While the November 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran seemed to lessen the probability of a U.S. attack on Iran, the Bush administration has continued to threaten Iran and repeated claims that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Vice President Dick Cheney charged in an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz released on March 25, “Obviously, they're also heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels.”
The previous week, President Bush said at the end of an interview with Radio Farda on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, “...[The Iranians have] declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people – some – in the Middle East. And that's unacceptable in the United States and it's unacceptable to the world.” A White House spokesman later backpedaled, calling the president's remarks “shorthand.”
Iran has also become the “new Al Qaeda.” Representing the administration line on Iran, both General David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker focused much of the blame for failures in Iraq on Iran during hearings before Congress held April 8-9, 2008 . They claim Iran has funded, trained and armed militias in Iraq and fueled violence in the country.
In his report to the committees, General David H. Petraeus made the following specific claims against Iran:
“Though a Sadr standdown order resolved the situation to a degree, the flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called Special Groups and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders. Unchecked, the Special Groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.” (page 1)
“Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way, through its lethal support to the Special Groups.” (page 2)
“Together with the Iraqi Security Forces, we have also focused on the Special Groups. These elements are funded, trained, armed, and directed by Iran’s Qods Force, with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government two weeks ago, causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital, and requiring Iraqi and Coalition actions in response. (page 4)“External actors, like Iran, could stoke violence within Iraq, and actions by other neighbors could undermine the security situation as well.” (page 5)
“The strategic considerations include recognition that…a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences for the greater fight against Al Qaeda, for regional stability, for the already existing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and for the effort to counter malign Iranian influence.” (page 6)
“It clearly is in our national interest to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the heart of the Arab world, to help Iraq resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty, to avoid renewed ethno-sectarian violence that could spill over Iraq’s borders and make the existing refugee crisis even worse, and to enable Iraq to expand its role in the regional and global economies.” (page 6)
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker also pointed the proverbial finger at Iran. Here are some of his statements:
“A wildcard remains the Sadrist Trend – and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between other elements of the Trend and Iranian-supported Special Groups.” (page 6)
“Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through the authority and training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. The extent of Iran’s malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when militia elements armed and trained by Iran clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basrah and Baghdad. (page 12-13)
“And it is not only Al-Qa’ida that would benefit [from a major U.S. departure] -- Iran has said publicly it will fill any vacuum in Iraq, and extremist Shi’a militias would reassert themselves. We saw them try in Basrah and Baghdad two weeks ago. (page 14)
During the question and answer session in SASC, Senators Martinez, Lieberman and Graham also focused their line of questioning on blaming Iran for the events in Basra. Senator Jack Reed pointed out that Iranians are actually supporting all of the various Shi’a groups in Iraq, including the government.
Senator John McCain accused Iran of funding and training AlQaeda during a recent trip to the Middle East. And, during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Petraeus and Crocker, Senator John McCain confused Al Qaeda as Shi'ite rather than Sunni.
In his speech on April 10, President Bush reaffirmed the Petraeus-Crocker claims and lumped Iran with AlQaeda. He stated: “Serious and complex challenges remain in Iraq, from the presence of al Qaeda to the destructive influence of Iran, to hard compromises needed for further political progress.” President Bush also gave Iran an ultimatum, saying “the regime in Tehran has a choice to make. It can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties. Or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups, which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran. If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests, and our troops, and our Iraqi partners.”
President Bush concluded his speech by saying “Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century -- al Qaeda and Iran [emphasis added]. If we fail there, al Qaeda would claim a propaganda victory of colossal proportions, and they could gain safe havens in Iraq from which to attack the United States, our friends and our allies. Iran would work to fill the vacuum in Iraq, and our failure would embolden its radical leaders and fuel their ambitions to dominate the region. The Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda in Pakistan would grow in confidence and boldness. And violent extremists around the world would draw the same dangerous lesson that they did from our retreats in Somalia and Vietnam. This would diminish our nation's standing in the world, and lead to massive humanitarian casualties, and increase the threat of another terrorist attack on our homeland.”
However, Middle East experts Juan Cole (University of Michigan) and Gregory Gause (University of Vermont) refuted the Petraeus-Crocker/Bush Administration claims on Iran’s role in Iraq in an article for Salon.com by Gary Kamiya. According to the article:
“In short, the truth about Iraq, which the Bush administration has withheld from the American people, is that Iran and the United States have an alliance of convenience in Iraq. Both support ISCI and Maliki. Iran does give limited support to the nationalist firebrand Sadr, but the significance of that pales in comparison to the two countries' shared interests. The Bush administration has concealed that inconvenient truth and pushed its good guys-bad guys narrative on the American people because that narrative is needed to sell the war.“In a larger sense, both Cole and Gause said it would make no sense for the Iranians to try to destabilize the Maliki regime…In short, Iran wants the status quo -- which is pretty much what the United States wants, too.”
Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh also discredited claims about Iran’s role in Iraq. According to Takeyh, “Contrary to Washington's presumptions, Iran's achievement of its objectives is not predicated on violence or the insurgency, but on the unfolding democratic process. The overarching Iranian aim is to prevent Iraq from once more emerging as a military or ideological threat…Should the United States transcend its recriminations, it would appreciate that it has many interests in common with Iran in Iraq. Both sides want a stable and cohesive Iraq, and a continuation of its democratic experiment.”
On April 11, WashingtonPost.com Columnist Dan Froomkin outlined other recent statements from the Bush administration on Iran, including Vice President Cheney’s portrayal of Iranian regime in a series of media interviews as apocalyptic zealots who yearn for a nuclear conflagration. Froomkin concludes: “What seems to be a new drumbeat for military action has thus far remained under the radar of the mainstream media. When my colleagues do take notice, I hope they point out that the advocates of a strike against Iran are the same people who enthusiastically advocated the invasion of Iraq, making similarly authoritative-sounding declarations about the uselessness of diplomacy and the easy triumph of military might.”
The Wall Street Journal clearly is not taking Froomkin’s advice. In an April 15 opinion editorial, the WSJ taunts the administration, “So: Iran is contributing to the death of GIs, is arming our enemies in Iraq, and is proceeding to ignore the world by enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. Is the Bush Administration merely going to slink out of office with that legacy?”
The 12th Imam
Citing controversial and often questioned Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, Vice President Dick Cheney has also revived claims against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad linking him to apocalyptic beliefs regarding the 12th Imam, also called the hidden imam or the mahdi. In Shi’a Islam, the 12th Imam is believed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed who disappeared in the ninth century and will reappear before judgment day to end tyranny and promote justice.
Vice President Cheney contends, “Ahmadinejad is I think a very dangerous man. On the one hand, he has repeatedly stated that he wants to destroy Israel. He also has – is a man who believes in the return of the 12th Imam; and that the highest honor that can befall a man is that he should die a martyr in facilitating the return of the 12th Imam. It's a radical, radical point of view. Bernard Lewis once said, mutual assured destruction in the Soviet-U.S. relationship in the Cold War meant deterrence, but mutual assured destruction with Ahmadinejad is an incentive. You have to be concerned about that.”
Noah Feldman, a Harvard University Law Professor and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in the New York Times Magazine on Oct. 29, 2006:
“Shiite tradition fills in the picture of the mahdi’s return with an elaborate account of signs that will herald the event, including advance messengers, earthquakes and bloodshed. But belief in redemption — even accompanied by wars and death and the defeat of the infidels — need not translate into a present impulse to create a violent crisis that would precipitate the messianic situation. Like their Jewish counterparts, Shiite religious authorities have traditionally sought to resist speculation about the imminence of a messianic return. Shiite messianic thought is less focused than its messianic Christian counterpart on generating global crisis and letting God sort things out. [Imam Ruhollah] Khomeini himself believed that the mahdi’s advent could be hastened — but by social justice, not by provoking war.
“Rumors, possibly spread by Ahmadinejad’s enemies, have tied him to the outlawed Hojjatiya — a link mistakenly interpreted outside Iran as evidence that he might want to bring back the imam by violence, rather than that he might prefer to wait piously and prepare for the imam’s eventual return on his own schedule. It is of course impossible to gauge the man’s religious sensibilities perfectly. Yet the relative absence of a contemporary Shiite trend to messianic brinkmanship suggests that Ahmadinejad’s recent emphasis on the mahdi may be interpreted more in terms of an attempt to summon Khomeini’s legacy and Iran’s revolutionary moment than as a desperate willingness to bring the nation to the edge of war… So although a renewed Shiite messianism does create some cause for concern about the potential uses of an Iranian bomb — in particular because it suggests that Ahmadinejad may be more a utopian than a realist — it is almost certainly a mistake to anticipate that Iran would use its nuclear power in a way that would provoke large-scale retaliation and assured self-destruction…Ahmadinejad surely understands the consequences of using a nuclear bomb, and Shiite Islam, even in its messianic incarnation, still falls short of inviting nuclear retaliation and engendering collective suicide.”
Furthermore, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami categorically contends: “Iran is not driven by an obsession to destroy Israel, but by its determination to preserve its regime ... The answer to the Iranian threat is a policy of detente, which would change the Iranian elite’s pattern of conduct.”