Foreign Affairs published a sobering article by Bruce Riedel in their May/June issue entitled, “al Qaeda Strikes Back.” Riedel, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution retired last year after 29 years with the CIA.
Essentially, Riedel outlines al Qaeda’s resurgence while the Bush Administration has undermined our geopolitical position with their foolish war in Iraq. Hardly a dove, Riedel believes it is essential to our national security for al Qaeda to be “decapitated.” I agree with him. al Qaeda is a clear and present danger as a manifestation of radical Islam.
Among the failings of the Bush Administration is how their incessant fear mongering has jaded Americans about the very real dangers of terrorism that still exist. What’s required is tough minded, realistic leadership that neither exaggerates dangers for political gain nor ignores threats as President Bush did in August 2001. The last thing this country should do is hand our enemies what they want: war with Iran. Riedel issues the following warning:
“The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a ‘false-flag’ operation, say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing. The United States should be extremely wary of such deception. In the event of an attack, accurately assigning blame will require very careful intelligence work. It may require months, or even years, of patient investigating to identify the plotters behind well-planned and well-executed operations, as it did for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1996 attacks on the U.S. barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton were wise to be patient in both those cases; Washington would be well advised to do the same in the event of a similar attack in the future. In the meantime, it should, of course, continue do its utmost to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and from fomenting violence and terrorism in the Middle East by using tough diplomacy and targeted sanctions. And it should not consider a military operation against Iran, as doing so would only strengthen al Qaeda's hand -- much as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have.”I have a different take on Riedel’s warning. To be blunt, the Bush Administration will not be “deceived” by a “false flag” from al Qaeda. Rather, Bush and Cheney are hoping for a pretext to avoid a humiliating withdrawal from Iraq. With Republicans ready to jettison the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy in September, a war with Iran would be quite timely and convenient.
Another false flag may be weapons smuggling into Iraq through Iran by operatives sympathetic to al Qaeda. Either way it is important to remember the antipathy that exists between Iran and al Qaeda. Iran has sponsored al Qaeda’s rival Hezbollah in Lebanon. After 9/11, Iran cooperated with Washington against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan out of their strategic self-interest. They view al Qaeda as a threat to their hegemony as well as potential catalysts to instability on their borders.
Tragically, the world is at the mercy of an unholy triangle as the motivations of Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Bush Administration and al Qaeda are converging. Ahmandinejad is besieged with problems. He’s terrified of dissent as domestic dissatisfaction with his regime intensifies. A war with the “Great Satan” would be a welcome distraction, as Iranians will surely rally to him if attacked.
al Qaeda of course thrives on instability, chaos and any act that reinforces America’s image as an imperialist at war with the Islamic people. They’re laying in the high weeds to capitalize on instability in Gaza and Lebanon as well as exploit vulnerabilities in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is sucking wind and hemorrhaging support. The Republican Party is poised to pull the plug on Iraq in September. Bush and Cheney are desperate to avoid withdrawal and defeat in Iraq on their watch. A war with Iran would make extricating ourselves from Iraq nearly impossible. Of course our military, stretched to their limit in Afghanistan and Iraq is in no shape to prosecute any war with Iran. But the Bush Administration may be thinking that a controlled air war can be managed and strengthen their political position.
As we’ve also seen, the Bush Administration is not overly concerned with details such as blowback, the fog of war and the heavy lifting of managing the aftermath once hostilities are initiated. Perhaps they’re also hoping war with Iran will distract from the publicity surrounding their scandals. These people are eminently capable of deluding themselves that a controlled air war is viable and just the tonic for their problems.
Ultimately what I’m wondering is this: is America stupid enough to allow it? At this point I have little faith in the Democratic Party’s congressional leadership. It also doesn’t appear that the frontrunners for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton nor Barak Obama possess the intestinal fortitude to stand up to aggression against Iran. They’ll sit back and see which the way the wind blows.
I don’t like cynicism and believe it’s important to work for a truly progressive majority that is sensible and mature. I will not abandon my efforts as an activist to accomplish the ideals I believe in. However, as much as I prefer optimism, we’re on a collision course with calamity. It’s like watching a pile up happening in slow motion on the freeway while George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden crash their cars after binge drinking at an all night keg party.