In 1970, in the windowless bunker that served us as an embassy in Laos, I listened one morning to an excited and enthusiastic senior diplomat tell his assembled staff that Nixon had just invaded Cambodia. Ever anxious to curry favor with my betters, I pointed out (A) that Laos, like Cambodia, was an officially neutral country bordering South Vietnam and could therefore count on being next in line and (B), that a war being lost by our troops in one country could not logically be won by expanding it into another.
These rather unremarkable predictions quickly came true, although the fact wasn’t noted in my next annual performance report. But what the hell. That was in another country, and besides the wench is dead.
Still, the memory came up like a bad clam last night as I listened to Bush lay out his plan to keep his war going until the 22nd amendment drives him back to Crawford in disgrace.
For the post-partum dissection of Bush’s speech I relied on MSNBC. There Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough and Keith Olbermann all correctly identified and spotlighted the most important news within it:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
We’re also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
As clearly as can be made out through the customary fog in all presidential oratory, this announces Bush’s plan to expand his war to Iran or Syria, or both. For how can 20,000 addditional American troops, mostly in Baghdad, be expected to “interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria?” And who, meanwhile, is going to “resolve problems” on the Iraq-Turkey border? And exactly how and where are these “networks” to be sought out and destroyed?
Most telling of all, why would our “friends and allies” (here read “Israel”) suddenly discover a need to be protected by Patriot missiles? We have been down this road before, during the Gulf War. That time the Scuds that rained on Israel, only four of which our Patriot missiles managed to shoot down, came from Iraq. This time, Bush obviously believes, they will come from Syria or Iran. Why would he believe that? What would cause the Iranians or the Syrians to do such a desperate thing? How about massive attacks from “an additional carrier strike group?”
All this seems as plain to me as Nixon’s motive in invading Cambodia, which was to keep the war going for his personal political reasons. And so I expected Bush’s plans for a brand-new war to lead the New York Times coverage of the speech this morning.
Instead there was this, in the 14th and 15th paragraphs of the lead story, on page 19:
In some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran, Mr. Bush accused the Iranian government of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” and vowed to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.”
He left deliberately vague the question of whether those operations would be limited to Iraq or conducted elsewhere, and said he had ordered the previously reported deployment of a new aircraft carrier strike group to the region, where it is in easy reach of Iranian territory.
Readers who continued on to page 21 would have come across the headline To Counter Iran’s Role in Iraq, Bush Moves Beyond Diplomacy. And perhaps then they would have seen, by reference to von Clausewitz’s famous dictum, that what lies beyond diplomacy will be war.