Taking Aim at Iran. (Comment)

Article excerpt

Right-wingers in Washington have begun preparing the ground for US action, perhaps even war, against Iran. Their mostly baseless allegations against Iraq--of developing nuclear weapons and backing Al Qaeda--worked so well in whipping up war fever that the inside-the-Beltway hawks are now recycling them. This time Teheran is the mark.

Neoconservative William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote that "the liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the Middle East." He added, "The next great battle--not, we hope, a military battle--will be for Iran." In an ironic reversal of the old domino theory, Kristol now argues that America must take down Iran to prevent it from intervening among Shiites in US-occupied Iraq. One intervention requires the next. But in fact, more Iraqis seem interested in radical Shiism than do Iranians.

Iran is charged with harboring Al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda and the Taliban waged a vicious campaign of assassination and pogroms against Shiites in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and came close to war with Shiite-dominated Iran. Iran's Sunni tribes or rogue elements in the Revolutionary Guards might give refuge to Al Qaeda. It is highly unlikely that the Iranian establishment would.

Neoconservatives tag Iran as a backer of terrorism because of its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has, however, been many years since Hezbollah was significantly involved in international terrorism, as opposed to fighting Israeli military occupation of Lebanon and then of the disputed border enclave, the Shebaa Farms. An equitable settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would deprive its paramilitary of a raison d'etre. That's a better way to encourage its evolution into a mainstream Lebanese political party than fomenting revolution in Teheran.

As for the charge that Iran is interested in nuclear weapons, it may or may not be true. Since we were misled by fraudulent documents about a post-1998 Iraqi nuclear program, we should demand unassailable proof of Iranian capabilities before even discussing what steps should be taken to address them.

Iran itself is a far more ambiguous dictatorship than Baathist Iraq. Its society is roiled by a lively contest between hard-line Khomeinist theocrats and a gamut of reformist forces that wish to open the system up to democracy and to achieve more personal liberties. The liberalizers have captured Parliament and have a friend in the elected President, Muhammad Khatami. They have been stymied in their attempts at reform since 1997, however, by the iron grip that hard-line clerics retain on the levers of power. …