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When Did the War Start? Or Did It?

Despite the oft-repeated mantra that Iran operates through proxies, in Iraq and Afghanistan they sent the Revolutionary Guards' foreign legion -- aka the Quds Force -- to kill our guys.  By the end of the fighting in Iraq we had hundreds of them in military detention centers.  And sent them all back, via the Iraqi government, as part of the Status of Forces Agreement.  Cynics call this "the catch and release policy."

Then there are the sanctions.  Sanctions are a good thing, for several reasons.  First and foremost, they send a message to the Iranian people, they show that we do not like the regime, that one of the reasons for the sanctions is the evil repression of most Iranians, and that we are acting to punish the regime.  Fine.

Second, the sanctions bleed the regime, even if they find ways to elude sanctions' bite.  It costs them money, which means they have less to spend on terror and on the nuclear weapons program.  Khamenei has apparently had to cut back on support for Hamas, which is certainly a good thing.

But I don't know anyone this side of the White House who believes that sanctions, by themselves, will produce what we should want above all:  the fall of the Tehran regime that is the core of the war against us.  To accomplish that, we need more than sanctions;  we need a strategy for regime change.

There are people in Washington who found a way to facilitate regime change in the Soviet Empire, and if our leaders were serious about winning the war, they'd be studying just how that happened.  But instead, at least from the outside, it looks like they are looking at the "problem that doesn't exist," namely how to go to "war" against Iran.

It may well be, as some have suggested, that in fact we are fighting...a secret war against the Tehran regime.  A long essay in the New York Times  Sunday  Magazine says just that (while insisting that most of the action is being carried out by Israel's Mossad, not our spooks).  I'm prepared to believe at least some of that (Stuxnet and other acts of sabotage against the nuclear program, for example, and perhaps some of the assassinations of key figures in the program).  But a lot of the action is domestic, it's being carried out by Iranians -- so far as I know without any foreign assistance -- who sabotage pipelines and aircraft, and blow up Revolutionary Guards bases.

But even if all these are guided from Washington and/or Jerusalem, it still does not add up to a war-winning strategy, which requires a clearly stated mission from our maximum leaders.  We need a president who will say "Khamenei and Ahmadinejad must go."  He must say it publicly, and he must say it privately to our military, to our diplomats, and to the intelligence community.

Without that commitment, without that mission -- and it's hard to imagine it, isn't it? -- we'll continue to spin our wheels, mostly playing defense, sometimes enacting new sanctions, sometimes wrecking the mullahs' centrifuges, forever hoping that the mullahs will make a deal.  Until the day when one of those Iranian schemes to kill even more Americans works out, and we actually catch them in the act.  Then our leaders will say "we must go to war."

But we've been there all along.  It's just that we refused to see it.