Politics & Policy

Cognitive Dissonance

Did the State Department hear what General Petraeus said about Iran?

The much-anticipated testimony of a most impressive man, General David Petraeus, underscores a fact that is essential but much overlooked. No matter how adept and heroic our military is — and, as their commander observed, they are “very likely, the most professional force in our nation’s history” — the purpose of a military in a constitutional democracy such as ours is to effect policy, not create it.

Crafting policy is the business of our elected civilian leaders. Thus it was counterintuitive to hear Ryan C. Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, frame of our policy only after General Petraeus’s report of progress to achieve it. The counterintuitive, moreover, quickly lapsed into the contradictory. Ambassador Crocker averred:

[I]t is possible for the United States to see its goals realized in Iraq[.]… A secure, stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors is attainable. In my judgment, the cumulative trajectory of political, economic, and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep.

Today is the sixth anniversary — if it is appropriate to mark an atrocity with that word — of the 9/11 attacks. It is a good day to remember that the challenge to which we finally rose in the aftermath of that dark day was the protection of American national security. That goal was understood at the time as crushing terrorists and — this is the important part — the regimes that support them.

Having deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime, forging a stable Iraq — one that is an ally rather than an antagonist in the ongoing war — is clearly a part of that. The question whether a democratic Iraq is either likely or necessary to our security is a controversy for another day. More worth our attention on this anniversary, as we consider the terror regimes, Iran in particular, that continue to facilitate radical Islam in Iraq and beyond, is Amb. Crocker’s vision of an “Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”

He contends the diplomatic trajectory is modestly upwards. In what sense? Iraq’s neighbors prominently include Iran and Syria. What follows is all of what General Petraeus had to say about them before Amb. Crocker provided his rosy trajectory. The words are Gen. Petraeus’s:

‐ We have also disrupted Shia militia extremists, capturing the head and numerous other leaders of the Iranian-supported Special Groups, along with a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative supporting Iran’s activities in Iraq.

‐ Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists, and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and, especially, by Iran fuel that violence.

‐ In the ensuing months, our forces and our Iraqi counterparts have focused on improving security, especially in Baghdad and the areas around it, wresting sanctuaries from al Qaeda control, and disrupting the efforts of the Iranian-supported militia extremists.

‐ In the past six months we have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding, and, in some cases, direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Qods Force. These elements have assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran, and indiscriminately rocketed civilians in the International Zone and elsewhere. It is increasingly apparent to both Coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of the Qods Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi Special Groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.

‐ The recommendations I provided were informed by operational and strategic considerations. The operational considerations include recognition that … success against Al Qaeda-Iraq and Iranian-supported militia extremists requires conventional forces as well as special operations forces[.]

‐ [O]n a less encouraging note, none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern.

‐ [Our] assessment is supported by the findings of a 16 August Defense Intelligence Agency report on the implications of a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Summarizing it in an unclassified fashion, it concludes that a rapid withdrawal would result in the further release of the strong centrifugal forces in Iraq and produce a number of dangerous results, including … exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.

So where Amb. Crocker sees an upward diplomatic trajectory, Gen. Petraeus finds it “increasingly apparent” that Iran, with all the mayhem it has already made, is trying to turn its Shiite proxies into another Hezbollah, something he now has a “greater concern” about than he did earlier this year.

The dissonance is familiar by now, but dizzying nonetheless.

Gen. Petraeus, nobody’s tool and nobody’s fool, laid out the Iranian challenge bluntly. He didn’t lay out an Iranian policy — not in his job description. That’s what they are supposed to do over at Amb. Crocker’s shop. At Foggy Bottom, however, there is no policy to speak of except to say, regardless of the evidence, that things are getting better.

Things are getting worse.

Gen. Petraeus succinctly told his congressional inquisitors: “We cannot win Iraq solely in Iraq.” He’s right, of course. And we surely cannot win the greater war against radical Islam in Iraq.

The war can’t be won absent dealing with Tehran. Six years after 9/11, six years after President Bush’s bold admonition to state sponsors of terror, it’s worth asking, yet again: How do we plan to do that?

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

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