In the past I have outraged some of my conservative friends by insisting that nation-building in Iraq was a dreadful idea, for two reasons. The first is that it wasted American lives, treasure, and political capital (it certainly helped elect the odious Barack Obama) on a Quixotic commitment to social engineering; the second (and more important) is that it made American forces de facto hostages of Iran, and blocked us from confronting our most urgent enemy. Unpopular as this view was in some parts of the conservative spectrum, it was shared by many senior American officers.
Now Iran feels emboldened to make its move in Iraq. We hear today from AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Iranian-backed militias present the most dangerous security threat for Iraq, outpacing al-Qaida-linked terrorists who have been blamed for the spike in violence there, a senior U.S. military officer said Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the Shiite militias — together they have several thousand insurgents — are working to keep the Baghdad government weak and isolated. Decisions on the number of types of attacks launched by the three main militia groups, he said, are made inside Iran, including through their ties with the powerful Quds force.
The escalating threat underscores the dangers as the U.S. prepares to pull its troops out by the end of the year. Iraqi officials are discussing whether they want to have some American forces stay in the country past that deadline.
What are we to do about Iran? Our dithering has made the problem much more difficult.
What I understand from well-informed US military sources is that after years of digging its nuclear program into mountainsides, Iran has little fear from surgical strikes, either from Israel or the US. The hardware of its nuclear weapons program is buried too deep, and too dispersed, to be knocked out from the air. To stop the Iranian nuclear program now would require a broader program of destroying Iranian command and control, which means in effect knocking out the Iranian government. My view is that we should have done this yesterday. But it is hard to imagine the Obama administration taking preemptive action against any Muslim country. That means the worst is yet to come.
As America reduces its troop presence in Iran, I am told, American troops still will be hostage to Iranian-backed terrorism, and all the more vulnerable, because they remain deployed where they can be attacked in ever smaller numbers.