January 31, 2007
By Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
Victory in Iraq requires more than adjusting troop levels. It
means quashing the violence stirred up by foreign powers.
That's what led President Bush earlier this week to issue a
clear warning to the chief mischief-maker, Iran, that the U.S.
"will respond firmly" to any further violent provocations from that
It's about time. We've long known that Iran finances terrorist
and allied Shiite militia groups in Iraq, in some cases arming them
with armor-piercing roadside bombs.
Iranian intelligence services also collaborate with Baathist
insurgents attacking U.S. forces. Documents recently seized from an
Iranian facility in the Kurdish region of Iraq detail how Iran's
Islamic Revolutionary Guard has supplied insurgents with weaponry
ranging from heavy machine guns to shoulder-fired surface-to-air
Those are ideal armaments for downing U.S. helicopters, and
we've lost three of them in a matter of weeks. It's no stretch to
suspect those Iranian weapons are responsible.
Why has Iran escalated the violence? Iran may anticipate
stronger U.S. campaigns against its allies in the Shiite militias.
Or, looking at the result of the American elections, it may be
anticipating a wholesale withdrawal of U.S. forces that would leave
a power vacuum for Iran to fill inside Iraq.
Either way, Iran is acting as if it's on a roll.
In addition to escalating the insurgency in Iraq, Tehran
believes it has the upper hand in the protracted diplomatic
sparring over its nuclear programs. Thumbing its nose at global
objections, Iran recently announced plans to install 3,000 nuclear
centrifuges to boost uranium enrichment. And still European
leaders balk at taking tougher action through the United
Meanwhile, Tehran is quietly but steadily up-grading its
arsenal. Last year, Iran tested an "ultra-horizon" missile that can
be fired from helicopters and jet fighters. During military
maneuvers last November that Iranians officially described as aimed
at stopping "trans-regional powers" in the region, many other
missiles were test-fired -- including the Shahab-3, which can reach
Israel. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency says Iran is "likely to
develop an ICBM/SLV" and could have an ICBM "capable of reaching
the U.S. before 2015."
That's just a couple of presidential administrations away.
In the meantime, the Iranian threat is real and growing.
If Iran succeeds in forcing a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Iraq, the current government in Baghdad would surely fall,
leading to even greater chaos and bloodshed. Iran would gain
greater influence, if not outright dominance, of at least the
Shiite southern region of Iraq.
An emboldened Iran also would jeopardize world access to Gulf
oil and assure an even broader export of terrorism across the
Middle East. Meanwhile, a likely intra-Islamic civil war would
engulf the region and perhaps other parts of the Muslim world. The
Saudis and other Sunni Arabs already are growing nervous over
So what should President Bush do?
For starters, the U.S. should press the European Union and Japan
to impose the strongest possible economic sanctions outside the
U.N. framework, especially restrictions on foreign investment.
Trade and investment matter greatly to Tehran; it needs foreign
investment to maintain a steady flow of oil revenues.
Current sanctions already seem to be working. Iranian critics of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad complain that his confrontational
approach is undermining their national interests. We must drive
this increasingly unpopular leader further into his shell. That
means ruling out direct talks, which would only enhance the
embattled leader's status and give the world the false impression
that he's someone we can do business with.
Instead we should launch public diplomacy initiatives to drive
wedges further between Ahmadinejad's regime and the restive Iranian
people. It's easy to find topics for such initiatives -- from the
regime's human-rights abuses to its ties to terrorism. Our current
public-diplomacy efforts have been disjointed and too much below
the radar. We need to coordinate them better at the highest levels
Muslim countries threatened by Iran's pursuit of Shiite
dominance also need to be brought more into this strategy. Turkey
and those Arab states who find Iran's belligerence destabilizing
should pressure Iran more as well. And we should encourage our
allies in the region to assist us in deploying missile
President Bush promises to stop Iranians from inflicting
violence inside Iraq. This will take more than the occasional
arrest of suspected Iranian intelligence officials or raiding arm
caches. It requires beefing up Iraqi and U.S. forces to monitor and
interdict known supply and infiltration lines from Iran.
If we can avoid the temptation to fold in Iraq, we might gain
enough time to defeat the insurgents and prevent an even worse
outcome -- a hegemonic Iran standing astride the heart of the Gulf
and the Middle East.
Kim R. Holmes,
Ph.D., is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy
Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage
Distributed nationally on the McClatchy-Tribune wire
Victory in Iraq requires more than adjusting troop levels. It means quashing the violence stirred up by foreign powers.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
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