So just how firmly do the Bushists want to pursue the campaign to unravel Al-Qaeda? In today’s WaPo, Dafna Linzer has a story, attributed largely to unnamed but concerned administration insiders, in which she gives disturbing new information about the extent to which they have subordinated this campaign to their current push to escalate tensions with Iran.

The back-story is that, as Linzer writes,

    Since… the winter of 2001, Tehran had turned over hundreds of people to U.S. allies and provided U.S. intelligence with the names, photographs and fingerprints of those it held in custody, according to senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials. In early 2003, it offered to hand over the remaining high-value targets directly to the United States if Washington would turn over a group of exiled Iranian militants hiding in Iraq.

    Some of Bush’s top advisers pushed for the trade, arguing that taking custody of bin Laden’s son and the others would produce new leads on al-Qaeda. They were also willing to trade away the exiles — members of a group on the State Department’s terrorist list — who had aligned with Saddam Hussein in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government.

    Officials have said Bush ultimately rejected the exchange on the advice of Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who argued that any engagement would legitimize Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. Bush’s National Security Council agreed to accept information from Iran on al-Qaeda but offer nothing in return, officials said.

Now, Linzer has learned that, in addition to Osama Bin Laden’s son Saad, those in Iranian custody include al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith of Kuwait and Saif al-Adel of Egypt, both of whom are reportedly members of the “al-Qaeda operational management committee.”

It is not clear to me how much the Bushists really care about the interests of that militant Iranian opposition group, the Mojahideen e-Khalq (MEK), around 3,000 or so of whose members had been in armed training camps in Iraq back in Saddam’s day, and have been kept in a detention camp in Iraq under the Americans. It is important to remember that, as Linzer noted there, the MEK is still on the State Department terrorism list, in connection with some very lethal acts its members carried out inside Iran in the 1980s.

(So you’d think the US government might want to actually put on trial at least the leaders of the MEK people they have under their control in Iraq, wouldn’t you? Nah… instead they have kept them there– under conditions that may or may not at this point include their complete disarming– as a way of keeping up the pressure on Teheran.)

You can see there, of course, the extent to which the Bushists have been willing to manipulate the quite legitimate concern people around the world have about terrorism for their own ideological ends.

What also seems clear from Linzer’s article is the degree to which the top levels of the Bush administration are ready to compromise the anti-Qaeda campaign in the interests of maintaining their current campaign to isolate, encircle, and threaten Iran.

This is completely cock-eyed. Yes, Americans and others have a number of remaining concerns about Iran’s behavior. (And Iranians, about ours.) But numerous diplomatic channels remain, through which all these concerns can be put on the table, fairly addressed, and resolved. If the Bushists continue with their campaign to isolate and threaten Iran, this runs the risk of unleashing not only a war between these two nations but also a tsunami of instability that will “surge” throughout the region and the world…

But even before we have reached that point, the Bushists’ campaign of anti-Iran escalation has already forced many unwelcome costs onto the world community. One of these is that the anti-Qaeda campaign– to which the Iranians have already made many significant contributions– is being compromised. We should all be very, very concerned.