- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

The prestigious Economist magazine, not MAD magazine, has a $2.2 billion B2B stealth bomber on its cover last week headlined “Next stop Iran?” In response to my question about how he rated the odds of a bombing campaign against Iran, R. James Woolsey, the former CIA director, hummed an answer for me on the sidewalk as we exited the Metropolitan Club. It was a parody of the Beach Boys hit “Barbara Ann” — “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb-Bomb Iran.”

Mr. Woolsey has long argued the U.S. has been in World War IV ever since Iran’s revolutionary mullahs overthrew the shah’s regime in 1979 (World War III was the Cold War, which we won). Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, al Qaeda, Europe’s Islamist extremists, all are so many fronts in a world war, which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the neoconservatives, and born-again Christians, understand, but which eludes the dominant media culture and the Democratic Party (with a few exceptions, e.g. Tom Lantos, the California congressman who is the new chairman of the House International Relations Committee). At least, that’s how Jim Woolsey sees the geopolitical landscape.

Bombs-Away-Over-Iran has become a hot topic in the nation’s capital. The U.S. is not going to invade Iran, Mr. Bush assures his audiences. But why invade, when you can bomb? Some see this as a Wagnerian exit from Iraq, others as a critical battle in World War IV.

Al Qaeda has been pushed down the list of priorities. As one blogger said to the worldwide community of bloggers (now nearing the 100 million mark), “Makes you long for the good old days when our major concern was al Qaeda in Iraq under the malevolent leadership of Zarqawi [now dead)].”

Now that North Korea appears to have reached a tentative deal with five other nations on initial steps toward ending its nuclear weapons program (but isn’t surrendering nukes already produced), Iran emerges as the last member of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil.” Iran isn’t concealing weapons of mass destruction, which Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was accused of doing, but is smuggling lethal roadside devices that are killing American soldiers. IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) have morphed to EFPs (Explosively Formed Projectiles).

Overlooked in the welter of charges and counter-charges is the fact the Iraqi army abandoned some 650,000 tons of arms, ammo and explosives when they doffed fatigues and ran home rather than fight American troops in 2003. The U.S. did not have enough troops to guard the hundreds of Iraqi arms depots. Much of their content wound up in the hands of militias and insurgents.

The evidence against Tehran was an array of made-in-Iran explosive devices, according to briefing officers who insisted on anonymity to show and describe the ordnance for Baghdad-based reporters. Their names soon surfaced, including Gen. William B. Caldwell, chief military spokesman, who once worked on the Pentagon’s list of rationales for the 2003 invasion.

Visiting Australia, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace said he has no information implicating the Iranian government in the supply of lethal weapons to Shi’ite insurgent groups in Iraq. President Bush, for his part, said he was convinced Iran Quds is supplying deadly ordnance to fighters in Iraq, even if he couldn’t trace the orders to the highest levels in Tehran.

Iran’s clandestine shipments are not new. They are the work of the Quds section of Pasdaran (or Special Forces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards). Thus, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can plausibly deny the Iranian government is involved in any such activity. The man who commands everything that matters in Iran, from armed forces to intelligence and media, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The bottom line in Iraq is that Iran has been deeply involved, beginning with the U.S. troop buildup in Kuwait prior to the March 2003 invasion. No one disputes the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s report that stated unequivocally that Iran has more influence in Iraq than the United States. Iranian agents run Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, from behind the scenes.

Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led coalition government has close and good relations with Iran’s theocracy. Both have embassies in each other’s capitals. Privately, Iraq ministers confide, “Iran will still be a powerful next door neighbor after U.S. troops have gone home.” Iraqi ministers have also made honorable amends for Saddam’s war against Iran (1980-88), which killed about 1 million soldiers on both sides.

A U.S. bombing campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities would unleash Iran’s numerous assets in Iraq against U.S. troops. The Persian Gulf’s six mostly Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council countries are ambivalent; they fear a nuclear-tipped Iran but also fear what the law of unintended consequences would unleash in their region.

As Alice in Wonderland would say, things in Afghanistan are also getting curiouser and curiouser. Offered the evidence by a Pakistani informant that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has given his all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency a green light to back “moderate” Taliban guerrillas in their war against NATO-led coalition forces, the Bush administration has feigned disinterest. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a brief stopover in Islamabad, congratulated Mr. Musharraf for his steadfastness in Afghanistan. Both are in a state of denial about each other.

Meanwhile, both North and South Waziristan, along the Pakistani side of the tribal belt, are under de facto Taliban control, according to Pakistani travelers back from the region. Mr. Musharraf has concluded, along with more than half of Americans surveyed, that Iraq is unwinnable and that NATO is gradually losing interest in what appears to be a five- to 10-year job to pacify Afghanistan. Individual NATO members still won’t remove caveats on the use of their troops. Some are not allowed to patrol at night (which is when Taliban guerrillas move) and others are instructed to avoid firefights. Hence, Mr. Musharraf’s conclusion that Pakistan’s Taliban friends, with whom he broke after September 11, 2001, in response to Mr. Bush’s with-us-or-against-us ultimatum, will prevail over the long run.

Mr. Musharraf can hardly be blamed for what strikes most observers as realistic conclusions about his Western neighbor, a Pakistani protectorate since the Soviets gave it up in 1989. But a state of denial, both in Washington and Islamabad, appears to be the better part of valor.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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