The engagement fantasy with Iran

Belmont Club:

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Those who continue to believe that "engaging" Iran is the road to bringing stability to Iraq should note that if the WaPo's article is accurate, the US was in fact sending a continuous invitation to talk to the Mullahs by pointedly refusing to escalate the confrontation. An invitation which not only went unheeded but produced the contrary result. Instead of impressing the Mullahs with American moral superiority and seriousness; instead of convincing them that the "adults were back in charge" it encouraged even more aggression. "There were no costs for the Iranians," said one senior administration official. "They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back." This may not impress the advocates of engagement, who may calculate that the US was not bending backward far enough. A little more "flexibility", a few more "confidence building" measures and there would be light at the end of the tunnel. And now, horrors! the incompetent administration is now thinking about "widening the war" (shades of Cambodia) by shooting back. Well, sort of shooting back.

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But in war timing is nearly everything. The difference between a brilliant attack and fiasco might be a few hours and here the counterstroke has been delayed for a year. The real danger to this tentative aggressiveness is that may be too little -- and too late. Just as the Sunni insurgency may have been fueled by the decision to abort the First Battle of Fallujah, Iranian aggression has been allowed to grow to the point where meeting it now risks a serious confrontation. As in the case of a man who has let a scratch become a gangrenous infection, the choices are now between bad and worse. But because the Mullahs have been allowed to run rampant for so long the force required to halt them will be high. An administration which spent its political capital mollifying its critics may now find it has none left to stop the nation's enemies. The patient may refuse the amputation as unnecessary, even as he refused the antibioltics as unnecessary earlier. The sands run out both comically and tragically.

If this cautionary tale is about anything, it should be about the dangers of showing weakness in the face of the enemy. What "catch and release" has been to Iran and the insurgents is exactly what "cut and run" will be to civilization's terrorist enemies. Not a path to peace but a route to catastrophe. The realization will come, but it will come too late.


It is also a mistake to view what is happening with Iran in Iraq as something that is new. Iran has been in a covert war with the US since 1979. Nearly every engagement with Iran has led at best to nowhere and at worse to embarrassments such as the Iran Contra matter. They are a poisonous snake of a regime that seeks our destruction and they should be treated as such until the regime changes. It is a regime of religious bigots who think they are on a mission from god and that we are the devil. They are not going to negotiate in good faith with a party they perceive as the devil. Nothing that the US does will change that perception, because it is based on a religious conviction and not on any tangible fact.

Secretary of Defense Gates challenges several aspects of teh Washington Post story.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there is no new policy on targeting Iranian operatives in Iraq, as reported Friday by the Washington Post. But he says U.S. forces will target any foreign fighter trying to kill them. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates told his first Pentagon news conference that Friday's Washington Post story has "a number of inaccuracies." The article says there is a new policy under which U.S. troops are authorized to capture or kill Iranian operatives, if necessary. It says the past policy was to release any captured Iranians after a few days. The Post says the new orders are part of an aggressive new approach to weaken Iran's influence Iraq.

Secretary Gates disagreed.

"It's not clear to me it is different," he said. "I'm not aware of any change in the sense of our forces having the authority to go after those who are attempting to kill Americans, any foreign fighter in Iraq who's trying to kill Americans."

Secretary Gates spoke after meeting with President Bush and the new Iraq commander, Lieutenant General David Petraeus. At the end of that meeting, President Bush said he had made clear what his force protection policy is.

"Our policy is going to be to protect our troops in Iraq. This makes sense, that if somebody is going to try to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq that we will stop that," he said.

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There is more in this VOA report. It is interesting to see the different perspectives of the sources for the Washington Post story, who very likely were with the National Security Counsel, and the head of the Department of Defense. The NSC staff was sending a message to Iran, and the Defense Department was sending a message to the Congress not to over react to the NSC message.

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