A Risky Game of Risk
Saturday 13 January 2007
I feel good about the new war with Iran.
How can you not have confidence in the crackerjack team that brought you Operation Iraqi Freedom, which foundered and led to Operation Together Forward, which stumbled and led to Operation Together Forward II, which collapsed and was replaced by The New Way Forward, the Surge now being launched even though nobody's together and everything's going backward?
I say, bring it on. If a pre-emptive war in Iraq doesn't work, why not try a pre-emptive war on Iran in Iraq?
Although Tony Snow dismissed the idea of war with Iran as an "urban legend" yesterday, Condi Rice revealed to New York Times reporters that President Bush acted months ago to parry Iran's ambitions, issuing orders for a military campaign against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces sneaking into Iraq. Using diplomatic passports, the agents have been smuggling in sophisticated bomb-making components and infrared trigger devices, which could be used to blow up American soldiers.
The move against Iran allows the president and Dick Cheney - who was, natch, militating for the Surge - to blow off, once more, the Iraq Study Group and Congress, to push back rather than make up.
James Baker and Lee Hamilton had recommended playing nice with the mad mullahs, which even they acknowledged was a long shot, given that the Bush administration can offer them little except acquiescence in their nuclear weapons program, which is not going to happen.
Joe Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Condi on Thursday that Mr. Bush did not have the authority to pursue the networks over the border into Iran or Syria. On Friday, Bob Gates assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iranians they target won't be in Iran.
We're trying to stanch a self-inflicted wound: our failed occupation gave Iran the opening in Iraq we're now trying to shut down.
The White House had to admit this week what has been obvious to everybody else for eons, including a list of lame assumptions they embraced during the first few years of the occupation: "Majority of Iraqis will support the coalition and Iraqi efforts to build a democratic state" has now been supplanted by "Iraqis increasingly disillusioned with coalition efforts."
It's a remarkable moment, W. standing nearly alone, deserted by more and more Republicans, generals and Americans, risking it all on a weak reed like Prime Minister Maliki.
It's impossible to know what W. was really thinking as he stiffly delivered his fantasy scheme in the White House library. The whole capital was fraught, but the president may simply have been musing to himself: "I'm hungry ... I wonder what time the game starts on ESPN? ... Has anybody read all these books?"
W. always acts like he's upping the ante in a board game where you roll the dice and bet your plastic army divisions on the outcome. This doesn't surprise some of his old classmates at Yale, who remember Junior as the riskiest Risk player of them all, known for dropping by the rooms of friends, especially when they were trying to study for exams, for extended bouts of "The Game of Global Domination."
Junior was known as an extremely aggressive player in the venerable Parker Brothers board game, a brutal contest that requires bluster and bluffing as you invade countries, all the while betraying alliances. Notably, it's almost impossible to win Risk and conquer the world if you start the game in the Middle East, because you're surrounded by enemies.
His gamesmanship extended to sports - he loved going into overtime and demanding that points be played over because he wasn't quite ready.
As Graydon Carter recollects in the new Vanity Fair, Gail Sheehy wrote an article for the magazine about W. that made this point: "Even if he loses, his friends say, he doesn't lose. He'll just change the score, or change the rules, or make his opponent play until he can beat him."
W.'s best friend when he was a teenager in Houston, Doug Hannah, told Ms. Sheehy: "If you were playing basketball and you were playing to 11 and he was down, you went to 15."
Even if it was clear who was winning, W. wanted to go further to see what would happen. It was a technique that worked well in Tallahassee in 2000, but not so well in Tikrit.
Word is that even as they Surge, the Bush team is already working on Plan C, or as they will no doubt call it, The New, New Way Forward II.