Yes, Virginia, the Mullahs DO Screw Up
My Pajamas colleague, the brilliant and erudite Meir Javedanfar, belongs to a school of thought–very common among the Iranian diasporah–that sees every event involving the Islamic Republic as yet another proof of the near-flawless cunning and brilliance of the mullahs. My old friend and colleague Claire Sterling once described this forma mentis–in its Italian incarnation–as “dietrologismo,” the science of what lies behind the world as we see it. The handy thing about this approach to the world is that it doesn’t depend on annoying facts, but on one core assumption: that you know who’s behind it all, and he never screws up. Whatever happens, happens according to plan.
So my dear colleague tells us that Iran has–as a State Department official claimed in an interview with the Washington Post over the weekend–that Iran has “reined in” the Shi’ite militias in Iraq it has been supporting for lo these many years. And then he sets out to explain “why.” His explanation is that the mullahs want to keep us buried in an Iraqi quagmire so that we won’t be able to use our ground forces to attack Iran. No matter their call for “America out of Iraq,” that’s just so much propaganda. Their real intention is to keep us there. According to Mr. Javedanfar, the Iranian regime was alarmed when the Democrats won the 2006 elections, fearing that the new majority would actually pull American forces out of Iraq, which in his view would be bad for the mullahs. So Khamenei and Ahmadi-Nezhad bailed out Bush, by making conditions on the ground easier, thereby sabotaging the Democrats.
It’s an elegant theory, except that it leaves out several annoying facts. The first is that the terror war in Iraq rapidly expanded after the 2006 elections. Far from being leashed, Iranian-supported terror groups became considerably more active. So Mr. Javedanfar’s theory that Iran wanted to make life easier for President Bush after the 2006 elections is counter-factual.
Second, the core allegation–that Iran has “reined in” the Shi’ite militias–is itself very dubious. Yes, a State Department official, David Satterfield, said so in an interview with the Washington Post. He gave no proof, he just deduced it from the fact that attacks in Iraq had dropped off. But, just three days earlier, the Pentagon released a report that stated categorically that there had been no detectable reduction in the flow of support and weapons from Iran to Iraq. Secretary of Defense Gates said that “the jury’s out” on all claims that the mullahs were being cooperative, and our ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, also expressed skepticism about the theory.
So the core allegation is disputed by the people who have the best information, namely our military.
Third, we know for sure that American and Iraqi military action has devastated a good deal of the terror network run by the Iranians. Hardly a day has gone by in the past six months without reports of killing and/or capturing elements of “special groups” (the funny talk used to describe Iranian proxies in Iraq). Several of the leaders have been eliminated or are under interrogation, and it’s also clear that our troops have made progress in dealing with the latest generation of Iranian explosives.
Why ignore the performance of Coalition and Iraqi forces? Because it just doesn’t fit the theory that everything in that part of the world happens because the wily mullahs make it happen. Looking at the “mere facts,” one would have to say that the mullahs have been thwarted in Iraq, at least for the time being, and not just on the battlefield. Perhaps their most terrible defeat has come about in the mosques, where the Iranian version of Shi’ism has not taken hold, and where the traditional “Najaf school” of Shi’ism–according to which clerics should stay out of government–is threatening the Khomeinist heresy, even inside Iran itself. That religious defeat is at once a reason for, and a consequence of, their setbacks on the ground. And it's happened despite the flow of mullah money into Iraq (well described by Mr. Javedanfar, although the bonyads are not the key institutions at work here; the really crucial ones are front companies run by the Revolutionary Guards/Quds Force, which is why the U.S. Treasury is targeting them).
In all this, the mullahs' setbacks in Iraq have occurred because of our superiority and Iraqi steadfastness and courage, not because of their unlimited cleverness. They're not ten feet tall, after all. Indeed, they've wrecked the country while awash in petrodollars, and that's evidence of, uh, monumental incompetence.