March 21, 2006

Iran: Play It Again, Sam

The Bush administration is singing the same song about Iran that they did about Iraq. People are noticing, but is the wolf finally at the door?

... The accusations from U.S. officials about Iranian nuclear ambitions and ties to Al Qaeda echo charges that Bush administration figures made about Iraq in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion three years ago.

Those charges about Iraq have been discredited. And in the case of Iran, some intelligence officials and analysts are unconvinced that Al Qaeda operatives are being allowed to plot terrorist acts. If anything, they suggest, the escalating tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq would logically cause Iran's Shiite government to crack down on Al Qaeda, whose Sunni leadership has denounced Shiites as infidels.

A U.S. intelligence official said he did not see any relaxation in Iran's restrictions on Al Qaeda members. "I'm not getting the sense that these people are free to roam, free to plot," the official said.

... The Sept. 11 commission concluded that Iran had harbored Al Qaeda operatives wanted in the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa and other terrorist attacks.

It quoted one top Al Qaeda official as saying Iran had made a "concerted effort to strengthen relations with Al Qaeda" after the 2000 attack on the U.S. warship Cole in Yemen.

Imprisoned top Al Qaeda operatives also have told U.S. officials that Iran let Islamic militants traveling to and from Afghanistan and Pakistan pass freely across its borders without passport stamps including at least eight of the 19 future Sept. 11 hijackers, the nowdisbanded commission said.

The panel strongly urged the Bush administration and Congress to investigate the ties between Iran and Al Qaeda. Recently, commission member Timothy Roemer said in an interview that Washington still had not adequately addressed those ties. ...

There are several angles to consider regarding this. Firstly, I think we can all take it as read that the US government, particularly (though not exclusively) the Bush administration, has demonstrated repeatedly that they will make up extreme and damning charges about countries they consider their enemies. These lies in the past have included: ties to terrorism, plans to commit genocide, alliance with the Soviet Union or international communism (when that was the Daily Bugaboo) and plans to attack America directly.

The fact that these charges were/are true about some countries, though not in all cases the countries so accused, only serves to muddy the waters considerably.

Secondly, Iran's border with Pakistan and Afghanistan is both very mountainous and socially distinct. Ethnically, the tribes who live there don't consider themselves to be separate from their counterparts just across the way in neighboring countries and have little regard for national borders. The region is a central arterial for the opium trade and a perpetual warzone, with Iranian police forces fighting a very deadly counterpart to the cocaine wars in the Americas. Kidnapping and murder are regular tools of the trade for the smugglers, as is blending in with a shifting, sometimes migratory native population. This is a part of the world where cultural subgroups isolated from the main society and generally electing not to participate in affairs of state often continue to live as they have for hundreds or thousands of years.

The situation along that border could be thought of as if, instead of giving them smallpox and boxing them into reservations, the US government had allowed the Sioux and/or a handful of other nomadic Native American tribes to wander and have exclusive rights to their traditional lands and to this day, lived freely in what would be essentially a cultural preserve. Add an intimidating mountain range and ruthless, opportunistic smugglers with the munitions heritage of Central Asia's several decades of civil war, and you're sort of there. Point being, the security situation along that border could hardly be described as under anyone's full control.

Thirdly, there is the possibility that in spite of the fact that it's the Bush administration and the US government saying it, Iran has in fact begun forming ties to Al Qaida over the last few years. If this is the case, it makes the Bush administration's behavior regarding Iraq even more criminally negligent than can already be proven. If Iran is exactly the type of threat that they insisted Iraq was, exactly the type of threat that Iraq has been shown clearly never to have been, the Bush administration would therefore be guilty of the following:

  • Significantly reducing the US' military capacity to fight any kind of sustained war with Iran, and eliminating entirely our ability to occupy or rebuild after.
  • Virtually destroying any useful diplomatic leverage to be had from moral high ground or accumulated goodwill, leaving only that cooperation that comes from brute, economic force.
  • Inadequately defending our ports and infrastructure from a country whose resources and connections, if actually turned against us, could pose a considerable threat. (Not to be alarmist here; any wealthy, resource rich country could in theory pose a serious threat.)
  • Allowing Iraq to fall into the hands of Iran's closest regional allies, the Shia community of Iraq, essentially giving them their own state.

So indeed, if Iran poses the threat they say it does, the opportunity cost of going into Iraq on false pretenses is perhaps incalculable. It's a case that can only lead one to hope that, as usual, the Bush administration is following the standard operating procedure of lying their asses off.

Posted by natasha at March 21, 2006 08:18 AM | International | Technorati links |