Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Force Protection" Job #!?

“My job is to protect the troops.”

That was the essence of President Bush’s response during his February 14 press conference to a reporter’s question about why the U.S. public should trust administration claims linking the highest levels of the Iranian government to the presence in Iraq of deadly Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs).

The subject itself is not new; EFPs have been mentioned publicly since mid-2005. What rejuvenated the issue were statements from the U.S. diplomatic sources in about Iranian “operatives” in Iraq whose mission was to prolong the conflict. Given the nature of the allegations, reporters demanded hard evidence, which the U.S. ambassador promised would be forthcoming.

When American officials in Baghdad presented the evidence and then re-asserted that the whole business could be traced to the highest levels of the Teheran government, it was a step too far.

Given the history of events leading to the Iraq invasion, by the time of Bush’s press conference the misuse of intelligence in the Iraq war was again a primary question. But in the time interval, another Bush met reporters on Wednesday, the issue had another dimension: the credibility of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace. Bu

Monday, the day after the Baghdad briefing by the three unidentified officials (including one intelligence analyst and an explosives expert), General Pace told reporters in Jakarta where he was on an official visit that he had no knowledge of any intelligence that linked the senior clerics who rule Iran with the transfer of EFPs and other weapons to Iranian militias in Iraq.

Bush concurred after noting that weapons had been found in Iraq with identification markings indicating the items were produced in Iran. He categorically stated that the weapons were moved from Iran to Iraq by elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard units called Quds. These formations are believed to be under the direct control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader. But as with Pace in Indonesia, the president stopped short of actually saying that Khamenei directed the operation.

However, Bush’s statement that protecting the troops is his first priority leaves open the possibility that U.S. ground forces could, either in “hot pursuit” or on special missions to interdict Quds operatives and EFPs, cross into Iran. Moreover, in his January 10 2007 speech announcing and justifying the dispatch of 21,500 more troops into Iraq, Bush did accuse Iran of providing “material support” to anti-U.S. insurgents.

And this, of course, is where the allegations fonder, for most estimates put 90-94 percent of U.S. fatalities at the feet of Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda in Iraq, neither of whom is likely to be supplied by Shi’a Iran.

In Iraq, the administration’s “evidence” for war was nothing more than a house of cards – and from a stacked deck. This time around, the public demands more – not justifications for staying but action to get out. So far, each time the White House has only had to fold, But it soon may find the only play left is to cash in its chips and go.


Blogger rasphila said...

It's hard for me to understand how the Administration expects to convince anybody on this question. As you say in the post, the vast majority of U.S. casualties result from the Sunni insurgency, which certainly wouldn't be supported by Iran. And the Administration's history with intelligence is so bad that nobody is likely to believe them without much more evidence than they have produced so far.

The latest New Yorker has a Talk of the Town article arguing that all this bellicose posturing helps to raise the price of oil and actually strengthens the Iranian government. It's a convincing argument, and if true, another example of the Administration's tone-deafness in foreign policy.

5:16 PM  

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