By CARL G. ESTABROOK
There's now a serious possibility that the Republicans could lose control of the House of Representatives this fall, and at least a statistical possibility that they could lose the Senate.
Meanwhile, approval of the administration's foreign policy, principally in regard to Iraq, has fallen well below 50% and continues to decline, while the Medicare drug fiasco has driven approval of their domestic policy, never high, to new lows. Moreover, the legal difficulties of the administration's Gauleiters, notably Libby and Rove, are serious, and the bottom could fall out of the ramshackle structure that supports the administration's felonious wiretapping (with some people thinking that there are further revelations to come about that curious episode: why did they bypass FISA, after all?). And it's SRO in the closet for all the Abramoff skeletons.
Cornered rats proverbially fight, however, and if things really get bad as 2006 goes on, with mid-term elections looming, the administration always has their ace in the hole: an emergency, preferably violent. (Imagine where the Bush administration would be, had there been no 9/11/01 attack.) Bush this week produced a suspect account of an almost-emergency, a putative foiled attack on Los Angeles in '02. (Again, the question: why mention it now? Why didn't they prosecute the conspirators at the time?)
Andrew Cockburn has demonstrated in these pages why a full-scale attack on Iran (four times the size of Iraq and not defenseless, as Iraq was) is out of the question. But, acting on the advice of the Truman-era senator who observed that "You can do anything you want with the American people if you scare them enough," the administration has been making headway among Americans with its scare campaign about Iran -- despite the uncomfortable resemblance to the campaign for the Iraq invasion (madmen armed with nuclear weapons, etc.) As our boy emperor himself once memorably put it, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me -- you can't get fooled again." Perhaps not, but the administration is surely trying...
But the administration may have choices other than a full-scale attack on Iran or an increasingly less credible viewing-with-alarm. If things get desperate enough that they need a military emergency to rally support for a beleaguered Bush and Co, there are things that they could do, short of all-out war. (In the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh has described military intrusions -- "special operations" -- by the U.S. and Israel that have been underway in Iran for some time; the administration's new budget, just submitted to Congress, calls for a substantial increase in money for "special ops and psy-ops.")
John Pilger notes that, while the Pentagon cannot seriously plan to occupy Iran, it may be that "it has in its sights a strip of land that runs along the border with Iraq. This is Khuzestan, home to 90 per cent of Iran's oil. 'The first step taken by an invading force,' reported Beirut's Daily Star, 'would be to occupy Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province, securing the sensitive Straits of Hormuz and cutting off the Iranian military's oil supply.' On 28 January the Iranian government said that it had evidence of British undercover attacks in Khuzestan, including bombings, over the past year." Last year, the Iranian government announced that it would build the country's second nuclear reactor in Khuzestan...
A U.S. attack by land, sea, and/or air would of course be an act of desperation, driven as much or more by failing domestic politics as by America's long-term policy to control Middle East energy resources. But given that the U.S. has malgre lui constructed a vast self-conscious Shi'ite region (Iran, Iraq, and the oil-producing parts of Saudi Arabia) that is at once in possession of most of the world's oil and hostile to the U.S., a further attempt to control it in this fashion may recommend itself.
Remember that the U.S. doesn't need Mideast oil for its own consumption (one reason that Bush's comments on it in the SOTU speech were so odd), but has for decades insisted on control of it as a way to control its major economic rivals, Europe and northeast Asia. The U.S. will not easily give up control of the spigot. And Khuzestan may be the handle of the spigot.
Carl G. Estabrook is a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org