Sending Mixed Messages On Iran?
Newsweek.com’s solid team of Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey have a piece posted late yesterday which indicates that the White House is intentionally trying to send mixed messages about Iran, partly to tell Iran to pull back on its ambitions, and partly to tell our Sunni allies especially the Saudis that we will be sticking around in the region, with a huge military presence.
For weeks now, Iran has eclipsed Iraq as the subject of the biggest parlor game in Washington. Is the president heading to war or committed to peace? It turns out the answer is something in between. The practice of sending mixed messages—about whether the government of Iran is involved or not, whether the proper response should be military or not, whether the intel on the country is good or not—seems to be an intentional policy.
There are two goals, both intended to roll back Iran’s ambition in the region. Call it aggressive containment—or, as they prefer to call it inside the White House, “pushback.”
The first goal is to reduce and deter Iranian meddling—both political and military—in Iraq. The second is to assert American power in the region as a way of defending Sunni allies. “We’re not going to war,” says one senior Bush aide. “Some of this is common sense. If someone is doing something to kill your own troops, you have to push back on the ground. There have to be some consequences on the ground. The carrier ships are signals to the partners, the gulf states. We are in there for the long run.”
Still, Bush’s aides admit they may have gone too far with the saber-rattling, prompting an intense wave of speculation about war with Iran. They concede that Bush’s primetime speech on Iraq last month took an aggressive tone on Iran that may have been misunderstood. “Maybe the rhetoric wasn’t properly worded,” said one senior aide. “There was a tactical purpose and a strategic purpose to what was said. The tactical message was for Iranian operatives inside the territory of Iraq. The other audience we were speaking to isn’t the Iranians but the gulf states and the Saudis, to say we take this threat seriously.”
In short, the White House wants Iran to be unsettled, and unsure of what Washington has in mind. But Bush doesn’t want to scare his allies in the region—let alone the Congress and the country—into thinking he’s serious about starting another war.
This from an administration that ineptly threw the phrase “Axis of Evil” out there to mask their true singular focus on Iraq, and in the process blew up a meaningful chance to deal with regional security four years ago.
If that is the intent of the message, and not to signal that war is imminent, then how long can this country keep three of its carrier groups tied up in one part of the world in the absence of any diplomatic avenue to deal with regional concerns? Bush once again said this morning that he has no intention of having direct talks with the Iranians, and yet there are reports that the Saudis have tired of the Bush Administration approach and have opened their own direct talks with the Iranians to jointly deal with Iraq and regional security. And if the carrier battle groups are truly chess pieces intended to send a signal that we are never leaving, then what is really behind the surge and where will this permanent presence in the region be housed when the Iraqis finally tell us to go home in order to foster the necessary reconciliation inside their country?