Contextual Content

The most radical president in history

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military intelligence and congressional sources.

In his recent article "Preparing the Battlefield," Seymour Hersh, investigative journalist and famed author for The New Yorker, says that the leadership of the Democratic Party has authorized spending over $400 million in support of a presidential finding that greatly expands the use of secret operations inside Iran, including perhaps the use of lethal force. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

"This president has read it this way: anything that has to do with the military, even if it’s intelligence collection by the military, is part of warfare, preparing the battlefield," Hersh tells The Real News Network. "And they don’t have to tell Congress anything."

In this three-part interview with Paul Jay, Hersh says that a Gallup poll suggests that most Americans would rather the nation talk to Iran rather than go to war, in light of the current conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The problem lies in getting more public support. "So one of the things the special operations troops are doing is trying to escalate the amount of incidents inside Iran, trying to get more stuff going, more terrorism, more bombings, more internal disturbances, and hopes, maybe, in the fantasy football world in the vice president’s office, in hopes that the Iranian government would crack down on the minorities big time" which would not only mean bad press for them, but give America a vehicle for going in.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Welcome back for the final part of our interviews with Seymour Hersh, famed author and writer for the magazine The New Yorker. In his latest piece for The New Yorker, called "Preparing the Battlefield," Seymour Hersh talked about the expansion of special ops in Iran and the possibilities of military conflict between the two countries.

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JAY: I interviewed Larry Wilkerson, and he painted a picture of a struggle taking place in the administration between one section probably led by Condoleezza Rice, who wants negotiations with Iran but needs leverage—and leverage would be the threat of war—and another section, led by Cheney, who wants an attack. Does this bear out with what you know of the situation? And we come back to the question: where is Cheney in the balance of power in this struggle?

SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: I don’t know much about Condi. I don’t know what it is. Condoleezza Rice is on the side of negotiation right now, but the negotiation side is a very strange—. The American—and they call it the five-plus-one—our European allies and us, you know, the Russians and the Chinese, the diplomatic position is to me stunning. It’s sort of bizarre. We say to the Iranians, "We want to negotiate. We want you to stop enriching uranium. And we’re going to have sanctions against you. But we want to talk to you about ending the enrichment of uranium. But we will not sit down to the table with you until you completely end it and it’s verifiable." And in one case the White House talks about a ten-year end. And so you want to negotiate something, but before you start to negotiate, you want them to do what you want to negotiate about. It’s a non-starter. So, she’s been there.

JAY: And in terms of the balance of power, is Cheney in the saddle?

HERSH: Depends on who you talk to. You can get ten different opinions on ten different days. My own instinct is he’s always been in the saddle, but that’s just my own instinct. And, you know, it’s a tough question, but you have to remember Cheney’s one of the few people of this government who really has a great deal of experience. He’s been in the Congress in a senior leadership role. He’s been in the White House as a chief of staff for Ford. He’s been in the Pentagon as secretary of defense. I mean, you know, he’s now vice president. This guy knows the Hill, he knows the executive, he knows the White House, he knows the bureaucracy. And he’s not without charm. Don’t think for a second that the pugnacious Cheney you see is all there is; there’s another side to him that’s quite charming and quite a good politician.

JAY: Senator Lieberman has been whispering in McCain’s ear over and over again the last few months and certainly has his ear. We asked Lieberman the other day whether the congressional resolution, which could be interpreted as a virtual blockade on Iran, checking boats and other kinds of means of transportation.

HERSH: It hasn’t gone through both houses, though.

JAY: Right. It’s still to go through. We asked Lieberman, if that passed, is it not tantamount to a declaration of war to start interfering in that kind of transportation? His answer was, "Well, Iran’s already declared war on us in Iraq," the implication being, "Well, maybe it is, but so what?"

HERSH: Well, just look what happened last year in September, when the Israelis bombed what they claimed to be a Syrian reactor. That’s not the case is. As far as I’m concerned, the case is far from closed on that. So Russia bombs a Syrian reactor, which you have to think about as, let’s see, Israel—.

JAY: Israel bombs a Syrian—.

HERSH: Israel bomb a Syrian reactor. If you go back to ’06, Hezbollah captures two Israeli soldiers that get too close to the border area. And I’m sure they were still technically Israeli territory, but they went farther than anybody has in years in that part of the road. It’s a narrow, little area where both sides commingle. And they get captured. And the response is 34 days of Israeli bombing of Lebanon with the Americans standing to the side, and Condoleezza Rice standing to the side, and Rove standing to the side. Israel then bombs Syria, and the response is nobody cares. So, I mean, you know, act of war. [inaudible] act of war at the worst. And it sounds great, it sounds menacing, but nobody gives much of a hoot.

JAY: This game of chicken between the US and Iran that we’re all watching so carefully, if there is going to be an attack—and it’s still an "if," we all know—what are the signs that something’s really coming? What should we be paying attention to?

HERSH: Well, it’s all done. I mean, the stuff that you pay attention to has already happened. I mean, you know, our submarines are there and the cruise missiles are on the destroyers. The targeting’s been done. Everybody knows what there is to do. They’ve been looking at this for three years. You know, there are some big decisions to make if you’re going to do it. The Israelis could throw some missiles in there. They have submarines, five or seven submarines. They could throw, you know, 50 cruise missiles. But the assembly, the studies that the Americans, we have done show we have to have a much more systematic attack. Natanz, where they enrich uranium, is under 75 feet of rock, and so you have to hit it pretty hard. And, also, if you’re going to do this kind of systematic bombing, you don’t want your plane shot down; so the first thing you have to do is take out their air defenses, and their antimissile defenses, and their radar. And a lot of their—so particularly their antimissile rockets are buried underground in revetments. So that means you have to send troops in underground to go, you know, bunker to bunker blowing them up. You don’t want a lot of American planes shots down and boys walking through the streets of Tehran, you know, circa Hanoi in 1965 or ’66. So there’s a lot of points of light in any significant bombing plan. I think anything that happens is going to be very, very kinetic. So your asking me about what are you looking for, it’s too late. It’s there. It’s not going to be a bunch of aircraft carriers flouncing around. It’s there. The stuff’s there. Everybody knows exactly what to do.

JAY: There’s a recent piece in the Israeli press and some of the, you could say, pro-war think tanks talking about that, in fact, the weakness of a possible Iranian response, that now’s the time to go according to these forces, ’cause Iran can’t respond with any vigor. What’s your sense of that?

HERSH: I can’t—I’m so far from an expert. But I will tell you that at $140 a barrel, Iran’s not going to be really—they’re producing what? 3.5 to 4 million barrels a day, longstanding contracts for a lot of money. They’ve been buying a lot of goods from the former Soviet Union, from China, from—.

JAY: Military goods.

HERSH: Oh my God, yes. They’ve improved their air defenses and their antimissile defenses and their radar stuff. And so it’s like a lot of things. You know, there’s words and there’s words. I think if you really are logical and think about it in a systematic way, bombing Iran is so counterproductive. On the other hand, we have the most radical president we’ve ever had in American history, I mean, somebody who really believes in democracy and believes in preemptive strikes, and has the legislation—the October 2002 legislation gives him the legal right to act preemptively anywhere he wants. The bill passed by the Senate wasn’t limited to Iraq. And so you have, as I say, this radical president who’s completely ineducable; you know, he’s absolutely incapable of learning. He thinks the war in Iraq’s going great, and he thinks Afghanistan’s possible. So, you know, what can I tell you?

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.