The past eight years have been so catastrophic
for the United States that it is sometimes difficult to put things in perspective,
but certain patterns do emerge. Starting in the summer of 2007, when Iraq was
still in total chaos, Gen. Ray "Greater Than Napoleon" Odierno gave
a series of press conferences in which he stated that Iran was providing weapons
and training to both Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents. Charges that Iran was also
supporting al-Qaeda soon followed, and both congressional and media critics
were soon in full cry, leading to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment of September
2007, which all but declared war on Tehran.
The absurdity of Iran supporting Sunni terrorists who would sooner shoot a
Shi'ite than a U.S. soldier did not in any way inhibit the spread of the story
of Persian perfidy, which quickly spread throughout the mainstream media, confirming
the carefully cultivated, widely held view that Tehran was killing Americans
through its involvement in Iraq.
Now Iraq has calmed down, at least for the time being, and it is Afghanistan's
turn to become the new "central front in the war against terrorism."
And Iran is reported to be meddling again. If that sounds familiar, it should,
because it is the same story being told all over again by pretty much the same
journalists and talking heads. Iran is being portrayed as the evil force that
is supporting the Taliban insurgency. That history would suggest the contrary,
that Tehran is unlikely to forget that the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats
in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998 and that Taliban doctrine considers Shi'ites heretics
who should be killed, apparently is not enough to ruin a good story.
The latest tale of Iranian evil intent surfaced in the Rupert Murdoch-owned
Times of London on March 1 reporting that Iran is supplying the Taliban
in Afghanistan with surface-to-air missiles capable of destroying helicopters.
Journalist Michael Smith attributes his information to otherwise unidentified
"American intelligence sources." But both the Pentagon and the British
Defense Ministry claim to have no information confirming Smith's account, and
the Times has in the past often served as a conduit for disinformation
put out by the British and Israeli governments. The report suggests, based
on no evidence whatsoever, that the Taliban wants to use the Russian-made SA-14
Gremlin missiles to launch a "spectacular" attack against ISAF forces.
U.S. and NATO helicopters operating in Afghanistan are equipped with defensive
systems to deflect missiles, but the SA-14 can apparently evade most counter-measures.
According to the Times story, the presence of SA-14s was first noted
several weeks ago when parts from two of them were found during an American
operation in western Afghanistan.
If effective mobile ground to air missiles were to be given to the Taliban,
it would mark a major shift in the Afghan fighting, similar to the provision
of Stingers to the mujahedeen to bring down Russian helicopters in the 1980s.
But it is not all that simple. The SA-14 is not state-of-the-art weaponry.
It has been around since 1974, and tens of thousands have been sold to countries
all over the world, including every country in central Asia. Numerous SA-14s
are also believed to be available in commercial arms markets. The link to Iran
is far from demonstrated even if parts were found, suggesting that the story
is a fabrication intended to further blacken Tehran's image and put more pressure
on its government. The jump from finding some parts, if it is even true, to
an active, state-supported Iranian program to provide a battlefield weapon
that Tehran surely knows would trigger a devastating U.S. response is simply
And then there is the question of nuclear Iran, always a convenient fallback
line if one wants to make a case for preemptive warfare. Not surprisingly,
Israeli politicians and media have been leading the charge. In the recently
completed election campaign, leaders of the four leading parties, ranging from
Labor on the Left to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu on the far Right,
all denounced the Iranian threat and pledged to deal with it by military means
if necessary. That Israel does not have the military wherewithal to attack
Iran unilaterally and also has the sticky problem of requiring Iraq overflight
means that the United States would have to be involved in any such mission.
So far, the Obama administration has not signaled its willingness to become
engaged in yet another preemptive war, but rest assured that AIPAC and its
friends are working to overcome that obstacle.
The truculent Israeli position was dutifully picked up by the American media
and replayed widely in spite of the report by the United Nations International
Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's stockpile of low-level enriched uranium is
all accounted for and there is no indication of any weapons program. President
Obama's reticence notwithstanding, when Israel wants war, Washington generally
follows Tel Aviv's line. Negotiations with Iran promised by candidate Obama
may already be politically dead, designed to fail if and when they start. Hillary
Clinton has clearly indicated that she believes that negotiating with Iran
is unlikely to produce any positive results, a position reflective of a high
level of officially expressed skepticism in the new administration. She has
also said the proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe is intended to defend
against Iran, even though Tehran has neither long-range offensive missiles
nor warheads, while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen
has stated that Iran already has the fuel to make a nuclear weapon. New CIA
Director Leon Panetta has said that Tehran is intent on building a bomb, and
President Obama is also on board, indicating his belief that Tehran is moving
to acquire nuclear arms. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates strikes a somewhat
more cautious note, commenting that Iran is still far away from having an atomic
bomb, a view supported by intelligence analysts at the CIA, who report that
there is absolutely no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
The views of Clinton, Panetta, and Obama should not be surprising, because
they are making a political judgment based on their own assessment of Tehran's
intentions, which is admittedly a tricky business and highly speculative. For
them, Iran is a potential threat that has been demonized for years in the United
States, and no one has ever lost votes by attacking the mullahs. Quite the
contrary. To give Obama his due, he probably would like to see talks with Iran
succeed, but he is assuming the worst and hedging his bets. He wants to have
the powerful Israeli lobby on his side whichever way he turns. Clinton's unwillingness
to negotiate is somewhat simpler. She is a faithful disciple of the Israeli
lobby who does her annual pilgrimage to the AIPAC convention and says all the
right things. She will not do anything that looks like accommodating the Iranians.
And then there is the baleful presence of Dennis Ross, now busily furnishing
his grand new office on the seventh floor of the State Department. Thomas Friedman
in the New York Times hails Ross as a "super
sub-secretary," part of a "diplomatic A-team" that will
coordinate policy to put pressure on Iran to end its weapons program. Friedman,
who has been wrong in his assessments more times than Bill Kristol, is clearly
pleased at what Ross represents. Ross had his move to State announced somewhat
prematurely by his colleagues at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute
for Near East Policy (WINEP), and opposition to him almost derailed the appointment.
In addition to WINEP, he has recently been on the Israeli government payroll,
serving as chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. One assumes
that he has severed that particular connection, but he is nevertheless a terrible
choice for any senior diplomatic post dealing with Iran. His appointment is
a sign that AIPAC had to be appeased by the new administration. Because of
Ross' considerable baggage, his new position was announced quietly through
a press release, naming him as a special adviser for the Gulf and Southwest
Asia. He is another Clinton-era legacy that America can do without, having
served recently on a bipartisan commission advocating talking with Iran as
a prelude to bombing it. He has powerful supporters in Congress and the Israel
lobby who will undoubtedly seek to leverage his position to make him the point
man for confronting the Iranians.
So there you have it. Iran is not going to go away, and campaign promises
are easily forgotten as the Obama players line up to continue the Bush policy.
Tehran will be cited as the agent provocateur if things go south in Afghanistan,
as is all too likely. If there is one truth about Washington, it is that both
Republicans and Democrats alike need someone to blame when things go wrong.
If there were no scapegoat, they would have to blame themselves, and we can't
have that, can we?