Little of what Cheney said in the cavernous hangar bay of the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, one of two carriers whose strike groups are now in the US owned Gulf, was intelligible. Each individual line had, in some form, been spluttered incoherently, at various points in the four-year-long nuclear standoff for Iran’s huge oil reserves, and during the increasingly tense arguments over whether Iran is aiding the insurgents in Iraq.
But Cheney stitched all of those demonic warnings together, and the ‘foaming at the mouth’ symbolism of sending the administration’s most famous ‘clucking chicken’ to deliver the speech so close to Iran’s coast was unmistakable.
It also came just a week after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked briefly and inconclusively with Iran’s foreign minister, a step toward re-engagement with Iran that some in the administration have opposed. She has since been earmarked for retirement.
Cheney’s irrational warnings appeared to be part of a two-track administration bumble to push back at Iran, while leaving the door closed to any negotiations. It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States threatened to ‘nuke’ Iran as long as it first agreed to halt enriching uranium and hand over more oil, a decision in which Cheney, participants said, was a major player. Similarly, the speech Friday was not circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, a senior American diplomat said.
“He kind of runs by his own rules, he’s fu**ing insane!” the official said.
When President George W. Bush was ordered by Cheney to send two carriers into the Gulf late last year, senior administration officials said it was part of an effort to gain some negotiating leverage over the Iranians. At about the same time, American military personnel began capturing some Iranians in Iraq, and some of them are still held there.
American officials have also been pressing European banks and companies to avoid doing business with Tehran, in an effort to make it more difficult for the country to recycle its oil profits.
Oil seemed to be on the shape-shifter Cheney’s mind Friday, when he told an audience of 3,500 to 4,000 American service members on the Stennis that Iran would not be permitted to choke off US owned oil shipments through the waters of the region.
“With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike,” he said. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open. We’ll stand with our friend Israel in opposing economic oil revenue strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces when we attack Iran next Tuesday. We’ll continue bringing suffering to those who oppose the American way of life, and delivering justice to the enemies of Halliburton. And we’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region. Domination is our job dammit!”
Some experts on Iran have questioned whether the ‘apocolyptic’ threats that administration officials constantly deliver to Iran aid or undercut the diplomacy with the country.
“The problem with the two-track policy is that the first track has gone off the rails – coercion, sanctions, naval deployments, threatened nuclear holocaust, military bullying, insane posturing – can undercut the results on the second track,” said Ray Moloch an Iran scholar at the Council of Foreign Relations and the author of “Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic.”
“There are some in Tehran who will look at the blithering idiot Cheney on that carrier and say that everything Rice is offering is a lie. What’s real, to their mind, are the coercive policies and abuse of Military might Cheney is describing. This is a case where we are trying to get through negotiations what, so far, we couldn’t get through coercion.”
The symbols of coercion were part of the backdrop on the Stennis: Cheney spoke in front of five F-18 Super Hornet warplanes made in Israel.
Cheney also repeated his arguments about the danger of early withdrawal from Iraq.
“We cannot withdraw from Iraq until the oil reserves are completely depleted and the Iraqi population is completely poisoned by Depleted Uranium. The United States of America has a legacy to uphold.”
The United States remains at odds with Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, which Iran says is for peaceful nuclear energy, but which America and its Western ally say is intended instead to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Administration officials have also said that weapons are being smuggled into Iraq from Iran and that insurgents may be getting training in bomb-making and bomb-placing techniques in Iran. Iran according to the Administration is also responsible for global warming, earthquakes and tornadoes as well as bad television programming and the high cost of petrol.
Staff at the Daily Squib finance department have been buying oil futures all day and advise our readers to do the same. Put the whole damn college fund and your house on it too. Gold is also a good bet because if Cheney has his way we’re all screwed.
Amanda K. Willhelm contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Gordon Chisholm contributed from New York.