Iran, Iraq, and Us

"Questions Linger on Scope of Iran’s Threat in Iraq" reports Mark Mazzetti, Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker for The New York Times as they detail the administration's efforts to build a case against Iran and the doubts that exist about this case.

I would say, though, that the real questions in play here are about strategy rather than about the details of Iranian involvement in Iraq. Suppose the Iranians somehow managed to conquer Canada. In the wake of this conquest, a chaotic situation existed with various Canadian groups opposing the Iranian occupation to different degrees, but also adhering to different visions of the Canadian future. And suppose some Iranian military officials came to the view that some Canadian factions who were fighting the Iranians were receiving substantial material support from a neighboring U.S. government which feared that the real Iranian interest in "stabilizing" Canada was to use it as a beachhead for anti-American activities throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The issue facing Iran in this context isn't, fundamentally, a factual question about the actual scope of American interference with their operation in Canada. It's a question about what they're trying to achieve and what costs they think are reasonable to run. Iranians convinced that Iran is already locked in a remorseless struggle with the U.S.A. will, of course, take the view that they need to stand their ground and fight us. Others will caution, however, that it's exceedingly unlikely that U.S.-Iranian war will make Iran better off -- the United States isn't in a position where indifference to the outcome in Canada in a realistic option, and fighting the United States will expose an awful lot of Iranians to risk of being blown up by the U.S. military's unparalleled abilities of power projections.

Clearly, the real world doesn't precisely parallel that story. But I think it does highlight the structure of the decisions we face. The thing that makes the most strategic sense for us to do is to disengage our forces from Iraq (thus making the supply lines of anti-American guerilla fighters irrelevant), and keep seeking verifiable and permanent nuclear disarmament from Iran through a diplomatic process aimed at improving relations between our two countries and focusing on the common enemy in al-Qaeda. The logic that says we have to fight Iran to stay in Iraq to check Iranian influence is painfully circular, much like the notion that we can't possibly leave Iraq until we've first militarily subdued ever Iraqi group opposed to our presence.