Not to Be Trusted

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, April 15, 2008; 1:20 PM

The Bush administration's latest story line about Iraq -- that Iran is now the primary problem there -- should be greeted with profound skepticism.

Not only is it the latest in a series of rationales for U.S. involvement in Iraq, most of which have turned out to be based on flawed intelligence, misrepresentations or outright dishonesty.

But there are at least two illegitimate reasons why the White House would want the American public to see Iran as a threat right now.

One is that President Bush needs a definable, demonizable enemy for public-relations purposes, to take attention away from the reality that U.S. troops remain perilously and indefinitely astride several civil wars and resistance movements.

And the other is that the White House -- or at least the Cheney faction within it -- is still eager to do something definitive to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions before the end of Bush's term. With a preemptive strike off the table, advocates of a military attack could be looking for a provocation they could turn into a casus belli.

And so, nothing these people say at this point should be taken at face value -- even when it's supported by military officials on the ground. Many sincere people with plausible-sounding assessments have turned out to be selling a bill of goods when it comes to Iraq.

When they assert that the Iranian government is intentionally arming anti-American fighters, they should be asked to back up the claim. As mideast expert Juan Cole recently told Gary Kamiya of Salon: "There's no proof for that, and whenever the U.S. Army is pressed for evidence, they always back off." Simply proving the existence of Iranian weapons in enemy hands is not enough, incidentally -- considering how widely available they are on the black market.

Similarly, anecdotal evidence shouldn't be accepted as a rationale for policy. Fool me once, as Bush says.

Laurent Lozano writes for AFP: "The US rationale for war in Iraq has morphed from ousting strongman Saddam Hussein, to countering Al-Qaeda militants to its latest incarnation -- facing down what officials in President George W. Bush's administration call the Iranian 'threat'.

"'Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: Al-Qaeda and Iran," Bush said last week, renewing accusations that the Islamic republic is backing Iraqi militias hostile to US forces and covertly seeking nuclear weapons. . . .

"With Saddam dead and Al-Qaeda weakened -- according to Bush -- Iranian-financed extremists, which top US commander in Iraq David Petraeus has called 'special groups,' have emerged as a key reason for maintaining US troop levels in Iraq.

"However, exactly what steps the United States may take to counter this 'threat' remain unclear, and depend largely on Bush's decisions in his remaining nine months in the White House."

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