Bush: Hands off Iran

Pro forma denial or meaningful statement of intention?

MR. WILLIAMS: By the way, just quickly, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader says that if you have an incursion into Iran, he expects that you would come to the Senate for approval.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I have no intent upon incur—going into Iran. I mean, this is the kind of thing that happens in Washington. People ascribe, you know, motives to me beyond a simple statement – of course we’ll protect our troops. I don’t know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we’re going to invade Iran. If that’s what he’s talking about, there’s – I mean, we will protect our interests in Iraq. That’s what the American people expect us to do. That’s definitely what our troops want to do, and that’s what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we’ll deal with it.

I think he means it. This op-ed at the Guardian is getting some (derisive) attention today, but the basic point is sound and I’m sure Bush knows it. The mullahs are running their country into the ground; why mess with a good thing?

Ahmadinejad appeared to follow the dictum of his mentor, Ayatollah Khomeini – “Economics is for donkeys”. Indeed, his policies could be defined as “anything but Khatami” (his predecessor). So the oil reserve fund was spent on cash handouts to the grateful poor, and the central bank, normally a bastion of prudence, was instructed to cut interest rates for small businesses.

These had the effect, as Ahmadinejad was warned, of pushing up inflation. The rationale for high interest rates was to encourage the middle classes to keep their money in Iran. Now they decided to spend it. Richer Iranians, worried about rising international tension, decided it would be prudent to ship their money abroad. This further weakened the rial, and added to inflationary pressure. In the past few months the prices of most basic goods have risen, hurting the poor he was elected to help. Moreover, far from investing Iran’s oil wealth in infrastructure to create jobs, he announced recently that Iran’s economy could support a substantially larger population, as if current unemployment was not a big enough problem…

Ironically, it is this very international crisis that may serve to save Ahmadinejad’s presidency, a reality that the president undoubtedly understood all too well. As domestic difficulties mount, the emerging international crisis could at best serve as a rallying point, or at worst persuade Iran’s elite that a change of guard would convey weakness to the outside world.

So why not leave them alone and let them stagger? We’re working them over at the margins. They’re already negotiating with the Saudis in Lebanon, apparently in earnest and to the dismay of Syria. Why not live and let die? Two reasons:

1. What if they’re close to getting the bomb?
2. What if, to force precisely the sort of rallying point the Guardian author imagines, they attack us first? It’s far-fetched but if they reach a point where they feel the regime is in danger, what would they have to lose?

I wonder how Iran’s Sunni neighbors would react if the mullahs really were in jeopardy of being overthrown. Would they intervene to try to make it happen — or to stop it? Sunni supremacy and regional stability wouldn’t be pointing in the same directions in that case. Wouldn’t surprise me to see them make a deal to prop up the leadership in return for Iranian withdrawal from some of the current Sunni/Shiite frontlines in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.

Just a little idle blather on a slow news afternoon. I leave you with some non-idle blather from former CIA agent Robert Baer, writing in Time:

Some Iraqis speculate that the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] has already started a campaign of revenge with the killing of five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20, nine days after the arrest of the IRGC members in Erbil. As the logic of the rumor goes, five American soldiers were killed for five Iranians taken; Karbala was an IRGC message to release its colleagues — or else…

Aside from arming the opposition, the IRGC is capable of doing serious damage to our logistics lines. I called up an American contractor in Baghdad who runs convoys from Kuwait every day and asked him just how much damage.”Let me put it this way,”he said.”In Basra today the currency is the Iranian toman, not the Iraqi dinar.”He said his convoys now are forced to pay a 40% surcharge to Shi’a militias and Iraqi police in the south, many of whom are affiliated with IRGC.

The Blotter has a photo of that special Iranian-made IED that’s been killing so many American soldiers. You’ll be hearing more about it from the White House later this week, I suspect.