The Iran Factor

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One of several respects in which I think our dialogue on Iraq has gone astray is that “Iran is causing problems in Iraq” has come to be coded as a kind of right-wing talking point. The extent to which it’s true is contested, but the general sense is that insofar as it’s true this makes the hawkish stance on Iraq more persuasive. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.

Bush and McCain have committed us to strategic objectives in the Persian Gulf region that include having a hostile relationship with Iran, and creating an Iraqi state that will be an ally of the United States in our regional policies. This isn’t really an acceptable outcome for Iran. America doesn’t want an Iranian-allied Iraq, but an Iranian-allied Canada would be unacceptable on a whole more profound level. In response to this dynamic, I think it would be coherent to say that we should basically just leave Iraq and not worry too much about it. It would also be coherent to say that we should make a stronger effort at a diplomatic rapprochement with Iran that would make our goals in Iraq compatible. But neither of those are options available to the hawks. Given that, the main alternative would be to deny that Iran is actually capable of frustrating our objectives in Iraq.

But according to the administration, they are capable of doing so — they’re behind all sorts of malfeasance that, we’re told, is responsible for our casualty trends heading in the wrong direction. At the same time, accepting even the most alarmist accounts of Iranian involvement in Iraq, the Iranians are investing many fewer resources in Iraq than is, say, the United States. And though the U.S.A. has more resources to expend, the Iraqi theater is also much more significant to Iran than it is to the United States. Maybe it’s really true that the surge was working (or at least that Iran thought it was working) and so Iran turned the faucet up a bit more and now suddenly it’s not working. That would seem to augur very poorly for the future of our mission there since surely the Iranians aren’t at a point of maximum commitment yet, and we’re actually past our maximum point currently and attempting to de-surge our forces to a more sustainable level.