So What if Iran Is
Interfering in Iraq?

Anti-warriors and even formerly gullible reporters are taking issue with Bush’s claims that Iran is supporting the Iraqi insurgents, but this could represent a serious strategic mistake in our efforts to prevent another war.

Choose your battles wisely.

We are witnessing the Bush administration’s attempt to frame the debate about a (supposedly unplanned) military confrontation with Iran. Bush wants the debate to be about whether Iran is supporting the Iraqi insurgents. Why? First, because this is a debate that Bush can win. Second, holding such a debate postpones discussion of much more important issues, in particular the unspoken assumption that if Iran is supporting attacks against the U.S. military in Iraq, then the U.S. has reasonable grounds to wage war against Iran. Also postponed (perhaps until it’s too late to matter) is a debate on the broader proposition that a military confrontation with Iran is necessary, or even useful, to the American people.

If the key question is whether or not Iran is supporting the Iraqi insurgents, Bush will win. Despite the administration’s shameful lies preceding the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and regardless of the quality of the evidence that Bush shows, it is probably true that the Iraqi insurgents are getting material support from individuals within Iran, albeit individuals completely unconnected to the Iranian government. Borders never have been as solid as the lines mapmakers draw to represent them. With virtual certainty, we can say that there are some weapons moving into Iraq from Iran – perhaps not a significant amount, but a quantity greater than zero. So Bush could win the debate on a technicality: some Iranians are helping the insurgents kill American soldiers.

Furthermore, it is possible that the Iraqi insurgents are receiving material support from individuals in the Iranian government and military, without the knowledge of the Iranian leadership. Think about it. The U.S. invaded and occupies Iran’s neighbor, in clear defiance of international law, in violation of the most basic moral precepts, and in disregard of world opinion. From its forward base in occupied Iraq, the U.S. presents an obvious threat to the people of Iran. At least some individuals in the Iranian government may have perceived this threat and reacted, perhaps overreaching their official authority to do so.

But let’s go even further and say, for the sake of argument, that the Iraqi insurgents are receiving officially authorized aid from the Iranian state. It is true that having a neighboring nation in chaos does not generally benefit any country, but the Iranians have been under the gun from the U.S. for a very long time – decades, in fact. The recent threats and provocations from the Bush administration make it clear that Iran is an imminent target. I’m quite sure the Iranians realize that the quagmire in Iraq is the primary impediment to an American invasion of Iran. Troubles for U.S. forces in Iraq may buy the Iranians more time. Could the Iranians be so blind to their own self-interests?

Beyond the practical justifications for Iranian involvement in Iraq, there are also moral rationales. If Russia were to invade Mexico, at least some in the U.S. government would support the Mexican insurgents against the Russian occupiers. And most Americans would back such assistance. Aiding one’s neighbors against an unwelcome occupation is not only reasonable, it is generally considered worthy of respect.

If we engage Bush in his debate, on his terms, then we might score a few quick victories. The shoddy quality of Bush’s current “evidence” is just as apparent as before the Iraq invasion, but eventually some genuine proof of Iranian “interference” may arise. And if such proof does surface, we will have missed the opportunity to refute the unspoken assertion that the U.S. should attack Iran if it is supporting Iraqi insurgents. By then, the bombs will already be falling, shredding delicate flesh and scarring the land – perhaps with nuclear warheads.

We must frame the debate about the actions of our supposedly democratic government. Quit arguing over whether Iranians are aiding their neighbors and, by extension, defending themselves. They have every right to – the U.S. is the aggressor in Iraq, and will be again if it attacks Iran.