drumbeat on Iran
The Bush team's latest rationale for bombing Iran is even
lamer than all the previous ones. But hey, Joe Lieberman
buys it. Comforted?
By Stephen Kinzer
-- Why attack Iran? War hawks in Washington are having
trouble answering that question. Even their dire warnings
about Iran's nuclear program have not been enough to alarm
Americans already weary of Middle East conflicts.
Now the war drums have taken
on a different tone. The Bush administration is testing a
new rationale for attacking Iran: We must strike because
Iranians are killing our soldiers in Iraq.
This is not simply a charge
made by one state against another in the hope that a
misguided policy will be changed. It is also part of a
calculated effort to find an argument for bombing Iran that
Americans will accept.
The politically ambidextrous
Lieberman, a vigorous supporter of Israel and the Iraq
floated the new gambit a couple of weeks ago. He
calculated that Iran-trained units fighting in Iraq, and
weapons from Iran or manufactured with Iranian help, have
been responsible for the death of 200 American soldiers.
If Iran does not change
course, he said, the United States should "take aggressive
military action against the Iranians to stop them from
killing Americans in Iraq."
Soon afterward, American
press officers in Iraq began asserting that Iran is shipping
weapons to Iraqi Shiite militias, specifically "penetrators"
that can make roadside bombs more potent. Then last week a
senior American commander in Iraq, General Kevin Bergner,
charged that Iranians had helped plan a January attack in
Karbala that left five American soldiers dead.
"The reality of this is that
they're killing American forces," the general said.
Are Iranians really involved
in the Iraq conflict, even arming and training militia units
fighting US troops? Probably. Might factions within the
diffuse, multi-polar Iranian government be encouraging such
aid? Possibly. Iran has deep strategic interests in Iraq,
its large, predominantly Shiite neighbor and longtime rival.
It would be unthinkable for Iran to adopt a "hands-off"
policy while Iraq's future is being decided.
By invading Iraq, the United
States deposed an old order and arrogated to itself the
right to design a new one. Others - Iraqis, Iranians,
Syrians, Saudis, Kurds, Turks and a host of radical Jihadis
- had different ideas. They have insisted on their right to
influence the course of events in a suddenly chaotic Iraq.
Americans threw Iraq up for grabs, and cannot now complain
that many are grabbing for it.
The larger question is
whether Iran's involvement in Iraq - even if Iran could be
found directly responsible for the death of Americans - is
so outrageously provocative that it justifies an American
attack. History argues that it is not.
Most American soldiers
killed in the Korean War fell victim to mines, bombs or
bullets made in China. General Douglas MacArthur - sounding
much like some in Washington today - wanted to carry the war
into China itself. President Harry Truman
wisely refused and, when MacArthur persisted, relieved
him of his command.
During the Vietnam War, the
Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam with weapons and
ammunition that killed thousands of American soldiers. Yet
no one in the Johnson or Nixon administrations ever
considered attacking Moscow in retaliation.
Nor did the Sandinista
government in Nicaragua try to attack the United States
during the 1980s, when American weapons and American-trained
fighters were killing Nicaraguan soldiers and civilians.
Helping friends during wartime is a tactic as old as proxy
Accusing Iran of deep
involvement in the Iraq war is more than a way to lay the
groundwork for a US attack. It also provides a scapegoat for
America's looming defeat. By this rationale, the American
occupation would have succeeded, and Iraq would now be
blooming and tranquil, if only Iran had not interfered and
Not even Americans are
likely to swallow that one. Most reject the various
rationales the Bush administration has so far offered to
justify a possible attack on Iran. If they remain hostile to
the idea, President Bush will eventually have to ask himself
a fateful question: Should I attack anyway?
Attacking Iran would
accomplish at least one thing Bush must be seeking. It will
assure that future historians will not remember the invasion
of Iraq as his biggest blunder.