Cowed into funding a war neither they nor the majority of Americans believe in, congressional Democrats are taking the line that what’s needed are some "benchmarks" well-defined criteria by which to assess whether our efforts are paying off. The idea is to make continued U.S. support contingent on the Iraqis measuring up to these benchmarks. Hillary Clinton even says we should withdraw aid providing for the security of elected Iraqi political leaders if they fail to make the grade. Now that‘s a way to kill someone off without leaving any fingerprints! (And a good lesson to any other would-be U.S. sock puppets who think they can take the money and run.)
The big problem with this approach, however, is that it fails to understand the dynamics of our continued presence in Iraq. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee given on Feb. 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, made a statement that should have set off alarm bells and sent everyone rushing for the lifeboats:
"If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan."
Every moment we stay in Iraq increases the likelihood of war with Iran that, in my view, is the most powerful argument, aside from this one, for a rapid withdrawal. No sooner had Brzezinski uttered these words than the administration began a concerted campaign to blame the Iranians for U.S. failure in Iraq, and accused Tehran of having a direct hand in the killing of American troops.
We hear much about these accusations on the front pages of American newspapers, but what we don’t hear about are acts of terrorism directed at both civilian and military targets by Iranian "dissidents," who are reportedly receiving covert U.S. assistance. These groups include the Jundallah organization in Baluchistan, said to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, and the sinister, cult-like Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), a shadowy Marxoid group that was supported by Saddam Hussein and still maintains a presence at Camp Ashraf [.pdf] in Iraq, as well as enjoying a wide array of bipartisan support in Congress.
Jundallah recently struck southeastern Iran, in Sistan-Baluchistan, with a series of attacks, including a car bomb in the provincial capital of Zahedan. The Iranians claim that the Jundallah militants are trained in Pakistan, and Iran has displayed samples of alleged captured armaments with "Made in USA" stamped all over them. The leader of Jundallah reportedly announced the attacks on MKO-TV, the satellite television station run out of Great Britain by the MEK, a few minutes before they started.
In an interview with the Telegraph, a Jundallah guerrilla fighter sounded very much like he was advertising his services to U.S. policymakers:
"Asked whether the satellite telephone he was holding might not lead to his being located, he allowed himself a smile. ‘We are not fighting against America,’ he said. Support for Jundallah was growing, he said. ‘There are hundreds of others who are desperate to sign in, but we ask them to wait because we do not have enough weapons or camps.’"
That was last year: surely by this time the Jundallah "freedom fighters" have more than enough weapons and camps, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Scott Ritter, in his book Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change, has described CIA-MEK cross-border operations, in which the Americans and the Israelis are conducting provocations that could lead to an open conflict with Iran. The focus of these efforts, he says, is on Baluchistan and Khuzestan.
With strong bipartisan support, Congress recently appropriated millions of dollars in aid to Iranian "resistance" groups, with practically no oversight as to how that money is being used and the scramble for American gold is on. The American front group for the MEK, the National Council of Resistance, has plenty of high-level contacts in Washington, just as Ahmed Chalabi did in the run-up to war with Iraq. The MEK and other Iranian exile groups are busily lobbying for a similar gig as the administration escalates its plans for "regime change" in Tehran.
The Iraqi government has recently reiterated its position that the MEK is a terrorist organization, an opinion shared by the European Union and the U.S. Department of State. However, not everyone in the U.S. administration agrees. And what are we to make of the near-total redaction of a mysterious document that came to light in the Libby trial a memo to Libby from John Hannah detailing "views of MEK leaders on continuing role in Iraq"? That’s all we’re allowed to know: aside from a reference to MEK briefing slides, the rest is blanked out.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP), which sponsored Chalabi, is just as intimately connected to the campaign to gin up a war with Iran as it was with the effort to lie us into war with Iraq. It is reasonable to assume the OVP is just as supportive of the MEK, and may even be directing its activities in collusion with its allies in the Pentagon.
Given that U.S. foreign policy is, to a large degree, driven by domestic politics, the motive on the part of the administration to escalate provocative covert actions inside Iran has never been greater. With Scooter Libby likely to be convicted and Fitzgerald’s sights increasingly turned on Cheney, the War Party, cornered, has every reason to lash out in one last desperate bid to save its political skin.
Fitzgerald, by all indications, is coming for Cheney. After the trial but before the sentencing, Fitz will make a strenuous effort to "flip" Scooter and use his testimony to target the vice president. Murray Waas reports in the National Journal that Cheney wasn’t taken in with Libby’s Tim Russert fabrication for a moment:
"At the time that Libby offered his explanation to Cheney, the vice president already had reason to know that Libby’s account to him was untrue, according to sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony and evidence in the CIA leak probe."
The Fitzgerald probe is a dagger pointed at the dark heart of the administration, the OVP, and the climactic moment of this epic battle is fast approaching. In the early days of the investigation, left-liberal bloggers were exulting in the possibility that they would see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House, but the trial has shown that Rove and Libby were antagonists rather than allies. Before it’s all over we may yet see the vice president frog-marched out of the White House at least metaphorically, in the form of an indictment with Dick Cheney’s name on it.
What better way to distract attention away from this coming political bombshell than by dropping some real bombs on Iran?
In the midst of the regional conflagration feared by Brzezinski, prosecuting the Vice President for obstruction of justice and/or perjury would be problematic, at best. In any case, the widening of the war would drive the story off the front pages think of this as a grand-scale version of Clinton’s bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory just as the Monica Lewinsky was returning to the grand jury.
U.S. war plans against Iran have apparently been in the making for quite some time, but the ratcheting-up of both the rhetoric and the actual war preparations indicates a new level of seriousness on the part of this administration. While most reports reassure us that the decision to go to war has not yet been made, one wonders what turn of events would push the key decision-makers, Bush and Cheney, over the line. A direct threat to one or both of them coming out of the Libby trial may be all the impetus they need. A cornered rat is dangerous.