Feb 15, 2007

Will We, Or Won't We?

A former senior CIA official, who preferred to remain unidentified, but who has broad experience in the Middle East:

The Bush Administration's combative rhetoric—its accusations about Iran's nuclear program, involvement in Iraq, and support for Hezbollah and Hamas—looks like a prelude to military action. It's eerily reminiscent of the fall 2002/winter 2003 rhetoric on Iraq, when the administration was talking about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's meddling in the region. It's back to the future. The administration is unlikely to embark upon military action immediately, but it's trying to squeeze Iran, to egg on the government, and hoping that Iran commits some sort of military action that the Bush Administration can use as justification for a strike. The administration was hurt by the accusation that it conducted a war of choice against Iraq, so it's trying to create a situation where it can say this is a war of necessity against Iran. But its actions are essentially the same thing as planning to go to war.

I see four types of evidence that the administration is planning military action. First, it is escalating its anti-Iran rhetoric. Second, it is parading evidence about Iranian involvement in Iraq, citing intelligence reports, serial numbers of weapons, and so on. Third, the United States is building up its military presence in the Gulf. Fourth, pro-United States regimes in the region, with encouragement, clearly, by the Bush Administration, are issuing statements denouncing Iran's threatening posture towards them, and its alleged efforts to pressure for the "Shiite-ification" of Sunni communities.

Despite differences between Shiites and Sunnis, a U.S. attack on Iran would be viewed in the region as the fifth in a series of American wars against Islam—after Afghanistan, Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Iran and its supporters will seek to respond, including through attacks on Israel. An American strike poses a huge threat to Israel, which I'm not sure the administration has thought through. It will also destabilize pro-American regimes in the region, solidify the jihadists in Iraq, and unify Iranians around their government.

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