Gareth Porter, a historian and journalist, writes regularly on U.S. policy in Iran and Iraq for Inter Press Service. His most recent book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005).
On July 2 and 3, The New York Times and the Associated Press, among other media outlets, came out with sensational stories saying that either Iranians or Iranian agents had played an important role in planning the operation in Karbala, Iraq last January that resulted in the deaths of five American soldiers. Michael R. Gordon and John F. Burns of The New York Times wrote that "agents of Iran" had been identified by the military spokesman as having "helped plan a January raid in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in Iraq in which five American soldiers were killed by Islamic militants …"
In recent months, guessing the Bush administration's intentions on Iran has become a favorite Washington game. In a very short time, a phase of warlike rhetoric, accompanied by an ostentatious increase in naval power in the Persian Gulf, has given way to the very public pursuit of direct, high-level talks with Iran. It is obvious that Iran policy is the subject of a fierce intra-administration struggle between advocates of a military option and advocates of diplomatic engagement. Less obvious, but crucial to understanding the Bush policy, is how Vice President Dick Cheney, the leader of the pro-war faction in the administration, has managed to steer the main lines of that policy, even when it was not apparent.
In a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied knowledge of Iran's secret 2003 negotiating proposal to the United States. Her denial is part of a broader administration strategy aimed at buttressing the Bush administration's coercive policy toward Iran from congressional pressures for diplomatic engagement with the country.
After promising that the Bush administration would publish a document this week detailing the evidence for its charge that Iranians in Iraq are providing arms and advice to Shiite militias to kill American troops, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested Wednesday that no such document would be forthcoming any time soon. Paul Richter of The Los Angeles Timesreported that some officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had resisted the release of the dossier, because they believed the assertions contained in it would have so little credibility that it would backfire politically.
The Iraq Study Group was warned by the former State Department coordinator of intelligence on Iraq that the option of sharply increasing the number of U.S. trainers in the Iraqi military -- a plan that the ISG recommended in their final report and the Pentagon has now approved -- probably would fail, even if accompanied by 50,000 additional U.S. troops and the adoption of favorable policies by the Iraqi government.
Wayne White, former Deputy Director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Near Eastern Division, combined that blunt warning with a proposal to give such a training initiative and other "surge" measures a one-year trial, but only on the condition that it be linked to a commitment to withdrawal if found to be unsuccessful.