Of course, anyone paying attention to the "mainstream" international news recognizes that Iran's nuclear program is receiving a lot of attention this month. Blogger journalist Laura Rozen, in fact, is "convinced Iran is set to become the foreign policy priority for the US in coming months."
President Bush long ago named Iran as part of the "axis of evil." The dubious state members are thought to seek weapons of mass destruction and support terrorism.
The terror angle is covered in the recent report about the 9/11 Commission findings in the Washington Post last weekend. The Commission, which rejected "operational" and financial links between Iraq and al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda, concluded that there were real links between Iran and al Qaeda.
In relation to Iran, commission investigators said intelligence "showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many had previously thought." Iran is a primary sponsor of Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Lebanon-based anti-Israel group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.Much of the story reports about the 1996 Khobar towers bombing, which investigators have long blamed on Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.
Now, the Commission asserts an al Qaeda connection to the terrorist strike. But not everyone is buying it -- and we should appreciate the prospect of real debate:
U.S. officials who have worked on the Khobar case are more skeptical. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the case, who declined to be identified because of the ongoing criminal investigation, said authorities searched carefully for an al Qaeda connection but found no basis for it.Some skeptics are willing to be named:
The broader notion of links between bin Laden's group and Hezbollah or hard-line elements in Iran's security forces has been a hot topic in U.S. law enforcement and intelligence circles for years. Many analysts have viewed such an alliance as dubious, largely because of ancient animosities between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Several leaders of al Qaeda, a Sunni organization, have issued rabidly anti-Shiite proclamations.
Daniel Benjamin, a national security official in the Clinton administration, said he was "still skeptical" of any link between al Qaeda and Khobar, arguing that the evidence shows "that Saudi Hezbollah was very much a creature of some in Iran."Former Clinton/Bush administration expert Flynt Leverett says that a tactical relationship is plausible, but "There are going to be serious structural limits to how much al Qaeda and Iran might cooperate."
"I don't quite see the need that this operation had for assistance from al Qaeda," Benjamin said. "Second of all, my understanding of the larger relationship between Iran and al Qaeda suggests that while there were plenty of contacts, many more than there were with Iraq, it was never clear they developed a serious cooperative relationship."
In any event, it's not at all clear what the the US can do about either Iranian proliferation or terror sponsorship. While weaker evidence helped build a case for war against Iraq, there's no way the US can implement the "Bush Doctrine" any time soon. Matt Yglesias summarized the obvious problem caused by the war in Iraq. It
strengthened the hand of [Iranian] hardliners at home, weakened the US military threat, and created a new playpen for possible Iranian influence.As I've blogged before, US hypocrisy on this matter does not help.
The upshot may be that there's not really a great deal to be done.