Outside editorial: Apply the lessons of Iraq to Iran

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

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Four years ago this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council that the United States had undeniable proof that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

Undeniable? It turns out that unreliable was the accurate adjective.

Oh, how Powell's words and others from members of the Bush administration have echoed since then. They echoed as the United States invaded Iraq based in large part upon that faulty premise.

They echoed more loudly after the U.S. military ousted Hussein and found no such weapons.

And they are echoing once again, more ear-splitting than ever, as the administration argues that Iran is providing explosive devices to Iraqi militants that are killing and wounding American soldiers in Iraq.

Maybe Iran is. Iranian leaders are an incendiary, dangerous lot. But the Bush administration deserves the skepticism that has greeted its latest accusations.

Although President Bush says starting another war is not his intention, Washington and Tehran sure seem to be edging closer to conflict.

Newsweek is reporting that recent U.S. and Iraqi raids of Iranian political offices in Iraq may have been in response to what the Bush administration believes is Iran's involvement in the kidnapping and killing of four U.S. soldiers.

On Wednesday, President Bush said this at a press conference: "I can say with certainty that the Quds force, part of the Iranian government, has provided Shiite militias in Iraq with the sophisticated weapons that have been responsible for killing at least 170 American soldiers ..."

That statement might be persuasive, if you could forget what Bush said on March 17, 2003, about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

Set aside the administration's lack of credibility. There are more reasons today than there were nearly four years ago not to start a war.

They begin with how badly Bush's administration misjudged what would happen after the United States ousted Saddam Hussein. Has the White House really done its homework on Iranian society and politics? Doubtful.

The administration's lack of understanding about Iraq contributed to the vicious sectarian fighting going on now, egged on by foreign terrorists, that threatens to become a regional war.

If the United States were to go to war against Iran, what other unintended ripples might that conflict create in the region? How much more damage would be done to an already overstretched U.S. military?

Iraq has given Bush lessons about the flaws of military intervention. The recent diplomacy that led to North Korea's agreeing to constraints about its nuclear program is a lesson in the potential of diplomacy.

President Bush is right that he must protect U.S. troops. But that might be done best by negotiating with Iran rather than going to war.

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