Monday, September 03, 2007

The Fierce Urgency of Now

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

-- Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967
I was reminded of that quote by Ray McGovern, in this essay about whether the forthcoming war on Iran can be stopped. (via Arthur Silber; and I doubt that anyone but Silber would call McGovern's grim essay overly-optimistic.)

More talk about Iran today around the blogosphere. As regular readers will know, I have been very worried about the possibility of the Bush administration waging an aggressive war against Iran for some time now. And I'm not alone; as I linked to recently, even sober, "serious" people like former Iraq-hawk George Packer have expressed their concern recently.

Today's piece du jour -- linked to by both Kevin Drum and Steve Benan -- is by Todd Gitlin, who writes:
[W]hile I... might only be adding a link to a child's game of Telephone, I'd rather do that than shut up. If there's anything we understand about the occupants of the White House, it is that worst-case scenarios are, if not dead certain, to use the phrase of the day, worth taking seriously.
That point is basically seconded by both Drum and Benan. Drum, for instance, says:
Iran rumors make the rounds of the liberal blogosphere every couple of months, and they never pan out. So I'm skeptical about the latest round of stories, despite the fact that I have little doubt about the underlying desire of George Bush and Dick Cheney to bomb Iran into the stone age if they think they can get away with it... There may be nothing to this, but I'd rather get paranoid now and feel a little embarrassed later than shut up now and feel like an idiot later.
I actually don't think that this is a needless panic even under the best scenario. The basic point is this: everyone seems to agree that Bush -- or at least Cheney -- would like to wage an aggressive war against Iran if they could. And there are certainly signs that they are trying to: see the links that Scott Horton and Todd Gitlin have assembled, plus various other pieces of evidence too.

So it seems to me that the hopeful interpretation is that they are testing the waters -- trying to see if they can get away with it. In which case a hysterical reaction might well save us from a horrendous crime and a history-making blunder. It's simply not true that if we raise a hue and cry, and nothing happens, that we were worrying over nothing; we were, most likely, adding to the atmosphere that ultimately convinced the madmen that they could not, in fact, get away with starting yet another war (a few people have called it a second war, but it's worth remembering that it would, in fact, be Bush's third war, after Afghanistan and Iraq.) As Matt Ygelsias noted, the concerns of 2006 (including, e.g., the warnings of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker) might well have been, not groundless, but rather productive: they might have helped convince the powers that be that they couldn't get away with it... at least not yet.

Of course, they have less to loose now (it's quite possible Bush & Cheney simply don't care if the Republicans loose big in 2008; and they may see this as doubling down on their bad Iraq gamble). And they might well have a sense that they want to do it before they leave office, convinced that no one will.

All of which is to say: I think we need to worry. Since, as I said, the hopeful scenario is that our worry will help convince them that they can't. The pessimistic scenario is that nothing will convince them otherwise, that they have, in fact, already made the decision to commit this terrible blunder, this awful crime.

Now is fiercely urgent. Let us do what we can to stop this war before it is, in fact, too late.

Update (9/4): At TPMmuckraker, Spencer Ackerman presents reporting supporting what I called the "hopeful" scenario, or rather a version thereof:
Cheney's likely motivation for issuing such instructions to his think-tank allies would be to win an inter-administration battle over the future of Iran policy. Cheney, an advocate of confronting the Iranians militarily, faces opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where the primary concern is preventing an open-ended Iraq commitment from decimating military preparedness for additional crises. A new war is the last thing the chiefs want, and on this, they're backed by Defense Secretary Bob Gates. "It may be that the president hasn't decided yet," says Rubin. On this reading, the real target of any coordinated campaign between the VP and right-wing D.C. think tanks on Iran isn't the Iranians themselves, or even general public opinion, but the Pentagon. Cheney needs to soften up his opposition inside the administration if Bush is to ultimately double down on a future conflict...
Read the whole thing. It's better than the "they've already decided" interpretation. Still very, very scary. Josh Marshall says a bit more about this here. In contrast, Lance Mannion argues for the pessimistic view.

Once again. The big debate now is whether or not the current U.S. administration has already decided to launch an aggressive war against Iran, or whether there's still an ongoing debate about whether or not to launch an aggressive war against Iran, with probably the most powerful man in the administration -- Cheney -- on the pro-war side.

That's where we are, now.

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