With its usual tin ear for public relations, the Bush administration provided another Kodak moment of incompetent belligerence by yet again sending a high-level administration official to use an aircraft carrier as a prop for a hawkish rant. Vice President Dick Cheney did manage to refrain from displaying another Mission Accomplished banner during his address to the crew of the John C. Stennis, stationed 150 miles off Irans coast. But as Cheney warned Iran against disrupting oil transportation routes or getting nuclear weapons, the speechs imagery also reminded the American public of President Bushs previous fiasco on another aircraft carrier. Yet Cheneys speech may have more adverse implications for U.S. security than Bushs earlier public relations disaster.
In his address, Cheney rattled the saber against Iran by declaring,
With two carrier strike groups in the [Persian] gulf, were sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. Well keep the sea-lanes open. Well stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. Well disrupt attacks on our own forces. Well continue bringing relief to those who suffer, and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom. And well stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.
Cheney also warned that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would enhance Irans influence in the Persian Gulf region.
Although the backdrop of the speech was questionable from a domestic public relations point of view, Cheneys coercion of Iran is worse from a policy perspective. Although Cheneys address is part of a good cop-bad cop routine that also leaves the door open for U.S. negotiations with Iran over developments in Iraq, U.S. coercion against Iran has a track record of failure. The invasion of Iraq and other U.S. threats have caused the jittery Iranians to redouble their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, as well as support Iran-friendly groups in Iraq. Additional U.S. intimidation or a military strike against Iran could push the Iranians to take the gloves off in Iraq or to block the route for transporting oil out of the Persian Gulf. With regard to the latter, however, the somewhat more moderate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier concluded that such a scenario was unlikely because Iran also needs to ship its oil through the sea-lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.
Nonetheless, Iran does have potent means of retaliating if the United States makes good on its threats. Meanwhile, those threats and U.S.led economic sanctions are painting the coiled Iranian snake into a corner.
There is something very hypocritical about Cheneys concern that Iran could become the predominant influence in the Persian Gulf when the U.S. superpower has already tried to dominate the region. Similarly, the worlds greatest nuclear weapons state wants to deny Iran, which lives in a rough neighborhood, a few nuclear warheads. That is not to say that it would be good for the despotically ruled Iran to dominate the gulf region or to acquire nuclear weapons. But, from the perspective of the U.S. taxpayer, it might not be good policy for the United States to cast such a long shadow over the area or to have such a large nuclear arsenal containing thousands of warheads.
Finally, although it is true that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq may strengthen Irans position in the region, the administration should have thought about that before it unwisely took down the major counterweight to Iran in that part of the worlda stable Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Hawkish administration supporters should learn from the Iraq debacle that every war is not patriotic or smart, especially if it helps a major adversary of the United States.
The stark reality is that sooner or later, Cheneys empty threats aside, the United States will be compelled to withdraw from Iraq, and Iran will likely gain influence in the region and probably eventually obtain nuclear weapons. A fitting banner for Cheneys aircraft carrier speech would have been, Mission AccomplishedFor Iran.