Sunday, April 16, 2006

To Read a Story On Its Face? Or Between the Lines?

These days when I read a story like the one appearing in today's Scotsman, whose headline blares that Blair refuses to back Iran strike, I go into immediate story deconstruction mode. To begin with the story is entirely leaked by anonymous sources. Who knows who they are or what agenda they are pushing. Moreover, what benefit is there, vis-a-vis Iran, in announcing the country's military posture right up front?
TONY Blair has told George Bush that Britain cannot offer military support to any strike on Iran, regardless of whether the move wins the backing of the international community, government sources claimed yesterday...
While the sense of crisis over Iran has been escalated by the fiery rhetoric between Tehran and the West - particularly Washington - many within the British government are now convinced that the impasse can be resolved by repeating the same sort of painstaking diplomatic activity that returned Libya to the international fold...

"The only long-term solution to Iran's problems is democracy," said Alex Bigham, co-author of the [The Foreign Policy Centre] report. "But it cannot be dictated, Iraq-style, or it will backfire. Iran may seem superficially like Iraq but we need to treat Iran more like Libya. Diplomatic engagement must be allowed to run its course. There need to be bigger carrots as well as bigger sticks."
As far as I can see, there are three possibilities.

1) The story is true at face value. Blair, whose approval ratings are hovering around 30, believes he'll never have enough domestic support to back an invasion and, given the set of facts on the ground, believes that a strike on Iran will not achieve a desirable outcome. This is more or less the position of Iran expert Michael Ledeen, as far as I understand it, so it is not unreasonable.

Moreover, this way Blair, still allying with the US, is setting up Britain as the "reasonable" diplomatic interlocuter, so that the diplomatic effort will be a two pronged process, as it was with Libya, with a fully informed and complicit US. Let's not forget that George Bush was aware of Blair's domestic difficulties in achieving support for the Iraq war, and at the time of the Iraq War offered him the option of supporting the war effort through means other than combat troops.

There is no reason to believe that Bush would be less aware of Blair's domestic realities at this point. Nor less willing to work within those confines.

2) Some members or the Gordon Brown clique in the Labor party wants to back Blair into a corner by leaking news of a policy they feel will be a relief to a majority of Britons, thus making it harder for Blair to act contrary to this leaked advise. This was the same clique, by way of example, that recently "leaked" news of "Blair's decision" to retire by next Christmas, in order to embarrass him into giving up the job before he was ready to leave, so that Brown can succeed him.

3) Though, since, one audience that might be glad indeed to hear news of the British government's decision not to turn to military strikes as an option is the British domestic, possibly he is simply reassuring his public.

Thus, this is Blair assuring the public of his "reasonable" posture, so if he ever decides he has to change that posture, based on changing facts on the ground such as what we find just below, he'll be able to do so with "reluctance".
IRAN has formed battalions of suicide bombers to strike at British and American targets if the nation’s nuclear sites are attacked. According to Iranian officials, 40,000 trained suicide bombers are ready for action...

Dr Hassan Abbasi, head of the Centre for Doctrinal Strategic Studies in the Revolutionary Guards, said in a speech that 29 western targets had been identified: “We are ready to attack American and British sensitive points if they attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.” He added that some of them were “quite close” to the Iranian border in Iraq.

In a tape recording heard by The Sunday Times, Abbasi warned the would-be martyrs to “pay close attention to wily England” and vowed that “Britain’s demise is on our agenda”.

Well, maybe a fourth.

4) Disinformation.
British officers took part in a US war game aimed at preparing for a possible invasion of Iran, despite repeated claims by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that a military strike against Iran is inconceivable. The war game, codenamed Hotspur 2004, took place at the US base of Fort Belvoir in Virginia in July 2004.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman played down its significance yesterday. "These paper-based exercises are designed to test officers to the limit in fictitious scenarios. We use invented countries and situations using real maps," he said.


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