"What I understand is this: our military, our Air Force has been trying for a year to get plans for a major massive bombing assault on Iran pushed through the Pentagon, pushed through the process. And there's been sort of an internecine fight inside the Pentagon over just basically the idea of strategic war against Iran. They're very dug in Iran. The Persians have been digging in for -- what? -- centuries and centuries. And the Marines and the Navy and the Army have said, No way we're going to start bombing, because it will end up with troops on the ground. So there's been a stalemate. I've written a lot about it.
There was another element, and you mentioned that in your intro and also in your news report. One of the things that struck me right away, as soon as I saw how Israel was bombing, and my instinct told me there was something there, because in one of the Air Force plans that I knew about but didn't write about, one of the Air Force options for taking out Iran was, of course, shock and awe, a massive, massive bombing well beyond any of the nuclear facilities. Go hit the country hard for 36 hours, drive people into underground bunkers. Don't target civilians, necessarily, but hit their infrastructure, hit the roads, hit the power plants, hit the water facilities.
And so, when they come out of their bunkers after 36 hours, they look around. In the American neo-con view, they were going to say to each other, “Oh, my god, the mullahs did this to us, the religious mullahs who run the country. We're going to overthrow them and install a secular government.” That was the thinking for the last year. That is the thinking for the last year inside some elements of the Pentagon, the civilian side, and also in Cheney's shop.
So when you watch what Israel did in its opening salvo, the first targets, I remember vividly, was -- and everybody should -- they took out the civilian airstrip. They took away civilian -- the ability to use aircraft to travel. They took out highways. They took out roads. They took out petrol stations. They basically isolated Southern Lebanon. But I think part of the reason they did so much damage to the infrastructure was they believed -- and I think the Israelis have been very clear about it -- that the Christian population and the Sunni population -- don't forget Hezbollah is Shia -- would rise up against Hezbollah, and it would be a great feather in the cap, etc., etc., etc.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about Elliott Abrams, and you talk about Donald Rumsfeld's role.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, what's interesting about Rumsfeld, because for the first time -- and not everybody agreed, but people that -- you know, I’m long of tooth, Amy, and I’ve been around this town a long time, and obviously, since 9/11, a lot of people talk to me. And for the first time, Rummy doesn't seem to be on board, is what I’m hearing. Actually, somebody even suggested he's getting a little bit like Robert McNamara. If you remember, McNamara, the Secretary of Defense who, under both Kennedy and Johnson, was a great advocate of the Vietnam War and its chief salesman, basically, one of its chief salesmen all during the ’60s, and by ’67, he decided it wasn't winnable and ended up being shoved out and put in the World Bank.
Rumsfeld is very concerned about the 150,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, who are potentially in a very untenable position. There's no question Iraq’s lost. There's a lot of question about what we're doing in Afghanistan. We're sort of 0-for-2 in those two. And so, Rumsfeld was not happy about this policy, about going in in a protracted war in Southern Lebanon with Nasrallah, because, of course -- I think Nasrallah is his own man. None of us really know. I think he decides what he wants to do. I don't think Syria and Iran control him the way Washington, this White House seems to believe everything comes from Iran.
And we're -- you know, as I say, it's an untenable position in Iraq. And nobody quite knows -- this government has no idea on how to get out, just like I don't think the Israelis -- you know, the same pattern you saw in Israel as you saw with this Bush White House going into Iraq: they were so sure of victory that they never looked at the downside. Actually, I quote somebody in this article in the New Yorker, a really high-level guy in one of the military services, saying, “You can't get this White House to think about the downside of anything.” And you saw that with the Israelis. They had no idea, once they got into the quagmire, of how to extract, except to add more forces and increase the death toll to themselves, too.
And I’ve obviously -- maybe not so obviously, but I’ve interviewed the President of Syria, Bashar al-Asad, a couple of times. And one of the last times, with great pain he told me -- I think he showed me, even showed me, he was -- this was in 2005. He's written letters to George Bush, saying, “Let's get together. Let's talk. We have a lot in common. We can help you. We and Iran basically both have more -- we can do more for you in Iraq than any other country. Why aren't you using us? We don't need a Somalia on our borders. We're not interested in chaos there.” And this White House doesn't believe it. And the letters weren't answered, he told me. His ambassador here in Washington, Imad Mustafa, is absolutely isolated. All this talk that the White House has made, Condoleezza Rice, about having openings to Iran, to Syria, are just, you know -- they're not worth much. There's been some low-level talk. Nobody has made any efforts.
So it's been an amazingly horrific performance by this White House, which is of par. You know, I don't think any of us -- I certainly won't breathe easy until we get to 2009, inauguration of a new president.
AMY GOODMAN: Just a few months ago, you wrote the piece, "The Iran Plans: How Far Will the White House Go?" talking about the U.S. plans to bomb Iran. Where do you think the current situation now leaves the United States and the Middle East?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you can't apply rationality to it, because I think it's simply something Bush and Cheney want to do. As I said earlier, they want to take out Iran. They don't want to talk to it. They believe it’s, you know, the axis of evil cubed. And so, frankly, my real worry is what's going to happen -- I think nothing's going to happen before this election. That's impossible. My real worry is what's going to happen when George Bush is a lame duck. He's talking about, privately now, so I’m told and so I’ve written, about Winston Churchill. If you remember, after leading England to war in World War II, he was turned out by the voters, and he wasn't fully appreciated until years later. So I think he sees himself in the position of “I know I’m right. They don't quite believe me. But I’m going to do the thing I think is right, the right thing. And maybe in 30 or 50 years, they'll come to accept me for the great president I think I am.” And so, that's what we really have as leadership right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And where does Condoleezza Rice fit into this picture?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you know, my guess is that she was smart enough to know this going -- this last trip she made to the Middle East, I've written that she didn't want to go, because she knew she had nothing to offer anybody. And I think there was a story the other week in the New York Times that was, clearly she inspired to her people about how Cheney is plotting against her, and Elliott Abrams, when he was on the trip with her, he was constantly calling up the White House behind her back and filling them in.
You mention Abrams. Abrams is sort of the key intellectual player, I think, of this policy that Cheney's involved in. He's not in Cheney's office. He works directly for the President as a Special Assistant in the National Security Council office, but there's no question, his influence is enormous on this.
AMY GOODMAN: And Seymour Hersh, for young people who don't remember Iran-Contra, can you just fill people in on who Elliott Abrams is, his history?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Elliott Abrams was one of the key players in this incredibly wacky scheme we had in the Iran-Iraq war of two decades ago. Between 1980 and 1988, Iran and Iraq fought each other, and we supported Iraq. We supported Saddam Hussein, the United States did, with a lot of secret arms, secret intelligence, even shipping him secret formulas that could be used to make biological weapons and chemical stuff and intelligence, etc, etc. And that was because of course, Khomeini -- we had been kicked out of Iran, when our Shah, the Shah was overthrown.
We were terrified of the Shiite leadership there. And so, one of the plans, one of the schemes was, in the middle of all of this hostility, Ronald Reagan was so committed to the Contra War in Latin America, that is, defeating what he thought was a communist-led insurgency in Nicaragua in an election there, that he cut a deal to ship arms -- let's see. It's complicated. They sold arms to Israel, which they were shipped, I think, into Iran. You help me out on this.
Anyway, the bottom line was that it was a policy that brought us into contact with Iran, secret trading. We were going to get weapons that were going to -- the Israelis were going to buy weapons. Money was -- they were going to sell weapons to Iran. Money was going to be generated from that sale to support covertly, outside of Congress's knowledge, to support aid for the opposition in Nicaragua that we favored --
AMY GOODMAN: For the Contras.
SEYMOUR HERSH: The Contras, yes, and so there we are. It was totally a crazy policy. When it unraveled, it should have probably led to, in a normal process, an impeachment proceeding for Ronald Reagan, but by that time, he was -- everybody understood he was -- he wasn't well with Alzheimer's or whatever."
I'm somewhat reassured that even Sy Hersh can't get his head around Iran Contra! I get confused too. The problem is that those same people had another decade to plan something even more labyrinthine - no wonder none of us have any idea what is going on, or why the americans invaded Iraq etc etc.