushehr province. The location of the blast is about 150 kilometers from the site where the Russians are constructing the nuclear-power stations.

Confusion in Tehran over the incident, which was reportedly spectacular without causing any human casualties, is evident from the contradictory statements emanating from Iran on the cause of the blast.

The Associated Press news agency quoted an Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman, Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, as saying, "An airplane flew over Dailam today. Minutes later, there was an explosion. But we have no reason to say it's a hostile attack. There is a big possibility that it was a friendly fire by mistake."

Iran's state TV al-Alam, which was the first to break the story, said the explosion was possibly caused by a rocket from an aircraft. Subsequently, it changed its version and said the blast might have been the result of an aircraft accidentally dropping its fuel tank.

Officials of Bushehr province, however, said the explosion was connected to "geophysical exploration" in the region, in connection with the construction of a dam.

A spokesperson of Iran's Supreme National Security Council said there was no incident and that people were stirring trouble with such reports. She reportedly said the council had declared that reports of a blast near the nuclear plant were just part of an ongoing campaign of psychological warfare against Iran.

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Tehran and at the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy in Moscow - which is overseeing construction at the Bushehr nuclear plant - reportedly told CNN in a phone interview that there had been no explosion at the plant area itself.

Given the normal lack of transparency in Tehran, one may never know what really happened, but it is quite possible that the explosion was the result of a US air-mounted paramilitary (covert) operation meant to demonstrate the United States' ability to carry out such an operation without being detected and prevented by the Iranians, and at the same time convey a message to Tehran and Moscow of the seriousness of US concerns over the nuclear issue and its determination to put an end to Iran's clandestine nuclear plans.

By carrying out the strike in the same province in which the Russians are constructing the nuclear power stations, but away from the construction site, the Americans could have sought to convey their message without creating any international controversy due to human casualties and other damage.


Conspiracies to commit wars of aggression have a pattern. First, deny that war is on the agenda. For example, before attacking Iraq, Blair said that his approach was the best, indeed the only, way of avoiding war; Colin Powell denied that Iraq was in US sights and Rice said, "We're going to seek a peaceful solution to this."

Now Straw says that Britain would not join in any attack on Iran, and Rice said on 4 February 2005 that the question of attacking Iran is simply not on the agenda at this point in time. We have diplomatic means to do this.

As a second feature of the conspiracy, never rule war out as a possibility, to be threatened, publicised and war-gamed. For example, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign minister, says that the EU's military force should be used alongside the USA against any state to stop WMD proliferation. This suggests approval of the illegal attack on Iraq and prepares the ground for a future illegal attack on Iran involving the EU.

Third, constantly assert that the targeted country is run by an outlaw regime that deserves punishment. For example, Bush described Iraq and Iran as parts of the axis of evil in his 2002 State of the Union address, and now claims that Iran is a threat to world peace.

Fourth, refuse genuine negotiations, demand that the targeted country obeys unilateral orders, and trash all those the UN, the IAEA, the French who may be calling for negotiations. Bush ordered Iraq to reveal its non-existent WMD and is now ordering Iran to stop developing its nuclear facilities, saying that the USA will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Fifth, when the targeted country refuses to submit, accuse it of refusing all negotiations, claim that it understands no language but force, and prepare to attack.