An attack on Iran by the U.S. has been widely predicted – Tony Blankley gave voice to this growing certainty in Washington on the New Year’s edition of The McLaughlin Group – but an invasion? The usual scenario is a series of bombing raids targeting Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons facilities, but almost no one has suggested putting American "boots on the ground" in Iran, not even Mad John McCain, for whom the phrase has become a rhetorical signature.
Yet it is difficult to imagine that there won’t be extensive ground fighting if and when we exercise a military option against Iran. After all, Iraq, which shares a long border with Iran, has some 130,000 American troops on its soil. They will hardly be immune to attack: indeed, it will be open season on them in Iraq, with pro-Iranian Shi’ites uniting in anger with Sunnis to target the country’s "liberators."
In any case, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq may come sooner than any of us now believe possible – if we take seriously the possibility that American soldiers will soon be fighting in Iran. This is what they mean by " phased redeployment" somewhere " over the horizon."
We keep hearing from Democratic critics of the war that the Bush administration has " failed," because we can’t keep order in Baghdad and the Iranians are in a position of unparalleled influence not only in Iraq but throughout the region. Yet this evaluation is based on a series of remarkably naïve assumptions, all of which have been proven utterly wrong.
The announced war aim of the Bush administration was to rid Saddam of his alleged "weapons of mass destruction," and when the WMD myth was finally and definitively debunked, they told us we were there to install a functioning democracy. That didn’t pan out, either – unless one considers Shi’ite death squads, and a campaign of ethnic cleansing that puts the one supposedly initiated by Slobodan Milosevic to shame, legitimate expressions of the demos.
America’s real war aims are another matter entirely, and they are coming into focus as the situation on the ground develops. After all, why assume that what is currently happening in Iraq isn’t part of the program? Surely the Americans knew the dismemberment of the Iraqi state would have to mean Shi’ite hegemony, an empowered Iran, and the prospect of a regionalized conflagration. It defies belief that they didn’t: our rulers may be evil, but they sure as heck aren’t stupid (and I’m not talking about the president, who is a genuine dolt).
We have every reason to believe that the death and decomposition of the Iraqi state is precisely what they had in mind when they decided to invade in the first place. Furthermore, a civil war had to be the outcome of a sudden vacuum of legitimacy, and it was bound to be a religious conflict, pitting Sunnis against Shi’ites. Looked at in a larger context, it makes perfect sense that the War Party is now playing the "Shi’ite card," as the visit of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to Washington indicates. Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ( SCIRI), met with the president, chatted with Condi, and took a tour of the Pentagon. If we’re looking for the true origins of the "surge" strategy in Iraq – the prospect of adding some 30,000 troops to "stabilize" Baghdad and rebel provinces – we need look no further than Hakim’s Dec. 4 speech [.pdf] to the U.S. Institute of Peace:
"We believe that the deterring factors are not up to the level of their criminal activities. The strikes they are getting from the multinational forces are not hard enough to put an end to their acts, but leave them stand up again to resume their criminal acts. This means that there is something wrong in the policies taken to deal with that danger threatening the lives of the Iraqis. Eliminating the danger of the Civil War in Iraq could only be achieved through directing decisive strikes against terrorist Bathists terrorists [sic] in Iraq. Otherwise we’ll continue to witness massacres being committed every now and then against the innocent Iraqis."
Translation: Help us to finally smash the Sunnis by sending more troops. That this is about to happen is all but certain, in spite of noises coming from the Democratic peanut gallery. It’s all part of the administration’s grand strategy – or, rather, the neocons‘ strategy, which is one and the same thing – and it’s not like this has been any great secret. Writing in the Wall Street Journal two full years ago, neocon tactician and retired spook Reuel Marc Gerecht showed the War Party’s hand:
"In Iraq, the U.S. ought to have two obvious goals. To crush the Sunni insurgency before it can provoke the birth of an exclusive, angry Shi’ite political identity willing to do to the Arab Sunnis what the Ba’ath once did to the Shia. If such an identity is born, it is most unlikely democracy can prevail. Washington must thus ensure that the democratic process in Iraq, regardless of the violence, keeps on rolling. As long as it does, clerical Iran will not be able to gain much traction inside the country. SCIRI, the Da’wa, and the Sadriyyin are not puppets controlled by Tehran; the rising power of southern Iraq’s Shi’ite tribes, which historically have looked askance at clerical direction from any quarter, will further frustrate Iranian influence.
"Persians stick out in Iraq like sore thumbs (very few Iranians can speak Arabic with any facility). They must have Iraqi surrogates to advance their interests, which are in opposition to those of most Iraqis. The U.S. could bomb uranium-enrichment facilities in Iran and it’s much more likely Washington will see protests in the anti-Shi’ite Sunni Arab world than among Iraq’s Shi’ites. This is a paradox that Washington should understand. If we don’t, a nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy is likely to win in Iraq, and beyond."
The idea is that a U.S./Shi’ite alliance would act as a brake on Iran. The big problem for the Americans is that the Sadrists are militantly anti-American, as well as hyper-nationalistic, and that the supposedly "moderate" SCIRI and Da’wa Party activists tend to be more pro-Iranian. Nevertheless, it appears that the U.S. has chosen SCIRI as the new American client in Iraq, and is now planning an offensive against the Sadrists, which is what the proposed "surge" is partially about.
As I noted at the time, Robert Dreyfuss was right on target with his 2004 analysis of how playing the "Shi’ite card" fits into the larger strategy of "transformation" in the Middle East:
"This theory, now official doctrine for the neocons, is at the heart of their Iran strategy. It counts as second Big Mistake of the Iraq war. Big Mistake No. 1 was the neocon belief that the Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms – instead, they welcomed us with arms. Big Mistake No. 2, now taking shape, is that Iraq’s Shi’ites are Good Guys who will lead a pro-American Iraq against Iran’s ‘clerical dictatorship.’ I believe that they really believe this. But the reality is that in a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, the hard-liners and the people with guns (i.e., the Badr Brigades) will take over, and they will make common cause with some of the clergy in Iran. It will be a dagger all right, but one aimed at Saudi Arabia’s Sunni state. Of course, that too is part of the long-term Israeli-neocon strategy, to overthrow the Saudi king. It’s a regional regime-change strategy (one that includes Syria of course) and it has been central to their whole Middle East policy for a decade. It is also a fantasy, with a thousand possibilities for things to go terribly wrong. Big Mistake No. 1 led to the Iraqi insurgency. Big Mistake No. 2 could lead to a Middle East inflamed by Islamic revolution in spades."
Seen in the context of the "war on terrorism," the strategy undertaken by the U.S. in Iraq makes a twisted kind of sense. If we approach the problem in theological terms, the idea of going on the offensive against militant Islam means splitting the Muslim world along sectarian lines – which is precisely what is happening in today’s Iraq. Tomorrow the same thing will be happening throughout the Middle East. Or so the War Party hopes.
Contra Dreyfuss, I don’t believe in the neocons’ good intentions: they don’t really believe the Shi’ites are the "Good Guys" – not with the Badr Brigade on the rampage, carrying out a religious "cleansing" alongside the Mahdi Army of the Sadrists. And what about those Iranians caught in Hakim’s SCIRI compound, who were accused by the Americans of directing attacks on U.S. (and, presumably, Iraqi) forces?
The War Party is desperate to provoke the Iranians into a military conflict, and they are pulling out all the stops to do so. With economic sanctions against Iran already in place, and likely to be ratcheted up – along with the anti-Iranian propaganda campaign – the likelihood of war with the mullahs of Tehran is an eventuality that seems almost fated to occur, whether or not the American people support it. Less than half now believe a war with Iran in the next year is likely: however, I predict that number is bound to increase as 2007 drags on. The chances of war rise as we examine the positions of various prominent candidates for president on the Iran question, with even alleged peacenik Barack Obama openly musing that American military action is an "option ."
George W. Bush has been savagely criticized and mercilessly mocked for declaring " mission accomplished" at the very moment when the anti-American insurgency was birthed, but in retrospect this makes perfect sense – if one realizes that our mission was the utter destruction of Iraq. As a dress rehearsal for the larger event – the coming Sunni-Shi’ite civil war that will go down in history as comparable to Europe’s Thirty Years’ War pitting Catholics against Protestants – Iraq is truly a "model" for the rest of the region, albeit not in a way anybody but the perpetrators of this criminal policy expected.