Next target: Iran?
Published July 27, 2004

It seems sometimes that we are doomed to repeat history. Usually this is a long-term process: Napoleon invaded Russia and broke the back of his army; more than 120 years later, Hitler made the same mistake. For the sake of Western Civilization, such as it is, we should be thankful that Russia is big and cold, neither of which makes it an easy place to conquer and hold. But I digress.

President Bush recently leveled a veiled accusation of complicity in the September 11th attacks against the government of Iran, hinting that the mullahs are harboring al-Qaeda fugitives and provided free passage to eight of the terrorists who participated in the fateful hijackings. Naturally, Iran has denied any involvement in the terrorist attacks. The question is who is telling the truth.

There are strong reasons to doubt the administration on these sort of claims, if only because of their previous poor record. The 9/11 commission, which, we should remember, Bush and his cronies fought a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle to keep from forming, recently released its final report, and the news on a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is not promising.

The commission found no credible evidence of a link at all and dismissed many of the Bush apologists’ supposed proof, like a supposed meeting between hijacker leader Muhammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic in April of 2000. Similarly, though there were low-level meetings between Iraq and al-Qaeda at various times, the commission found no evidence of ties to support Vice President Cheney’s claim that Iraq had been "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Like so many of the other administration reasons for war, support of al-Qaeda terrorists turned out to be a phantom. It’s true that the commission has access to information that war planners in 2002 and 2003 would not have had, but the evidence even then was sketchy enough that Bush never actually directly blamed Saddam for the attacks; he just took every opportunity to mention them in the same breath so that before the invasion nearly half of Americans thought Hussein directly responsible for ordering the attacks.

What about Iran? Well, this is a country that calls America the “Great Satan,” and that has been our avowed enemy since the late 1970s. We didn’t endear ourselves to them any further when we supported Saddam in the Iraq-Iran war of the early eighties, either. But they hate Osama and al-Qaeda almost as much as us. In fact, before September 11th, Iran very nearly invaded Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban, and it seems unlikely they would have spared the terrorists.

As to the possibility of al-Qaeda operatives moving through Iran, the Iranians acknowledge that this is likely true. After all, they have one of the most porous borders in the world—thousands of people regularly cross illegally. We can certainly point out this distressing lack of regulation to the Iranians, but we should remember that the terrorists had no difficulty entering the United States, nor in getting pilot training to carry out their horrible plot. Failures in intelligence and security were rampant; they do not necessarily imply complicity.

I don’t want to come out defending the Iranian regime. It is not what anyone would call enlightened, and it seems likely that Iran has supported terrorism in the past. I think it would be worth our time to more closely question our sources of intelligence regarding potential links to al-Qaeda, however. We’ve been burned in the past; rather than risk an escalation of hostilities, we might want to check our facts carefully before throwing out more accusations.

I just hope this is mere election-year posturing, not the prelude to another ill-considered invasion.