Friday, June 23, 2006

Residual Rattling

Like Laura Rozen, I admit to being a bit puzzled by the timing of the bold and confrontational statements made by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. yesterday - with Donald Rumsfeld standing next to him at the lectern.

"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates," Casey said, using the military abbreviation for "improvised explosive devices," or roadside bombs. The Iranians are "using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people." [...]

"Since January, we have seen an upsurge in their support, particularly to the Shia extremist groups," Casey said. "They are providing weapons, training and equipment to Shia insurgents, and that equipment is being used against us and Iraqis."

In recent weeks, I have been growing increasingly confident as to the accuracy of my earlier assessment of the heated rhetoric surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue: that it was, for the most part, saber rattling on the part of the Bush administration to try to increase our leverage vis-a-vis Iran and, relatedly, to convince our needed coalition partners on the UN Security Council/multilateral sanctions-front that we mean business so as to garner support for the more attractive, non-military measures we would be seeking.

But then this non-sequitur from Casey pops up after the Bush administration had recently changed tones and shifted gears, noticeably, away from beating the war drums in favor of non-military melodies. So, why the replay of this familiar loop? One of Laura's readers puts forth a couple of scenarios:

"... I can think of only a couple of explanations for the timing, both related. The first is that Casey is coming under pressure from the WH to help prepare the propaganda battlefield for an air attack against Iran. The second is that the Iranians have ordered the militias under their influence in Iraq to start engaging the US as a warning of what will come if we do bomb Iran."

These are indeed wholly within the realm of possibility, but something doesn't feel right. Option one just seems too impractical (Iraq's exigencies) and out of synch timing wise (why the lull in hysterics if we wanted to bomb them all along?). I'll continue to believe this unless we hear a renewed round of steady percussion from those aforementioned war drums - plus some additional logistical grinding of the gears. Option two is certainly more plausible, and Occam's Razor might suggest that Casey's words are nothing more than a rhetorical shot off of Iran's bow because of an uptick in their mischief making. Let them know we know what they're up to.

Gareth Porter's column (also via Laura) might contain a hint of some other possibilities, though. Porter describes the continued reluctance of Russia, China and other powers to join in on any meaningful sanctions, UN Security Council actions or other means of isolating/pressuring Iran. With this in mind, Casey's bluster could be the Bush administration's latest attempt to remind those recalcitrant "allies" what Plan "B" would look like - the better to nudge them toward a shared, non-military approach.

Or maybe we're just laying the groundwork in order to pursue our real objective: regime change. By turning up the heat on this type of rhetoric, we might be making our case, so to speak, before the world as to why we are justified in seeking to undermine the regime in Tehran. Those fence-sitting onlookers, and Iranian trading partners, might be sufficiently dissuaded from interfering with our surreptitious plans to bring about regime change in Iran (by means other than invasion) if they see invasion as the alternative or view our cause as relatively justified. Or at least that would be the hope.

Of course, there's the ancillary benefit of keeping the Iran-issue "on the table" and in the news in an election year. Especially considering that Rove and the GOP have decided to run, once again, on national security issues (along with the usual suspects - gay marriage, flag burning amendments, etc.). The better to keep the cinders smoldering should a fire be required nearer to November.

In either instance, I believe this is just one more variation of the saber rattling motif, with different tunes for different audiences. But speculation aside, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for - or better yet an ear.

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