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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Iran's proxy war 


Iran is waging a proxy war against the Coalition in Iraq and NATO in Afghanistan. Now it has been caught red-handed:

NATO officials say they have caught Iran red-handed, shipping heavy arms, C4 explosives and advanced roadside bombs to the Taliban for use against NATO forces, in what the officials say is a dramatic escalation of Iran's proxy war against the United States and Great Britain.

Glenn Reynolds points out that it will be "a bit harder for the Euros to ignore" this report since the blowers of the whistle are NATO officials. Maybe, although that forces us to ask what, if anything, non-ignoring Europeans would do about this state of affairs. No matter. More troubling for the Iranians, Richard Clarke is also in a high dudgeon:
"It is inconceivable that it is anyone other than the Iranian government that's doing it," said former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant.

Clarke, who has impeccable anti-Bush credentials and was at least useful to the Kerry campaign, will be tough for the Democrats to ignore, or at least would be if the press were to ask any of the leading Democrats -- most of whom fell all over themselves citing Clarke criticisms of Bush three years ago -- whether they agree with him now.

Make no mistake about it, Iran is waging war against the United States and its allies. The evidence against it is more than sufficient basis to justify military retaliation both legally and morally:
The coalition analysis says munitions recovered in two Iranian convoys, on April 11 and May 3, had "clear indications that they originated in Iran. Some were identical to Iranian supplied goods previously discovered in Iraq."

The April convoy was tracked from Iran into Helmand province and led a fierce firefight that destroyed one vehicle, according to the official analysis. A second vehicle was reportedly found to contain small arms ammunition, mortar rounds and more than 650 pounds of C4 demolition charges.

A second convoy of two vehicles was spotted on May 3 and led to the capture of five occupants and the seizure of RPG-7mm rockets and more than 1,000 pounds of C4, the analysis says.

Also among the munitions are components for the lethal EFPs, or explosive formed projectiles, the roadside bombs that U.S. officials say Iran has provided to Iraqi insurgents with deadly results.

"These clearly have the hallmarks of the Iranian Revolution Guards' Quds force," said Jones.

The coalition diplomatic message says the demolition charges "contained the same fake U.S. markings found on explosives recovered from insurgents operating in the Baghdad area."

"We believe these intercepted munitions are part of a much bigger flow of support from Iran to the Taliban," the message says.

In history and law, the covert arming of a combatant is an act of war that justifies military retaliation. Of course, that does not mean it is wise to retaliate. There were plenty of circumstances during the Cold War in which both the United States and the Soviet Union waged proxy wars that would have justified retaliation morally and legally, even if the risk of nuclear holocaust overwhelmed the value of retaliation. Indeed, it may well be the case that a similar calculus applies today, and that it would be unwise to retaliate against Iran because the consequences could be worse than the value of the retaliation. That calculus, however, would not make it any less right or lawful.

For more on this, read my post from last summer, "Feigning a blind eye: Categorizing proxy wars and legitimizing the counterattack."

MORE: John Hinderaker has more, and remarks on the supposedly surprising idea that Shiite Iran would arm Sunni extremists:
This is the same surprise that has been expressed when Sunni and Shia extremists collaborate in Iraq; when Shia Iranians harbor al Qaeda Sunnis; and when the "secular" regime of Saddam Hussein financed and harbored Sunni terrorists. The lesson, I think, is that there are "enemies," and then there are enemies. We are the enemy of all of these groups, and the time is long since past when "experts" in the West should be surprised that they will happily coordinate their efforts to kill us.

It is no more surprising, if you think about it, than the United States arming Sunni extremists, something we were (correctly) more than willing to do when the Soviet Union was our adversary. The shifting of alliances is so common in geopolitics that there is a cliche to describe it: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." It is in fact astonishing that anybody thinks that jihadis and Iran do not work together (even though they do), or that al Qaeda would not have worked with Saddam Hussein if circumstances had warranted.

17 Comments:

By Blogger Escort81, at Thu Jun 07, 12:19:00 AM:

That the Iranian regime wishes harm to come to U.S. forces and U.S. interests is not news. However, short of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad handing a suitcase nuke to a Hezbollah, Hamas or al- Quaeda terrorist live on CNN (Larry King Live?), who then takes it to NYC with a live camera along to record for posterity, and then detonates it, I do not believe that there is anything close to a large majority of Americans who want to take any retaliatory action against Tehran.

I may be incorrect, but I believe that (last time I checked earlier this year) even longtime Iranian regime foe Michael Ledeen is not advocating miltary action at this point in time, but would rather see the U.S. support dissident and democratic movements within Iran. That's not a bad strategy, although catching and incarcerating more Iranian agents who are caught doing bad things in Iraq or Afghanistan would also be good.

The "red handed" story is just another charge in the indictment, although, based on some of the comments in the first link TH provided to ABC news, there are many who doubt the sourcing and the veracity of the story (and may in most cases be predisposed to give Tehran a pass), notwithstanding that it was presumably a non-U.S. NATO source. Changing some of those minds over time would also be a positive development, as tall a task as that may be.

I think that there is at least a 5% chance that Iran's plan for increasing its regional influence and developing "nuclear power" will end very badly for Iran, Israel and the Middle East (that is, with millions dead on all sides), with the U.S. having very little to do with it, beyond the backdrop of three decades of overall poor relations. We may just sit it out.

No doubt other weapons flowing to the Taliban are coming from the east and south via Pakistan. The EFPs from Iran are particularly nasty, though.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 07, 12:34:00 AM:

I agree absolutely, the Cold War calculus applies to Iran, exactly.

Simply in geopolitical terms, removal of Taliban and Saddam triggered expansion of Iran, just like crashing Nazi Germany triggered USSR expansion over the Eastern Europe. Much unpleasant condition, to be sure, but still a considerable improvement from the previous situation.

With great patience US waited USSR out. Same treatment should be accorded to Iran, I think. So far Iranians managed to behave like a responsible state and not to do anything really stupid.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 07, 12:44:00 AM:

And why is IRAN still in the UN and as a matter of fact why do we still belong to the UN i mean the UN is the biggist terrorists supporters  

By Blogger Elijah, at Thu Jun 07, 02:25:00 AM:

1) "We may just sit it out."

...Threats Against the Western World

[Iran's] missiles are now ready to strike at their civilization, and as soon as the instructions arrive from Leader [Ali Khamenei], we will launch our missiles at their cities and installations.
- Hassan Abbassi, Revolutionary Guards intelligence advisor to the President, May 28, 2004

Every Muslim and every honorable man who is not a Muslim must stand against the Americans, English, and Israelis, and endanger their interests wherever they may be. They must not have security.
- Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Secretary General, Guardian Council, June 6, 2004

Some 10,000 people have registered their names to carry out martyrdom operations on our defined targets� Our targets are mainly the occupying American and British forces in the holy Iraqi cities, all the Zionists in Palestine, and Salman Rushdie.
- Mohammad Ali Samadi, Spokesperson, Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign, June 5, 2004

The torment of the Iraqis, of the Palestinians, and even of the Americans are the direct outcome of liberal Western democracy, and this must serve as an important lesson to the rest of the world, [which must] open its eyes and understand that those who call themselves advocates of human rights and democracy are in fact the main supporters of crimes against humanity.
- Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, May 20, 2004

Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world... those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world.
- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

We are in the process of an historical war between the World of Arrogance [i.e. the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, October 26, 2005

The message of the (Islamic) Revolution is global, and is not restricted to a specific place or time. It is a human message, and it will move forward. Have no doubt ... Allah willing, Islam will conquer what? It will conquer all the mountain tops of the world.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, July 25, 2005.

...Threats Against the United States

We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization. we must make use of everything we have at hand to strike at this front by means of our suicide operations or by means of our missiles. There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites, and we know how we are going to attack them.
- Hassan Abbassi, Revolutionary Guards intelligence advisor to the President, May 28, 2004

The world of Islam has been mobilized against America for the past 25 years. The peoples call, "death to America." Who used to say "death to America?" Who, besides the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people, used to say this? Today, everyone says this.
- Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, June 24, 2004

The Americans are convinced that they will easily win the war in Iraq. But they will not see that day. As the Imam [Khomeini] said, 'One day the U.S. too will be history.
- Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei May 20, 2004

Such people are using words like it's not possible'. They say how could we have a world without America and Zionism? But you know well that this slogan and goal can be achieved and can definitely be realized.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, October 26, 2005

2) "I agree absolutely, the Cold War calculus applies to Iran, exactly."

So...help me understand, the calculus of a godless, atheist USSR is analogous to the The Doctrine of Mahdism -
the Ideological and Political Philosophy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi?

Could you expand on the similarities?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 07, 08:18:00 AM:

....if the press were to ask any of the leading Democrats -- most of whom fell all over themselves citing Clarke criticisms of Bush three years ago -- whether they agree with [Clarke] now .

Just as interesting is to ask all the Bush supporters--most of whom fell all over themselves criticizing Clarke three years ago (and since)--whether they find him believable now?

Just saying.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Jun 07, 08:28:00 AM:

Most of the Republican objection to Clarke had nothing to do with his substantive view of the war on terror, but that he was highly selective in his respective criticisms of the Bush and Clinton administrations. His book was strange, in that it would be very critical of all sorts of decisions taken or not taken by the Clinton folks, and then conclude a long paragraph with a sentence or two that somehow exonerated the Clintonites. Then, later in the book, the Bush administration would do something that he had urged Clinton to do and he would excoriate the Bushies. It was almost as though he had written the book he wanted to write, and then tossed in a bunch of conclusory stuff to achieve a partisan objective. Weird.

Knows a lot of stuff, though.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Thu Jun 07, 08:57:00 AM:

it will be "a bit harder for the Euros to ignore" this report since the blowers of the whistle are NATO officials.

Not hard at all. They'll simply be retired over mental health issues, or reassigned to guard polar bears on Shemya.

Its hard to go wrong overestimating the European's capacity to ignore an inconvenient truth.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 07, 12:50:00 PM:

I've subscribed to NR for years and bounce around NRO daily. Michael Ledeen is very learned on the Iranian theater, and, unfortunately, very wrong. He argues well as he makes his points but the foundation for the argument is sand. He insists that since most Iranians are under 35 and protest in small numbers occasionally they deperatley want seperation of church & state, liberal freedoms and a strong economy. That they are pro-western. Bollox. The same youth still chant Death to Israel/ Death to America...and they very much mean it. As Mark Steyn said, "Wearing crappy western blue jeans and occasionally engaging in pre-marital sex does not make one pro-western." Indeed. War is upon us whether we would have it or not. Period.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jun 07, 02:06:00 PM:

Elijah,

The ‘calculus’ similar to containing USSR also applies to containing Iran, strictly in geopolitical terms and putting aside the ideologies for just a moment.

Because strictly in geopolitical terms analogies are numerous. Both USSR and Islamic Republic of Iran came into being as results of radical revolutions, with extreme factions usurping power. Both developed as totalitarian regimes. Both were temporarily contained and seriously threatened by Fascist neighbors (Hitler’s National Socialists against USSR, Saddam’s Arab Socialists against Iran). Both expanded after removal of the Fascist threat, coming to play a larger role in the world. For all their rhetoric, both USSR and Iran (so far) didn’t start a serious war of aggression like Fascists would do: USSR never took on the world like Hitler did and Iran never invaded its neighbors like Saddam had.

Strictly in geopolitical terms, if there is a difference it’s the one of scale. USSR was a lot more powerful and much greater danger. Things were extremely more unpleasant during USSR existence. Basically, if anything would go wrong, everybody was going to die. With Iran, if anything would go wrong, US would be slightly hurt, Israel would be seriously hurt and Iran would cease to exist. So let’s keep things in perspective, please.

I think Bush administration is pursuing roughly the right course vis-à-vis Iran. They don’t mince words and they keep increased US Navy Fleet presence in the Gulf, just in case. At the same time, there are attempts at diplomacy.

As far as ideological doctrines go, to me both Communism and Islamic Radicalism are abhorrent creeds. At the moment Islamic Radicalism seems scary, but when Communism was still potent, it was very scary too. But if try to gauge the true level of danger presented by Iran, let’s go back to early 1980-s.

Back in 1980-s we were also angry and scared by Iran, to the point of helping Saddam in its aggression against it. At the same time we were also supporting mujahideen in Afghanistan in their fight against the USSR. Since then, Saddam invaded Kuwait and cause Gulf War 1, followed by 10 years of sanctions and confrontations, culminating in Gulf War 2; Afghanistan has become a base for Al Qaida, where real painful terrorist acts were planned against us. Meanwhile USSR has ceased to exist and IRI remains the same stable unpleasant adversary it was, nothing more or less. If there are any lessons to learn, perhaps by concentrating on Iran too much we might miss some real threat developing somewhere else, again.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Thu Jun 07, 03:06:00 PM:

Elijah - An impressive collection of quotes -- no one doubts that the rhetoric coming out of Tehran has been inflammatory for many years, and there is reason to take it at face value.

The point I was trying to make when I used the "sit it out" phrase is that right now, I don't think that a large majority of Americans wish to directly engage the Iranian regime in a military conflict of any sort. That could change if Iran directly initiated an extremely provocative event (beyond mere words), or if a proxy did the dirty work, that Iran acknowledged its role -- but the Mullahs aren't that stupid, I don't think.

There are 19 months left in the Bush administration, and I don't see many mainstream analysts predicting that Bush will take any action (that group does not include Seymour Hersh, who predicted U.S. military action against Iran more than a year ago, or Rosie O'Donnell, who predicted U.S./British action against Iran a few months ago during the taking of the British sailors).

The core question is whether a nuclear Iran can be deterred (and that therefore the Cold War analogy is apt) -- whether MAD applies. Some say yes, some say no.

It's interesting that to the Iranian regime, the Original Sin of the U.S. was the Anglo/U.S. operation to overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 and subsequent installation of the Shah, who would be more favorably predisposed to western oil interests (this happened after Mossadegh dissolved parliament and called the U.K. an "enemy" since it would not accept terms for compensation following the nationalization of all oil assets, and then the proverbial back- breaking straw was a turn to Moscow). I think it's fair to say that the westernized Mossadegh would projectile vomit if he could see the way the Mullahs rule Iran today. But Sec. Albight apologized in 2000 for the overthrow, so what's the big deal? As a Seinfeld character might say, "What, our apology isn't good enough for them?"

Anon 12:50 PM - as to Ledeen, I brought him up as an example of someone generally regarded as having sounded the alarm about the Iranian for many years -- a "hawk" in the eyes of many -- and that if he is not in favor of military action right now, the group of people who are in favor may be relatively small.

Who knows, after the 2008 elections, Bush may watch The Godfather (1) on DVD and really like the part near the end, following the whacking of the rival Dons, when Micheal says "Today, I took care of all family business."  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jun 08, 08:47:00 PM:

Yay! Geopolitics!

Analyzing the grand scheme of things in Europe post-WWII and then applying such analysis as a paradigm to the modern Middle East is called "analagous reasoning/reasoning by analogy" and is a flawed (though commonly used) technique.

Analogies are intended, by and large, to clarify. To make a point. To explain. But they are not perfect, nor usually very similar beyond the surface and certainly not similar enough to base policy upon them.

For instance; the USSR was absolutely controlled by a single individual, Josef Stalin, whose control was ruthlessly enforced by the NKVD. Iran's national command and control system is fragmented and said fragments actually war (in a 3rd world political way) against one another sometimes. The USSR had a huge, experienced, and well-equipped army literally sitting atop Eastern Europe. Iran has a medium sized, poorly trained, moderately equipped army sitting in their own country. The ruling party in the USSR was stolidly atheistic and could therefore be relied upon to make rational worldly judgements based on their perceptions, as warped by their particular tint of ideology. Iran is a theocracy and it's reliability to make rational worldly judgements based on their perceptions is inversely related to their decision makers' piety. (for instance, a self-destructive act would be ridiculous for atheistic Communists, but perfectly acceptable for a person who believes that he will be divinely rewarded. Paradise for a suicide bombing, for instance)

Anyway, the point is that no example from history will be a close enough analogy to base successful policy upon it. All instances must be studied individually.

Allow me to visit MAD now, since it was mentioned. In short, it doesn't apply and not just because we can't trust the Iranians to behave how we would consider rationally. Even ignoring a host of theoretical and practical problems that tend to escape public discussion of that theory, the MAD theory of deterrence REQUIRES secure second strike capability. Iran doesn't have that, and if we're smart they'll never get it.

"With Iran, if anything would go wrong, US would be slightly hurt, Israel would be seriously hurt and Iran would cease to exist."

No big deal, hm? The devil's in the details, Candide. Think for a few moments about the consequences of a nuclear exchange (I assume that's what you meant with your dramatic terms) involving Iran and Israel. Radioactive clouds, hordes of refugees, martial law, absolute chaos in international markets, a worldwide depression triggered by a sudden and serious dearth in the worldwide petroleum supply, and I'm sure some other unforeseeable consequences.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jun 08, 09:16:00 PM:

First, few nitpicks:

"...the USSR was absolutely controlled by a single individual, Josef Stalin..." - only until 1953.

"...ruling party in the USSR was stolidly atheistic and could therefore be relied upon to make rational worldly judgements..." - such as putting Nukes on Cuba?

But I didn't mean to imply that Iran is exactly like USSR, only that there are certain similarities in the past and present geopolitical situations. Most important is that so far Iranians were much smarter and careful than Saddam or Taliban.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Jun 09, 12:56:00 PM:

["...the USSR was absolutely controlled by a single individual, Josef Stalin..." - only until 1953.]

You were referencing the period directly after WWII, right?

["...ruling party in the USSR was stolidly atheistic and could therefore be relied upon to make rational worldly judgements..." - such as putting Nukes on Cuba?]

A classic dirty internet forum trick; quote the other guy, but only partway. What I actually wrote was this: "The ruling party in the USSR was stolidly atheistic and could therefore be relied upon to make rational worldly judgements [b]based on their perceptions, as warped by their particular tint of ideology." [/b]

So, yes. Like putting nukes on Cuba. They saw it as perfectly acceptable because we had similar capability just across *their* borders in Turkey. Had they not been spotted by chance before the missiles were active, (that is, if it became a fait accompli) the Crisis might never have happened, and as it was the removal of the Turkish missiles was a condition for resolving the crisis.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jun 09, 03:53:00 PM:

Sorry about the 'classic dirty internet forum trick'. Honestly, I just wanted to keep it short and I didn't see the import of extending the quote.

Iranians are also acting "based on their perceptions, as warped by their particular tint of ideology", the only difference seems to be that you are scared of their 'perceptions' and 'ideology' much more than of the old USSR'. I think it's easy to discount an old threat now that it has evaporated.

Btw, by your own logic if we stop paying attention to what Iranians are doing, "the Crisis might never have happened".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 12, 01:07:00 PM:

When the people manning these convoys are caught they should executed on the spot. Perhaps the US Army now should consider what the US Army did in the Phillipines during the early 20th century.  

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