Two seemingly disconnected events have created a suddenly dangerous turn regarding the future of U.S. wars in the Middle East.

One was the abrupt resignation of the person who has been the biggest obstacle to a U.S. military strike against Iran, Admiral William Fallon, the chief of Central Command which oversees U.S. military operations in the volatile region.

The second is the ugly direction that the Democratic presidential competition has taken, with Hillary Clinton’s campaign intensifying its harsh rhetoric against Barack Obama, reducing the likelihood that he can win the presidency – and thus raising the odds that the next president will be either John McCain or Sen. Clinton, both hawks on Iran.

Throughout the campaign, Clinton has mocked Obama as inexperienced for his desire to engage in presidential-level diplomacy with Iran and other adversarial states. And she recently judged him as unqualified to serve as Commander in Chief, while declaring that both she and Sen. McCain have crossed that “threshold.”

The cumulative effect of Clinton’s attacks on Obama’s qualifications – combined with her campaign’s efforts to turn many white voters against him as the “black candidate” – has buoyed Republican hopes for November.

By simultaneously marginalizing and dirtying up Obama, the Clinton campaign also has tamped down the excitement of many Democrats, especially the young, for a candidate that they see as offering a refreshing message of hope and change.

Replacing Obama’s message of reform and reconciliation is a Clinton message of resentment and victimization, as voiced by former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro who claimed that Clinton confronts “sexist media” bias as a woman while Obama gets an easy ride because he’s black.

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” Ferraro, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, told The Daily Breeze of California. “And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is.”

The idea that a black man in America, who was raised by a single mother and who bears an exotic foreign-sounding name, would be deemed “very lucky” struck many Americans as a bizarre choice of words. But it fits with a key sub rosa theme of the Clinton campaign, that an unqualified black man was cutting line in front of a better qualified white woman.

Clinton gingerly distanced herself from Ferraro’s comments and Ferraro resigned from Clinton’s finance committee. But even political analysts who are fond of Clinton found the larger picture of her campaign strategic demeaning of Obama offensive.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said he decided reluctantly that he must speak out against the Clinton campaign’s behavior.

“As it has reached its apex in their tone-deaf, arrogant and insensitive reaction to the remarks of Geraldine Ferraro, your own advisers are slowly killing your chances to become president,” Olbermann said in a “Special Comment” on March 12.

“Senator, their words, and your own, are now slowly killing the chances for any Democrat to become president. … You are now campaigning as if Barack Obama were the Democrat and you were the Republican. As Shakespeare wrote, Senator, that way madness lies.”

Into the Abyss

If followed to its logical – yet crazed – conclusion, the madness also might be leading the United States into the ever deepening abyss of Middle East wars.

After all, both McCain and Clinton were staunch supporters of the Iraq War, now nearing its fifth anniversary with no end in sight.

McCain remains an Iraq War advocate, even he says if the U.S. occupation must last a century or more. Clinton only reversed herself on the war as she prepared to run for the Democratic nomination, realigning herself with the anti-war views of most Democrats, but she refused to admit that her 2002 war-authorization vote was a mistake.

Both McCain and Clinton also favor a hard line toward Iran.

During a South Carolina campaign stop in April 2007, as the Bush administration was pounding the war drums with Iran, McCain veered off into a musical rendition, changing the lyrics of an old Beach Boys song to “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

In September 2007, Clinton supported a Senate resolution co-sponsored by neoconservative Sen. Joe Lieberman that sought to have Iran’s Revolutionary Guard designated a “global terrorist organization,” a move that Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, warned could be tantamount to a declaration of war.

A month later, however, President George W. Bush opted for a less extreme position than the one Sen. Clinton favored. He designated only the Quds Force, a special operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard, as a “global terrorist” group.

Now, however, the abrupt resignation of Admiral Fallon, who had publicly challenged the saber-rattling toward Iran coming from the White House, removed one of the chief obstacles to the use of military force against Iran over its nuclear program.

Intelligence sources have told me that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were eyeing possible air strikes against Iranian targets in 2007 before they encountered Fallon’s stiff opposition.

The White House hardliners also met resistance from the U.S. intelligence community, which released a National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran had shut down a key element of its nuclear weapons program.

Since Fallon’s sudden resignation, intelligence sources have said they do not foresee an imminent U.S. assault on Iran, although one source said Fallon quit, in part, over a new White House demand for an updated attack plan.

More likely, the sources say, the issue of how to deal with Iran will pass to the next president. In that regard, McCain and Clinton promise more tough talk and belligerence, while Obama vows to speak directly with Iran’s leaders over how to reduce tensions.

Yet, the combined events of the past several days – the sudden ouster of the chief military opponent of an expanded war in the Middle East and the apparent decline in the political fortunes of the most dovish candidate – suggest that the Bush-Cheney belligerent strategies may well outlast their terms of office.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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