A Little Too Ironic

Matt Yglesias today praises Ray Takeyh’s piece of last week, which notes how

a parade of Bush administration officials have offered a new threat and new justification for prolonging America’s errant war in Iraq: containing Iran.

The ironic aspect of this is that Iran not only enjoys intimate relations with the Shiite government in Baghdad, but that its objectives in Iraq largely coincide with those of the United States.

Matt goes on to observe

that the Iranians have decided to cut Muqtada loose and fully line up behind the ISCI government. That counts as a form of good news, I’d say, but it also shows how ridiculous the administration’s talk of anti-Sadrist operations as somehow crucial to curbing an Iranian takeover are.

I’m not known to trot out neoconservative talking points, but why, one wonders, would Iran ‘cut loose’ al-Sadr in the first place? Possibly because the recent Government attack on Sadr’s brigades actually worked — insofar as success means marginalizing those militias and drying up their internal and external support. Even the puffed-up and rather abortive attack that took place was enough to call Sadr’s value to Iranian policy into serious question. After all, not only does Iran enjoy intimate relations with the Shiite government in Baghdad, but its objectives in Iraq largely coincide with our own.

In an even wider pallet of ironies, probably the biggest policy relations coup accomplished by this recent Bush Parade is managing to re-accredit the Iran card as a ‘new’ threat and ‘new’ justification. Iran, not Iraq, has been the longstanding regional bogey — and not just for American audiences but, perhaps even more importantly, Arab ones. The latest string of spooky stories is a fresh take on an old favorite, trimmed in suitably contemporary detail, but even in the annals of recent history we see Iran right up there to begin with on the old Axis of Evil list.

Ray Takeyh’s no slouch, and Matt is right to be cataloging ironies here, but neither of the two seem to be digging quite deeply enough. One of the reasons Iran’s objectives overlap so much with our own in Iraq is that Iran shares with the US an interest in exclusively dominating Iraqi politics, power, and resources. Yet further, on its face this point makes less of a justification for launching a war with Iran than it does for tightening control in Iraq.

In the grand scheme of things, the point both gentlemen probably want to draw out is one I readily admit: that no matter how well we do, over whatever length of time, the minute we close up shop in Iraq, that country will slip instantly and intimately into Iran’s sphere of influence — and out of ours. Unless, that is, we can somehow institutionalize a set of unbreakable political arrangements that maintain a Sunni counterweight. This should not be mistaken for the lazy argument which presumes Shiite Iraqis have no interest in their own sovereignty. But from the perspective of some US policymakers, an Iraq that’s a province of Iran versus an Iraq that’s a friend of Iran denotes a distinction without a difference. Shockingly enough, this isn’t a judgment reserved for cabalist neocons. It captures plain old realpolitik, too — and, thence, our bipartisan consensus on Iraq. Sadly, this consensus is utterly at a loss concerning how to create the necessary political environment: so its motto reduces simply to Stall For Time.

UPDATE: Andrew agrees.