Tuesday, October 03, 2006

October Surprise Watch: Iran Material

I've speculated about the likelihood of an October Surprise and the form it could take here, here and here.

While I'm confident that the Cheney/Rove/ Bush White House will try to pull some kind of Wag the Dog October Surprise stunt, I don't have a great deal of confidence as to the specific form it will take. That said, I think the likeliest candidate for an October Surprise is a Showdown With Iran (and maybe Syria too) to Stand With Israel against Hezbollah and Pave the Way for Lasting Peace in the Middle East. For better or worse, we'll know pretty soon what they're up to, given that we're into the first week of October.

This morning, while scanning the front page of the on-line edition of Haaretz, I came across an article by Ze'ev Schiff titled "Syria, Iran intelligence services aided Hezbollah during war". One thing to watch in the next couple of weeks will be the extent to which this theme is emphasized by U.S. officials and highlighted by U.S. media.

Another thing to watch is what Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says when she wraps up her Middle East tour. Specifically, will she link resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with "solving" the Iran problem?

Today in Saudi Arabia, Rice got an earful from Saudi Foreign Minister prince Saud al-Faisal about the importance to the region of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I imagine she'll hear this from every Arab official she meets.

Today in Saudi Arabia, Rice also "warned" Iran about its nuclear program:

"We are continuing to hope that Iran will suspend its enrichment activities but we have no evidence that it is (going) to do so,'' U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a news conference during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

"Should it not, then the only choice for the international community is to live up to the terms of resolution 1696 ... and that means to bring sanctions.''
If Condi Rice returns from her Middle East trip, and (1) announces that the U.S. and all its Arab allies agree that the most important thing in the world is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but (2) Iran's support for Hezbollah and its crazy nuclear program make it impossible to solve that conflict, well then there's the subject matter of your October Surprise right there.

A couple more notes on this:

1) The person to watch is Condi Rice, not Rumsfeld or Cheney. Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney has enough credibility to front a Wag the Dog operation.

2) I don't take much comfort from the fact that Condi Rice is defining the consequence for Iran of defying the international community on its nuclear program in terms of "sanctions". It's true that this appears on its face to rule out a military response. But it doesn't speak to the issue of whether the U.S. could purport to impose sanctions of its own, or whether the U.S. could appoint itself as the enforcer of those sanctions, including by way of a naval blockade.

3) If I were Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, I would meet with each and every Democrat serving on any national security committee that has access to classified information and briefings. It's important for people like Jane Harman to get the following message: Jane, I understand that you can't discuss the super secret information they're giving you right now, but make no mistake: if they pull some kind of October Surprise stunt, they're going to point to you and say, "See, we told Jane Harman all about this at the time, and she was ok with it."

Democrats like Jane Harman need to take steps now, consistent with their obligations to keep secret info secret, to ensure that they aren't being coopted or played by the White House. One way to do this is to write secret letters to the White House and to their Republican counterparts that clearly and unambiguously establish their opposition to any election season military adventures. Harry Reid should tell Joe Lieberman in no uncertain terms that if he enables a Bush stunt, he will be forever banned from serving on any Senate committee as a Democrat, in any capacity and for any purpose, full stop.

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