Hersh: 'War with Iran will be about protecting the troops in Iraq'
Greg Wasserstrom and Mike Aivaz
Published: Sunday September 30, 2007

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The only thing different about the Bush Administration's rhetoric about Iran and statements made regarding Iraq before the US invasion in 2003 are the words chosen, says journalist Seymour Hersh.

"They've changed their rhetoric, really. The name of the game used to be nuclear threat," Hersh said on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, adding a moment later, "They've come to the realization that it's not selling, it isn't working. The American people aren't worried about Iran as a nuclear threat certainly as they were about Iraq. So they've switched, really."

The Bush Administration is all but set to authorize a campaign of limited, surgical airstrikes against Iranian targets, Hersh reports in the New Yorker's latest edition. In his piece, Hersh writes, "During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border and that the British 'were on board'... Bush ended by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution."

The sites in Iran being targeted, however, reflect the change in the White House's selling of armed conflict with Iran.

"Instead of... hitting the various [nuclear] facilities we know that exist, instead they're going to hit the Iranians as payback for hitting us [in Iraq]," Hersh told Blitzer in the CNN interview.

Such targets, Hersh says, would include Iran's Revolutionary Guard headquarters and other sites of Iran's alleged support for the insurgency in Iraq.

Hersh does not seem to think that direct conflict with Iran is inevitable however. He writes: "I was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the 'execute order' that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and such an order may never be issued. But there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning. In mid-August, senior officials told reporters that the Administration intended to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. And two former senior officials of the C.I.A. told me that, by late summer, the agency had increased the size and the authority of the Iranian Operations Group."

Those statements were echoed in the piece by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. "'A lot depends on how stupid the Iranians will be,' Brzezinski told me. 'Will they cool off Ahmadinejad and tone down their language?' The Bush Administration, by charging that Iran was interfering in Iraq, was aiming 'to paint it as 'We're responding to what is an intolerable situation,'' Brzezinski said. 'This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we're going to play the victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand.'"