Exit Strategies

John Bolton's Final Countdown


I don't know what to make of John Bolton's recent announcement of an August 21 "deadline" for Israel and/or America to strike Iran's Bushehr nuclear power reactor. First off, as Joshua Keating notes at Foreign Policy, “according to Bolton, right now is always the best time to attack Iran.”

In July 2009, he said that Israel would likely attack by the end of last year. In June 2008, he said it would have be before the end of the Bush administration. Way back in 2007, he was saying that "time is limited."

Bolton doesn't actually think that Israel will attack Iran this week, and believes that they have "lost this opportunity," but something tells me this isn't the last time that Bolton will give the Israelis an extension on their deadline.

No doubt.

And there’s more reason to discount Bolton and his pronouncements. Since the inauguration -- perhaps even since the 2007 NIE report on Iran -- the neocons and their frontmen have been marginalized and demoted. "Regime Change" was out, replaced by schemes that were no less interventionist but more palatable to the high-minded Soros crowd -- the "Green Revolution," which self-righteous liberals watched unfold over Twitter last spring, being the most obvious example. Bolton is, thankfully, far from power and influence at the moment, and his "deadline" might amount to no more than a mad man howling in the woods.

And an attack is still extremely difficult politically. Though there has been significantly more media chatter about Iran over the past three months, there is simply no popular mandate for action and there has been nothing like the White House-led, coordinated war rollout that we saw in 2003. Any U.S. attack would be a traumatic shock to the American public, and my guess is that, much like Washington’s other two Middle East wars, such a campaign would be highly unpopular with everyone except the neocon/neoliberal wonks living in the Beltway.

Unfortunately, none of this means that an attack isn’t in the cards.

The thing that Bolton -- and everyone else who supports confronting Iran over its nuclear ambitions -- rarely puts into words is what he expects to happen exactly after Iran’s nuclear reactor is "taken out." The neocons are famous for their rosy scenarios ("We'll be greeted as liberators!"), which they, no doubt, sincerely believe in. One senses that they think Washington and/or Jerusalem could pull off another "Operation Opera" that would quickly accomplished its goal and be soon forgotten. America’s benign hegemony could be reasserted on the cheap.

But at some level, even the neocons must recognize that Iran is a completely different ballgame. There is no possible way that Tehran would allow an attack to take place -- even a targeted, limited one aimed solely at Bushehr -- without a full-scale, extreme prejudice retaliation.  Bolton & Co. always talk about the “Second Holocaust” that shall inexorably occur “if Iran gets the Bomb,” but then fail to mention the kind of damage Tehran could inflict on Tel-Aviv and the bunched-up American military bases in Iraqwith conventional weapons. In 2009, the commander in chief of Revolutionary Guards stated flatly, “Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran has missiles with the range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), and based on that all Israeli land including that regime's nuclear facilities are in the range of our missile capabilities.”

Do Bolton and people like him understand whom they’re dealing with?