Next Stop: Iran?

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Aircraft carrier

Changing the calculus in the Gulf [Tolka Rover / Flickr]

When we saw President Bush’s surge speech last week, we heard his acknowledgement that the situation had worsened in 2006. And that he was taking responsibility. And that, as had been leaked for the last week or more, an increase of 21,000 troops, mainly in Baghdad, was the only way to make the bloody situation better.

But when a number of veteran Middle East policy heads saw the same speech, they heard three words: Iran, Iran, and Iran.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, January 10, 2007

This wasn’t just rhetoric, of course. The next morning, as if on cue, US forces detained five Iranians at their consular office in Northern Iraq.

And as for the larger strategic moves, Bush had this to say:

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

President George W. Bush, January 10, 2007

And now the New York Times is arguing that even the selection of Navy Admiral William J. Fallon as the new commander of CentCom is itself evidence of gunboat diplomacy. Is this more than sabre- (or carrier-) rattling? How did the speech go down in Tehran? What’s their next move? What’s ours?

Flynt Leverett

Senior Fellow and Director of the Geopolitics of Energy Initiative, New America Foundation

Author, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options Toward Iran” for The Century Foundation

Barry Posen

Professor of Political Science, MIT

Author, “A Nuclear-Armed Iran: A Difficult But Not Impossible Policy Problem” for The Century Foundation

Farideh Farhi

Professor of political science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Extra Credit Reading

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Bush Isn’t Listening, The Nation [Online only], January 11, 2006.

Juan Cole, Did the U.S. Just provoke Iran?, Salon, January 12, 2007: “Thursday’s raid on the Iranian consulate is more evidence that President Bush is ready to escalate the conflict.”

Jay Solomon, Pentagon Intensifies Pressure on Iran, The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2006: “Under one possible scenario, U.S. forces could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of suspected insurgents or their allies, or use alleged Iranian activities inside Iraq as a pretext for a wider assault on Iran.”

Editorial, Squeezing Iran, The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2006: “It’s about time, and we hope the Administration keeps showing Tehran that it will pay a price for continued subversion in Iraq.”

Seymour Hersh, The Iran Plans, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006: “The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack.”

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