Iran: Another War Dance?

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The photographer’s caption: “Just in case some news magazine ever comes searching Flickr for stock images illustrating Middle East unrest.” [Stewf / Flickr]

New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh warned last spring that the Bush administration was actively planning a possible attack on Iran. For those of us without White House sources, it seemed too frightening to believe. With President Bush now claiming that Iran’s involved in American deaths in Iraq — and that he intends to do something about it — it’s still frightening but a little easier to believe.

Especially if you consider the context: The year-old Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group that’s coordinating US strategy on Iran. The newish Pentagon directorate on Iran that’s apparently being run by some of the neocons who planned the Iraq war. The carrier group now in the Persian Gulf off the Iranian coast. The disagreements between the Bush administration and intelligence officials over the scope of Iran’s nuclear program and its involvement in the Lebanon-Israel war this summer (the administration being the more alarmist). The “proxy war” aspect of that Lebanon-Israel war. Tehran’s alleged desire to talk with the US in 2003 that was apparently not acted on by the US. The five Iranians detained last month in Iraq. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman added up the pieces rather persuasively last week.

Here’s the question: could this possibly be 2003 all over again? One difference is that members of Congress and the media are questioning the administration’s claims more openly this time. Representative John Murtha has declared that he’ll try to prevent any military action against Iran without congressional approval; some news outlets are reporting the not insignificant skepticism about the intelligence on the Iranian explosives.

In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said clearly last week that the US is “not planning a war with Iran.” So are those who hear war drumbeats just conspiracy theorists? If so, what’s driving the White House’s focus on Iran — and where will it get us? How do we explain the timing and the urgency of this new round of anonymous intelligence?

Jonathan Landay

National security and intelligence correspondent, McClatchy

Former national security correspondent, Knight Ridder

Sam Gardner

Colonel (ret.), US Air Force

Taught military operations and strategy at National War College and Air War College

Juan Cole

Professor of modern middle east and south asian history, University of Michigan

Blogger, Informed Comment

Trita Parsi

President, National Iranian American Council

Author, forthcoming “Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States”

Extra Credit Reading

AllahPundit, BBC:U.S. plans for attack on Iran revealed (again), Hot Air, February 19, 2007: “I probably missed another half-dozen major media “revelations” between summer and winter of ’06, but why bother digging them up? They all say the same thing: a sustained attack targeting not just the Iranian nuclear plants but the country’s major military targets and infrastructure.”

Seymour Hersh, The Iran Plans, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006: “The President believes that he must do ‘what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,’ and ‘that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.'”

Paul Krugman, Scary Movie 2, The New York Times [Select], February 12, 2007: “Let’s do an O. J. Simpson: if you were determined to start a war with Iran, how would you do it?”

David S. Cloud, Defense Chief Again Says U.S. Will Not Wage War With Iran, The New York Times, February 16, 2007: “‘For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran,’ he said at a Pentagon news conference. ‘We are not planning a war with Iran.'”

Via Nick: Michael Young, Who will blink first, the US or Iran?, Middle East Transparent, February 11, 2007: “There was an exception to international dithering on Iran last December, when the United Nations Security Council passed a sanctions resolution against Tehran. Later this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency will review whether Iran has complied. Though it was watered down, the resolution supposedly took the Iranian leadership by surprise.”

Via jazzman: James Surowiecki, Troubled Waters Over Oil, The New Yorker, February 19, 2007: “This latest confrontation with the U.S. should have been the capper to a bad winter for Ahmadinejad. Strangely, though, it may instead have brought about an upturn in his fortunes.”


Having cried wolf the first time in Iraq, and having used exaggerated and bogus intelligence to justify the invasion, the irony here may be that the administration does have a stronger case when it comes to Iranian complicity in Iraq, at least on a small scale. The question is why are they pumping it the way they are at this time.

Jonathan Landay


I think what we see going on, and what perhaps the President was referring to in the clip you played, was some kind of very high-stakes, high-risk strategy to try and create bargaining chips, leverage with the Iranians. And why I say this is high-stakes, is because the fact of what the United States is doing, and what the Iranians are doing, creates a situation where missteps can put both countries on the road to conflict.

Jonathan Landay


One of the things that the BBC said, and I find it to be totally credible, is that if there were a major attack inside Iraq, that had a high number of American casualties, that could be traced to Iran, that would be the trigger for an operation, to start another war. That’s totally credible.

Sam Gardner


What I do, and what I’ve done a lot of, is war games. I did a couple for the Atlantic Monthly — one on Iran. And every time I do a war game — which sort of takes it through the next step — it doesn’t stop at diplomacy, but it asks the question of what happens if diplomacy fails, where does this go? And the answer is, it doesn’t go well.

Sam Gardner


I think the situation right now is extremely tense, particularly with the policies of the Bush administration in Iraq, in which they’re targeting Iranian diplomats, invading Iranian consulates and other types of offices. We’re basically one bullet away from a major escalation into a larger war in the region.

Trita Parsi


It’s fully understandable that a lot of attention has been given to [Ahmadinejad], but I think that attention has created a false perception that he is far more of a decision-maker than he actually is. In fact recently, now that there’s been a little bit of a backlash against him, he has come out and actually admitted that he is not the one making the decisions: that he is just implementing the decisions that have been made higher up.

Trita Parsi


Nobody’s plan — that I’ve heard of or has been written about — is about invading Iran. This is punishing Iran for not following the international community. That’s why this is an air-only operation. I don’t hear anybody that’s talking about regime change.

Sam Gardner

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