September 24, 2007

The Go Code for Iran


The duty officer asked General Ripper to confirm the fact the he had issued the go code and he said, "Yes gentlemen, they are on their way in and no one can bring them back. For the sake of our country and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of SAC in after them, otherwise we will be totally destroyed by red retaliation. My boys will give you the best kind of start, fourteen hundred megatons worth, and you sure as hell won't stop them now. So let's get going. There's no other choice. God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids. God bless you all." Then he hung up. We're still trying to figure out the meaning of that last phrase, sir. "Dr. Strangelove," by Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick, et al.

Suppose, sometime in January, 2009, President Bush gives the go code for his 1,200 target bombing campaign against Iran. He doesn't ask for Congressional approval; at this point, Bush has nothing but wholesale contempt for both parties, and for the simplest of reasons: they don't agree with him, he's right, ergo - they're stupid. Apparently, the strategic planning for the Iran war has already been done. The targets are identified, although we can be sure, based on recent performance, that American intelligence is way, way off, and that many of the bombing sites will prove to be hospitals, business parks and residential buildings. Whatever. It's a TV show, not a real war, unless you happen to be within the blast radius of one of the very real bombs that falls on Iran.

If you look at sources like, one of those techie websites that look on with a barely-constrained fascination at American military might, you get the general idea that an American bombing campaign can't really start until we get about two more carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean. I know this bums Bush out, because it's such a dead giveaway. General Ripper, in "Dr. Strangelove," had the incomparable advantage of building on routine. The B-52s were always at or near their fail-safe points, so giving the go code, suddenly and without warning, guaranteed surprise and "total commitment." Sterling Hayden peerlessly depicted a general with a virtually foolproof scheme for defeating all safeguards while being absolutely batshit crazy. It is one of the most singularly frightening performances in the history of cinema, because General Ripper, you sense intuitively, is the natural and credible outcome of a system premised on an insane theory. If you want to defend yourself with men trained to respond affirmatively to instructions to destroy the world, then you must accept the certainty that among their number will be those who will be enthusiastic about destroying the world. Common sense tells us that is the case. And if they are enthusiastic, they will find ways to bring it about, with or without a direct order.

So even if Bush lacks all of Hayden's charisma, and, ultimately, his element of surprise, so that the bombing campaign over Iran will be his usual dreary and hamfisted exercise without the redeeming theatricality of "Dr. Strangelove," when he gives the go code without Congressional authorization, I have little doubt his orders will be carried out. On what basis would the generals say no? From a reading of the Constitution, which vouchsafes the power to declare war to Congress? That was forfeited long ago. From the War Powers Act? Bush has demonstrated over and over again, with the enabling casuistry of David Addington and others, that he will take whatever pieces of paper Congress has already given him and stretch them to the breaking point. Congress has given him two more-or-less open-ended Authorizations for Use of Military Force; Addington could find the go code in them with the papers face down and his feet on the desk.

As time has gone on, it has become increasingly apparent that Bush is as mad as a March hare. No one, maybe not even God, has any influence over him anymore. He's brought in a bunch of short-timers to nominally fill the roles of the original Cabinet incumbents, but they don't mean anything to Bush. Our warmongering, fiscally irresponsible President has run this country the same way he ran those few businesses he could get his hands on during his "civilian" life. Straight into the ground. He can feel it now. That familiar sensation of absolute, irredeemable failure. So he has very little to lose. The one constraining factor, I have always thought, is Bush's morbid fear of being tried as a war criminal. He's worked hard to maneuver his way out of that, probably the only disciplined and consistent course of action he's taken while President. He started with the Detainee Treatment Act and built upon it with the Military Commissions Act, two pieces of legislation which putatively deal with all these Afghans and Arabs the U.S. has rounded up over the last 6 years. I don't see any evidence either of these laws has anything to do with actual practice, but they were useful as excuses to pass exoneration provisions for violations of the War Crimes Act which might otherwise have reached all the way to the Oval Office.

But bombing Iran? That's not covered, as far as I can tell, by either get-out-of-jail-free card. An offensive attack against another sovereign nation in violation of international law. So I come back to the idea that serial pardoning will mark the final days of the Bush Administration. As for the 99,000 acre ranch in Paraguay, which some observers are convinced is at Bush's disposal -- it's kind of like that .45 caliber pistol which General Ripper reveals to Captain Mandrake by tossing aside a file folder. The paranoid believe in security in depth.

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