Escalation?

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THE PLANK JANUARY 12, 2007

Escalation?

There's been plenty of speculation lately that the White House is gearing up for some sort of military confrontation with Iran. First there was his speech two nights ago, in which Bush talked about "addressing Iran and Syria" with a rather menacing undertone. Then the U.S. military raided an Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish city of Irbil and took a couple of Iranians captive--a move roundly denounced by the Kurdish regional government. Steve Clemons then passed along this bit of scuttlebutt:

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

Rumors are what they are, but it's a bit alarming for this sort of "speculation" to crop up all of the sudden. Flynt Leverett, a former member of the Bush administration's National Security Council, added his two cents:

The deployment of a second carrier strike group to the theater--confirmed in the speech--is clearly directed against Iran. Since, in contrast to previous U.S. air campaigns in the Gulf, military planners developing contingencies for striking target sets in Iran must assume that the United States would not be able to use land-based air assets in theater (because of political opposition in the region), they are surely positing a force posture of at least two, and possible three carrier strike groups to provide the necessary numbers and variety of tactical aircraft.

Similarly, the President's announcement that additional Patriot batteries would go to the Gulf is clearly directed against Iran. We have previously deployed Patriot batteries to the region to deal with the Iraqi SCUD threat. Today, the only missile threat in the region for the Patriot to address is posed, at least theoretically, by Iran's Shihab-3.

Then yesterday, Joe Biden warned Condoleezza Rice that an attack on Iran would "generate a constitutional confrontation in the Senate." Presumably Biden didn't just pull this comment out of thin air--he seems to be under the impression that the administration really might be crazy enough to launch an attack on Iran. When reporters pressed this point earlier today, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, basically dodged: "We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside Iraq." That's not exactly a rousing denial.

The other day Jason suggested that advocates of withdrawal (or "redeploying") might be underestimating the consequences of leaving Iraq. I don't think that's really true, although I'm sure you can find such people if you dig around long enough. But it does seem true that pundits who "aren't sure" what to do about Iraq and so are implicitly endorsing the status quo are very badly underestimating the ability of this administration to make things much, much worse in the near future with this "surge" business. Right now all signs are pointing in exactly that direction.

--Bradford Plumer

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