February 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Rattling sabers at Iran

It's hard to know what the Bush administration is up to as it rattles the proverbial sabers at Iran. On one hand, I have no doubt that Iran is the source of much of the violence in Iraq, and constitutes a grave menace to world peace. On the other hand, I cannot fathom what useful military measures the United States might take toward Iran at this point in time. This situation is all very strange, because there was a similar surge in tensions one year ago, and nothing came of it. "Never mind!" As I wrote last month, military action should be held back until the diplomatic groundwork has been laid. As far as I know, the only recent high-level contact between the U.S. and Iran was when ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed President Ahmadinejad for "Good Morning America," and I don't think that counts.

Yesterday there was an embarrassing mixed message as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace seemed to be unaware of the U.S. military briefing in Baghdad at which evidence on Iran's interference in Iraq was laid out. Press Secretary Tony Snow scrambled to reconcile the different accounts of what was said. Today Secretary of Defense Bob Gates appeared with Gen. Pace to set matters straight. "For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," Gates said. "We are not planning a war with Iran." See washingtonpost.com. I hope that the policy formation process is not as confused as it sometimes appears. Remember, incidents such as these are sometimes contrived to put the enemy at ease. After all, we are at war, and no one should automatically take at face value statements made by top leaders regarding war policy.

Today's News Leader espouses the conventional thinking of "We won't be fooled again," and there is ample justification for such skepticism. As with "The boy who cried wolf," nevertheless, the moral of the story is that eventually the warning is true. Having given President Bush the benefit of the doubt on many past occasions, my confidence in his judgment is on the decline. Based on what the public knows at this point, I would oppose a military strike on Iran unless and until congressional leaders had been thoroughly briefed, and the appropriate legislative authorizations had been passed.

Black Hawk down '07

What does the sudden "surge" in numbers of U.S. helicopters shot down mean? Since January 20, U.S. forces have lost one Black Hawk utility chopper, two Apache attack choppers, and one Sea Knight transport twin-rotor helicopter. The Blackwater private security firm ("mercenaries"?) lost a small observation helicopter as well. Evidence suggests that all or nearly all of those crashes were caused by enemy fire, and the reluctance of the Pentagon to admit that is not encouraging. It seems that enemy insurgents are aware of the high stakes behind the "surge," and are doing all they can to derail it.

There was, however, an apparent positive signal yesterday, as the Shiite militia leader Moqtada al Sadr fled to Iran. He may be fearing for his life as U.S. forces prepare for a major offensive in the streets and alleys of Baghdad. Or, perhaps this is somehow connected to the showdown with Iran.