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Busting Up Iran After Building It Up?
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++Addition++Pat Buchanan’s latest column addresses the question of why, with everything the US has done in Iraq having benefited its Persian neighbor, Iran is allegedly supplying and training Shiite militias through its Quds force and through Hezbollah while also backing Ansar al Islam. His answer is the US’ tacit support for PEJAK, a Kurdish resistance group similar to the PKK but operating at the eastern end of Kurdish territory.

As rumblings of war with Iran grow louder, I wish more would be said of how we’ve helped create the beast we now want to destroy. The WSJ op/ed board has a piece that amplifies those rumblings but doesn’t touch on the deeper reasons of why they’re now ‘necessary’. Last week, General Petraeus stated that Iranian interference is “the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”

It doesn’t bother me per se, but how hubristic do we come across as in censuring Iran for meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq?

Anyway, isn’t it, rather than a threat to democratic viability in Iraq, just the predictable result of democracy in the country? Seems Petraeus is fallaciously equating democracy with Western liberalism. Sixty percent of Iraq’s population is Shiite. With the Sunnis, who comprise less than one-sixth of the total population, now out of power and the Baathists who fought an almost decade-long war with Iran gone, of course Iran is going to have greater influence than before. Iranian influence may well threaten the relative viability of secular liberalism in Iraq, though. Seems likely to me that Iraq six years ago will have been a more liberal place than Iraq six years from now will be.

The board points to Iranian funding for Al Qaeda in Iraq:

In a recent interview with a newspaper in Qatar, an Iraqi Sunni insurgent vented about Iran’s support for al Qaeda in Iraq. “We found Iranian [currency] at an al Qaeda headquarters that we uncovered,” Ahmad Salal al-Din told Al-Arab, as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “We have also captured Iranian weapons, not to mention audio and video recordings containing announcements by al Qaeda fighters that they had received training in Iranian
military camps and that al Qaeda wounded were being transported to Iran for medical treatment.”

That would be one of the guys we knocked out of power venting about a group being aided by allies of those we put in power, a group that had virtually no presence in Iraq before the invasion.

The board sees this as business as usual:

These tactics will be familiar to anyone who has followed Iran’s history in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is trying to bring down the elected government. Or in Gaza, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guard trains and equips Hamas.

It was tough to do that in Saddam’s Iraq. Then we free Iran from its pincered position between two hostile regimes–the Taliban (which Iran nearly went to war with in 1999, while continuing to support the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s fiercest opposition within Afghanistan) and the Baathists (that Iran fought a costly eight-year war that left as many as one million of its own people dead). In the process, we push oil prices up internationally. Iraqi oil production has yet to return to the 3 million barrels per day prior to invasion, mostly due to less output in the north. The war has helped fuel opposition to the US throughout the Muslim world, and its national governments from Eygpt to Pakistan have followed suit, becoming less supportive of US influence and less cooperative with US interests in the countries they govern.

It’s not surprising that in the midst of such propitious circumstances that Iran wouldn’t exploit this golden opportunity to expand its own influence throughout the Middle East. When I say Islamic opinion of the US has dropped since the beginning of the decade, I need to point out one notable exception–Iran. The Persian public’s view of the US has become more favorable. In ’01, 63% of the country held an unfavorable view of the US; by ’05 it had dropped to 52%. It’s not difficult to imagine why.

The board argues (yet again) that it’s time to kick the tires and light the fires:

So: Iran is contributing to the death of GIs, is arming our enemies in Iraq, and is proceeding to ignore the world by enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. Is the Bush Administration merely going to slink out of office with that legacy?

Since the war has gone so well, it’s time to attack a country nearly four times the size of Iraq with a population more than twice as large? Occupation is out of the question.

Despite being a bigger beast than Iraq, though, military victory would be just about as quick. Iran’s military capabilities are roughly on par with those of mighty Jordan. The question is what the trouncing would accomplish. Is our reason for staying in Iraq and moving against Iran the prevention of the consequences of having invaded Iraq in the first place? After falling Saddam, we disband the Baathist-commanded army to give the Shia majority more control of Iraq’s armed forces, then we find ourselves protecting Sunni groups from Shiite militias allied with (and often part of) that Iraqi army. Then we back the Badr forces against al-Sadr’s forces in southern Iraq, even though the former is more friendly with Iran. The Iranian factor, then, must now be dealt with directly.

Knocked out the Sunnis, but some of the Shiites became too powerful. Knocked out those Shiites, but al-Sadr’s Shiites became too powerful. Knocked al-Sadr’s guys out, but the Baghdad-based Shiites with their history in Iran became too powerful. Better knock out Iran, then, before these guys become too much of a problem. I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode where an effort to control the local pigeon population presumably leads to Springfield being overrun by gorillas:

[As several Bolivian tree lizards catch and eat pigeons]
Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
Lisa: But isn’t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?
Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.
Lisa: But aren’t the snakes even worse?
Skinner: Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
Lisa: But then we’re stuck with gorillas!
Skinner: No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

That Simpsons reference works on another level–it shows how tenuous my understanding of the Middle East is. With posts like these, I’m looking for guidance from wiser minds as much as I’m trying to present my own befuddled understanding of the situation.

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. The problem comes with not starting early enough in the progression of events. And not looking at a broader field of action.

    The US was never meant to be a global hegemon. The US Constitution and the founding fathers' intent clearly pointed in a different direction, away from foreign entanglements.

    Once the US progressed beyond the point where the founding fathers' wisdom could help them appreciably, all bets were off. The US is indeed a global hegemon, with all the emergent exigencies that that implies.

    When you enter the world of the hegemon, whatever you thought you knew before goes out the window.

    Your analysis is fine as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it sounds a little like a group of chipmunks complaining about the weather. It talks around the problem, but fails to get at the heart of the situation.

  2. "Unfortunately, it sounds a little like a group of chipmunks complaining about the weather. It talks around the problem, but fails to get at the heart of the situation."

    That's how I feel–pretty impotent. Iran's actions are kind of understandable, though the uranium provocations seem irrational. Seems to me that the threat to the US from–besides what happens to our guys in Iraq–doesn't go beyond oil flow woes and I don't see how Iran benefits from restriciting that. So it doesn't make sense to me to escalate a situation for what the benefit of what the op/ed board calls "our allies in Iraq", whoever the hell they are. But for me to assert that there is no larger danger posed is something I don't have nearly enough information to do. Thus the cavilling.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    All the other stuff aside, I think we should make Iran suffer for having a hand in killing our people in Iraq. If we do nothing, we look soft. I am also in favor of revenge. Maybe they will think twice about sending aid to groups they support if some Iranian supply depots were destroyed and some Iranians killed.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Recently found your interesting site. Have to agree with you on your assessment. This issue has been revived again in 2010.
    The first and most important issue is: what are we trying to do there? Also, what is victory?
    Continuing to do (and pay for) the dirty work of a tiny pariah nation isn't getting us anywhere. The world is growing quickly ahead of us, and we have to conserve our resources for things that are closer to our national interest.

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