War Drums, Redux

I have avoided linking to any articles about the recent allegations about Iran since these claims seem so clearly to be a repetition of what we saw in late 2002 and early 2003, and I find the whole thing too depressing. But I want to point to an analysis at fair.org of just how some newspapers are making the same mistakes as with pre-Iraq war intelligence:

In the report, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says,” [New York Times] reporter Michael R. Gordon cited a one-sided array of anonymous sources charging the Iranian government with providing a particularly deadly variety of roadside bomb to Shia militias in Iraq: “The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.” (…) Repeatedly citing the likes of “administration officials,” “American intelligence” and “Western officials,” the article used unnamed sources four times as often as named ones. Only one source in Gordon’s report challenged the official claims: Iranian United Nations ambassador Javad Zarif, who was allowed a one-sentence denial of Iranian government involvement.

And in a thoughtful, clear-sighted op-ed in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Adam Shatz makes several points that deserve to be highlighted.

If Iran wants to see a friendly government established in Iraq, it hardly lacks for reasons. Unlike the United States, Iran was attacked by Iraq, back when Hussein’s regime enjoyed American support as a bulwark against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians died during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). When Iraq used poison gas against Iranian troops, the United States uttered not a single protest.

Not surprisingly, Iran wants to ensure that no government in Iraq will threaten it again. That’s why Iran made no secret of its joy over Hussein’s downfall, but it also refuses to accept a potentially hostile American base in the Persian Gulf or to cede absolute control over Iraq’s future to the United States.

And there is also this:

If Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has indulged Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical extremism, it may be because he expected to be rewarded, rather than punished, for Iran’s assistance to the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Gareth Porter recently reported in the American Prospect, Iran floated a proposal in May 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad, for a “grand bargain” with the United States. It offered to back the 2002 Arab Summit’s proposal for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and to end its military support for armed Palestinian groups as well as Hezbollah in return for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Prematurely intoxicated by its “mission accomplished,” the Bush administration reportedly ignored Iran’s proposal and has since given every indication that it prefers regime change in Tehran to the kind of dialogue recommended by the Iraq Study Group. To this end, the administration has flirted with the Iranian Mujahedin Khalq, also known as MEK, a bizarre Maoist guerrilla group/cult that opposes the Islamic government and frequently launched attacks on Iran from Iraq with Hussein’s backing.

Given the Bush administration’s belligerent position, the Iranian government might have concluded that, with Hussein dead and the Shiite parties in power, Tehran’s interests are best served by the withdrawal of American troops on its border. Even if the Iraqis fail to drive out U.S. forces, a deepening quagmire usefully distracts attention from Tehran’s nuclear program and reminds the United States that it needs Iran in order to exit with its honor intact.

Like any state, the Islamic republic seeks above all to preserve itself. But, again, is this “malign intent” or a sober calculation? Iran has, in other words, a strong realist case for being involved in Iraq. If Iranian “designs” on Iraq are seen as malign, it is only by those who believe that U.S. “intentions” in Iraq (unlike other imperial powers, we have no designs) are benign.

You can read the whole piece here.


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