The Bush Administration is spiraling down into a major conflagration in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. To some extent, it is traveling on auto pilot. Left to its own momentum of inaction and massive overreaction, this Administration will almost certainly embark on a war with Iran.
It has been on this course for a long time.
I recall quipping to a friend a few weeks ago that I thought the way out of Iraq for this Administration was through Iran. What I meant at the time was that since this Administration had haplessly shifted the center of gravity of Iraqi politics to Iran, without Iran having to fire a shot, that the only way to exit out of Iraq with "credibility" was to attack Iran. Iran then becomes a continuation of a larger war "on terror" and it can then not be said that Iraq was lost since it will only become an unfinished chapter in a larger war.
It is now becoming apparent that the way out of Iraq, for this Administration, is indeed through Iran.
The eternally confused cheerleader of the Iraq invasion, Kenneth Pollack, was quoted in the New York Times stating the obvious:
“The administration does have Iran on the brain, and I think they are exaggerating the amount of Iranian activities in Iraq,” Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday. “There’s a good chance that this is going to be counterproductive — that this is a way to get into a spiral with Iran that leads you into conflict. The likely response from the Iranians is that they are going to want to demonstrate to us that they are not going to be pushed around.”
Mr. Pollack is half right. The Administration does have Iran on the brain, but Iran is not likely to respond so easily to such provocations. I think the latter statement is a little bit of wishful thinking on Mr. Pollock’s part.
Last week, in a confusing and contradictory speech, Mr. Bush went squarely after Iran (and threw Turkey a much overlooked bone regarding the Kurds):
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge.
This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.
We will expand intelligence sharing, and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
Since then his loyal surrogates – Bob Gates, Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley and Dick Cheney – have spread out across the world beating the drums of war.
Mr. Cheney, emerging from his secure undisclosed location, found it easy to replace "q" with "n" in his doomsday messages:
“So the threat that Iran represents is growing,” he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Mr. Hussein. “It’s multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.”
We can expect the bombs to start flying when the threat from Iran goes from "growing" to "grave and gathering".
This latest bravado is not only a signal by this Administration of defeat in Iraq; it is also a signal of defeat to Iran. The United States has been outmaneuvered by Iran, both in Iraq and on the nuclear issue. Having lost the war on the geo-political battlefield, the Bush Administration’s only option left is to lob missiles and drop bombs. The Bush Administration is out of its depth when it comes to foreign policy. Its only weapon, which it has so far failed to wield effectively, is the military option.
Mr. Bush’s plan to interdict Iranian agents inside Iraq is ill-conceived and naive. Iran’s power in Iraq does not come from supplying IEDs or other weapons to attack American troops. The Sunni Iraqi insurgents, those who make up the bulk of the force attacking American troops, are not supplied or supported by Iran. Most of Iran’s support structure in Iraq has been decades in the making. It is not limited to a few agents supplying arms to Shia militias. Iran has been, for decades, supporting Shia parties in Iraq. The most prominent of these are the SCIRI and the Dawa party – both of which hold the reigns of power in Iraq. They control many of the key ministries, including the Ministry of Interior. SCIRI’s Badr Brigade has become fully integrated into the Ministry of Interior and regularly carries out its death squad activities under official sanction. The SCIRI and the Dawa party were founded and trained by Iran in the 1980s. Most of the leaders of the two parties were exiled in Iran, if not Syria, for much of the last two decades – and a significant number of these leaders speak Persian as well as Arabic. When the SCIRI and Dawa party leaders speak of foreign interference in Iraq’s internal affairs, they are not talking about Iran, they are talking about the United States and the Sunni Arab countries.
Iran’s support does not end with the Shia. Iran has also been supporting elements within Iraqi Kurdistan since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s roots in Iraq run deep and wide. It is fortified each year with millions of Iranian pilgrims who descend upon the Shia holy sites in Iraq. So, when Stephen Hadley asserts that the United States is resisting Iranian "hegemony" in the region, he is remarkably naive. Iran already has hegemony over much of Iraq, and the odds of the United States countering that hegemony are slim to none.
The irony is that when Mr. Bush talks about going after death squads in Iraq, he is talking about going after Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Iran would like nothing better. Although al-Sadr is Shia, he is also an Arab nationalist. He is against partitioning Iraq to form a southern homeland for the Shia. By going after al-Sadr, once again Mr. Bush would be doing Iran’s bidding. To add further to the mess of Mr. Bush’s policy, Mr. Bush’s latest best friend in Iraq is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI. al-Hakim also happens to be Tehran’s man in Iraq, and for an independent Shia homeland in the south. By eliminating al-Sadr’s influence and positioning SCIRI to take over the leadership in Iraq, Mr. Bush will have ensured Iranian dominance of Iraq.
The political outlook in Iraq does not look good for Mr. Bush. The die was cast on this course when the first American bombs started falling on Iraq in 2003. There is now only one option for Mr. Bush to avoid defeat in Iraq – and that is to attack Iran. Mr. Bush and his coterie of advisors certainly knows their machinations in Iraq will not effectively counter Iranian "hegemony". So, they are going through the motions and getting ready to go for the jugular.
Mr. Cheney warned yesterday about Iran:
They are in a position where site astride the Straits of Hormuz, where over 20% of the world’s supply of oil transits every single day, over 18 million barrels a day.
There is really one solution to Mr. Cheney’s geographic quandary. That solution is to wipe Iran off the map so they no longer sit "astride the Straits of Hormuz".