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Keeping Iran in line

MAX BOOT is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. mboot@latimescolumnists.com

IS THAT trigger-happy gunslinger in the White House about to take aim at Iran?

You would think so if you read the Guardian newspaper in Britain, which has written, “Pentagon plans for possible attack on nuclear sites are well advanced.”

Not to be outdone, the competing Sunday Times has reported, based on a “source with close ties to British intelligence,” that “up to five [U.S.] generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.”

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Or try the homegrown media, where foreign policy experts of an anti-Bush hue compete to offer elaborate scenarios of how the U.S. could spark a conflagration. American policymakers “intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [the U.S.] would be forced to retaliate for,” former National Security Council official Hillary Mann told Newsweek. Another former NSC aide, Flynt Leverett, told the New Yorker, “The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond, and then the administration will have an open door to strike them.” In Senate testimony, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski conjured up a “plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran,” which would be provoked by a “terrorist act” that would be “blamed on Iran,” “culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire.”

You would think that the United States was Nazi Germany preparing to launch a war of aggression on Poland based on a fabricated provocation. (Adolf Hitler’s Sept. 1, 1939, blitzkrieg was preceded by SS troops in Polish uniforms pretending to attack a German radio station on the border.) In reality, it is the United States and our allies that are the victims in the confrontation with Iran.

Recall that the trouble began with the outrageous Iranian seizure of 52 U.S. Embassy hostages in 1979. Since then, the mullahs have continued to wage war by proxy. Iranian-sponsored terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 258 Americans. They kidnapped numerous Americans in Lebanon. They are suspected of bombing the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, killing 19 Americans. More recently, they have been providing arms and training to anti-American militants in Iraq. Iranian-made EFPs (explosively formed projectiles), a particularly potent type of landmine, have been responsible for more than 170 American combat deaths.

Attempts by numerous naysayers to deny the evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq are almost comical. American troops at several bases in Iraq have laid out mortars, rockets and bomb components with serial numbers betraying their Iranian origins. They have even detained senior officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which is responsible for supplying munitions to Iraqi militias.

Yet critics profess to remain unconvinced that all these actions were approved by the Iranian leadership. As if it’s common in a dictatorship for the security forces to act contrary to the orders of the dictator. In fact, there is no evidence that the Quds Force has gone renegade and much evidence that it is doing the bidding of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to whom it directly reports.

Faced with such a flagrant casus belli, not to mention President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blood-curdling threats against our ally, Israel, the U.S. would be perfectly justified in hitting Iran now, before it acquires nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that such an attack is the best strategy at the moment or the one that the administration is pursuing.

There is, in fact, little reason to think that we’re about to go bombs away. With the U.S. already mired in two major conflicts, the last thing the administration needs is another one. President Bush is trying to ratchet up the pressure on Iran precisely in order to reach a diplomatic settlement and avoid a military confrontation.

As part of this process, the U.S. has won approval from the U.N. for sanctions, and it has also pursued its own unilateral sanctions on Iranian financial networks. There is evidence that these measures are hurting the Iranian leadership and that key elements of the regime are uneasy with Ahmadinejad’s bellicose course. But to be effective, the policy of coercion needs to have a military component, which is why the U.S. has moved a second aircraft carrier battle group into the region and rounded up some Iranian agents in Iraq.

Only if the Iranians fear the U.S. are they likely to make major concessions. The Bush haters are thus doing Bush a big favor with all their talk of an imminent American strike. The more alarmism, the better -- justified or not.


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