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The Elephant in the Room, Part 1

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For a long time, people like myself and a great, great, many others have been talking at length about the fact that the Islamic "Republic" of Iran poses a dangerous threat to the United States, both inside Iraq and worldwide. I noted nearly a year ago and continue to stand by my belief that if the United States suffers a major terrorist attack, nuclear or otherwise, Iran is almost certain to be singled out for US retaliation by virtue of the regime's decisions. Wretchard noted the grim reality of the situation and unfortunately little has occurred to change that analysis over the last year.

Yet one of the things that people continue to ask me is, if all of this is true, where is the evidence from government officials?

Where, indeed.

This series of analyses will deal specifically with the US News article as well as another published in the Los Angeles Times some time ago. I will also attempt to explain in my final analysis why Iran is a greater threat to the United States than Pakistan, a comparison that some have made in the past as a means of criticizing US Iran policy or lack thereof.

A note on sources ...

Because of the "intelligence duel" that has unfortunately emerged over the issue of pre-war Iraq intelligence in the realm of popular opinion, I recognize that many readers are going to regard this as little more than neocon propaganda. When I last discussed the Iranian threat, one individual noted all of the evidence that appeared to be emerging on the subject of Iran's ties to terrorist groups dismissed as nothing more as "round 2 of the OSP's grand plans" (for oil, power, and Israel, no doubt, the latter being where Jewish American loyalties check in but don't check out). That's unfortunate, because the kind of threat posed by Iran is one that doesn't bother to differentiate between neocons and realists except when it suits their advantages - no more than Osama bin Laden seriously considers distinguishing between red and blue staters when he considers which Americans to kill.

Fortunately, we also have the benefit of having American intelligence with respect to Iran here backed up by British and other European intelligence sources, sources that are presumably untained by the Jews neocons and their evil plans.

As with Testing the Standard, this analysis will attempt to take the information provided by US News and try to provide additional information and/or context so that readers can better understand what's going on.

And with that, into the fire ...

In the summer of last year, Iranian intelligence agents in Tehran began planning something quite spectacular for September 11, the two-year anniversary of al Qaeda's attack on the United States, according to a classified American intelligence report. Iranian agents disbursed $20,000 to a team of assassins, the report said, to kill Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq. The information was specific: The team, said a well-placed source quoted in the intelligence document, would use a Toyota Corona taxi and a second car, driven by suicide bombers, to take out Bremer and destroy two hotels in downtown Baghdad. The source even named one of the planners, Himin Bani Shari, a high-ranking member of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group and a known associate of Iranian intelligence agents.

Himin Bani Shari, also Romanized as Hemin Benishari, was Ansar al-Islam's top assassin and a member of the group's "Mujahideen Military Council" who went by the kuniyat of Abu Darda'a and escaped into Iran during the US attack on the Ansar enclave. That he was a VEVAK asset hasn't been disclosed to the public until now (though one wonders how well he and Abu Wael got along - more on that a little further down). His being directly involved in planning such an assassination in concert with VEVAK should be seen as a sign of just how important eliminating Bremer was to the organization - as well as just how closely intertwined Salafist groups like Ansar are with Shi'ite government agencies like VEVAK when it comes to planning attacks on US officials. Could this be a "collaborative operational relationship," one wonders?

The alleged plan was never carried out. But American officials regarded Iran's reported role, and its ability to make trouble in Iraq, as deadly serious.

Actually, the timing of the planning for the attack as well as the description of what was supposed to occur makes me wonder if it wasn't so much scrapped as it was altered. Compare the assassination attempt on Wolfowitz in October 2003 in Baghdad (the perpetrators of which included a European national) and what was supposed to happen to Bremer and a number of similarities seem to emerge.

Iran, said a separate report, issued in November 2003 by American military analysts, "will use and support proxy groups" such as Ansar al-Islam "to conduct attacks in Iraq in an attempt to further destablize the country." An assessment by the U.S. Army's V Corps, which then directed all Army activity in Iraq, agreed: "Iranian intelligence continues to prod and facilitate the infiltration of Iraq with their subversive elements while providing them support once they are in country."

That tracks with what the State Department said in their 2003 global terrorism report and fits with all of the reports we've seen of Iran providing cash, weaponry, and medical treatment to insurgent forces in Iran proper and then supporting them once they're in-country. It is also seems to be more or less common knowledge to the Iraqi people if the statements by various Iraqi bloggers and government officials are anything to consider.

Of course, this also kind of derails the idea that we're fighting a "popular resistance movement," unless one wants to explain away the fact that it's led by a Jordanian and backed by Iran's mortal enemy.

With the Pentagon's stepped-up efforts to break the back of the insurgency before Iraq's scheduled elections in late January, Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq have received little public attention.

Sure it has, just not in the mainstream press. The blogosphere has been tracking Iran's hand in Iraq for quite some time, and the utter failure to make it a major issue in the presidential campaign is something that both candidates should be ashamed of.

But a review of thousands of pages of intelligence reports by U.S. News reveals the critical role Iran has played in aiding some elements of the anti-American insurgency after Baghdad fell--and raises important questions about whether Iran will continue to try to destabilize Iraq after elections are held.

My guess would be yes - a democratic Iraq with a Shi'ite majority that doesn't adhere to vilayet-e-faqih poses an existential threat to the Khomeinist model used by Iran. They simply can't co-exist peacefully with it - the cards are too firmly stacked against them. That's why the Iranians have been so keen to marginalize, subvert, and finally eliminate Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who right now posed one of the most formidable challenges to any remnants of Iran's domestic legitimacy.

The classified intelligence reports, covering the period July 2003 through early 2004, were prepared by the CIA; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the Iraq Survey Group, the 1,400-person outfit President Bush sent to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction; the Coalition Provisional Authority; and various military commands and units in the field, including the V Corps and the Pentagon's Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force. The reports are based on information gathered from Iraqis, Iranian dissidents, and other sources inside Iraq. U.S. News also reviewed British intelligence assessments of the postwar phase in Iraq.

Wow. Time to see just how far the tendrils of the neocon conspiracy extend, I guess. And before anybody starts shrieking about defectors because of the situation with the INC or INA with respect to pre-war Iraq, let me just say that then as with now, US intelligence based its intelligence assessments on far more than just some defector's good word, as anybody who has actually read the SSIC report can tell you. Indeed, after all the hype that Chalabi and Co had been afforded by the press, I was quite surprised to see just how little a role they played in the US and British assessments of their pre-war Iraq intelligence.

Many of the reports are uncorroborated and are considered "raw" intelligence of the type seldom seen by those outside the national security community. But the picture that emerges from the sheer volume of the reports, and as a result of the multiplicity of sources from which they were generated, leaves little doubt about the depth of Iran's involvement in supporting elements of the insurgency and in positioning itself to move quickly in Iraq if it believes a change in circumstances there dictates such action.

Given all of the problems, petty rivalries, and press wars that have occurred in the US intelligence community with respect to the issue of intelligence analysis (but not for long, hehehe ...), I'd much prefer "raw" reports to anything else these days. I should also point out that Iran backing the insurgency against the US is pretty much a casus belli if and when Bush should want one, but as the Iranian hierarchy is more or less convinced at this point that the US is coming after them one way or another, their goal is to keep Iraq within the manageable (for them) state of unrest and disorder, at least until their nukes are ready for either defensive or offensive purposes.

"Iran," wrote an analyst with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on Dec. 5, 2003, "poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. efforts in Iraq." An analyst at the V Corps summarized matters this way: "Iranian intelligence agents are conducting operations in every major city with a significant Shia population. The counterintelligence threat from Iran is assessed to be high, as locally employed people, former military officers, politicians, and young men are recruited, hired, and trained by Iranian intelligence to collect [intelligence] on coalition forces."

Here again, this tracks with what various people have been saying for awhile. Those "former military officers," I should mention, are likely to have been either Shi'ite conscripts or Shi'ites who formerly collaborated with Saddam Hussein in ruling their co-religionists. While the vast majority of Shi'ites were treated as an underclass under Saddam Hussein's regime, there were a few who rose quite high in the "secular" Baathist hierarchy, with some like Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf even making their way into Saddam's inner court. Now that they're out of power they're likely short a great deal of money - something that Iran has a great deal to offer for those willing to do their bidding.

Even as Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S.-led military were pressing last year to consolidate their grip on Iraq, the intelligence reports indicate, the seeds of the insurgency were growing, in some cases with funding and direction from Iranian government factions. "Iranian intelligence will not conduct attacks on CF [coalition forces] that can be directly linked to Iran," wrote a senior Army analyst, "but will provide lethal aid to subversive elements within Iraq . . . in the form of weapons, safe houses, or money."

This is precisely why Iran has chosen Sunni Islamists like Ansar al-Islam as their preferred in carrying out anti-US attacks. Anything too overtly Khomeinist, like Hezbollah, would lead the US directly back to Iran with dire consequences for the regime (I personally think they went too overtly with Sadr, but the punditocracy seems to disagree with me on that since the Iranians haven't suffered any serious consequences since). Sunnis, however, make ideal proxies since "everybody knows" that Shi'ites hate Sunnis and would never cooperate with them. I guess VEVAK must've missed that memo, though ...

In an interview, David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector for the Iraq Survey Group, said he believes that factions within the Iranian government have been plotting with and funding some insurgency groups. "I think we are in an intelligence war with Iran," Kay said. "There are Iranian intelligence agents all over the country [Iraq]." Another former American official, Michael Rubin, who worked for the Pentagon and the Coalition Provisional Authority, agrees. "Iran feels it should be the predominant power in the region," Rubin said. "With the U.S. out of there, they [will] have no real competition."

That seems to be the plan - kick the US out of Iraq and turn it (or at least the southern part of the country) into an Iranian puppet state. As for Kay's formulation there are factions within the Iranian government orchestrating all the nation's meddling in Iraq (which implies that there are others that aren't), he's likely correct but the problem is that the hardline elements of the Iranian hierarchy, such as this Abadgaran movement, are now officially in control of the elected, the clerical, and the military-intelligence elements of the Iranian government. In other words, the bad guys are openly in ascendance in Tehran right now; the inmates have taken control of the assylum.

Some specifics

The intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News appear to support those assessments. Examples:

Oh goody, examples ...

Iran set up a massive intelligence network in Iraq, flooding the country with agents in the months after the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. Sources told American intelligence analysts that Iranian agents were tasked with finding information on U.S. military plans and identifying Iraqis who would be willing to conduct attacks on U.S. forces that would not be linked to Iran.

These would be all of those "pilgrims" that flooded across the Iraqi border after Saddam's fall. They were most likely contacting Iranian assets across Iraq as well as reaffirming their ties to the al-Qaeda and allied jihadi forces and the nascent Iraqi Islamists. As I noted above, Sunnis - who formed the bulk of the insurgency from its onset to the beginning of the Sadr Uprising in April 2004 would be the preferred means that the Iranians would use to go after the US.

Iranian intelligence agents were said to have planned attacks against the U.S.-led forces and supported terrorist groups with weapons. Iranian agents smuggled weapons and ammunition across the border into Iraq and distributed them "to individuals who wanted to attack coalition forces," according to one report, citing "a source with good access." Separately, an Iraq Survey Group report said that Iranian agents "placed a bounty" of $500 for each American soldier killed by insurgents and more for destruction of tanks and heavy weaponry.

We knew about the bounty, but I always figured that it was al-Qaeda or members of the Golden Chain who had placed them on US troops. The stuff about smuggling weaponry to insurgent forces is fairly consistent with what captured Ansar al-Islam leaders like Qods and Aso Hawleri have told coalition interrogators.

Iran trained terrorists and provided them with safe havens and passage across the border into Iraq, several of the reports say. The Iranian-supported Ansar al-Islam began carrying out bombings and other attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens in the summer of 2003. One report, describing an interview with a source, said: "There were approximately 320 Ansar al-Islam terrorists being trained in Iran . . . for various attack scenarios including suicide bombings, assassinations, and general subversion against U.S. forces in Iraq." The reports linked Ansar al-Islam to al Qaeda and to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq. "Among the more capable terrorist groups operating in Iraq," an analyst wrote in another report, "are al Qaeda, the al Zarqawi network, as well as Ansar al-Islam."

This tracks with PUK intelligence reports, though they had originally placed the number of Ansar al-Islam trainees at being a lot lower than 320. The convergence between al-Qaeda, the Zarqawi network (i.e. al-Tawhid), and Ansar al-Islam isn't all that hard to imagine, as the leadership of all three appears to be based out of Iran and harbored by the same factions within the IRGC and VEVAK.

Iran has been a principal supporter of Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric whose black-clad Mahdi Army fighters have clashed often with U.S.-led forces. Months before the worst of the insurgency in southern Iraq began last April, U.S. intelligence officials tracked reported movements of Iranian money and arms to forces loyal to Sadr. According to a V Corps report written in September 2003, "There has been an increase of Iranian intelligence officers entering" Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, and Amarah. Sadr's fighters later engaged in fierce battles with coalition forces in each of those cities.

ahem

I told you so at the time, if memory serves.

Iran's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to repeated requests for comment from U.S. News.

They're too busy casing New York City landmarks ...

In a sermon given last April, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a leading political figure in Iran, said that Americans were "a very effective target" but that Iran "does not wish to get involved in acts of adventurism." Separately, in New York last September, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied that his country had funded or armed Sadr's Mahdi Army.

With all the pious denial that one might expect from the Iranians, who if memory serves still officially deny any role in the 1983 Beirut bombings or the attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. Does the press seriously expect them to come out and openly flaunt the fact that they're engaged in a low-level state of war with the world's sole remaining superpower?

U.S. government officials, questioned about the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News , say the evidence of Iran's destabilization efforts in Iraq is persuasive. "We certainly do have a lot of evidence of Iranian mischief making," a senior Pentagon official said in an interview, "and attempts [at] building subversive influence. I would never underestimate the Iranian problem. . . . Iran is a menace in a basic sense."

Good to know that somebody is on the case. The problem when it comes to dealing with that menace, however, is that there is no consistent US policy as far as where to proceed. Hopefully that will be cleared up soon but until it is we are left in the position of simply reacting to our enemy. Not a good place to be when you're in the middle of a low-level world war.

Looking at the overall problem in Iraq, however, the official identifies Sunni Muslim extremists as the "hard core" of the insurgency. They include former supporters of Saddam and some foreign fighters--most prominently Zarqawi, whose network has claimed responsibility for some of Iraq's bloodiest bombings and the beheading of American Nicholas Berg and other western captives. Some terrorists, the official noted pointedly, are also using Syria as an outpost and safe haven.

A large number of whom appear to be former Baathists who are seeking aid from their co-ideologists. Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed al-Moali (Khadr al-Sabahi) and about 20-50 of his cronies appear to have sought shelter there, at least on the cash side of the operation, but they're from a different faction of Baathists than the ones that have aligned themselves with Zarqawi.

More than a year ago, the Defense Intelligence Agency reached similar conclusions in a secret analysis headlined "Iraq: Who Are We Fighting?" The analysis cited foreign jihadists as "potentially" the most "threatening." An analyst with the Iraq Survey Group concluded that "[a]s time passes and more and more terrorists and foreign fighters come into Iraq, the situation will become more dangerous because you will get a more experienced enemy, with more training, resources, and experience."

That analysis, by the way, is the perfect rebuttal to charges that the US "knows nothing" about the current state of the insurgency as some have charged.

The pundits weigh in ...

Patrick Clawson, a leading expert on Iraq and Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it is not surprising that Iran is heavily involved in Iraq. "It only makes sense that the government of Iran would want to have a network of contacts with the insurgents, develop friends, develop intelligence sources, provide them information about American assets and capabilities," he said in an interview. " . . . It is in their national interest." At the same time, Clawson says, Iran is playing "a double game"--stirring up trouble in Iraq while publicly professing support for Iraqi elections.

Indeed and that's the problem. Developing an espionage capacity inside Iraq is not in of itself a crime, though the Iraqis might differ with me on this one. It's a legitimate tool of statecraft, which is why Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait likely all have assets of their own there. The difference, however, is that none of those countries' intelligence agencies are actively supporting, arming, financing, or directing attacks on US troops. And that is what makes all the difference in the world.

Understanding Iran's precise motives in Iraq is no simple matter. Ahmed Hashim, a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College, says that the Islamic regime in Tehran does not always speak with one voice. "I think Iran has its hand in a lot of what's going on [in Iraq], but we shouldn't assume the government is unified," he says. "When you look at the Iranian system of government, if you say Iran, it could actually be the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the [charitable] foundations, or various agencies of the government. They act almost independently."

That's certainly true, but the "dual government" model for understanding Iran operates is rapidly becoming an antique as the hardliners consolidate their control over all three organs ("elected," clerical, and military-intelligence) of the government. More to the point, many of the establishment "reformists" are with the hardliners on the issue of Iraq because they understand what it means for their little theocracy. The internal Iranian factions may operate independently from one another, but they are quite capable of clamping down when one of their own steps off the reservation - look into the killings following Khatami's 1997 election carried out by "rogue" intelligence officers if you want an example of what I'm talking about. The fact that they haven't done so implies that those factions who were once viewed as restraining influences over the more militant forces in the Iranian hierarchy (a view I think is self-refuting, but nevermind that) either can't or won't stop them from killing US troops in Iraq. Period.

Another Iran expert, Kenneth Pollack, who served in the Clinton White House as director of Persian Gulf affairs on the National Security Council staff, believes Iran does not want chaos in Iraq. "The Iranian leaders are terrified of chaos in Iraq," he says, "and the spillover" aspect. Iran, Pollack adds, wants a stable, "independent" government headed by Shiites.

A little history here I think is worth noting. Pollack is the author of a book which argued in favor of US military action against Iraq on the basis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's WMDs. He, like most everybody else in favor of the WMD argument for war, got badly burned in the process when the weapons appeared to be lacking. Since then, he seems to have largely taken on a dovish position towards Iran, due in no small part I think because of what happened when he did favor the hard line against Saddam Hussein.

Be that as it may, the evidence cited in this article appears to run counter towards his beliefs. It is true that Iran wants a stable Iraq - but only under their control. In addition, does anyone seriously believe that Iran is going to just sit back and allow Sistani to champion An Najaf as a rival to Qom? To allow such a thing, even on the surface of it, knocks down the last remaining edifices of the regime's domestic legitimacy and makes the new Shi'ite majority Iraq a serious contender to Iran.

The next step of this analysis will go further into the US News article and by the time all of this is over I promise that I will address the question of why Iran is a greater threat to the US than Pakistan.

1 TrackBack

Tracked: November 15, 2004 10:22 PM
Iran and Iraq from Josh's Weblog
Excerpt: WindsOfChange.Net has started examining the threat posed by Iran especially in relation to the insurgency in the Sunni triangle as well as with their nuclear saber-rattling. Interesting theories in the article include the planned assassination of Paul ...

40 Comments

Dan, someday you and I could have a lot to talk about....
I'll be watching this "series" of yours closely, as usual, as well as contributing on this subject in my life and work where I am able.

http://denbeste.nu/external/Harari01.html

In my humble opinion, the number one danger to the world today is Iran and its regime. It definitely has ambitions to rule vast areas and to expand in all directions. It has an ideology, which claims supremacy over Western culture. It is ruthless. It has proven that it can execute elaborate terrorist acts without leaving too many traces, using Iranian Embassies. It is clearly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Its so-called moderates and conservatives play their own virtuoso version of the “good-cop versus bad-cop” game. Iran sponsors Syrian terrorism, it is certainly behind much of the action in Iraq, it is fully funding the Hizbulla and, through it, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it performed acts of terror at least in Europe and in South America and probably also in Uzbekhistan and Saudi Arabia and it truly leads a multi-national terror consortium, which includes, as minor players, Syria, Lebanon and certain Shiite elements in Iraq. Nevertheless, most European countries still trade with Iran, try to appease it and refuse to read the clear signals.

In order to win the war it is also necessary to dry the financial resources of the terror conglomerate. It is pointless to try to understand the subtle differences between the Sunni terror of Al Qaida and Hamas and the Shiite terror of Hizbulla, Sadr and other Iranian inspired enterprises. When it serves their business needs, all of them collaborate beautifully.

It is crucial to stop Saudi and other financial support of the outer circle, which is the fertile breeding ground of terror. It is important to monitor all donations from the Western World to Islamic organizations, to monitor the finances of international relief organizations and to react with forceful economic measures to any small sign of financial aid to any of the three circles of terrorism.

It is also important to act decisively against the campaign of lies and fabrications and to monitor those Western media who collaborate with it out of naivety, financial interests or ignorance.

Above all, never surrender to terror. No one will ever know whether the recent elections in Spain would have yielded a different result, if not for the train bombings a few days earlier. But it really does not matter. What matters is that the terrorists believe that they caused the result and that they won by driving Spain out of Iraq. The Spanish story will surely end up being extremely costly to other European countries, including France, who is now expelling inciting preachers and forbidding veils and including others who sent troops to Iraq. In the long run, Spain itself will pay even more.

Does the press seriously expect them to come out and openly flaunt the fact that they're engaged in a low-level state of war with the world's sole remaining superpower?

The same thing could be said about Saudi Arabia.

More to the point, many of the establishment "reformists" are with the hardliners on the issue of Iraq because they understand what it means for their little theocracy.

The same thing could, again, be said about Saudi Arabia, a nation that’s also funding the Iraqi ‘insurgents’.

You’ve explained, in very impressive detail, how the Sunnis and the Shi’ites are entirely capable of working together when it’s in their best interests. If there was another attack against America, it’s certain that both Saudi and Iranian-supported terrorists would be behind it.

For more than thirty years, Arabs (and Iranians) have followed this pattern: lose a standard military conflict, join together to start a state-supported ‘popular’ insurgency against the ‘occupiers’. Use civilians as cannon fodder and shields, and rely on the lefty press for favorable coverage of the ‘revolution’. In Iraq and Iran, they plan to lose the war and win the insurgency.

The only way to stop these state-supported insurgencies is to simultaneously dismantle the terror-supporting states. Since their military forces are so weak and ours isn't, this would be our best course of action.

If we retaliated against only Iran, the Saudis would already have their al Qaeda ‘brothers’ in place to start the planned insurgency. If we were attacking KSA simultaneously, we could draw them into a standard military conflict that they’re more likely to lose.

The Middle East is like a hornets nest. The only way to get rid of it is to remove the whole mess at once (and not unilaterally, if possible). With the war in Iraq, we’re just poking it. Why would we do the same thing in Iran?

We can’t dismantle the Iranian mess while leaving Saudi Arabia (and Syria) intact. The Saudis are also engaged in a low level war against us. Their government will continue to supply insurgents and cash until they’re no longer able to do so. Soft diplomacy and monitoring donations hasn’t worked in the past, and it will not work in the future.

the big question is " Can we trust the media anymore???"
After all there all in the bushite pocket,s

Mary said (4:05pm):
> Soft diplomacy and monitoring donations hasn’t worked in the past, and it will not work in the future.

Depends on the definition of 'worked.' In our personal lives, we all live with problems that are managed not solved; it is inevitable that, in most areas, US foreign policy will have to do the same. The election showed that this country is at its practical limit for foreign military interventions. If 1.5% more voters had gone negative on Iraq, then President-elect Kerry would be figuring out his Retrenchment policy even as we type. Fallows has an article in this month's Atlantic on the pitfalls of anti-Iran military action (I haven't read it yet); clearly Iran would involve a much larger committment than Iraq in every meaningful sense.

So I think the Left has won this part of the argument. At least until something changes a lot of Americans' minds the way Pearl Harbor did in 1941. As big as it was, 9-11 didn't do it for most people, I guess.

Also don't underestimate the importance of status-quo stability when it comes to oil shipments, in terms of both availability and price. It seems to me that it wouldn't be altogether hard to trigger a worldwide depression through severe disruptions to Mideast energy sources. A card that I am sure the mullahs and the Princes are well aware of.

Dan Darling,

After al-Qaaqaa and the many preceding stories about weapons stashed in mosques and unguarded depots, I'm unsure of what to make of reports of Iranian efforts to smuggle weaponry into Iraq. It would seem to have a "coals to Newcastle" flavor to it, as most citations seem to be about RPGs, explosives, and other common items. Why do the Iranians bother? The risk of exposure isn't negligible as these reports show. Perhaps their read of the Western media is that the consequences of exposure are not severe.

Very thought-provoking post, Dan. Thank you. One minor quibble: there's no need for the irony quotes around republic. Since a republic lit. public thing is pretty much anything the people who live there want it to be, Iran is a republic, all right.

AMac:

As big as it was, 9-11 didn't do it for most people, I guess.

Actually, I think that this is the price that Bush paid for calming the American public after 9/11 rather than stirring us up.

Also don't underestimate the importance of status-quo stability when it comes to oil shipments, in terms of both availability and price. It seems to me that it wouldn't be altogether hard to trigger a worldwide depression through severe disruptions to Mideast energy sources.

What would happen if the price of oil were to triple? Well, since it has more than tripled over the last five years the answer might be not much. Not that I think we should risk it but the world has changed quite a bit since 1976 and no one really knows what the effects of another rapid tripling would be.

"Threat to the United States" seems a little odd. Threat to Israel, definitely. The things that come out of the Mullahs' mouths ... Do they really want to eat 200 fusion weapons? That's a LOT of heat.

Israel is simply not going to put up with a government that says the kinds of things the Iranian government does having nukes. The Zionists are also not known for being especially nice when it comes to "collateral damage" especially when they feel really threatened.

The question is what the USG can/should do about it. Had the USG been following a sensible policy towards Iran for the last 20 years, it likely would have flipped by now. Could an influx of trade/culture/propaganda stop the Iranian goverment before they get nukes (or stop them from being a problem after they get nukes?) It's probably a bit late in the game for that.

Military options against Iran suck. Most of them are predicated on the US having things that don't exist -- intelligence, skilled propaganda, enough troops and expecially MPs, etc. The mullahcracy is probably too decentralized to be especially vulnerable to my favorite tactic, assassination.

A tough deal all around. My main question is, when will Israel strike?

Two things -

1. Even if you are completely correct in your analysis, as has been mentioned above, from what I have read Saudi Arabia money and insurgents are pouring into Iraq, at a rate that rivals Iran. As well, the particular directives of those insurgents happen to be, if anything much more fanatical, since they don't at least pay some lip service towards an "ordered" framework, which really is in Iran's interest.

So in a major ways, you seem to be cherry-picking your examples, very similar to what you would do when Iraq was the country of "threat".

2. There simply is no excuse, after seeing the continuing daily chaos in Iraq, to not understand that a failed state can be more dangerous than a "malevolent", but functioning state. And we do not have the capacity, or really the national motivation, to create a functional state, when we haven't done so in Iraq yet - and it is still a very open question whether it can be done in Iraq.

Unless the whole package exists whereby:

a. The whole country is signed on for peacekeeping.
b. A national draft - or a much larger military trained in peacekeeping.
c. A Marshall Plan for the area, that doesn't rely on partisan hacks as administrators.
d. Progressive taxation rates rivaling what was in existence during WWII - during that time the tax rate for individuals topped out at 91%.
3. The repealing of all the various corporate welfare boondoggles.

The only possible way to have a success with a project such as you are, implicitly, suggesting, is to put the country on a TRUE war footing. And even then, it would be very questionable, given the sheer amount of population in Iran.

To inflame the threat, as your posts are doing - and again your points have validity - is in my opinion grossly irresponsible, given the countervailing circumstances.

It simply is the case that it is much less risky to work with the confines of Iran, as it is now, encouraging good behavior, working with allies to put economic and diplomatic pressure, incentivizing Iran to behave as a "good neighbor".

Sounds like Operation TP Ajax part II, the Redux.

Where is Kermit Roosevelt when you need him?

Dan, Charles has this on the Iranian stalling tactics. I agree with both of you, that they are just buying time. But what can be done about it?

Mary, the Saud monarchy is a lot more complicated than that. Dan has some good materials on the House of Saud in his archives. Disreguarding the oil shock issue, the Sauds are clients of both Al Qaeda and the US. It's a balancing act. OBL has wet dreams of the US confronting and pressuring the princes-- KSA would instantly become KAQ (the Kingdom of Al Qaeda).

the Sauds are clients of both Al Qaeda and the US. It's a balancing act

The Saudi government is ruled by a form of Islamic law that is more severe than the laws under the Taliban. After 9/11, KSA state-funded religious leaders continued to preach in favor of violent jihad. The Saudi state controls the money flow to charities. After 9/11 Saudi financial support for terror decreased by less than 4%. The unstable extremists are already in control of the world’s oil supply, and we call them our friends and allies.

The Saudi/Al Qaeda conflict is not a conflict between ideologies. Both groups are extremists, one is just more direct than the other. The ‘terrorist’ attacks are a family conflict, a war between brothers. It’s an attempt by one group to gain power. Neither group will ever be our ally. There’s no balancing act. The KSA is an extremist state. By treating them as our allies, we offer the rest of the world little hope that we will ever fight Saudi-supported terrorism.

Saudi support for terrorism and extremist Madrassa jihad schools is currently destabilizing governments around the world, including Thailand, Holland, Pakistan, India, and of course, Israel. Wahhabi extremism has inspired the slavery and the genocide that’s destroying the Sudan. Saddam Hussein was both appeasing and attacking extremist elements in Iraq. We ignored their existence.

Our government, the Democrats and the Republicans, believe that only two issues are important to preserve our national security: avoid nuclear conflict and protect our oil supply. We attacked Saddam because he represented both of those threats, but we completely ignored the Arab tactic of using Insurgents to fight their wars. We thought we could use a sort of Marshall plan to repair Iraq, but we neglected to clean out all insurgent/fascist elements in the area first. The first Marshall plan would never have worked if we had stopped the war in North Africa and left the Nazi SS intact.

..and I have read (and linked to) Dan's excellent posts about Saudi Arabia, including the Sudan/Saudi/Al Qaeda connection that the 9/11 Commission ignored.

http://windsofchange.net/archives/005105.php

I just think that invading or attacking Iran (only Iran) would be a really bad idea.

Kerry:

Glad to hear it.

mary:

The same thing could be said about Saudi Arabia.

Ah, but the key difference there is that the Saudis aren't fighting us in Iraq as a matter of state policy. Most of the Saudi aid to the insurgency comes in the form of willful neglect by the Saudi government to things like borders, monitoring the Golden Chain and al-Hawali's Supreme Council, ect. If there is evidence that Saudi intelligence is actively involved in directing the insurgency, I'll be more than happy to revise my conclusions, but as it now stands it appears that the problem with the Saudi government is that it is both weak and deluded, whereas the problem with Iran is that it is both strong and malevolent. That's why they're getting bumped to the top of our enemies list.

I agree with a lot of what you say and make no mistake, the Saudis need to be dealt with in due course, as does every other state that provides tacit or active support to al-Qaeda. But the Iranian threat, at least for the time being, takes the most precedence, I think.

AMac:

Most of the people that the Iranians are issuing weapons to are largely either foreign jihadis or members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. With respect to al-Qaaqaa and the like, the main problem is that while there are a lot of weapons lying around, most of the hidden caches that we've heard so much about were located in or near the Sunni Triangle, which is quite difficult to reach if you're a foreign jihadi coming in from Iran. Most of the weaponry the Iranians supplied appears to been done during the early months of the insurgency or in the case of Muqtada al-Sadr they supplied him with heavier weapons like the Russian 57-mm antiaircraft guns that were recovered during the fighting in An Najaf.

Dave Schuler:

Point noted.

T.J. Madison:

They're actively supporting the killing of US troops in Iraq, have sought to kill US officials, and actively harbor the leadership of the most lethal terrorist organization on the planet so yes, on that basis, I'd say that they're a threat to the US entirely apart from the nuclear issue.

JC:

1. Again, the Saudi government is not actively assisting or supporting the insurgency - instead they're just turning a blind eye to the people in their country who are. That's bad, but not as bad as having a bonafide intelligence agency like VEVAK or Qods Force actively fighting against us. When serving members of the Saudi National Guard show up in Fallujah killing US troops, I'll change my tune but until then it seems to me that the Saudis are taking second fiddle to the Iranians when it comes to who's the greater threat to the US in Iraq.

So in a major ways, you seem to be cherry-picking your examples, very similar to what you would do when Iraq was the country of "threat".

If you have counter-evidence I'm more than open to hearing it - I've debated and discussed the issue of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda with any number of people both before and after the war. The last time I brought this up, all one individual could think to argue back was that I worked for Michael Ledeen so my statements and analyses shouldn't be trusted. In any event, I think that bringing the "cherry-picking" canard back into the mix is a red herring - the whole claim with the cherry-picking story was that Iraq wasn't a threat and that only the most apocalyptic intelligence reports were sent to policy-makers in order to scare them into approving OIF. That whole line of thought is also more or less shot straight to hell by anybody who sits down and reads the SSIC report on pre-war Iraq intelligence, which makes it quite clear that everything that was allegedly cherry-picked, from WMDs to terrorist ties, were reasonable assumptions that the intelligence community was operating under at the time.

That being said, I would say that if you look at your argument the conclusion that one reaches is not that Iran isn't a threat and that any evidence which claims to the contrary is "cherry-picked" but rather that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are threats and are supporting the Iraqi insurgency in general and its al-Qaeda component in particular. If you believe that, then congradulations, you just agreed with what people like Feith, Wurmser, and others have been saying for several years on end now.

2.I disagree with your scenario because I myself am not convinced that a military solution is the only way to deal with Iran, to which you apparently disagree.

As for these comments:

To inflame the threat, as your posts are doing - and again your points have validity - is in my opinion grossly irresponsible, given the countervailing circumstances.

It simply is the case that it is much less risky to work with the confines of Iran, as it is now, encouraging good behavior, working with allies to put economic and diplomatic pressure, incentivizing Iran to behave as a "good neighbor".

The short reply is that I'm not inflaming the threat, I'm simply calling a spade a spade.

As for the options you suggest:

Encouraging good behavior - Would be read by Rafsanjani, Rohani, and others as a sign of weakness (and rightly so, IMO) as well that their strategy in Iraq is working.

Economic pressure - Europe does not appear willing to put the necessary screws to the mad mullahs, otherwise they would have likely already done so. Because of US sanctions on Iran, we are unfortunately not in a position to exercise any economic leverage on Iran and Spain still maintains their cordial economic ties to the nation even after 3/11 and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar hiding out in Iran.

Diplomatic pressure - Ongoing, as it has been for some time now, but there has been little if any change to Iranian policy because of it.

jinnderella:

Saudi Arabia appears to be attempting to return to pre-May 2003 levels with al-Qaeda, as you can see from the fact that there hasn't been a major al-Qaeda attack there on Saudi targets ever since al-Muqrin assumed room temperature. There are a lot of competing forces at work there, unlike in Iran where the really bad guys have basically won out inside the system (there are no good guys in Saudi Arabia, at least among the monarchy, but there are a lot of people far worse than the Clown Prince who could be running the place). That's what makes them a more lethal threat, at least IMO.

Oh and just clarify what I meant on the subject of the Magic Kingdom:

Weak - The monarchy is a fundamentally weak beast, otherwise they wouldn't have to pay off people like bin Laden or attempt to strike deals with him not to hurt them. A strong monarchy would have tried to crush him the same way they did the Ikhwan rebels who seized the Grand Mosque.

Deluded - They either think that bin Laden won't come after them, that al-Qaeda can drive the US out of Iraq and they can take advantage of the power gap, and/or that the US and al-Qaeda will destroy one another.

I should also point out that I consider folks like al-Hawali and other Salafi clerics, such as the one who authorized bin Laden to use nukes against the US, to be a far more malevolent force than the monarchy, but thankfully they aren't in complete control of the Kingdom, at least not yet. If they were, believe me, we'd know.

Dear Dan Darling and Mary:

You two have either forgotten or avoided to discuss another key issue.

Should the Bush administration and US foreign policy treat Saudi Arabia as a friend or foe.

The present and historical schizoid policy cannot continue.

The US cannot dance with the devil forever.

Yes, they have help prop up the falling US economy and yes they help the US during Iran-Contra and yes they help fund the US covert war in Afghanistan. But, now the stakes are high (remember who help fund the Pakistani nuclear bomb?)

Will this be another example of failed US policy due to hypocrisy, greed, "the lesser of two evils", etc.?

Double Standard wrote (9:02pm):

> Dear Dan Darling and Mary:
> You two have either forgotten or avoided to discuss another key issue...

Well. Ahem. Dear Dan Darling, Rest assured that the rest of us have read your post and comments prior to posting. And Mary's comments too.

Mary, my point is that there is little the US can do exert pressure on the Saud monarchy at this point. Wahabbism is a (more extreme)subset of Salafism, so sure there is no conflict between the salafi clerics and Al Qaeda. Don't you think both parties would be thrilled to topple the monarchy and install a theocracy in its place? Umm, and I was talking about Dan's posts on the "House of the Borgias".

Well Dan, you have just said that diplomacy and sanctions won't work. What are the other options? I see many people advocationg an Osirak style attack on the nuke sites. I don't think that is possible, because of the distribution of the 26 hardened sites, some co-located with population centers.

Dan,

Actually, in the sense that Iran and Saudi Arabia have elements that are dangerous to United States interests, yes, I agree with you. I've said here at WOC many times that Iran had all the elements of danger that we (supposedly) went into Iraq to deal with. And I was right about Iraq, and in this case, I agree with you about dangers of Iran.

But again the question is how best to deal with and manage danger. After all, the United States is much more dangerous than Iran, and I have to think Iran knows this, surrounded by US troops.

I assumed you meant some overthrow, as is also pointed out by jinnderella, you have said diplomacy and sanctions won't work.

But if you mean "focused bombing" - do you really think that will help?

Focused bombing never helped change the ways of a government in power, as far as I can see - in Iraq, in Vietnam, or wherever , at least not with an internation coalition backing the bombing.

I also agree with jinnderella, from what I've read, that the sites where nuclear research/implementation/activity is taking place, are incredibly hardened, underground, and distributed. Otherwise, Israel would have already gone and bombed Iran again, damn the consequences.

So I'm not sure where you are going with this.

I think the US ought to go into Saudi Arabia, round up all the oil sheikhs and princes, put them in a barbed-wire retirement home in Micronesia and run the oil directly. Access to the Haj to Mecca should be controlled by the US under threat that if there is more terror, America will just blow the whole thing up.

JC:

I'd tell you, but that'll spoil the surprise ;)

Wait till the end of the analysis and hopefully you'll understand my point on this.

AMAC,

Hah! That's funny! Good catch on the comic possibilities of "Dear Dan Darling".

Poor Dan. Who knows how many countless times he must have heard people give their best imitations of 40's, 50's actresses in all their splendor - "Dan - darling!! How good of you to come!"

(Off topic, sorry)
Dear JC, Well I'd rather it be Dan Darling who's cross at me than you...

I agree with the core premise of today's post. Iran has a vital interest in seeing the US fail in Iraq, for a whole host of reasons.

Until Iran gets the bomb, they must bide their time. Cut deals with the IAEA (ie the UN) for political cover, keep their involvement in the insurgency activity below the radar, and generally act as a 'good world citizen'.

It is quite disconcerting to me that the entire concept of 'state sponsorship' of terror has been assumed to be a relic of the past.

Kerry's quest for the presidency assumed as much by distilling terrorism to a law enforcement/intelligence matter, much as Clinton did. Okay, enough of the Clinton bashing! Rhetorically at least, it avoided the question of whether state sponsorship of terror is even in the realm of possibility anymore.

One of the beauties (if there is such a concept) of terrorism by proxy is the level of plausible deniability it gives the sponsor(s) and easy outs it gives public opinion in dealing with such threats...

What's Iran done to the US? They cut a deal with the IAEA and are pledging to 'play nice'? Why is Bush getting all worked up over Iran for?

Okay Dan, I can wait.

DoubleStandard: Sounds like Operation TP Ajax part II, the Redux.

I find it rather amazing that, for a blog that has discussed Iran so much for so long, this comment appears to be the first ever mention of Operation Ajax.

fling93 (3:44am)

Re: Operation Ajax, the CIA's 1953 Iranian coup (precis sympathetic to Mossadegh here). Last night, I finished reading James Fallows' piece on wargaming US military options in dealing with Iran, subscription only. I would dispute Fallows' benign views of Iranian activities in Iraq, for the pachydermal reasons Dan Darling discusses in this post.

However, that is peripheral to the analysis, which demonstrates that history is not going to repeat itself in any meaningful way, 1953 -> 2005. As bad as the military options seem on casual examination (from a US national-security point of view), they appear worse when given a closer look.

Per Ledeen's oft-repeated "faster, please" thesis, there widespread dissatisfaction with the mullahcracy within Iran. Perhaps certain overt and covert non-military Western actions could support an indigenous 'regime change.' If such a change happened, it would probably lead to a situation that is more favorable to American interests--though how much more favorable would have to be seen.

Should references to America's 1953 original sin be taken as a call for historical awareness, or as an assertion that any US involvement in internal Iranian affairs is wrong, or both?

Given IRGC sheltering of al-Qaeda leadership, and IRGC and VEVAK meddling in Iraq and involvement with killing Iraqi civilians and police and American soldiers, I'll take A but not B. Assymetrical warfare can't be won by agreeing to the terms set by the West's enemies, and their witting and unwitting allies in our societies.

Dan, there's one point I forgot to make when I initially read this thread, and I'd like to pick up on JC's comment.

There are a lot of options that in theory we have in dealing with Iran--proportional response kinds of things--but none of them is damaging enough to be worth the risk given Iran's capacity to hurt us in Iraq or elsewhere. It's an assymetric situation. So part of the reticence you complain about from the administration doubtless has to do with the fact that Iran can escalate in response to U.S. rhetoric before we're ready or capable of doing anything about it. The type of long prewar drumbeat necessary for getting the American public on board (which the USNews article may signal the beginnings of) is precisely the kind of things that Iran will use as a cue to launch terrorist attacks against us. So that has to be weighed carefully against the kind of "name and shame" campaign that you seem to want.

"Unless the whole package exists whereby:

a. The whole country is signed on for peacekeeping.
b. A national draft - or a much larger military trained in peacekeeping.
c. A Marshall Plan for the area, that doesn't rely on partisan hacks as administrators.
d. Progressive taxation rates rivaling what was in existence during WWII - during that time the tax rate for individuals topped out at 91%.
3. The repealing of all the various corporate welfare boondoggles."

A draft? And what are 30 million people going to do in Iran?

We need to raise the enlistment caps. A draft would be the best way I can think of to lose.

I like the repealing of corporate welfare though. And regular welfare, particularly for farmers. And the drug benefit, while we're at it.

But Iran with nukes means we have lost. If Iran gets nukes, Iraq is screwed - the Iranians can put in as many "insurgents" as they please, and we can't do jack about it.

Hell, they can have some of their pet terrorists keep staging conventional terrorist attacks in the United States, and we couldn't do jack about it until we were ready to lose a city.

Any downsides to an invasion pale in comparison. I don't give a damn if we've got to fight an "insurgency" until Hell freezes - we can't let them get nukes.

praktike (2:25pm):

Given the likely unpalatable outcomes of US-initiated military initiatives against Iran (op. cit.), your point has some merit. But I have difficulty with your position against "name and shame." In Fallows' article (December Atlantic, Iranian activities in Iraq are portrayed as more benign and moderate than they actually are. 'Objectively pro-mullah' bias is doubtless unintentional, but still widespread.

It seems to me that understanding and stating the facts as they appear to be must be an early and continued priority if we are to arrive at 'good' policy. The concern that the best appreciation of the situation will lead hawks to yell, "this means war!" shouldn't lead to pressure on the fact-gathering, interpretation, and dissemination. A focus on policy implications would be better. This general point ought to be one of the signal lessons of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

AMac, surely you can see the difference between stating the facts and dumping reams of raw classified intelligence on the good folks at USNews, no?

Praktike, your 3:43pm comment could be taken a number of ways. If you mean that the reader should be skeptical, I agree. "My unnamed source says..." gets less credence than "Director Goss said under oath that..." Etc.

If you mean that the USNews article paints a picture of Iranian activities that is grossly different from that which has been available from other sources, I disagree. Both before and after reading that piece, I would have said that "plausible deniability" seems to be the Iranian approach.

Which parts of the article sent your BS-detector to "tingle"?

AMac: Should references to America's 1953 original sin be taken as a call for historical awareness, or as an assertion that any US involvement in internal Iranian affairs is wrong, or both?

I actually was not implying either, although I know the original poster was implying the latter. But the former is a good point as well. I do think history has taught us (not just here) that interventions where we have only our own interests in mind (overlooking the interests of the citizens of the country where we are intervening) tends to have unexpected consequences down the line. Hopefully, our democracy-promotion in Iraq is a sign we have learned that lesson as well, but we won't know until after the election.

But in truth, I just thought it ironic that it had never ever been brought up at all on this blog given its importance to Iranian and Middle Eastern history, and especially given that the title of this post was, "The Elephant in the Room."

praktike:

There are a lot of options that in theory we have in dealing with Iran--proportional response kinds of things--but none of them is damaging enough to be worth the risk given Iran's capacity to hurt us in Iraq or elsewhere. It's an assymetric situation. So part of the reticence you complain about from the administration doubtless has to do with the fact that Iran can escalate in response to U.S. rhetoric before we're ready or capable of doing anything about it.

Part of the reason that I and others like me believe that the US should call a spade a spade with respect to Iran is simply because in the policy-making there are unfortunately a large number of people, even a number of very intelligent people, who appear to be of the opinion that Iran is only a peripheral threat to US interests in Iraq. If nothing else, we should at least be candid amongst ourselves with respect to the Iranian threat whether or not we do so in our public statements. More to the point, time is not exactly on our side in this one since the Iranians will ratchet up their activities, both in Iraq and in other parts of the world, once they have a nuclear deterrent to hide behind.

The type of long prewar drumbeat necessary for getting the American public on board (which the USNews article may signal the beginnings of) is precisely the kind of things that Iran will use as a cue to launch terrorist attacks against us. So that has to be weighed carefully against the kind of "name and shame" campaign that you seem to want.

LOL, the US News article is hardly the beginnings of a "drumbeat." The information about Iran harboring al-Qaeda leaders, backing Sadr, seeking to undermine us in Iraq, et al. have all been known (even if they haven't been believed) for at least anybody who's been paying attention to the situation there for the better part of the last several years. As far as the threat of them launching terrorist attacks against us if we ratchet up our rhetoric (even internally), how exactly would that be different from what they've been doing to us in Iraq for the last year?

As far as this goes:

AMac, surely you can see the difference between stating the facts and dumping reams of raw classified intelligence on the good folks at USNews, no?

Oh I dunno, any number of people seem more than happy to believe classified leaks uncritically when they happen to suit their belief in an incompetent administration ...

That being said, apart from the specifics, there really wasn't all that much new information in this piece.

As AMac pointed out:

If you mean that the USNews article paints a picture of Iranian activities that is grossly different from that which has been available from other sources, I disagree. Both before and after reading that piece, I would have said that "plausible deniability" seems to be the Iranian approach.

AMac: my alarm bells went off in a couple place, notably the praise for the MEK (a terrorist organization favored by people in Congress that I intensely dislike, e.g. Sam Brownback), citing a lone fatwa by an Iranian cleric when in fact it's Sunnis doing the suicide bombings (mostly foreign, but obviously with Iraqi help), and the fact that USNews was given "raw" intelligence. It sounds like someone with an agenda presented a very slanted view of what is doubtless a more nuanced situation. Pace the Good Mr. Darling, this isn't a one-off leak, it's a gusher. Which leads me to wonder who leaked it and what they want.

To respond to Dan's larger point, I see no reason for you and me to know these things or to push for some kind of Ledeenian overt-covert campaign against Iran. I'll give you one example: Gingrich's loud public support in the 90s for a boosted covert action campaign in Iran served ... what purpose exactly? Oh, that's right: none. It strengthened the hardliners, which is exactly the opposite of what we want. Unless the administration is pursuing a clear objective (further diplomatic isolation of Iran, sanctions, support for a military campaign), what's the point in getting the mullahs' panties in a bunch and risking a broad the array of interests we have in the Persian Gulf?

Praktike:

The MEK is a Marxist cult that shilled for Saddam Hussein for the last twenty years and fought against us during the war and everything coming out of it should be viewed through that light. That being said, they do have access to a great deal human intelligence with respect to Iran (which is one of the reasons Saddam tolerated them, entirely apart from his deterrence strategy) that has been useful to the US.

With respect to the fatwa, it didn't so much call for attacks against US troops as it did call for their agents inside Iraq to get close and fein cooperation with the US while forming a separate group to fight us. I think we've seen that pretty much pan out with respect to SCIRI and the Mahdi Army.

It sounds like someone with an agenda presented a very slanted view of what is doubtless a more nuanced situation. Pace the Good Mr. Darling, this isn't a one-off leak, it's a gusher. Which leads me to wonder who leaked it and what they want.

I think you and I can both pretty well guestimate that this came from somebody in the DoD. But as I have pointed out, this tracks with what we've seen for quite awhile with respect to people like Sadr, Ansar al-Islam, et al. I can pull up Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, and New York Times pieces that contain much the same information, hell I think even Seymour Hersh acknowledges the Iranian backing of Ansar and the Mahdi Army. About the only people who are saying that it isn't the case are academics like Juan Cole.

There also the issue (and this goes for both sides and I'll readily admit that I myself have been guilty of this) that some people are more than happy to accept leaks uncritically when they support their POV but immediately start questioning the source/timing when it clashes with their worldview.

To respond to Dan's larger point, I see no reason for you and me to know these things or to push for some kind of Ledeenian overt-covert campaign against Iran.

As far as us knowing these things, I myself consider it kind of important for us to know if another country is waging what is in effect a low-level campaign against us that is resulting in the deaths of US troops. Knowing such things causes people to ask that some kind of action be taken (Ledeenist or otherwise) unless one considers the status quo acceptable.

I'll give you one example: Gingrich's loud public support in the 90s for a boosted covert action campaign in Iran served ... what purpose exactly? Oh, that's right: none. It strengthened the hardliners, which is exactly the opposite of what we want.

Ignoring the argument to be made that the hardliners were always in control of the Iranian system and that it's simply a matter of just how overtly they choose to exercise their influence, one could just as easily make the counter-point that the reason that Gingrich's support strengthened the hardliners was precisely because it was never implemented and therefore showed them that they could act more overtly without any serious fears of a US response.

Unless the administration is pursuing a clear objective (further diplomatic isolation of Iran, sanctions, support for a military campaign), what's the point in getting the mullahs' panties in a bunch and risking a broad the array of interests we have in the Persian Gulf?

To be as frank as possible, their panties are already in a bunch and already believe that we're planning to engage them. The fact that they haven't been more overt in their campaign against us to date is not a sign that they're being restrained for the time being but rather that they're pragmatic enough not to risk a war against us until they have a nuclear deterrent behind them. Once that happens, they're likely to become a lot more overt in as far as how they go about moving against us.

Dan, the money was in fact appropriated, but with the proviso that it not be used to overthrow the regime. Given that the CIA had no capacity to do so at the time, it was a moot point anyway. Since its purpose (as appropriated) was ostensibly to push the regime to moderate its behavior, and the regime did not, in fact, moderate its behavior, that smells like failure to me. For what it's worth, the CIA did successfully roll up a good deal of Iran's agents abroad in 1997.

I disagree with this notion that Iran's behavior is consistently irredentist. Take, for instance, Rafsanjani's proposed Conoco deal, or Khatami's election. In fact, Dr. Ledeen himself is a known proponent of the theory that there are moderates to be had.

Thought-provoking back-and-forth, thanks DD and praktike. Praktike, any link at hand for CIA rolling up Iranian agents in 1997?

One factor that might complicate the Iran/Iraq equation for the better is if post-election Iraq stabilizes to the point where Iraqi public opinion becomes a little more reflective. Right now, the 'Arab Street' seems to have panties in a wad about the Marine's execution of the wounded jihadi, rather than about the batches of one, two, and three dozen Iraqi police and civilians being routinely murdered by car-bombers.

What do the parents of those ~30 kids killed by that sewage treatment plant think about Iran arming, training, and funding the martyrs? What would happen if the Shi'ias of Iraq started taking these assaults personally?

Of course, this prospect just makes VEVAK-style 'stability operations' that much more urgent for them in the short run.

praktike:

Dan, the money was in fact appropriated, but with the proviso that it not be used to overthrow the regime. Given that the CIA had no capacity to do so at the time, it was a moot point anyway. Since its purpose (as appropriated) was ostensibly to push the regime to moderate its behavior, and the regime did not, in fact, moderate its behavior, that smells like failure to me.

There is an alternative interpretation, however, namely that the regime knew that it could play "chicken" with us because they knew that we'd back off. This is why regime change has to be on the table in any serious question of how to address the Iranian (or North Korean or any other) threat, even if it is as last resort.

For what it's worth, the CIA did successfully roll up a good deal of Iran's agents abroad in 1997.

Yes, in retaliation for Khobar Towers, but that was only the known agents - how many you want to figure VEVAK has abroad that we don't know about?

More to the point, has it deterred Iran from engaging in terrorist attacks against the US? Apparently not, if this evidence is to be believed.

I disagree with this notion that Iran's behavior is consistently irredentist. Take, for instance, Rafsanjani's proposed Conoco deal, or Khatami's election. In fact, Dr. Ledeen himself is a known proponent of the theory that there are moderates to be had.

All of the "moderates" (pragmatists really, IMO) however are nevertheless focused on the preservation of the existing regime and none of them appear to be all that interested in shutting down Hezbollah or the Iranian-supported terrorist infrastructure in places like the Bekaa Valley or Sudan. And while I can't speak for Dr. Ledeen, I very much doubt that he is of the opinion that Rafsanjani is a moderate.

Khatami has denounced terrorism, among other things. I think he qualifies as a moderate. You're right--Rafsanjani is a pragmatic opportunist. Of course, Rafsanjani is ascendant and Khatami has been effectively neutered since 1999.

If it is a good thing that the United States has atomic weapons, why is it a bad thing for Iran, or anyplace else that wants them? After all, if we think they are a good defense (hmmmm, for defense only?) then why are they not a good defense for others? I mean, is America special or something? Oh, as for the fear part, WE have used ours. Even all of us here in the U.S. have been exposed to the radiation from our own testing and development of bombs and dirty bombs. So let's not get all two-faced about Iran or someplace else wanting what we have.

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  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
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