July 21, 2004

More on Iran

More Iran-related teasers from the 9/11 Commission report to be released tomorrow:

The report also concludes that al Qaeda's relationship with Iran and its client, the Hezbollah militant group, was far deeper and more long-standing than its links with Iraq, which never established operational ties with the terrorist group, said officials familiar with the document.

Among the newest findings is evidence, disclosed in media reports this week, that as many as 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers transited through Iran before the hijackings...

...Commission and government officials stress there is no evidence indicating that Tehran knowingly aided in the Sept. 11 plot. But Iran's apparent willingness to allow al Qaeda members to roam across its borders underscores the complicated relationship that emerged between them despite historic animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. There is compelling evidence that Shiite Iran continued to give al Qaeda leaders haven even after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the commission report and other intelligence sources.

There's nothing really new in all of this.

But we need to very carefully assess this last underlined portion. Just how wide-spread and long in duration (rather than episodic and highly transient) was the provision of safe harbors to al-Q terrorists?

Regardless, given the political climate right now, with even some on the Left beating the Iran war drums--the 9/11 Commission findings will doubtless raise the temperature on Iran within the Beltway.

Me, I'm waiting to read the fine print.

Especially with hyper-opaque Iran (the situation there is much more complicated than a bunch of mad Mullah's blowing things up, sorry to say)--the devil is in the details.

Also worth noting, just for the record.

I supported the war in Iraq not because of potential contacts with al-Q.

Or even a possible nuclear program--which I thought was not very close to development (though yes, their reported attempt(s) to secure uranium alarmed me).

I supported intervention there based on Saddam's historic recklessness (two regional wars, SCUD's launched hither dither, assassination attempt of Bush 41, grotesque human rights violations) AND (critically) because I believed he possessed material stockpiles and/or easily re-startable programs in the biological and chemical sphere (this last prong not wholly disproven).

Given the post 9/11 risk environment, given his long history of contravention of U.N. resolutions, given the material violations of 1441--I felt, enough is enough.

And, not least, we sent a powerful signal to the international community that we would be proactive in this new post 9/11 world--before getting punched in the face--especially with rogue actors who had run afoul of the international community for years and actually used WMD.

All this to say, I'm not sure the Iranian leadership is as irrational and dangerous as Saddam was. They haven't, for instance, used WMD on their own people. That's part of the reason why I blogged the case for limited engagement yesterday.

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at July 21, 2004 01:41 PM

I think the Iranians are consummate realists in the finest tradition of Cardinal Richilieu.

They're willing to cut a deal with the devil when it suits their interests -- see their collusion with the US and Israel during the Iran/Iraq war. Tremble at their support of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban threat. Marvel at their brilliant plan to undermine the US in Iraq, modeled on their success in doing the same in Lebanon to the US and Israel. To the untrained eye, they're all gumdrops and lollypops. To Michael Ledeen, they're the evil force behind all that is wrong in the world.

Smile, and be a villain.

Some people -- such as the Asia Times and the Israelis -- believe that bin Laden is in Iran, and that he personally directed last year's 5-car bombing in Riyadh. Yossef Bodansky says bin Laden put on some weight, trimmed his beard, and is now lollygagging around Teheran and the Caspian resort area.

Who knows?

Posted by: praktike at July 21, 2004 02:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Damn good points on the case for supporting the War in Iraq.

Posted by: RattlerGator at July 21, 2004 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Absolutely, damn good points. My point for opposing the war is that it's possible to share all of BD's pro-war rationales while also holding the larger idea that in hurtling blindly in for completely different and trumped-up reasons (WMD/AQ, and yes I was a doubter) horrible damage would be done worldwide to Brand America, the integrity of our executive branch as an institution would be debased and the discourse would veer deeper into cynicism than I've ever seen in my lifetime. Put me on the side marked 'deontology.'

In other words, more damage to our nation than the fangless Saddam ever could have accomplished. This isn't even counting what came later--looting, Abu Ghraib and Chalabi as an Iranian spy, which have turned the case so far into the wrong it's now become laughable.

Posted by: djangone at July 21, 2004 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And my reason for favoring the war was that it was containment of Iraq that put us in the sights of al Qaeda, if you pay attention to their 'manifesto'. On 9/11, we paid far too high a price for mere containment of Saddam. We could look forward to more terrorist attacks forever if we continued containment. If we ended containment, we could look forward to Saddam rearming. The only solution that could ever extricate us from this bind is taking Saddam out, followed by a long term ME force withdrawal plan.

Former Dem senator Bob Kerrey expressed similar sentiments, but after just comparatively minor Cole bombing.

Posted by: ATM at July 21, 2004 06:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What ATM doesn't realize is that Saddam was not, in fact, the perpetrator of 9/11.

Posted by: praktike at July 21, 2004 08:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I supported the Iraq War on similar grounds, most importantly the blatant human rights violations by Saddam and his henchmen. I have been apprehensive of our 'stanch allies' ever since France started landing commerical aircraft in Baghdad within days after the first Gulf War. (same cozy relationship exists today between France and Russia with the Iranian Moolahs ((spelling intended)).

As a conservatiive, I can tell you my heart went out to the Kurds at the tail end of the first Gulf War and the Shia in 1992. Saddam and those dirty bastards!

In case you missed it, the Iraqi defense minister threatened Iran yesterday over their continuous incursions into Iraq. This thing is taking on a life if its own in spite our ruminations.

Posted by: Capt America at July 21, 2004 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't believe Saddam had any operational knowledge of 9/11, primarily because the attacks were a covert operation and bin Laden and his crew would keep that knowledge to themselves to increase chances for success. But I don't believe the idea that Saddam had an antagonistic relationship with al Qaeda. I see no evidence of al Qaeda plotting against Saddam. And I do believe that Saddam was amenable to providing assistance to al Qaeda as long as it was untraceable to him, since to provide overt assistance would be an undisputable invitation to war if al Qaeda successfully carried out a major attack.

It is undeniable that Saddam was obviously happy that al Qaeda carried out attacks against the U.S. (hence murals of the 9/11 attacks in Iraq), because he no doubt believed that a severe enough attack would cause the U.S. run away with its tail tucked between the legs and let him out of the box. A full capitulation to al Qaeda's demands would let Saddam out of his box.

Posted by: ATM at July 21, 2004 11:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, I believe the meeting in Sudan was because Saddam wanted to establish some kind of modus vivendi with Al Qaeda, which had sponsored an attack or two against him ... I can track it down if you want.

I do believe that there were, at minimum, serious flirtations between AQ and Iraq. But again, this wasn't really worth $200 billion and the coming destabilization of Saudi Arabia if he didn't have weapons. We can handle a few terrorist strikes. Can we handle the complete disruption of the Saudi oil industry?

Posted by: praktike at July 22, 2004 12:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nah, I don't think Iran is the source of all evil. There's Mugabe, the North Koreans, the Chinese when they're bad (sometimes they're good), Paul Krugman, the Dallas Cowboys, etc. But Greg is right when he says there is nothing new in all this. I wrote it three years ago, right? And I've said all along that we weren't going to find Osama in Pakistan or Afghanistan because he's mostly been in Iran all along.

One open question: Iran's use of chemical weapons. Stephen Pelletiere, a former State Dept official who does not at all share my views on Iran, wrote an op-ed in the NYT in January 2003 (this is from my failing memory, but it's around then) in which he said that the bulk of the evidence suggests that Iran, not Iraq, used chemical weapons on the Kurds in Halabjah. He referred to a DIA report that said just that.

I have no opinion on this, i just note it for those who say that there's a big difference betwen Iraq and Iran because "Iraq used chemical weapons on their own people."

The Kurds don't "belong" to either country, they are in both. And at least one serious person thinks they were gassed by the Iranians.

Posted by: michael ledeen at July 22, 2004 01:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Leeden-

While it's worth keeping in mind that the occasional "serious person" disagrees with the accepted Halabjah narrative, it's a bit of a red herring in this case. Even if Pelletiere's version of the story is true, it suggests that Iranians used gas weapons on the battlefield -- a repugnant but unsurprising action that still doesn't carry the sense of irrational sadism that Saddam's own use of gas implies.

I think Greg's point is that the Iranian regime is a threat and a moral blight, just as Saddam was, but unlike Saddam, they seem to follow a form of rational self-interest that's easier for most of us to understand. Greg's probably arguing that we stand a chance of deterring, containing, and engaging Iran, while it was not possible to do so with Saddam.

Posted by: Matt at July 22, 2004 01:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Right, I know and appreciate your point, and Greg's. I just don't agree with it. My point is that they've been at war with us for a quarter century, that this war--the terror war--is part and parce of the essence of the regime, and that there is no way out of it for us. Our only choices are winning or losing.

I hope I'm wrong. But I am one of the very few people who opposed the liberation of Iraq as, and when, it was done, because I thought I knew that we would be subjected to a replay of Lebanon, at the hands of the Iranians and Syrians.

I think that happened, although I recognize that many smart and reasonable people think that most of the terrorism in Iraq comes from Saddam's old cronies.

Time will tell.

On Halabjah, it isn't a red herring--and again I stress I don't know if Pelletiere is right--because Halabjah is precisely what people are talking about when they say "Saddam gassed his own people."

It's a bright blue herring. The mother of all the herrings.



Posted by: michael ledeen at July 22, 2004 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dr. Ledeen - surely you realize that was a bit of good natured fun above.

In re: Halabja - it's worth pointing out that this wasn't some isolated incident. Rather, it was just one episode in the Anfal campaign which was supposed to be the final solution for Saddam's Kurd problem. And what's so terrible about chemical weapons, anyway? Bombs seem pretty bad to me. So ... whether it was the Iranians or the Iraqis is neither here nor there. The Iranians, after all, threw their own people in with no weapons against the Iraqis, just for the sheer glory of it.

But the Iranians are just exercising raison d'etat in trying to Lebanon-ize us in Iraq. Heck, it was pretty reasonable from their perspective to want to eject us from Lebanon, too! Now Khatami gets to snowshoe in the Bekaa Valley whenever he wants, and those nice boys from the Party of God have fancy offices and TV stations.

The more I learn about Khomenei, the more awed I become at his Machiavellian machinations. And his acolytes are no slouches in this regard. Maybe they even read Daniel Ellsberg's paper on bargaining that Kissinger liked so much -- you know, the one about the madman theory.

These people know how the game is played. Do we?

Posted by: praktike at July 22, 2004 03:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, they are very smart. It's a feature of old cultures, I think (as an Italianist writing a book on Naples).

And Tocqueville saw right away that foreign affairs would be the great vulnerability of democracies.

Posted by: michael ledeen at July 22, 2004 11:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dr. Ledeen, while I have your attention, may I recommend the Brooding Persian. A smart guy in a tough place, but nevertheless a Ledeen critic. He has some very interesting things to say about the state of play over there.

Maybe you could become penpals.

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