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Avoid war with Iran.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Bush administration squandered its credibility when it oversold the case for war in Iraq. As a predictable consequence, its claims that Iran is arming elements of the insurgency in Iraq are mistrusted.

It would be surprising if Iran weren't meddling in Iraq, but there's a larger issue: Even the discovery of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's signature on insurgents' weapons should not trigger a U.S. war against Iran.

The practical reasons for avoiding war with Iran are clear. There is no assurance that air strikes alone could achieve a central military objective in Iran - whether that objective is defined as regime change, the destruction of nuclear programs or the end of Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq. U.S. ground forces are already tied down by wars in countries bordering Iran, where they would be vulnerable to Iranian retaliation. While popular support for Ahmadinejad's regime is said to be weak, Iranian nationalism is strong, and U.S. hostility is its mortar.

The Bush administration may believe these difficulties are surmountable, or that the only way forward in Iraq is to stop its neighbor from making mischief, or that failure in one military adventure can be redeemed by launching another.

The practical obstacles to military action in Iran, however, are only part of the argument against it. A war against Iran also would be a grave geopolitical mistake.

A war against Iran would take place in a context of hostility that dates back to the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the subsequent seizure of hostages in the American embassy. Iranians trace the conflict back even further, to the U.S.-backed coup against an elected leader in 1953.

The hostility has been more than rhetorical: The United States backed Iraq in the bloody 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and Iran has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, which until Sept. 11, 2001, had killed more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other organization.

Yet, American and Iranian interests are not irretrievably at odds. Iran provided vital cooperation to the United States and its allies during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. Although it is the vanguard of the Islamic revolutionary movement, Iran shares only tactical goals with the militantly Sunni al-Qaeda network, whose leaders regard the Iran's dominant Shi'ites as heretics. Iran did nothing to impede the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and was happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein.

For these reasons, Iran is proof that neither the Middle East nor the Islamic world are monolithic, united in their aims or their ideology. An American policy that treats them as such would prove self-fulfilling.

A war against Iraq would create Middle Eastern and Islamic unity where it did not exist before, giving Sunni and Shi'ite, Arab and non-Arab, reason to find common cause against the United States. The claim that the United States sought to control the Middle East and its oil would be even more widely accepted in the region than it is now. Sectarian cleavages would be subordinated to the idea of a pan-Islamic struggle to roll back 21st century crusaders. Even if a military victory in Iran could be achieved, it would energize Islamic militancy worldwide.

If the Bush administration had kept its eye on the national interest, it would have spent more manpower and money taking down al-Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan. Instead, the United States launched an unnecessary and unwise invasion of Iraq, where it is being bled dry while providing Islamic militants with unlimited recruiting and propaganda opportunities.

The United States must not make the same mistake in Iran. Instead, the Bush administration should engage Iran diplomatically, as the Iraq Study Group recommended. Iran is no friend of the United States, but perhaps one day it could be. Saber rattling won't bring that day closer.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; The martial drumbeat is getting louder
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 15, 2007
Next Article:A well-timed fillip.

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