Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 13, 2007
WAR: Stopping the Iranians
Mark I looks at the US military briefing laying out the evidence that Iranian-manufactured weapons have been provided to forces fighting the US in Iraq, principally Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. There is fair debate about precisely how best to respond to this particular provocation. Certainly, full-scale war with Iran would be a bad thing for all concerned, and our policy for now should be aimed at raising the costs of this sort of thing to convince the Iranians that attacking U.S. troops is not in their interests. There are many different ways to do this, between overt and covert military actions and economic and to a lesser extent diplomatic screw-tightening; what we should be aiming for is reaching the point where Ahmadenijad and the other Iranian leaders wake up every morning saying to themselves "how do we get those ****** Americans to stop?" At the same time, the longstanding fact of military life is that when you hit the other guy back, you had better be prepared for him to escalate, and know how you respond next. So the next steps are perilous - but continuing to let them attack without consequence is perilous, too. Our guys in the field need to know that we don't take this sitting down.
It's been interesting to see the frantic responses from the Democrats and the left side of the blogosphere. Two of the complaints about the Iraq War, you will recall, are that (1) we have enabled the Iranians to gain undue influence in Iraq and (2) we should have dealt with Iran first. In fact, Iranian meddling in Iraq isn't news to either side of the aisle. But then, those criticisms were leveled by the people who always want to deal with any problem except the one at hand, and they've gone much quieter lately.
First up, John Kerry:
The idea that Iran wants a stable Iraq, at least in the sense that we would think of stability, is so delusional it's not even worth discussing. What needs to be done is to force the Iranians to decide that a stable Iraq is in their interests - but you can't just wave a magic wand and assume that the other side already agrees with you.
Then we have Sen. Jack Reed:
At some level, the question of who authorized war against us is beside the point. Power in Iran is diffuse - Iran is a tyranny, but not a dictatorship. The mullahs are the principal power, but they may not be any more monolithic than the Saudi royal family; Ahmadenijad holds elected office only at their sufferance, but he's not without influence. At the end of the day, though, this isn't a criminal trial in which we are trying to affix individual punishment - it's a matter of stopping something that's emanating from the borders of a sovereign state. (And color me skeptical that munitions are manufactured and distributed without the government's involvement). If we apply sufficient pressure on the regime, I have no doubt that the regime has the power to to make it stop, and if it doesn't, well, then Iran has lost control over its own territory and we need to take matters into our own hands.
A number of left-leaning sources have cited comments by General Peter Pace as somehow undermining the contents of the briefing:
In other words, Pace knows what is clear from Iraq - that Iranian-made stuff is being used against our guys. The sensitive intel part of this is tracing it to the regime, although as I said, on some level that's beside the point. One of the central defenses of terror-sponsoring regimes has been deniability - hit first, deny responsibility later. Here, we can trace the source to inside Iran - that should be enough to make the Iranians take responsibility.
Then we have Juan Cole, who disputes the accounts of Iranian support almost entirely on the basis that Shi'ites don't cooperate with Sunnis. Of course, that ignores not only the mounting problem of Shi'ite violence but also the fact that the Iranians have been supporting both sides. Which may make no sense if you are locked into academic categories, but makes eminent sense if you regard this as an exercise in power politics (after all, they are not the only ones meddling in Iraq).
Next up is Glenn Greenwald, who has a long post complaining about the lack of credibility of anonymous sources. Funny, Greenwald has very regularly relied on anonymously-sourced reports about US surveillance and detention policies and other issues that provide fodder for criticism of the Bush Administration. In fact, what is different here from the typical anonymously sourced report is that this is an official briefing with the imprimatur of the Administration, as opposed to an unknown axe-grinder. And note that the champions of Valerie Plame are suddenly unable to grasp that sensitive intelligence sources, including the identities of military intelligence personnel, are not well-served by the disclosure of their identities to the media.
The Iranian problem is indeed complex, presenting many different strands that need to be resolved. But sticking our heads in the sand while the regime that took 52 US hostages in 1979 and killed 240 Marines in the Beiruit bombing in 1983 does it again is not an answer.