… but the new one is a little warbled.
First of all, the context: Notice that Iran has done absolutely nothing in recent weeks or months that it wasn’t doing last year and two years ago. We have known for a long time that cross-border attacks against American forces are being conducted by fighters from the sanctuary of Revolutionary Guards bases in Iran; that Iran is training anti-American fighters directly and through proxies; and that it is supplying them with weapons, including the sophisticated IEDs now causing a preponderance of American casualties. True enough, it’s hard to tell whether the Iranian government is directing all of these activities, but that is completely irrelevant because we are legally entitled to hold the Iranian government responsible for all of it. The only reason we weren’t threatening Iran before is that we had no intention of attacking them before, and we could only come off like girlie-men if we whined about it and then did nothing. That’s why administration officials always shied away from imputing attacks by Iran on the Iranian government. But it was and remains ridiculous to suggest that the actions of Revolutionary Guards captured in Iraq cannot be attributed to the Iranian government without a proper chain of evidence. That was just an administration smokescreen to cover our decision not do anything about it.
But suddenly, a few weeks ago, the smokescreen disappeared. All across the administration, senior officials from the President on down — and including (I can hardly believe my ears) the State Department — have assumed an explicitly threatening posture. Clearly, there has been a strategic decision among the national security principals to do something new and what we see on the surface now is just the communications piece of it. What that the rest of that something might be, however, remains a big mystery.
This morning, the mystery deepened considerably. When asked by National Public Radio whether the U.S. might retaliate against Iran for its attacks against U.S. forces, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns invoked Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which preserves the right of self-defense “if an armed attack” occurs. But then NPR reminded Burns that the president said we have no intention of “invading Iran,” and asked for clarification:
But I want to understand which of the statements is operative: You don’t intend to invade, or you don’t intend to strike, given this particular context.
We’ve been very clear we don’t intend to cross the border into Iran, we don’t intend to strike into Iran, in terms of what we are doing in Iraq.
In terms of what you’re doing in Iraq.
All options may be on the table with other issues, like Iran’s nuclear program.
Well, that’s been American policy for many, many years. In fact, that predates the Bush administration.
So let me get this straight. We are invoking Article 51 to assert the right to strike into Iran directly because of the constant attacks by Iran against American forces. But now we’re saying we’re not going to strike into Iran directly? But as to the nuclear crisis–a situation not covered by Article 51–all options remain on the table? But we want everyone to know that all options are not on the table with respect to Iranian attacks against American forces in Iraq, even though this triggers Article 51? Because we don’t want anyone to think that that killing Americans could result in a cross-border retaliation?
Wow. I can’t wait to hear the explanation for this.
I’m afraid, however, that we may be witnessing another case of decision-by-committee driving the president into a nonsensical strategy — a trait of this administration that is starting to acquire all the familiarity of tedium.