Saturday, October 27, 2007

Iran -- A New Definition of Chutzpah

Do our leaders know how ridiculous some of their excuses for war with Iran are? Their arguments about protecting Iraqi sovereignty from outside meddling deserve some sort of prize for chutzpah. Consider, for instance, Vice President Cheney's recent and much-quoted speech:

Iran's real agenda appears to include promoting violence against the coalition. Fearful of a strong, independent, Arab Shia community emerging in Iraq, one that seeks religious guidance not in Qom, Iran, but from traditional sources of Shia authority in Najaf and Karbala, the Iranian regime also aims to keep Iraq in a state of weakness that prevents Baghdad from presenting a threat to Tehran.

Perhaps the greatest strategic threat that Iraq's Shiites face today in -- is -- in consolidating their rightful role in Iraq's new democracy is the subversive activities of the Iranian regime.
Consider, seriously, what Cheney and others in the Administration are saying. We have the right to invade Iraq, a country on the far side of the world that poses no threat to us and impose our will by armed force. But for a neighboring country to attempt to influence events there is an intolerable infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. We can back anyone we want in Iraq's civil war, but Iran (sitting right next door) has no right to back anyone (even though, in fact, the Shiite factions Iran is supporting are mainstays of the government we also support). Furthermore we have the right (which have repeatedly and broadly hinted we will use) to preemptively attack Iran. But Iran has no right to preemption against our forces forces in Iraq, even as we hint that attack is at hand.

My purpose here is not to morally defend the Iranian government, merely to point out that as a matter of realpolitik, any government in their position would do much the same. No government wants civil war and chaos next door; civil war and chaos tend to be contagious. But many governments would nonetheless prefer civil war and chaos to a hostile army camped out on their doorstep, especially if the leaders of the hostile army keep dropping hints that they will attack as soon as the civil war and chaos die down. Under those conditions, what government would not want to keep the civil war and chaos going for a long time? And what country does not have a strong, indeed, legitimate, interest, in influencing its neighbors? As Anonymous Liberal puts it:

The truth is, of course, that Iran has an enormous interest in the outcome of our Iraq experiment, and it is perfectly rational for Iran's leaders to attempt to influence events there. Remember, this is a country that invaded Iran in 1980, leading to a bloody eight-year war in which nearly a million people died, the majority of them Iranian. It's probably fair to say that nothing is more important to Iran's national security than the character of the regime that eventually emerges in Iraq. To expect that Iran would just sit back and not try to influence events there is profoundly naive.
What our government is asking of the Iranian government, in effect, is for them to sit quietly while we invade a neighboring country, make no attempt to influence events, and then refrain from acting even as we prepare for a new attack on Iran. Old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you are an orphan. New definition of chutzpah: Invading a country on the other side of the world and then starting a war with its neighbor on the grounds that it is not respected the invaded country's sovereignty.

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