At the Crossroads with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 10 months ago

The U.S. is at a strategic and unique point in history, with Iran and Syria among the top reasons that stability has not been brought to Iraq, Iran aggresively pursuing nuclear weapons, and both countries fomenting the spread of jihadism throughout the region.  Decisions made at the highest levels of government over the coming months will have deep and lasting impacts on civilization for many generations to come.  It is apparent that the general public does not comprehend the momentous and watershed events upon us, and it is equally apparent that this administration is not girded for the struggle.

Recent Data on U.S. & Iran

We are still seeing the ripples of Bush’s address on Iraq.  In a joint press conference with Khalilzad, outgoing General George Casey said that we are “going after” the networks of Iranian and Syrian agents in Iraq.  Casey was backed up at home by the full power of the administration:

The belief that George Bush’s troops “surge” policy in Iraq is also aimed at confronting Iran was strengthened yesterday when the White House declared that it was “going to deal” with the actions of the Tehran regime.

In a series of interviews, Vice-President Dick Cheney, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, struck belligerent notes on Iranian activity inside Iraq. Mr Hadley did not rule out the possibility of US forces striking across the border.

Discord continued between America and Iraq over the arrest by US forces of five Iranians in Arbil, the Kurdish capital. The US claims they are linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and have been funding Iraqi insurgents. The Revolutionary Guards, said the US military was “known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilise the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces”.

The Multi-National Force web site, where press releases customarily point to military operations, has a rather odd press release on what at least some forces are doing in Iraq at the present:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition Forces continue investigations into the activities of five Iranian nationals detained in Irbil on Jan. 11.  Preliminary results revealed the five detainees are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces.

According to Coalition Force officials, efforts will continue to target all who break the law, attack the Coalition Force or attempt to undermine the Government of Iraq.

The facility in which the detention took place has been described by various Iraqi officials as an Iranian liaison office, but it did not enjoy the diplomatic status of a consulate according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.    

The Multi-National Force, in keeping with U.S. policy, will continue to disrupt logistical support to extremists that originate from outside Iraq.  These initiatives are part of a broader plan including diplomatic efforts designed to support the Iraqi government, protect the Iraqi people, and seek assistance from neighboring nations, according to coalition officials.

Military sources have said that U.S. forces will ‘go after’ both the Sunni insurgents and the Shi’ite extremist leaders.  According to the Strategy Page, this isn’t bluster:

In the last month, Iran has become aware that the U.S. is deliberately hunting down Iranian agents inside Iraq. For most of the last year, Iran believed that it’s high ranking contacts in the Iraqi government gave its men immunity. Certainly the Iraqi police would not touch them (the head of the national police, and Interior Ministry, was a pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia). But the Americans simply brush aside any Iraqi troops or police who get in the way, and grab Iranians. This is being done without much publicity at all. It’s as if the Americans were just collecting evidence and building a case. A case for what?

Finally, in addition to activity by ground forces, there is a naval buildup taking place to demonstrate resolve to remain in the region for a “long time.”

Assessment and Commentary

Ostensibly, the administration has finally fully engaged in the war that Iran and Syria are conducting on the U.S. by proxy fighters.  Or have they?  Any threat by Iran to conduct conventional warfare against the U.S. is likely a hollow threat, and their biggest threat is still assymetric warfare.  They are conducting this with ease and without apology.  As I have discussed in The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq, Iraq is part of a regional problem and thus will require a regional solution.  Iran is part of the problem, not a part of the solution.

Yet after issuing sanctions on Iran, some members of the EU want a more nuanced approach to support for nuclear programs from the IAEA to Iran, believing that this will once again engage Iran rather than “forcing them into a corner.”  Inside Iraq, a top Shi’ite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, strongly criticized the U.S. detention of the Iranian agents, literally calling it an “attack on Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Kuwait has made known their desire that the U.S. engage in talks with Iran, and Iraq’s foreign minister increased the pressure yet again on the U.S. by promising to Iran’s foreign minister to free the detained Iranians.  Iran has all but dismissed any potential hit on its nuclear facilities, telling the world not to take seriously the possibility that the U.S. will follow through with such plans.

In the most ham-handed diplomatic move since the beginning of the war, it seems that the administration cannot retreat fast enough from Bush’s threats to Iran.

Sen. Joseph Biden, now Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman (and a Dem presidential contender), sent a letter to Bush after a question-and-answer confrontation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Biden said Rice had been evasive on whether Bush’s statements meant that U.S. military personnel could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of insurgent support networks. He also asked whether the administration believes the president could order such action without first seeking explicit congressional approval—as Biden thinks he must.

Note that crossing the Iranian and Syrian borders in search of safe havens for insurgents and their networks comports exactly with my earlier recommendations, the result of which would be:

  • intimidation
  • regime destabilization
  • denial of safe haven for insurgents, and ultimately
  • fomenting of regime change

But regardless of how far the President has authorized U.S. forces to go in search of rogue elements, the administration cannot even seem to muster the resolve to allow the Iranians to think that we will enter their territories.  Continuing,

 … administration officials (anonymous due to diplomatic sensitivities) concede that Bush’s Iran language may have been overly aggressive, raising unwarranted fears about military strikes on Tehran. Instead, they say, Bush was trying to warn Iran to keep its operatives out of Iraq, and to reassure Gulf allies—including Saudi Arabia—that the United States would protect them against Iranian aggression. A senior administration official, not authorized to speak on the record, says the policy is part of the new Iraq offensive. “All this comes out of our very detailed, lengthy review of strategy from last fall,” he says. Recent intel indicates the government of Iran, or elements in it, have stepped up interference in Iraqi political affairs and the supply of weapons to Iraqi Shiite insurgents, say several U.S. intel and national-security officials, anonymous when discussing sensitive material. “The reason you keep hearing about Iran is we keep finding their stuff there,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace said Friday. Two of the officials, however, indicated Bush had not signed a secret order—known as an intel “finding”—authorizing the CIA or other undercover units to launch covert operations to undermine the governments of Iran and Syria.

At a time when the world is watching for resolve, the President’s handlers are denuding the story and handing him the worst foreign affairs blunder in recent memory.  With a softer approach to counterinsurgent warfare in Iraq possible, along with a strangled story as soon as it leaves the President’s lips, we are kicking the proverbial can down the road in the hope that we do not finally have to deal with it.  But that can will only be kicked so far.  Time is ebbing away.  Failure to engage in the epic battle of this millennium against jihadism might mean that a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles is more than just an interesting story line on a television show.


  1. On January 22, 2007 at 1:17 pm, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    At first glance, visible or available information shows us that Iran is unwilling to depart from a strategy of conflict whose line and shape makes it strikingly similar to this of Germany during the 30’s. The way the Iranian ruling elite behaves collectively, or through the voice of its president Mahmoud Amadinejadh, when facing the specter of possible harsher sanctions from the U.N., the United States, or whoever else, exemplifies in a striking manner too a legal tactic Jacques Verges, a French controversial attorney and former Free French Forces guerrilla first invented and coined “procès de rupture.

  2. On January 23, 2007 at 6:36 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    You have given an extremely detailed and thoughtful account of Iran and their nuclear ambitions, the end result of which is the bifurcation of their nuclear program with all other considerations about Iran. The Threats Watch website has an analysis that argues to the contrary. I’ll leave you and the readers with it to consider both sides of the argument.

  3. On January 24, 2007 at 4:51 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    Thank you for the tip on ThreatsWatch, a blog I didn’t know until then and which appears to be as serious as interesting.

    Yes, I have made my comment quite long and some of my suggestions may seem somewhat elliptic. Actually, I just had the sentiment (as always) that my comment would seem weird if I had missed to provide an argumentation sustaining my point.

    Now, the reasons for which I suggest to dissociate the nuclear issue from all others owes to my perception (based upon sound reports and studies I named) that the nuclear issue is something deeply embedded in the Iran national interest while, to a large extent and on a more personal basis this time, I attribute all others demonstrations of aggressiveness to the sole responsibility of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some may consider that I’m mistaken about that and I understand it.

    Actually, I was suggesting an idea which holds that in accepting to consider things under this angle Iran might find an honorable way to get out of the ominous rut in which we have all got into now. It implies, of course, that Iran’s ruling elite has to reconsider the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If ever they did so then everybody might completely reconsider the situation and even accept the idea to meet at a round table; even though the nuclear issue seems insoluble. I hardly accept the idea that Iranians are that fanatic or stupid and I think that many of them fully understand that following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s logic will inescapably lead all of us (them, their allies, and us) toward the biggest crisis of history since WWII. Nobody wants that.

    At some point, the ThreatsWatch’s article you recommended me states:

    “While reviled and despised in the West, it is precisely Ahmadinejad’s lack of ability or desire to cloak his inner thoughts that makes him particularly useful to the West. Should he be unseated in a move to replace him as president, it is this quality that will be sorely missed, though few in the West realize it just yet.

  4. On January 25, 2007 at 6:47 pm, Barry Black said:

    As concerns Iran, the best form of pressure that can be applied to the autocratic, theocratic regime in power is to foment and support internal opposition. Such regimes fear internal opposition more than external which only serves to rally the population—-case in point is the original coup in 1953 that placed the Shah in power and was orchestrated by the Eisenhower administration—-an external influence. The Shah was never a popular leader and the constant fear of being overthrown made him instigate repressive actions while being supported by the US. Though it did take 25 years to remove the Shah, incredibly a medieval cleric was able to parlay that dissent into a revolution though it can be argued the Carter administration, by inaction and ineptness accelerated that revolution.

    To get a stable regime change in Iran the US must support internal opposition groups and that may in itself change the way the current regime responds.

  5. On January 26, 2007 at 5:23 pm, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    That’s an option I have previously suggested elsewhere; and this suggestion (to overthrow the Iranian government by a way or another) seems to gather relatively broad approval. But in order to make it an elegant and justifiable solution as seen from the whole international stage in our new era of information I expressed it in the frame of a concept of my own which I named “mutual deterrence applied to insurgency.

  6. On January 30, 2007 at 8:35 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    I remain really confused by all this bellicose rhetoric about Iran.

    First of all, Iran was rarely mentioned in the context of Iraq until just a month or two ago. What did Iran do differently in Iraq a month or two ago that it had not been doing in Iraq ever since the U.S. invasion?

    Next, if Iran is really the overarching bad guy to be stopped at all costs, why was Bush giving the royal treatment to Abdul Aziz al Hakim back in December? Hakim is head of SCIRI and the Badr Brigades and makes no secret of the fact that he and his organizations have been sponsored and funded by Iran right from the git go. If Iran is really the baddest bad guy in the region, why isn’t the U.S. teaming up with Moqtada al Sadr, who makes no secret of the fact that he opposes all interference in Iraq by Iran as well as the U.S.?

    Right from the beginning, by far the most American casualties and pretty much all the sickening mass murders of Shiites by car bombs and suicide bombs have been commited by Sunnis. Why all this administration stuff about Iran equipping the “insurgents?” Until very recently, the term insurgent applied to Sunnis trying to destroy the government and terrorize Shiites. Why on earth would Iran support Sunnis killing Shiites?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions. I really and truly don’t understand what our government is doing over there. — Denis

  7. On January 31, 2007 at 4:26 am, michael ledeen said:

    Denis, first of all Iran was a charter member of the Axis of Evil, so don’t be surprised if it shows up wherever the terror war is going on. Second, you are entirely right, Iran has not changed its behavior, but the attempt to deny what Iran has been doing all along–that coverup fell apart in recent months, apparently because the military got tired of seeing our kids blown up by Iranian-manufactured shaped explosives, about which we have known for at least a year and a half.

    Why would Iran support Sunnis killing Shi’ites? For the same reason Iran has supported both sides in other sectarian battles in Iraq and elsewhere: Kurds vs Turkamen, Arabs vs Kurds, and so on. There is nothing new in Iran killing Shi’ites, they do it every day in Iran.

    That said, I am with you–I find our behavior over there unconscionable. Understanding is different from forgiveness.

  8. On January 31, 2007 at 6:50 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    Your confusion is understandable and is representative of a dominant trend anyone may notice here and there. The cause is a concern of our leaders to do their best, in a consistent manner, to avoid always possible escalation from incidents on; and even grave incidents sometimes.
    This fully applies to the case of those old and long lasting frictions between the United States and Iran. Very soon after Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, in 1979, terrorism hit the occidental world. It was soon to be discovered that Iran was the main responsible of the terrorist trend occurring during the early 80’s. From those events on things got quite difficult to understand for the layman since most of the interests and down-to-earth strategic considerations underlying them would have inescapably led to graver crisis if they hadn’t limited themselves to the appearance of religious, regional, ethnic and tribal limited conflicts largely reported on the media. Therefore, nearly everything you have been able to perceive and understand metaphorically limited to the crest of the waves buffeted by the wind, that is to say relatively minor incidents comparatively with the depth of the sea below the surface.

    War in Iraq may be compared to a “tempest

  9. On January 31, 2007 at 12:31 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    Your thoughts are always welcome here. You haven’t ‘hijacked’ the subject. Iran (and ancillary and associated issues) IS the subject.

  10. On February 1, 2007 at 10:44 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    Dominique, I agree that there is a tsunami beneath the tempests we see in the Middle East. My fear is that the current governing team in Washington is either not aware of the tsunami, or is aware, but does not have any idea of how to deal with it.

    Am I being too pessimistic? Who in Washington grasps what’s going on?
    — Denis

  11. On February 2, 2007 at 1:16 pm, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    On the basis of the latest news, I don’t think so Washington doesn’t know how to handle the situation about Iran; and, indeed, I wouldn’t question one second the awareness of people who are in command over there.

    Now, in my own opinion, you have no reason to worry if you feel pessimistic. It’s a salutary feeling when dealing with such matters, I think.
    I hold pessimism is a prerequisite to assessment and future forecasting in foreign affairs since entropy is the main governing force affecting our world, and the whole universe in the scientific and general sense of the term. From need for a general well being is born the need to exert a permanent action on things and events. Action allows us to counter entropy since entropy breed chaos, ultimately. It just happens that a large majority of us feels better in an organized world than in a chaotic one.
    Beyond that, people may disagree over the way we must choose to organize things and exert control on events in our world, of course. But that’s not all, and I’m afraid some may disagree with me about what I am going to say.
    Our world, or things that are parts our world, may be metaphorically compared to a cake at some point. A cake that is not extensible or likely to grow up that much. A cake whose mere existence is greatly responsible of our disagreements and discontent, sometimes, often.
    Even though one may choose to exert the full extent of one’s power in order to avoid a conflicting situation about the share of a cake, nature, or God, made us so different in our way of perceiving things and so unequally served that covetousness and subsequent warmongering attitudes are unavoidable. Today, a very aggressive and ambitious one in the Middle East is attempting to steal the whole cake; and even more. Just that.
    I would like to elaborate further about that but I would frankly wander from the subject in doing so. I just hope I already said enough to explain why you have to be pessimistic. We have to find solutions to avoid chaos, and pessimism is indeed the drive that gets us doing our best to arrive at these solutions. Pessimism makes us smarter and more thoughtful, I think.

    There are two ways to analyze the situation and hazard some guesses about future developments of this issue (since previous and current actions done by Iran make this country the issue of the day, of course). The first (most commonly encountered in the media) consists of focusing one’s attention on the Middle East; and the second, which constitutes in itself a harder exercise, consists of seeing things under a much wider angle, but it would make news ten times longer and intellectually indigestible. But the second way is the right one in the sense that it offers an “almost exhaustive

  12. On February 3, 2007 at 12:05 pm, Denis Murphy said:

    Sorry, Dominique. All I see coming from the White House is confusion, incompetence, and bellicose rhetoric. I hope your optimism turns out to be correct. — Denis

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You are currently reading "At the Crossroads with Iran", entry #451 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Syria and was published January 18th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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