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A Very Good Reason to Get Worried: Seymour Hersh's advice
Seymour Hersh doesn’t like to speculate. The legendary investigative reporter has a reputation for sticking to the facts. That’s why he has won more than a dozen major journalism awards, including the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. But when I was interviewing Hersh on Weekly Signals, a KUCI talk radio program I co-host with Mike Kaspar, I decided to ask the journalist who broke the My Lai Massacre story what the future holds — or more specifically, does he think Bush will ease back from Iraq as a 2006 election year ploy?

“You’re asking me to guess about the future,” Hersh warned.

Yes I am. Speculate away.

“I don’t think Bush gives a wit about ’06,” Hersh said. “He does care about ‘08. So whatever business he’s going to do — whether he wants to go into Iran; he wants to go into Syria; he wants to take care of Lebanon or Hezbollah — whatever he’s going to do, he will do by the end of ’07. That’s because I do think he’d like to see somebody who’ll carry on his policy elected in ‘08. But in ’06? I don’t think he cares at all.”

What? Bush doesn’t care about electing a Republican Congress this year?

“I think he sees his mission as a much higher plain than day-to-day politics,” Hersh continued, “because he’s certainly left the Republican Party in a real shambles for this fall.”

The blowback from Enron, Plamegate, Katrina, the Medicare fiasco, Abu Ghraib, illegal surveillance and the “long war” against terrorism has discombobulated the GOP. Conservatives are coming unscrewed even in the pro-Bush bastion of Orange County, California where Hersh is lecturing Friday and Saturday, February 10 and 11 at the upscale Newport Beach Public Library. Blowback may be why Hersh’s dates at the library have been sold out for weeks.

Is the OC beginning to question itself? Is the hometown of Richard Nixon, hollowed ground of John Wayne and birthplace of the modern conservative movement losing faith in the Dub? Hersh will be at the Fashion Island locale discussing his book Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. His remarks about the absurdity of this Republican presidency will certainly sting some Orange County pro-Bush/Cheney ears.

"We have this amazing position,” said Hersh about Bush’s Middle East policy. “We’re hostile to Iran and yet the people we support in Iraq — the people who’ve been elected; the people we’ve been working with all along — are the Shi'a and the Shi'a in Iraq are pro-Iran. So the logic of it is confounding. You hear recently about our government trying to talk to the Sunnis. We could end up negotiating with the Sunnis and end up being their allies — the same Sunnis that are involved desperately with the insurgency.”

Bush’s foreign policy grows curiouser and curiouser. While the situation in Iraq was presenting fundamentalists with affirmation of their belief in Armageddon, our fundamentalist president was using his State of the Union address to boast about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Which is it? End times or good times?

“It’s hallucinatory, of course,” said Hersh. “That speech was a little scary because, among other things, besides glossing over the mess in Iraq that’s pretty much intractable at this point, Bush also talks about regime change in Iran as opposed to simply slowing down the nuke process there — the nuclear weapons system that they seem to be building.”

Is there a logic to these regime change threats? Is National Intelligence Director John Negroponte really truly cross-his-heart concerned about Iran’s nuclear program or is he part of another mega-hoax? Are we about to be distracted by Weapons of Mass Destruction yet again?

“I’m doing reporting on it,” said Hersh. “If you want to get worried, that’s a very good reason to get worried. The future isn’t bright. It’s just not. We do have a president who thinks he has a mission. And it’s not clear how intelligence or other issues are going to matter.”

Iran is three times the size as Iraq. It has three times the population. Its military, unlike Iraq’s, wasn’t destroyed in a war and then saddled with a decade of economic sanctions. Iran is a functioning oil-based economy with serious ties to the global economy. Simply put, Iran is not Iraq. And yet, Hersh seems to be speculating that the Bush administration might be crazy enough to attack Iran.

We asked Hersh to speculate some more. He laughed.

Mike and I aren’t ready to become a expatriates — at least not yet. But as things continue to unravel stateside, having a second passport sounds like a pretty good Plan B. Passports in hand, we pose some more speculative questions to Hersh.

“Let me go. You guys are torturing me,” he said.

Speaking of torture, Has the Bush administration blown that issue away? Is torture off the table? Last week’s news?

“The policy has been to get rid of it. Drop it. Let it go,” said Hersh about Bush’s attitude toward Abu Ghraib and extraordinary-rendition. “I think there’s been a conscious effort to tamper it down by the administration. It’s been quite successful. The next question is: Are we still torturing? Has anything really stopped because of the legislation signed by McCain and passed by the president? You remember the president issued a statement when he signed it saying this is well and good, but he can decide what he wants to do based on his inherent power as Commander-in-Chief. I think the answer is: Nothing’s really changed. It’s just nobody’s talking about it anymore.”

Shouldn’t someone — like Congress — bring the matter up again? Is there a chance that a majority of our 535 representations will grow a backbone, stand up to the president and try to restore our standing in the world?

“Here’s what I say about Congress when I’m asked,” Hersh said. “On any given day I can’t tell you whether they’re supine or prone, but they’re down.”

The future isn’t bright. Speculate on that for awhile — even if you live in Orange County. When Hersh brings his message to the Newport Beach Library, the sold-out crowd might not like what it hears, but my guess is that at least some of them will keep their second passports alive.

— Nathan Callahan, February 8, 2006


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