At this critical moment when most Americans seek to extricate US forces from the fighting in Iraq as swiftly as possible, George W. Bush appears determined to construct a new rationale for intervention whose logical conclusion is not withdrawal but a wider war, possibly involving attacks on Iran later this year. Like an inveterate gambler who has lost every previous round and now faces insolvency, Bush seems poised to wager everything on one last throw of the dice. Before more lives are put at risk in this reckless bid, the flimsy props of Bush’s new rationale must be exposed to rigorous scrutiny and strict limits placed on his warmaking capacity.
The President’s new approach was unveiled in his January 10 speech on Iraq. After giving a lifeless, almost robotic rendition of his plan for an increase in US troop strength, Bush suddenly caught fire, turning his attention to the threat purportedly posed by Iran and Syria. Both, he claimed, are allowing insurgents to use their territory as launching pads for attacks on Iraq, but it is Iran that poses the greatest danger, by “providing material support” to Shiite gunmen in Baghdad. At a February 14 press conference he said that “when we find devices in [Iraq] that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.”
Since then, the Administration has stepped up its campaign against Iran, claiming that Iranian forces are providing equipment and know-how for the manufacture of advanced explosive devices to Shiite militias in Iraq. Though the evidence for such aid remains inconclusive, the White House appears determined to lay the blame for increased American casualties at Tehran’s door, thus providing a fresh pretext for escalation.
The Administration has also sought to entwine this new pretext in a larger strategic framework, claiming that the United States faces a coordinated threat from radical Shiite forces throughout the region. Al Qaeda no longer poses the only significant threat to US interests in the Middle East, Bush declared in his State of the Union address. “It has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America.” Many of these extremists, he averred, “are known to take direction from the regime in Iran.”
And so a new “axis of evil” is being constructed in Washington: In place of the old axis of Saddam Hussein-cum-Al Qaeda, against which we went to war in the first place, we now confront a new alliance between rogue states and terrorist organizations, linking Tehran to Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Baghdad.
And, once again, the possibility that this evil network will acquire and share weapons of mass destruction may be used as the justification for “preventive” strikes against a hostile power. “The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology,” the Bush Administration avowed in the 2002 edition of its National Security Strategy report. Because it is too risky to sit by and allow rogue states like Iran to acquire WMD capabilities so they can pass them on to like-minded terrorists, the Administration insisted, “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.” This, in essence, was the rationale given for the invasion of Iraq. Even though it was later determined that the Iraqis had not acquired WMDs, there is no reason to assume that Bush has repudiated this precept.
Indeed, Bush has made it very clear in his comments on Iran that while he prefers to resolve the WMD issue through diplomacy, the deadline for a negotiated outcome will happen “sooner rather than later” and that “all options are on the table.” Has Bush, in fact, set a specific time limit on his patience? Although it is impossible to know, there are a number of indications that such a limit has been set, possibly for later this year. These include: