Politics & Policy

What’s Our Iran Policy?

We need something besides confusion.

For lo these six-plus years, the Bush administration’s Iran policy has been incoherent. Axis of evil … but no regime change; incorrigible destabilizer supporting both Sunni and Shiite terror in Iraq … yet Iraq’s helpful neighbor who has no interest in destabilization; the terror master who cannot be negotiated with … but a rational actor we believe will be brought around by negotiations.

Got that?

Now, the confusion is manifesting itself in spasms of gibberish over another self-imposed wound: To release or not release evidence that Iran is stoking the violence in Iraq. 

Iran’s mayhem-making has long been known. Alarm, however, and more than a little American embarrassment have been heightened in recent months. As the strife in Iraq continued to mushroom, Iran’s hand in it became too blatant to ignore.

A December raid by U.S. forces in Baghdad resulted in the capture of two high-ranking Iranian operatives suspected of coordinating attacks against Americans. One of them, identified as “Chirazi,” is reputed to be the number three official in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the militia which — in conjunction with Hezbollah and, possibly, al Qaeda — orchestrated the murder of 19 U.S. airmen in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

The December raid left the Bush administration doubly red-faced. First, it took place in what the Iranians must have believed was the safety of a compound belonging to Abdul Azziz al-Hakim. Hakim has recently been portrayed by the administration as a “moderate Shiite political leader” with whom the president has personally been consulting to help shore up the new Iraqi “democracy.” Well, he’s a Shiite leader, alright. In fact, he heads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq — a creation of Iran dedicated to the teachings of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Second, our other favorite Iraqi “moderate,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, directed that the two Iranians be released, infuriating U.S. military officials.

The Washington Post well explained our Defense Department’s ire:

U.S. defense officials familiar with the raids said the captured Iranians had detailed weapons lists, documents pertaining to shipments of weapons into Iraq, organizational charts, telephone records and maps, among other sensitive intelligence information. Officials were particularly concerned by the fact that the Iranians had information about importing modern, specially shaped explosive charges into Iraq, weapons that have been used in roadside bombs to target U.S. military armored vehicles.

Shaped charges focus the energy of a blast, allowing shrapnel to burst through vehicles, sometimes even if they are heavily armored. U.S. military officials have long said they believed Iran was responsible for sending such weapons — along with others, such as advanced sniper rifles — into Iraq to help insurgents and militia groups. “The evidence shows that they were exactly up to the things our suspicions indicated,” said one U.S. defense official.

Less than two weeks later, Americans troops raided an office in Erbil, in Iraq’s Kurdish region. There, as Bill Roggio has reported, they detained at least five Iranians later identified by the official website of the U.S.-led coalition as members of the IRGC’s Qods (or Jerusalem) Force. Qods, the coalition explained, is “an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces.”

With proof of Iran’s provocations increasingly patent, the Bush administration announced the imminent release a dossier explicating it. Now it has postponed the release … twice.

Some of the reluctance is understandable (although we are again left shaking our heads over why the promise to disclose evidence was made if there was reluctance about it). Laying cards on the table would be reminiscent of representations made in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Those have resulted in years of recriminations over intelligence allegedly cherry-picked and spun. Clearly, the administration has a great interest in getting this right.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot more to the temporizing than that. Demonstrating what Iran is up to is going to result in public pressure to do something about it.

The administration has never figured out what to do about Iran. But it knows the American people are not going to stand for Iranians killing American soldiers. Moreover, the already flagging support for the war in Iraq will further crater if it becomes inescapable that the Maliki government, being propped up by American lives, is indulging Iran’s machinations. And that rickety government, whose propping up we have, for some reason, made our top priority in the war on terror, may itself collapse if we take action against Iran, for which Maliki, Hakim, and Muqtadr al-Sadr all have sympathies.

So we are delaying on the dossier, lest the truth impel consequences for which we are evidently unprepared. And after finally taking what looked like some forceful steps to address long-standing Iranian offenses, U.S. officials are once again mumbling about the mullahs playing a positive role in Iraq, and about how we really don’t want any trouble with them. The end result is to portray the guilty as though they might be innocent and the administration as though it is rudderless in the midst of crisis.

Witness the seeming schizophrenia from Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times.

First, there’s this: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates seemed to concede Friday that U.S. officials can’t say for sure whether the Iranian government is involved in assisting the attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq. ‘I don’t know that we know the answer to that question,’ Gates said.”

Then there’s this: “‘What we are trying to do is … counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops, and we are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment,’ Gates said.”

Before recently becoming Defense secretary, Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group, itself a study in incoherence and fantasy where Iran was concerned. It doesn’t appear to have been a clarifying exercise for him.

Meanwhile, on the same day as Gates’s contradictory remarks, declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were released. The NIE, of course, was compiled by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies under the stewardship of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte — a career diplomat who was American Ambassador to Iraq when our current policy was being formed, and who is soon to become deputy secretary of State. Here is what the NIE says about Iran in Iraq (bold portion in original; italics mine):

Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics. Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq. Syria continues to provide safehaven for expatriate Iraqi Bathists and to take less than adequate measures to stop the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq.

So, the Iranians (and Syrians) are committing acts of war against us and materially contributing to the chaos the United States is now sacrificing blood and treasure trying to stop … but let’s not fret too much over a few extra dead Americans since the chaos would be happening whether or not the Iranians were stoking it.

Whatever happened to the Bush Doctrine?

 – Andrew C. McCarthy directs the Center for Law & Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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