Motivations for war with Iran

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest does not take seriously the idea that the Bush Administration may launch an attack on Iran before January 2009 and most likely soon after Barack Obama wins the election in November. The post where this is mentioned cites several conservative persons (John Bolton, Bill Kristol, Joe Lieberman and Liz Cheney) who either explicitly advocate such an attack or who at least consider it "a good idea."

So, what would be cited as the provocation for such an attack? It's actually not clear at all. Columnist David Ignatius wrote a piece full of rhetoric that was really scary about Iran, with phrases like:

In the new cold war between America and Iran
"...Some things are being done, but not with the seriousness that's needed."
"...it's not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy."
The Iranians, by contrast, seem adept at interweaving aggressive operations and diplomacy.

[emphases added]

Ok, but what exactly is Iran doing? Ignatius cites a story about Iran tracking and then eliminating "dissident Iranian operatives," but this sounds like a purely defensive (and highly understandable) move. Iran's "covert-action campaigns" have to do with Hamas and Hezbollah. Hamas is described in Wikipedia (The entry is described as one in which the neutrality of the piece is disputed) without even mentioning Iran in the opening description and Hezbollah is described as having been inspired by Iran, but as with Hamas, it arose in opposition to Israel. Neither appears to be in an organization similar to the Comintern that was operating in Western countries in the 1920s and 1930s and was tightly controlled by Moscow.

Ignatius then claims:

The Iranians have used Syria effectively as a platform for these intelligence operations, from political action to paramilitary operations to clandestine terrorism.

Sounds pretty awful, but this is a really vague set of accusations. By the way the paragraph reads, these operations appear to function simply to deliver "extensive financial and military support" to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia seems angry about "Iranian meddling in the region," but Ignatius again fails to cite exactly what it is that Iran is actually doing. As has been pointed out in many pieces, yes, it's possible that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents, but if so, the insurgents are receiving ordinary, plain-vanilla weapons that can come from just about anywhere. The AK-47 submachine gun, for instance, is ubiquitous in the Middle East.

As it's been made quite clear lately that the Iraq War was launched for oil, that appears to be the default explanation for a possible war on Iran as well.

And I'm sorry, but I really have to comment on the next-to-last paragraph:

The proponents of a tougher U.S. strategy argue that Iran should be confronted everywhere it operates, much as the Reagan administration decided to challenge the Soviet Union, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua. [emphasis added]

Erm, I was paying close attention to the news back then and US attacks on Nicaragua had nothing to do with challenging the Soviet Union. Back during the Vietnam War, there was a direct land connection between the Soviet Union and North Vietnam via Red China. The Soviets made very heavy use of ships from Vladivostok to Haiphong and that route was vulnerable to interdiction, but it was impossible for the US to cut off all supplies. As a result, neither the Soviets nor the Chinese made any attempt to hide where North Vietnam's weapons came from.

In the case of the Soviet Union getting supplies to Cuba, that country could very easily be blockaded by the US and the active drug trade interdiction in the Caribbean made it a rather simple exercise for the US to interdict supplies moving from Cuba to Nicaragua as well.

So yes, for the US to supply Afghan rebels was indeed a direct challenge to the Soviet Union. Attacking Nicaragua? Not so much.

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