Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charade You Are

Although I'm a bit reluctant to get too caught up in the debate about whether or not Iran is providing arms and other assistance to various groups in Iraq, Rob Farley has a nice compilation of links to stories that chase down some of the emerging details surrounding the IED (and EFP) saga. More at TPM.

Many claims demonstrated by the Bush administration's "evidence" are proving to be less than persuasive.

Despite the fact that there is an obvious value in knocking down the hype and exaggeration associated with the brief against Iran, my reticence is based on suspicions surrounding the framing of the issue itself. The fear is that the larger question of whether or not we should attack Iran will be subsumed by the narrower question of whether or not Iran is providing IEDs and EFPs to Iraqi militants. If this were to happen, and the answer to the latter question is at least a plausible "yes," then the answer to the former question will be "yes" as well.

Or so the argument will go, as it often does. This restriction of the dialogue can effectively halt the crucial, in-depth analysis of long term effects and larger repercussions - as was the case with the Iraq war. Even to this day, many Iraq war supporters fall back on the excuse that "everybody" thought Saddam had WMD - as if a good faith belief that Saddam had WMD was justification enough for war. A debate ender so to speak.

It should not have been though (leaving aside the fact that the inspectors on the ground weren't finding any prior to the war). Invading Iraq was a terrible idea regardless of whether or not Saddam had some chem or biological weapon capacity - and for reasons that had nothing to do with that question.

While discovering WMD in Iraq may have lessened some of the suspicions and cynicism concerning our motives for the invasion, in the long run, almost nothing would be different. Iraq would still be the same war-torn mess of rival sects and ethnic groups that it is today. The region would still be teetering on the brink of all out conflagration. The occupation would still be costing us trillions of dollars, thousands of coalition lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. The image of America would still be suffering immensely worldwide. And there would still be no doubt that the invasion was one of the biggest strategic blunders in the history of US foreign policy.

Similarly, if the question of military confrontation with Iran becomes centered around the question of whether or not Iran is funneling IEDs to militant Iraqi groups, the debate about the merits of such confrontation could get lost in the shuffle. That would be a tremendous shame - because there is a good chance that Iran is providing at least some level of military assistance to certain Shiite groups.

SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corp., was formed in Iran during the preceding decade for starters. I don't think that level of patronage just disappears overnight without good cause. Further, there are many smaller roguish elements in the Iranian government that could be providing arms to favored proxies and other aligned factions.

As such, it is likely that some portion of Iranian provided arms would be resold on the black market, or otherwise end up in use against some US forces on the battlefield. Thus, it will be all too easy for those seeking to attack Iran to cite some plausible evidence of Iranian involvement - just as they were able to make a plausible argument that Saddam had some WMD (while eliding the enormous difference between chem, bio and nuclear weapons, the fact that Saddam had no delivery system even if he had WMD and the fact that inspectors weren't finding evidence of any of the aforementioned capacity).

It would be a grave error if we let such evidence determine our actions though. Along these lines, it is important to remember that the warmongering factions in the Bush administration, and elsewhere, are pushing for confrontation with Iran regardless of the IED/EFP connection. The IED/EFP brouhaha is mostly just a cover story to sell the concept to a reluctant public. In that sense, dismantling the cover story is worthwhile -but in the proper context. The more important argument is that attacking Iran would be a strategic disaster regardless. We shouldn't lose the forest for the trees.

That should be emphasized each and every time.

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