Cheney's Secret Escalation Plan?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, August 10, 2007; 1:44 PM

At yesterday's press conference, President Bush announced that he had put Iran on notice: "One of the main reasons that I asked [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan] Crocker to meet with Iranians inside Iraq was to send the message that there will be consequences for people transporting, delivering EFPs, highly sophisticated IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that kill Americans in Iraq."

Describing Iran as "a very troubling nation right now," largely because of its nuclear program, Bush warned its leaders that "when we catch you playing a non-constructive role [in Iraq] there will be a price to pay."

So what price is Bush prepared to exact? Is this saber-rattling a harbinger of war? And perhaps most to the point: What is Vice President Cheney up to?

Warren P. Strobel, John Walcott and Nancy A. Youssef write for McClatchy Newspapers today that "the president's top aides have been engaged in an intense internal debate over how to respond to Iran's support for Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq and its nuclear program. Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy. . . .

"Cheney, who's long been skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, argued for military action if hard new evidence emerges of Iran's complicity in supporting anti-American forces in Iraq; for example, catching a truckload of fighters or weapons crossing into Iraq from Iran, one official said.

"The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly about internal government deliberations. . . .

"Lea Anne McBride, a Cheney spokeswoman, said only that 'the vice president is right where the president is' on Iran policy."

As the McClatchy reporters point out: "The debate has been accompanied by a growing drumbeat of allegations about Iranian meddling in Iraq from U.S. military officers, administration officials and administration allies outside government and in the news media. It isn't clear whether the media campaign is intended to build support for limited military action against Iran, to pressure the Iranians to curb their support for Shiite groups in Iraq or both.

"Nor is it clear from the evidence the administration has presented whether Iran, which has long-standing ties to several Iraqi Shiite groups, including the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr and the Badr Organization, which is allied with the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, is a major cause of the anti-American and sectarian violence in Iraq or merely one of many. At other times, administration officials have blamed the Sunni Muslim group al Qaida in Iraq for much of the violence."

Robin Wright wrote in yesterday's Washington Post about the neoconservative push for military action: "Fourteen months after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered to talk to Iran, the failure of carrot-and-stick diplomacy to block Tehran's nuclear and regional ambitions is producing a new drumbeat for bolder action, including the possible use of force," she wrote.

Among the drum-beating neoconservatives she cited: " Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, who writes that diplomacy with Iran is a "mirage," and Norman Podhoretz, who argues the "Case for Bombing Iran" in Commentary.

Provocation Watch

While bombing training camps inside Iraq would not be nearly as provocative as launching an attack within Iran's borders, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) The only camps where the U.S. military thus far has alleged Iranians are training Iraqi insurgents are inside Iran; and 2) Cheney has long been said to be looking for some way to maneuver Bush into having no choice but to launch a full-scale attack against Iran.

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