"I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities."
-- George W. Bush, in an address to the Annual Convention of the American Legion on August 28, 2007.
This could be trouble. I'm not entirely sure that Mr. Bush knows what "authorized to confront" actually means. If Dick Cheney is the guy who explained it to him, it's a sure bet he doesn't. To set the record straight: nothing in the U.S. Standing Rules of Engagement or in any supplemental ROE or weapons control measure limits or negates the inherent right of self defense. Acts of self-defense are constrained by the sensibilities of concepts like necessity and proportionality, but nobody is expected to absorb a first blow before reacting to a hostile act or a display of hostile intent. Any time, anywhere, under any circumstances, every American service member--from the lowliest private in Iraq to the four-star admiral in charge of Central Command--has the right to do what is necessary to defend themselves and their units without so much as a "by your leave" from the commander in chief.
So when a president makes a point of saying that he's authorized military commanders to "confront murderous activities," he's a) getting ready to start another preemptive war on fuzzy pretexts or b) pandering to a bunch of drunk pro-war Neanderthals at a convention in Reno or c) both.
By a remarkable piece of coincidence, "hours after" Mr. Bush's remarks to the Legionnaires came the news that American soldiers in Baghdad had arrested a group of Iranians that included two diplomats and six members of a delegation from Tehran's Ministry of Energy. They were in Baghdad at the invitation of Iraq's Ministry of Electricity to discuss construction of a new power plant. And why did the Americans detain these Iranians? The Iranians' bodyguards, it seems, were Iraqis, presumably supplied to them by their hosts, the Iraqi Ministry of Energy. The Iraqi bodyguards were carrying weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle and two 9mm pistols for which they had no weapons permits.
Heck, if that isn't proof positive that the Iranian government is behind the sectarian violence and attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, what is?
The Americans turned the Iranians over to Iraqi authorities the next morning. Maybe it occurred to the Americans that nobody in their right minds drives around Baghdad without armed bodyguards and that practically nobody in Baghdad carrying weapons has a permit for them. If they hauled in everybody carrying around and unlicensed weapon, there wouldn't be anybody left to…
Hey, there's an idea! Locking up everybody we run across toting heat without a permit will end that darn insurgency and civil war faster than you can say "Hakim Robinson." Scoff if you like, but that's as good an idea as anyone else has come up with, and has just as good a chance of working.
Nothing's Their Fault
Or maybe the Americans let the Iranian delegation go because it occurred to them that their bodyguards' weapons might be traced back to being from the almost 200,000 rifles and pistols that disappeared after the U.S. distributed them to Iraqi security forces. That would be embarrassing because most of those weapons vanished in 2004 and 2005 when golden boy David Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi troops.
The administration and the Pentagon don't want any more attention called to that end zone fumble, especially now when we're hearing that the missing weapons are part of a multi-federal agency investigation of fraud and corruption related to the Iraq conflict. One whistle blower who worked for Shield Group Security, an Iraqi-owned company, told the FBI tales of guns, land mines and rocket launchers being sold for cash to insurgents, American soldiers, State Department personnel and Iraqi government employees alike. The informant described Baghdad as "a Wal-Mart for guns" and added, “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”
That's the sort of news that might make Mr. Bush's claims that Iran is arming Iraq's insurgency sound pretty silly, if it got out where everybody could hear about it.
Journalists like Seymour Hersh and Larisa Alexandrovna have been telling us for some time about the Bush administration's long-term initiative-- largely driven by Dick Cheney--to attack Iran. When un-provable claims of Iran's ambitions to develop nuclear weapons proved insufficient to get America all Pavlovian about bombing Tehran, the administration turned to accusing Iran of providing arms to Iraqi militants for attacks on U.S. troops. Despite White House and Pentagon rhetoric to the contrary, those claims have also remained unproven. As Alexandrovna noted recently regarding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) said to have come from Iran, "Intelligence and military officials caution…that there is nothing tying the weapons directly to the Iranian government, nor is there a direct evidentiary chain of custody linking the IEDs to Iran."
One former CIA case officer told Alexandrovna that framing the Iranians for its own failures in Iraq would allow the Bush administration to avoid accountability. The Bush Administration “can say it’s [the Iranians'] fault we are losing the war in Iraq and that would be a convenient out for their failed policy,” the officer said.
It's been a little difficult to date for all but the most ardent conspiracy theorists to believe that Mr. Bush would attack Iran as a means of distracting attention from his historic blunders in Iraq. And yet, Wednesday night on MSNBC's Hard Ball program, bedrock conservative Pat Buchanan said of Mr. Bush's American Legion speech that he is "laying down the predicate for an attack on Iran."
Yep. Lil' Bush just might be that petulant.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.