The Surge's Real Target: Iran?

That's NRO's Andy McCarthy's instructive take on the Petraeus testimony. He cites this comment from the general:

We cannot win Iraq solely in Iraq.

I predict an echoing chorus from the far right. In fact, I think Petraeus' testimony and the administration's agenda makes the most sense if you see all of this as a prelude to a risk of the wider war that Cheney desperately wants. If you keep Iraq occupied and in a state of barely arrested civil war, the chances of a casus belli against Iran increase. You can see the risk in Kurdistan and the South already. The extremist mullahs in Tehran would gladly reciprocate Cheney. Both Bush and Ahmadinejad have a domestic political interest in increasing polarization and conflict. This, I suspect, may even be the fallback reason behind the Anbar strategy. Bush is emboldening the Sunnis not just to take on al Qaeda, but at some point to take on the Shiite government in Baghdad, which the administration fears is too close to Iran. Bush and Cheney may well be trying to leverage this endless, constantly shifting civil war in Iraq - under the guise of fighting al Qaeda - into a mobilization for a campaign against Iran, along with a bombing campaign against their nuclear facilities. They are rhetorically laying the groundwork for such an attack. And they are looking for a reason to extend the conflict.

What they need to win the argument is more polarization. Hence the decision to pour as many resources and troops as they can into the quicksand of Iraq. Hence the exclusive cooptation of Republican party outlets like Fox News. They need to portray the complex implosion of Iraq as a war against those who murdered on 9/11; they need to create reasons to portray the war in Iraq as essentially indistinguishable over time from a war with Iran.

I can see the sensible reasons for hanging in there.

David Brooks makes the honest, good faith case for such a strategy today. It's risky, probably hopeless but not totally irrational to hang in and hope for some kind of gradual partition without a massive genocide. But my fundamental worry is the unknown future actions of Bush and Cheney. They have no qualms about changing their rationale for the war at a moment's notice. They've switched narrative and rationale so many times now it's close to dizzying. What they're really doing now, I fear, is finding a personal alibi for the defeat they engineered, playing the Weimar card against the Democrats, and looking for a way to go to war with Iran. Enabling them further by funding troop levels that are essentially unchanged from 2005 and early 2006 means the risk of catastrophe increases. Remember: they don't believe a president is bound by the rule of law. Their own most-trusted staffers have voiced hopes for another terror attack on Americans so they can shred more constitutional restraints on a president's dictatorial powers.

The debate on continuing to occupy a slowly disintegrating Iraq is only finely balanced if you believe we have a president and vice-president who can be trusted to act prudently and constitutionally. Do you?