US Preparing For War Against Iran?

A 6,000-word article for the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh suggests the US is closer to armed conflict with Iran than previously believed. According to Hersh, "late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran," according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. US Special Operations Forces "have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of 'high-value targets' in the President's war on terror, who may be captured or killed." However, according to Hersh, "The scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded."

The Washington Post says this morning the New Yorker article "drew a sharp reaction from administration officials, who denied that US forces were engaged in operations inside Iran." Spokesmen for the intelligence committees, the Post notes, "declined to comment," as did the CIA, citing its policy of not commenting "on allegations regarding covert operations." Asked on CNN's Late Edition if there is any truth to Hersh's allegation that US Special Operation forces are operating within Iran, US Ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker answered: "I can tell you flatly that US forces are not operating across the Iraqi border into Iran, in the south or anywhere else. ... US forces are not operating across the Iran-Iraq border, no."

Also appearing later on CNN's Late Edition, however, Hersh responded to Crocker's denial, suggesting that it was not a flat denial. Hersh said: "We've sent in a special task force that operates out of Afghanistan into Iran. I did notice what Ambassador Crocker said about not cross-border. And I have a lot of respect for him and I don't want to challenge him, but the fact is, we're inside; we're not necessary cross-border. We have teams inside Iran. And these include joint Special Operation Forces, our most elite commando unit."

The Financial Times reports the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned over the weekend "that Iranian retaliation for a strike on its nuclear facilities could include blocking oil routes and striking Israel with long-range missiles." Speaking to the state-owned Jam-e Jam newspaper, Mohammad-Ali Jafari said, "Any confrontation between Iran and non-regional countries would surely be extended to oil which would definitely lead to a huge increase in prices."

Fallon Reportedly Clashed With Cheney Over Iran Plans Hersh also told CNN's Late Edition that Admiral William J. Fallon, the former commander of CENTCOM, "ran into trouble because he spoke about not wanting to bomb Iran. Another factor in Fallon's problems with the White House, particularly with Mr. Cheney, the vice president, was that Fallon wasn't able to learn what was going on, all he wanted to know, about covert operations, CIA operations inside Iran and Afghanistan."

In his piece for the New Yorker, Hersh alleges that an unnamed Democratic senator told him that, "late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting," Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Senate Democratic caucus and "warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preŽmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, 'We'll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.'" Hersh continues, "Gates's comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates's answer, the senator told me, was 'Let's just say that I'm here speaking for myself.'" Hersh adds that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Admiral Mike Mullen, "were 'pushing back very hard' against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran."

Also focusing on Iran, a Washington Post front-page story suggests President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reliance on oil revenues to implement his domestic agenda may eventually lead to a decline in his popularity, while U.S. News and World Report reports this week that "dissent fomenting in Qom, a center of Shiite scholarship, shows that the current Iranian government leadership faces rumblings of opposition not just from secular-minded intellectuals...but from elements in Iran's clerical class, too. ... Some revered clerics, in private conversations, repudiate the idea of involving religion so deeply in politics and governance. And they blame the politicization of Islam for Iran's pressing woes -- human-rights abuses, international isolation, and an economy that is crippled despite being blessed with the world's fourth-largest oil reserves."


US "Missteps" Blamed For Al Qaeda's Pakistani Haven

In a 3,400-word front-page article, the New York Times says "years of missteps" in Washington and in Islamabad, "sharp policy disagreements, and turf battles between American counterterrorism agencies" have led to al Qaeda gaining strength in Pakistan. The "story of how Al Qaeda...has gained a new haven" in Pakistani, it adds, "is in part a story of American accommodation to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan" and "is also a story of how the White House shifted its sights, beginning in 2002, from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq." As a result, "it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration will leave office with Al Qaeda having successfully relocated its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan's tribal areas, where it has rebuilt much of its ability to attack from the region and broadcast its messages to militants across the world."

Today, however, Pakistani forces are claiming victory in their recent offensive against the Taliban. McClatchy reports the Pakistani government "claimed success Sunday in its first military operation against Islamic extremists, moving against warlords who were threatening to overrun the major city of Peshawar." The offensive, it notes, "was at odds with the government's declared policy of seeking peace deals with Taliban and other extremist groups massed in the country's northwest fringe. But the move won plaudits from Washington and Kabul, which have complained bitterly about attacks against Afghan and NATO forces launched from Pakistan's tribal area."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "as a result of the offensive, which signaled a shift in tactics as Pakistan's government tries to combat militant extremists, the government's talks with the militants appear to have collapsed." The offensive targeted Mangal Bagh, "a commander whose fighters had been closing in on Peshawar," but Major Gen. Mohammed Aslam Khattak, the operation's commanding officer, said the operation "could be extended against other militant leaders." The Financial Times, AP, AFP, New York Times and Washington Post run similar reports.


Crocker Generally Upbeat On Iraq

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, appearing on CNN's Late Edition yesterday, gave an update on the situation in Iraq. According to Crocker, "Overall, we have seen a significant improvement in the security situation and a reduction in casualties, both Iraqi and American, but we've never said that this fight is over or anywhere near it. We're up against some resilient and determined enemies. ... But we're also seeing something else, which is a very sharp Iraqi reaction to these kinds of attacks. You just mentioned the one that took place in Sadr City on Tuesday that killed four Americans. Two days after that attack, the district council members that had been the target along with us reconvened [and] held the election that had been scheduled for Tuesday. [They] elected a wounded council member as their new chairman, denounced the attackers, publicly thanked the United States for its support, extended its sympathies, and expressed their determination to take their neighborhood back from the militias who carried out that attack."

The CBS Evening News, meanwhile, reported that the US Army is publishing "the second installment of its own history of the Iraq war, based on interviews with officers who served in Iraq." CBS adds, "The main conclusion is that the US military had what it needed to defeat Saddam Hussein's regime, but it didn't have what it needed to replace it with a sort of democratic state that the US government had in mind." Gen. Tommy Franks," who was the top commander here at the beginning, had always planned for a relatively limited stay for US troops, short term. But it was based on wrong and, as it turned out, wildly optimistic assumptions."

Civilian Deaths Could Hurt Security Talks The New York Times reports, "Iraqi government officials on Sunday criticized the American military for two recent attacks in which soldiers killed people who the government said were civilians. ... An Iraqi government statement demanded that the soldiers be held accountable in Iraq," an issue that "is particularly delicate now because the two countries are negotiating a long-term security agreement and among the chief points of disagreement are whether the American military will be free to conduct operations and detain suspects and whether, if its soldiers kill civilians, they will have immunity from Iraqi law." McClatchy also says "senior Iraqi officials have not kept mum: They've demanded an investigation and say the incident could affect negotiations for a long-term US-Iraqi security pact."

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Clark Questions Value Of McCain's Service

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, yesterday said that Sen. John McCain's military service does not automatically qualify him to be president. Asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" why he referred to McCain as "untested and untried," Clark replied that McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded -- that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle this publicly?' He hasn't made that call." Clark added, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." The Politico calls Clark's comments "one of the more personal attacks" on McCain this cycle.

The Washington Times adds the McCain campaign "quickly denounced the criticisms as demeaning and proof that Mr. Obama is a typical politician, rather than the transcendent agent of hope as he and his allies portray him."

Speculation Turns To VP Picks

The two candidates themselves yesterday were outside of the public eye, and not making news. The AP reports that Barack Obama spent the day at his home in Chicago, while the New York Times reports John McCain held a private meeting with Rev. Billy Graham and his son. Consequently, much of the reporting on the two candidates in the latest news cycle is speculation and commentary on vice presidential picks.

On the GOP side, U.S. News and World Report writes that for McCain, "His pick for vice president must be comparatively young, a 'new generation' Republican who could balance the boss's decidedly mature mien and long tenure in Washington."

The conservative publication Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, predicted that McCain is "going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket as vice president." Kristol continued, "She's fantastic. She was the point guard on the Alaska state championship high school basketball team in 1982. She could take Obama one on one on the court." Kristol adds that it would be "interesting to actually have a woman on the Republican ticket after Hillary Clinton has come so close and failed on the Democratic side."

In his Roll Call column, noted political pundit Stuart Rothenberg dismisses the idea of McCain selecting former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as "too risky," saying, "CEO compensation issues (Fiorina's severance package on leaving HP reportedly was in the area of $42 million) as well as questions about her business acumen and management style, which led to her being forced out of her post at Hewlett-Packard, all would provide fodder for reporters and Democratic spinners."

Democrats Reportedly Unwilling To Accept Hagel As VP U.S. News and World Report reports "operatives" for Obama "are making the rounds on Capitol Hill assessing potential Democratic support for Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as Obama's running mate. But so far, the reaction hasn't been very positive. ... As Obama operatives have sounded out Democrats about Hagel, they have encountered serious resistance from many who say the Nebraska Republican is too conservative on other issues, especially abortion. As a result, some Democratic insiders say Hagel's prospects are plummeting."

Obama, McCain Heading Abroad

ABC World News reported, "Well, most polls show the economy is the number one issue in the presidential election, but the candidates are turning their focus now to foreign policy." Both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are "planning to leave the country soon, right in the middle of the campaign." McCain is going to Colombia and Mexico this week, while Obama is going to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe next month. The Wall Street Journal reports McCain's trip is "an effort to pad his foreign-policy credentials, appear statesmanlike and drive home a message about trade and international relations." USA Today reports McCain will "discuss free trade, the war on drugs, organized crime and national security, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said." USA adds that while McCain's "support of free trade dominated the Arizona senator's June 20 visit to Canada, this trip also is expected to include discussion of a politically sensitive topic: immigration."

Kristol: Obama Will Shift Iraq Stance After Petraeus Meeting The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, predicted that "the next big flip for Obama," will be on Iraq, where he is going to meet with General Petraeus, "decide the surge is working and walk back from his immediate unconditioned withdrawal. And suddenly, it's going to be, 'Well, we're going to be very careful, gradual. Honorable withdrawal, Obama said the other day -- an honorable conclusion to the Iraq war.'"

McCain Works To Woo W's Indiana Fundraisers

The Indianapolis Star reports that Sen. John McCain "has plenty of untapped wallets to mine" when he goes to Indianapolis on Tuesday for a major fundraiser. The Star says "of the more than 900 Hoosiers who contributed at least $2,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign, about 50 had contributed to" McCain "by the end of May, according to a review of campaign disclosure reports by Gannett News Service and CQ MoneyLine. ... It's noteworthy that Hoosiers have given McCain less than half what they have given Barack Obama...through May -- $587,185 for McCain; $1.2 million for Obama -- because Indiana has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate only four times since 1912."

GOP "Attack Machine" Said To Be Short On Cash

McClatchy reports Democrats "and the media have used the term so much that it's almost an article of faith. But the so-called 'Republican attack machine' waiting with piles of unregulated cash to chew up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is anything but." There is "no 2008 equivalent to the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which spent $22 million attacking Democrat John Kerry. Prominent groups and donors that played key roles in independent conservative 527 groups four years ago say they're sitting out this election." (usnews, 8.30.2008) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/politics/bulletin/bulletin_080630.htm