"I have fulfilled my destiny," the president says manically. He has just entered the nuclear launch codes that will trigger World War III. Seconds later, he emerges from a bunker. The Secretary of State squeezes between two soldiers. "Mr. President!" he shouts. "We have a diplomatic solution!"
He smiles. "It's too late," he replies. "The missiles are flying. Alleluia. Alleluia."
The above scene, from David Cronenberg's 1983 adaptation of the horror novel The Dead Zone, is a classic if slightly preposterous nightmare of a world destroyed by a demented demagogue. Now, incredibly, a lunatic out of a Stephen King movie has brought the United States to the brink of Armageddon.
Until I read Seymour Hersh's expose in the New Yorker and subsequent follow-up coverage by other journalists about the Bush administration's plans to start a war against Iran, I had dismissed talk of George W. Bush's messianism as so much Beltway chatter. True, he hears voices, even claiming that God and Jesus Christ talk to him. "I believe God wants me to run for president," he told a friend in Texas. Eschewing mainstream religion, he routinely parrots the apocalyptic ravings of fringe Christianist cults: "And the light [America] has shone in the darkness [the enemies of America], and the darkness will not overcome it [America shall conquer its enemies]," he said during his fevered campaign for war against Iraq. He mimics Old Testament cadences: "God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them," Bush told the Palestinian prime minister in 2003, "and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."
Despite the man's wacky religiosity, I have been giving Bush the benefit of a small amount of remaining doubt after five years of the most disastrous rule this nation has ever suffered. I believed that he was breathtakingly bigoted, stupid and ignorant. But I didn't think he was out of his mind. Until now.
"Current and former American military and intelligence officials" tell Hersh "that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium." Of course, uranium enrichment for peaceful atomic energy is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Which is what the Iranians say they're doing. But the Bush Administration, which knows a little about lying, doesn't believe them.
Fair enough: One only has to consider the risk of nuclear conflagration between India and Pakistan to see why the fewer countries have nukes, the better. Not every country can be trusted with such terrifying weapons. So how does the trustworthy United States plan to make its stand against nuclear proliferation?
By nuking Iran.
"One of the military's initial option plans," reports Hersh, "... calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites." An intelligence insider says that "every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap. 'Decisive' is the key word of the Air Force's planning. It's a tough decision. But we made it in Japan."
"We're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties and contamination over years," he went on. Crazy stuff. But whenever someone inside the administration opposes the nuclear option, "They're shouted down." The pro-nuke faction, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is responding to internal critics with a "B61 [nuclear bomb] with more blast and less radiation."
You may have heard that Bush dismissed Hersh's article as "wild speculation." At first I, like you, responded with a sigh of relief. But I've come to learn that Bush doesn't talk like a human being. His policy pronouncements are carefully lawyered to give him the kind of technical out that Bill Clinton could only have dreamed of. Bushspeak is crafted to ensure that what Mr. Straightshooter says is rarely what he means. Filtering "wild speculation" statement through Bushspeak analysis shows that it's no denial at all.
"The doctrine of prevention is to work together to prevent the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon," Bush said. Notice that, despite the disaster in Iraq, he still reserves the right to wage pre-emptive war. He continued: "I know here in Washington prevention means force. It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case, it means diplomacy."
It doesn't mean force necessarily. If and when a reporter reminds Bush of this statement after he attacks Iran, he will say that he never took the military option--including nukes--off the table. Moreover, he'll say, that he told the truth at the time. Thus the present tense: means.
Bush has not denied Hersh's article. Therefore, we should accept it as accurate.
We already know that Bush is capable of lying about his willingness to use diplomacy instead of war. "We're still in the final stages of diplomacy," he told reporters on March 6, 2003. "I'm spending a lot of time on the phone, talking to fellow leaders about the need for the United Nations Security Council to state the facts, which is Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed ... Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties."
Actually, Bush had decided to invade Iraq months--probably years--before. He had moved hundreds of thousands of American troops into the Persian Gulf. Two weeks later, he ordered an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein and began the saturation bombing of Baghdad. But Bush was still talking as if there were something Saddam could do to avoid war. "Our demands are that Saddam Hussein disarm," he went on. "We hope he does." Sure.
Many people have asked me during the last year whether I thought Bush would attack Iran. I said no, because he's out of troops, out of cash and out of political capital. He couldn't so he wouldn't.
Those things are still true. Not to mention that Iran would make Iraq look like a cakewalk. Yet, as Hersh reports, the United States may bomb at least 400 cities and towns inside Iran. "Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups." You don't need troops, money or the support of the American people when God talks to you. And when you're insane.
Ted Rall is the editor of Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists, an anthology of Web cartoons that will be published in May.