February 17, 2007
Numerous articles have speculated that the U.S. is about to attack Iran. Any such action seems like madness on more than one level, and for that reason I've discounted the warnings. However, it's become impossible to ignore signs pointing that way.
The recent agreement with North Korea marks an abrupt change of direction for a President who included that country in the axis of evil and declared his loathing for its leader. The fact that the tentative deal is similar to the one negotiated by the Clinton administration makes this development all the more striking, and has caused complaint by hardliners. What would induce the administration to make such a move?
One possibility is that it has realized that military action will not accomplish its aims. If that were a general reappraisal, it would be good news. (More likely, it would be a judgment that North Korea is a tougher target than Iraq - or Iran.) Another possibility is that the administration has decided that North Korea is not a nuclear threat at present or in the near future and that diplomacy will suffice. That too would be good news as to Iran, which poses less of a threat.
Unfortunately, another possible interpretation is that we are simply getting Korea off the table so that we may concentrate on war with, or at least an air attack on, Iran. The recent hype regarding weapons sent from Iran into Iraq makes this all too plausible.
Last Sunday, a presentation was made to reporters in Baghdad in an attempt, at least initially successful, to persuade them to write stories stating that Iran is supplying weapons, especially explosives, to Iraqi insurgents. Those weapons allegedly have killed 170 Americans.
After a day or two, more skeptical articles appeared, including one in The Washington Post which described the presentation: military officials sought to "link Iran to deadly armor-piercing explosives and other weapons that they said are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi troops with increasing regularity." The weapons displayed included mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and an "explosively formed penetrator" or EFP. The weapons allegedly were brought into Iraq by the Quds Force, "an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that U.S. officials believe is under the control of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."
The meeting was conducted by "a senior defense official," "a defense analyst" and "an explosives expert," none of whom would allow their names to be used. Reporters were not allowed to record, photograph or videotape the briefing nor to photograph the weapons.
The only direct evidence for any of the claims had to do with Iranian manufacture: "Two rocket-propelled grenades, with the markings 'P.G. 7-AT-1,' were said to be made exclusively in Iran." Other evidence of origin was increasingly speculative. It was claimed that mortars displayed showed signs of Iranian manufacture because their tail fins "were made from a single fused piece of metal, while other countries make mortar shells that have removable parts." Components of the EFPs required precision machining which, reporters were told, "Iraq has shown no evidence of being able to perform." It isn't clear what that means. Do Iraqis not have the skill; do the necessary tools not exist in Iraq; do the insurgents not have access to them, in Iraq or otherwise?
Iran may be supplying weapons for use in Iraq, but this briefing was propaganda, not proof.
At his press conference on Wednesday President Bush was asked several times about the allegations, and responded with a programmed answer: "I can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops." He did not at any point offer evidence for any of his claims. When asked "What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?" he simply repeated the formula about Quds and protecting the troops, a formula which appeared a total of five times and which sounds like an excuse for military action. The pattern is ominously reminiscent of 2002.