el stupido grando even loses the oil

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    By Georgie Anne Geyer
    Wed Aug 10, 7:02 PM ET

    WASHINGTON -- It is grossly unfair that crises always seem to arise in these "dog days" (with apologies to my cat, Nikko) of August.

    President Bush is down at his Crawford ranch, still "cautiously optimistic" about Iraq and Iran. His approval ratings plummet even as temperatures inch up to 95 or 100 degrees. The world should leave us alone in August.

    But that's never the way it happens. The first Gulf War started in August 1990 in 125-degree weather, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. The big decision for us to invade Iraq came that hot American August of 2002, when Secretary of State Colin Powell dramatically went to the United Nations for support. So it goes in this dreary white heat of the end of summer.

    And now, with the new Iranian president's decision to restart a uranium conversion facility, there is a kind of strange stirring about here in Washington. It is as though this were all somehow not kosher in our view of the Middle East. Rumors abound: "Cheney is in one of his hyper moods in Bush's absence and has missiles fixed and ready to strike at Iran's facilities ..."

    To put it simply, the "Iran crisis" of August 2005 is really about how, with American power mired in the quicksand of Iraq, Iran has been moving to become an aggressive, and perhaps the major, power in the Middle East. The unspeakable ignorance of this administration about the history and culture of the region has finally caught up with it.

    First, the surface story:

    The new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a rank conservative who was probably one of the American hostages' captors in 1979, this week made it clear again that Iran wants to generate electricity through nuclear power, which is legal under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But the United States, along with most of the European states, fears that Iran is really after nuclear weapons and has so deceived inspectors for years about its activities that it has forfeited its right to the innocent electricity program.

    Then the dangerous subtext:

    While America has been so dangerously and wastefully tied down in Iraq, Iran has been moving to form the diplomatic, political and military imprint of a kind of "Shiite Internationale" among the region's Shia populations. This would take in all the followers of the Shia sect of Islam, from the 60 percent of Iraq, to the oil-rich eastern regions of Saudi Arabia, to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrilla/political control of Lebanon.

    Two of our most sagacious analysts of the area, Larry Johnson and Patrick Lang, both with years of apt experience in these areas, sent out an e-mail to their colleagues this week outlining the situation. It read:

    "Iran, if things continue to go its way, finds itself on the threshold of controlling vast oil resources that stretch from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean ... Iran is well on its way to achieving de facto control of significant portions of Iraq. Teheran is backing Shia cleric the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (a Persian, not an Arab) and the radical Muqtada al-Sadr. The Iranians are funneling money and training to supporters inside Iraq. The Iraqi Shia control the political process and comprise the majority of the security forces ... Iran is in a dominant position in Lebanon. The murder earlier this year of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has left Lebanon under the de facto military guard of Hezbollah. Iran remains the main benefactor, supporter and adviser to Hezbollah ..."

    In fact, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld went out of his way this week to accuse Iran of, at the very least, allowing weapons, especially deadly IEDs, or "improvised explosive devices," to be exported to insurgents in Iraq.

    The odd thing is that Iran, not Iraq, was always the primary target of the neocon group that so distorted American policy after 9/11, in part because Iran was seen as the primary enemy of Israel; but Iraq seemed easier to them.

    Thus, the Iranians were able to simply stand back while their archenemy, Saddam, fell at the Americans' hands and at no cost to themselves. Should it be any surprise that they should move, as ruthlessly as always, to achieve their goals? And now, with their exalted idea of themselves as the holiest of Shia, their goals have been perfectly complemented by the "Great Satan." (That's us.)

    Iran is no unified state. There are special ministries which, often secretively, back revolutionary movements like Hezbollah; there are special military units, such as the Revolutionary Guards, the "Quds" (Jerusalem) forces and other militias. The new president, the former mayor of Teheran, is himself a kind of mystery; but we do know that he, too, represents a turn away from the liberalizing that was slowly progressing in Iran -- surely another reaction to the American occupation next door.

    Michael Mazarr, professor at the U.S. National War College, wrote this week in The New Republic that "the only long-term solution to the problem of Iranian nuclear aspirations is integration into the world economy and a gradual return to reform." But the American overextension into the Middle East has made this, at least for now, impossible.

    The administration was warned by many of these analysts before 2003 of every one of these historic alignments in the Middle East, and of every rather obvious danger. The administration very deliberately chose not to see them then, and there is little evidence that it sees them now.

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