Friday, January 19, 2007
your one wish you'll never get:
Look at the last ten days in the life of U.S.-Iran relations.

On Wednesday last, Bush says on television that "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. ... And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." He adds that he has authorized a second aircraft carrier strike group to enter the region, meaning that U.S. naval assets in the Persian Gulf have matched their high-point in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq. Within hours, the U.S. raids an Iranian quasi-consulate in the placid city of Irbil -- much to the horror of the Iraqi foreign minister and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (of warlords) -- and takes six hostages.

On Thursday last, General Pace testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the need to disrupt Iranian activities inside Iraq. (Interestingly, Pace said in March that no such evidence of malignant influence inside Iran existed. Such converts' zeal has also overtaken CIA Director Mike Hayden.) That same day, Condi Rice gets lit up at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She says that "I don't want to speculate on what operations the United States may be engaged in, but you will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these (malevolent Iran) activities (inside Iraq) continue." Meeting furious resistance from Senators Biden and Hagel, she tells the New York Times for its Saturday edition -- in short, just before her trip to the Middle East -- that Bush authorized, months ago, military operations against Iran within Iraq. The Irbil raid, in other words, was part of a broader strategy.

In today's edition of U.S. News and World Report, there's more on that strategy. MNF-I has created Special Operations Task Force 16 -- a/k/a the Iran Hunters. (OK, not really a/k/a.) If other spec-ops task forces in Iraq or Afghanistan are any model, it will go anywhere in Iraq and take down anyone Iranian, and it may not play by Marquis of Queensbury rules.
This is the strategy: escalation in Iraq, and serious escalation east of Iraq.

On Friday last, Tony Snow tried to shoot down an "urban legend" at his press briefing:
I want to address kind of a rumor, an urban legend that's going around -- and it comes from language in the President's Wednesday night address to the nation, that in talking about Iran and Syria, that he was trying to prepare the way for war with either country and that there are war preparations underway: There are not.
Right, why would anyone think that we're about to attack Iran? Snow's formulation echoes Ari Fleischer's infamous "there are no war plans on his desk" statements months before the long-ago-decided 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Whether or not Snow is telling the truth is important, of course, but it's not the only consideration. The escalation over the past 10 days does not need to be designed to bring out a war in order to produce a war. Iran has recourse to escalate as well, by increasing arms and other resources to its proxies in Iraq to attack U.S. forces. To put it differently, Bush is likely stumbling into a war, rather than declaring one. Iran knows Iraq much better than we do. Iran has more allies, and closer ones, in Iraq than we do. (Some of them, like Ahmed Chalabi, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Massoud Barzani and Nouri al-Maliki, are our "allies.")

In short, Iran can make a choice: perhaps, if the U.S. wants to go down this road, it makes more sense from an Iranian perspective to keep the U.S. in Iraq and bleeding there than it does to push the U.S. out. Iran can remain publicly committed to the end of the occupation, but if the U.S. opts to treat Iran like an enemy, it can easily resort to the most successful tactics of U.S. enemies -- asymmetric warfare, designed to exasperate and exhaust U.S. forces. No matter what, the U.S. couldn't invade Iran, goes the thinking, as long as its troops hold Iraq, so it makes sense to confront a bellicose America while it's tied down in Iraq, where Iranian assets are large and deep and U.S. familiarity and competence is comparatively minute.

Think long and hard about whether you want this to happen.
--Spencer Ackerman
instead of "flypaper," try "tarbaby"
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