It’s getting close to the Fourth of July and you can bet Vice President Cheney will be enjoying his secure undisclosed location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You can also bet that he will be monitoring a bizarre secret dance with Al Qaeda that is currently going on. This morning’s New York Times reports the frustration CIA officers have in not being able to pursue Al Qaeda into the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
A (new plan) was meant to pave a smoother path into the tribal areas for American commandos, who for years have bristled at what they see as Washington’s risk-averse attitude toward Special Operations missions inside Pakistan. They also argue that catching Mr. bin Laden will come only by capturing some of his senior lieutenants alive. But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light.
This did not make much sense until I read Sy Hersh’s new piece in The New Yorker about Vice President Cheney’s secret war inside Iran. Here, Cheney is using Al Quaeda linked Sunni groups inside Iran to violently harrass the majority Shiite’s into over-reacting, thereby giving the US a “cassus belli” to attack Iran.
The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baertold me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
While Cheney uses the Baluchi’s , supplied from their home base in Baluchistan in Southwest Pakistan, and the even more Al Qaeda trained, Jundallah, to kill Revolutionary Guards inside Iran, the normal military chain of command is kept completely out of the loop. Two months ago, Admiral William Fallon, head of Centcom, resigned over differences with Cheney on Iran policy.
Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility.
It’s bad enough that the commander of all forces in the Mid-East is kept out of the loop, but what’s worse is that congress is totally AWOL on this whole operation.
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. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.
My conclusion on this is that Cheney’s seeming Attention Deficit to capturing Bin Laden may have a darker side. His desire to provoke a war with the Shiite regime in Tehran, means he is willing to quietly ally with the perpetrators of 9/11 operating out of the Tribal Areas of Pakistan to achieve his larger goal. According to Hersh, four Democrats, in the so called Gang of Eight that signs off on top secret operations–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes–have gone along with Cheney and provided the $400 million for this operation. It’s time for Congress to make a decision whether we are going to war with Iran.
It is not for Dick Cheney and the Gang of Eight to decide.