The Bush team’s latest rationale for bombing Iran is even lamer than all the previous ones. But hey, Joe Lieberman buys it. Comforted?
Why attack Iran? War hawks in Washington are having trouble answering that question. Even their dire warnings about Iran’s nuclear program have not been enough to alarm Americans already weary of Middle East conflicts.
Now the war drums have taken on a different tone. The Bush administration is testing a new rationale for attacking Iran: We must strike because Iranians are killing our soldiers in Iraq.
This is not simply a charge made by one state against another in the hope that a misguided policy will be changed. It is also part of a calculated effort to find an argument for bombing Iran that Americans will accept.
The politically ambidextrous Senator Joseph Lieberman, a vigorous supporter of Israel and the Iraq war, floated the new gambit a couple of weeks ago. He calculated that Iran-trained units fighting in Iraq, and weapons from Iran or manufactured with Iranian help, have been responsible for the death of 200 American soldiers.
If Iran does not change course, he said, the United States should “take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq.”
Soon afterward, American press officers in Iraq began asserting that Iran is shipping weapons to Iraqi Shiite militias, specifically “penetrators” that can make roadside bombs more potent. Then last week a senior American commander in Iraq, General Kevin Bergner, charged that Iranians had helped plan a January attack in Karbala that left five American soldiers dead.
“The reality of this is that they’re killing American forces,” the general said.
Are Iranians really involved in the Iraq conflict, even arming and training militia units fighting US troops? Probably. Might factions within the diffuse, multi-polar Iranian government be encouraging such aid? Possibly. Iran has deep strategic interests in Iraq, its large, predominantly Shiite neighbor and longtime rival. It would be unthinkable for Iran to adopt a “hands-off” policy while Iraq’s future is being decided.
By invading Iraq, the United States deposed an old order and arrogated to itself the right to design a new one. Others – Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Saudis, Kurds, Turks and a host of radical Jihadis – had different ideas. They have insisted on their right to influence the course of events in a suddenly chaotic Iraq. Americans threw Iraq up for grabs, and cannot now complain that many are grabbing for it.
The larger question is whether Iran’s involvement in Iraq – even if Iran could be found directly responsible for the death of Americans – is so outrageously provocative that it justifies an American attack. History argues that it is not.
Most American soldiers killed in the Korean War fell victim to mines, bombs or bullets made in China. General Douglas MacArthur – sounding much like some in Washington today – wanted to carry the war into China itself. President Harry Truman wisely refused and, when MacArthur persisted, relieved him of his command.
During the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam with weapons and ammunition that killed thousands of American soldiers. Yet no one in the Johnson or Nixon administrations ever considered attacking Moscow in retaliation.
Nor did the Sandinista government in Nicaragua try to attack the United States during the 1980s, when American weapons and American-trained fighters were killing Nicaraguan soldiers and civilians. Helping friends during wartime is a tactic as old as proxy war itself.
Accusing Iran of deep involvement in the Iraq war is more than a way to lay the groundwork for a US attack. It also provides a scapegoat for America’s looming defeat. By this rationale, the American occupation would have succeeded, and Iraq would now be blooming and tranquil, if only Iran had not interfered and ruined everything.
Not even Americans are likely to swallow that one. Most reject the various rationales the Bush administration has so far offered to justify a possible attack on Iran. If they remain hostile to the idea, President Bush will eventually have to ask himself a fateful question: Should I attack anyway?
Attacking Iran would accomplish at least one thing Bush must be seeking. It will assure that future historians will not remember the invasion of Iraq as his biggest blunder.