The denials will continue to issue forth from the White House and the Pentagon until the day the bombs begin to fall on Tehran. The Bush administration has stepped up its rhetoric against Iran. Intelligence briefings for the press and other public statements have painted a picture of a merciless regime in Tehran that is responsible for seemingly every casualty in Iraq in recent months.
The media that the Bush administration relied so heavily on in the run-up to the Iraq war has become understandably skeptical. They were used four years ago and that resentment lingers. Any selling of facts the White House and the Pentagon try to do for another conflict this time around will, of course, find its way to the public via the media. It will also carry some qualifiers. This administration has been convicted in the public eye for lying us into an unnecessary war. At this point, making a case against Nazi Germany would be a hard sell.
Of course, when questioned about whether they are laying the groundwork for an expansion of military operations into Iran, thus creating a swath of American war for a solid thousand miles, from the western border of Iraq all the way to the Khyber Pass, every administration official has issued blunt denials. What, then, is the purpose of all the inflammatory rhetoric directed at Iran?
Iran and the United States have been adversaries for almost thirty years. But why? In the beginning, it was obvious why the Iranian revolutionaries of 1979 would reject ties to the United States. The Shah they overthrew linked the legitimacy of his rule to the United States. A rejection of the Shah by necessity had to be carried over to the United States. There’s been antagonism on both sides ever since.
Iran’s importance to the Middle East, both because of its size and its oil reserves, cannot be understated. It is a compelling fantasy to think that Iran and the United States could coexist in peaceful distance from another. At times in the past thirty years, that has happened. Unfortunately, there are now over a hundred thousand American troops on two sides of Iran. It follows that this is the cause of Iran’s confrontational stance with the United States these past years. Iran’s rhetoric is understandable. Also, if true, its actions in Iraq provide a clue to its strategic thinking.
The explosives it has been accused of providing to insurgents in Iraq, shaped charges designed to penetrate armor, or E.F.P.’s (explosively formed penetrators), are not just being handed off the backs of trucks to whomever wishes to target an American Humvee. They are being used exclusively by Shiites. Iran has picked a side and is backing it. In providing weapons to Shiite militias, Iran is supporting a Shiite strategy of increasing American casualties in order to turn American public opinion against the war. This is an effective strategy, and one that is close to fruition. Our patience with these casualties has worn out, and it is just a matter of time before our leadership is forced to end our involvement in this war because of it.
Shiite factions in Iraq must feel that the one roadblock keeping them from establishing true Shiite rule in Iraq is the American troop presence. Once gone, the civil war can go into full swing, leading to a consolidation of Shiite power. Iran wants this to happen because a secure and friendly Iraqi regime is essential to their national security, and to their regional power. In essence, they already have the friendly regime. Shiite Iraqi officials make regular visits to Iran, but Iraq is far from secure.
What is disturbing about the recent accusations directed at Iran is not Iran’s behavior. It is the Bush administration’s reaction to it. Arms shipments by Iran to Iraq are a major embarrassment to the United States. We are caught in a position in Iraq where we can essentially do nothing about a proxy war being waged against us by one of our enemies. Spreading the war into Iran is unsustainable to the point of being suicidal to our military without both conscription and shifting the United States into a war economy. However, if the Bush administration recognized this, they would not be spreading select intelligence about Iran out for all to see. Instead, the administration would be reluctant, possibly to the point of outright denial, to discuss Iranian involvement in Iraq, instead preferring to focus its attention on Tehran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
If the Bush administration is using this intelligence as leverage in the nuclear issue, it is making a huge miscalculation. Clearly Iran does not respond well to threats, implied or direct. Accusing it of killing Americans will not lead to the shuttering of Natanz and the dismantling of the weapons program. More likely, Iran will place the program into a crash mode, hoping to develop a workable device to use as a deterrent before any U.S. military action.
A more subtle use of these accusations may be related to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Since his election two years ago, the glow around Ahmedinejad has faded quickly. He is losing the support of the Iranian people, who continue to see staggering economic strife on a daily basis, despite Iran’s oil wealth, and who are increasingly disconcerted with their country’s confrontational relations with the United States. Iran has a cosmopolitan society that is frustrated with its lack of entrée into the new world of globalization, and recognizes that friendly relations with the U.S. are a quick ticket to admission.
More importantly, Ahmedinejad’s brinksmanship has cooled his support among the mullahs, who are the real power brokers in Iran. Ahmedinejad has taken the restricted power of the Iranian presidency and pushed it to limits unheard of among Iran’s previous presidents. But as his actions continue to isolate the country and strain its benefactors’ (Russia, China, France, Japan) ability to offset American pressure, the mullahs may decide that the latitude they have given their president was a mistake.
Seeing this, the Bush administration may be hoping that its accusations destabilize the Ahmedinejad regime, leading to either his marginalization in Iranian politics, or his removal by the mullahs. Unfortunately, the track record for American diplomatic pressure relating to regime change among our adversaries is dismal. It has been shown time and again that pressure meant to destabilize a regime actually renders it stronger, as the targeted regime is able to point to American opposition as a source of legitimacy.
Despite all the denials, the final, frightening prospect is that the Bush administration is indeed preparing a public case for military action against Iran. This action would not take the form of invasion. Our military will not be ready for such an adventure for many years after our final disengagement in Iraq. We could be seeing a situation where the United States will be using the deaths of American troops in Iraq as a basis for the bombing of nuclear sites in Iran.
Two years ago, such a prospect was laughably unlikely, but as the language about Iran coming from Washington has grown more bellicose in tone, it can no longer be dismissed so easily. Any logic that this intelligence is being used as negotiating leverage is debunked by the consistence of Tehran’s reactions to confrontational language, and the lack of any negotiating, period. This rhetoric is being directed squarely at the American people. The president doesn’t need to convince the mullahs or Ahmedinejad that given half the chance we would close a military vise from west and east around Tehran. They may already see American military action in Iran as inevitable. If the administration is picking a fight, the president needs to convince the American people, once again, that war is necessary. Hopefully, this one true competency of the Bush administration will fail him in his final two years as president.