Con Coughlin is one of the best British journalists on the military/intelligence/national security beat, and he is privy to the thinking of top policy people and field commanders. In today’s “Telegraph” he picks up on a theme I raised yesterday: that both Washington and London are grudgingly coming to accept the fact that Iran is waging war against us in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Coughlin carefully spells out the implications of the accusation against a top British military aide in Afghanistan. Corporal Daniel James–the personal interpreter for the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan–is charged with giving the Iranians information that “prejudic(es) the safety of the (British) state.” No matter how this case is ultimately resolved, Coughlin writes, the fact that Iran is interested in recruiting such people confirms the mullahs’ desire to ensure the failure of our mission.
Until recently, as Coughlin notes, “NATO commanders have appeared reluctant to even discuss the possibility that the Iranians might have their own agenda in upsetting coalition attempts to establish an effective government.” And this reluctance was obviously peculiar to anyone who knew anything about Iran’s real activities in the region. Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan always knew that the Iranians had helped “orchestrate the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed so many soldiers,” and are “actively supporting and providing equipment to Taliban-related groups” in Afghanistan.
And so we have Prime Minister Blair openly denouncing the Islamic Republic in language not even President Bush has used.
It’s quite a change, and a welcome one, although there was never any excuse for the willful and deliberate refusal to see what Iran has been up to since 2001. For it was in December of that momentous year that the American Government received detailed information about Iranian plans to kill American forces in Afghanistan. I was present at meetings in Rome at which that information was given, and I took great satisfaction when I was later informed that the information was correct, and had undoubtedly saved American lives in Afghanistan.
But immediately thereafter, Secretary of State Powell and Director of Central Intelligence Tenet threw a hissy fit, and demanded an immediate and total end to all contacts with those people. In a grotesque confirmation that no good deed goes unpunished, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld even instructed his employees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to terminate all contacts with Iranians, especially “Iranian dissidents.” His man in charge of intelligence, Stephen Cambone–now blessedly on his way out–has refused even to reply to repeated requests to discuss the matter, even though the sources were proven reliable, and the information saved the lives of our troops. On this subject, there does not seem to have been any disagreement between Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Hadley, Hayden and Negroponte. None of them wanted to know about the murderous activities of the Iranians. Just ask Imad Mughniyah, the world’s most lethal killer. Our leaders didn’t want to know about Mughniyah’s plans to fly to Damascus with Ahmadi-Nezhad some months ago, and so the operational godfather of Hizbollah was untouched during his meetings with Syrian leaders and his counterparts from other terrorist gangs.
Why the refusal to see Iran for what it is? Coughlin explains it in a purely military context. He says that NATO troops have enough to do, fighting Taliban units in southern Afghanistan, and are just not prepared to extend their field of operations to the north and west. But, as he says, that would necessarily change if, as appears to be case, our leaders can no longer ignore the evidence.
I think the self-blinding of the West took place at a higher, and more political, level. I blame the intelligence community and the diplomats. They were the ones who refused to accept information from proven sources, because that information was in total conflict with the alternate version of reality they sold to the president: that Iran had been helpful to us in Afghanistan, that there were “moderates” in Tehran with whom we could work, and that a “grand bargain” could be struck, if only we made nice to the mullahs.
And of course I blame the president and his people–from his personal staff to the National Security Council people in charge of the region and the war–who bought the alternate reality. They had numerous opportunities to listen to the truth, and invariably declined.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said of Jimmy Carter that he could not distinguish between his friends and his enemies, and so he had ended by accepting his enemies’ view of the world. The same can be said of George W. Bush with regard to Iran.
And still we dither.