Too Smart By Half
and too befuddled by half in the bargain
By streiff Posted in War — Comments (5) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
The front page of the Washington Post today represents a monument to woolly-headed thinking and to the British idea of being “too smart by half.”
The headline reads Al-Qaeda Suspects Color White House Debate Over Iran
and reports on a dilemma that is allegedly paralyzing “the Bush Administration” but presumably the National Security Council.
Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official.
The arrests were presented to Bush's senior policy advisers as evidence that Iran appears committed to stopping al-Qaeda foot traffic across its borders, the intelligence official said. That assessment comes at a time when the Bush administration, in an effort to push for further U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic, is preparing to publicly accuse Tehran of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects.
The strategy has sparked a growing debate within the administration and the intelligence community, according to U.S. intelligence and government officials. One faction is pressing for more economic embargoes against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans for the country's top leaders. But several senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials worry that a public push regarding the al-Qaeda suspects held in Iran could jeopardize U.S. intelligence-gathering and prompt the Iranians to free some of the most wanted individuals.
I suppose this could seem like a real dilemma if one had recently arrived from Mars, those of us who have lived here for a while are left rather slackjawed with amazement at the whole episode.
Let’s review the bidding. The 9/11 Commission reported directed, verifiable ties between Iran and al-Qaeda. Between eight and ten of the hijackers passed through Iran on their way to the United States. As early as 2002, the Defense Department reported that al Qaeda were transiting to Pakistan via Iran and they were not being stopped. In the aftermath of the rout of the Taliban, the Iranians laundered about 200 Saudi al-Qaeda by either cleaning up their passports to remove incriminating border stamps or by providing them with fake documents.
Presently the Iranians are striving mightily to develop a nuclear weapon and they are actively involved in providing munitions to all comers in Iraq and may have been directly responsible for the abduction and murder of four US soldiers in Karbala. They are the sugar daddy for Lebanese Hezbollah, they fund Hamas in Gaza, and they have been tied to several attacks on US interests.
On the other hand they are allegedly holding three senior al-Qaeda members who were captured apparently enroute to Iraq to fight the US.
To deep thinkers this presents a helluva dilemma.
If we crack down on the Iranians because they are killing US troops, causing chaos in Iraq, and building a nuke they might let three guys go.
To us lowbrows, this presents a no brainer.
The al Qaeda leadership extant under the Taliban have been rendered irrelevant by the changed strategic landscape. After being in hiding for some years it is doubtful that the intelligence they would be able to provide is much more that historic in nature and the fact that most of the world now knows they are captured, al Qaeda will have changed its methods of operation to minimize the damage. So their value, other than checking them off a to-do list, is really limited. I feel the same about bin Laden and Zawahiri. The only reason to continue to hunt them is out of revenge, they are null sets strategically.
If the Iranians had left these guys alone they would have ended up as either victims of Shi’a militias or they would have joined the fight in al Anbar and we would have had a great chance of killing or capturing them.
The bottom line is that they are only three guys.
The Iranians are not an existential threat by any stretch of the imagination but they are playing to dominate southwest Asia. They want to develop a nuclear weapon and have been pretty upfront about what they want to do with that weapon. Above and beyond their strategic mischief making capacity they are actively involved in killing Americans.
That this “dilemma” survived the laugh test at the National Security Council is mute testimony to lack of strategic vision, and one could claim common sense and mental firepower, infecting US policy in dealing with Iraq and Iran.