An article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reports that the Bush Administration is planning for a war with Iran, or at least attacks on some things within Iran. In preparation for that attack, the Pentagon has taken over clandestine intelligence activities that used to belong to the CIA. In return for Pakistan’s help in infiltrating Iran, the US has agreed to let A.Q. Khan off the hook for his years of nuclear proliferation activities with Iran, North Korea, Libya, and perhaps other bad guys that we don’t know about.

Kevin Drum Of Political Animal doesn’t think most of these are worth worrying about, except for the lack of Congressional oversight, but I think he is too sanguine. The bargain struck with Pakistan raises the question whether the US is really serious about nuclear non-proliferation. As Hersh says:

“It’s a deal — a trade-off,” the former high-level intelligence official explained. “‘Tell us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys go.’ It’s the neoconservatives’ version of short-term gain at long-term cost. They want to prove that Bush is the anti-terrorism guy who can handle Iran and the nuclear threat, against the long-term goal of eliminating the black market for nuclear proliferation.”

The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons arsenal. “Pakistan still needs parts and supplies, and needs to buy them in the clandestine market,” the former diplomat said. “The U.S. has done nothing to stop it.”

If the US has agreed to look the other way while Pakistan improves its nuclear arsenal, it’s a bad signal to the rest of the world (Brazil, India, North Korea) and to the IAEA, which is charged with enforcing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), about our seriousness in fighting proliferation. While we accuse the IAEA of being soft on proliferation, perhaps the US is the real softy.

An interesting note by Hersh is that “many Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, believe that Iran is at least three to five years away from a capability to independently produce nuclear warheads — although its work on a missile-delivery system is far more advanced.” The mention of missile delivery systems links to the sanctions on China, which may have been based on intelligence gleaned by US special ops infiltration into Iran.

I am particularly unhappy with Hersh’s claim that “there has also been close, and largely unacknowledged, co√∂peration with Israel. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon said that the Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran.” I have long believed that America’s invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, was more a favor to Israel and American Jews than something required by America’s national security. So, Israel was wrong about Iraq, but now it wants us to attack Iran, because Iran poses a potential nuclear threat to Israel, as it incorrectly thought Iraq did.

The claim that the US plans to overthrow the current leadership of Iran (“regime change”) helps explain to me why we are not more concerned about Iran’s role in Iraq in favoring the Shiites in the upcoming Iraqi election. We’re not worried about what Iranian clerics might do in the future to control Iraq, because we plan to depose the Muslim leaders of Iran. I don’t think that will work, but if we did succeed in Iran (unlike Iraq), we might face a situation where Iran would move to secular leadership, but Iraq would have democratically installed a religious leadership.

The above are serious national security issues, but Kevin Drum is right that replacing the CIA with the Defense Department for covert operations in order to avoid Congressional oversight is a disturbing and important development.

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