Things are never the way we expect they will be, and so it is today, as we stagger and blither our way toward the inevitable decision about Iran. I had imagined that we would finally face up to the necessity of confronting the terror masters of Tehran after some dreadful event that would compel the president to pound the table and say "enough!"
Instead, it has been more like Chinese water torture, or maybe straws piling up on our national back. Never has a country strained so hard to avoid a conflict as the United States concerning Iran. They have waged war against us for 28 years, and we are only now beginning to contemplate the possibility of a response.
That is about the most one can say on behalf of our feckless national-security team, whose leaders are trying to be a little bit pregnant instead of trying to win this thing. Indeed, even in the face of a torrent of information showing Iranian support for the terror war against us, some diplomats and spooks are trying, in their usual too-clever-by-half ways, to relive one of my favorite jokes, the one about the woman accused of stealing her neighbor's pot. She says to the judge "I never took the pot. And it was a very old pot. And it was in better shape when I returned it." Our heroes deny that there is such information, and it isn't really convincing information, and even if it is convincing we shouldn't be mean to the mullahs.
This is the pattern that led us straight to 9/11. For that matter, it got us to Pearl Harbor and to Khobar Towers, and to the Beirut bombings of our embassy and the Marine barracks. It is a pattern of denial and self-deception, driven by an absolute conviction that the truth must not be passed on to people whose view of the world differs from your own. And so our kids get blown up in Iraq, while the Bushes, Rices, Rumsfelds, Cambones, Tenets, Negropontes, and their cohorts deny that we know who's doing it. Deputy Secretary of State Burns, the architect of our failed Middle East mission, goes to Israel to thump his chest and talk about getting tough with Iran, meaning tough talk and a few symbolic gestures — certainly not regime change. Such people talk about "insurgency" as if the shattered remnants of Saddam's ruined state were capable of mounting the terror war we face, when common sense points in the direction of professional intelligence services in Tehran and Damascus.
We are not alone in this suicidal self-deception. Our friends across the water, those tough-minded Englishmen who have recently decided to abolish the Royal Navy for all intents and purposes, have been frenetically seducing us into one diplomat failure after another with regard to Iran for many years now. It is no surprise, then, that the London Times yesterday quoted British officials are denying there is a "smoking gun" to show Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq. I think the unnamed officials who are saying that are either out of the intelligence loop or lying. American intelligence has known for at least a year and a half that the frightful shaped charges that have killed and maimed so many American soldiers were manufactured in Iran — they traced the serial numbers back to the Iranian manufacturer — and it is inconceivable that we would have failed to share that fact with our British allies.
I can well imagine the debates now raging inside the Bush administration over what is apparently a substantial trove of devastating information about Iranian activities in Iraq, and perhaps also Afghanistan. American officials long opposed to any serious challenge to Iran pronounced the information "a bombshell," and some of them now say they have changed their minds about going after the mullahs. So those who still want to take the diplomatic route and continue to appease Tehran must set up a series of obstacles: First try to keep the intelligence bottled up; if that fails, discredit it; and, if all else fails, join the "war is not the answer" crowd, whose credibility rests on the hope that nobody in America has read any history.
This debate has its drama, to be sure. But it is not the dramatic event I had imagined, and its outcome is still in doubt. We are not there yet; if we were, we'd have a national commitment to regime change in Damascus and Tehran. We are in the bowels of the bureaucracy, not on the high slopes of strategic vision and inspirational leadership. But that's our world.
By Michael Ledeen
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online