The Isikoff/Hosenball story purporting to explain Iran’s Role in Iraq Attacks is absolute shit. It’s like punk never happened, nor the Duelfer Report. There are a couple of mentions of the fact that, within very recent memory, poorly supported sweeping claims about targeted foreign nations turned out to be complete crocks, but no use of that insight. Isikoff and Hosenball make no effort to analyze what their sources are telling them, no effort to assure readers one way or another of the past track records of these specific sources, no effort to throw the flag when supporting facts for small claim B are treated as evidence for logically unrelated large claim A.
Here is a report of my own: If the Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Taiwan, the story would be that passive sensors that “originate” on Taiwan have been traced to Iraq. If they wanted to go to war with Jordan, we’d hear that some of these sensor orders have been traced to addresses in Jordan. If they wanted to go to war with Saudi Arabia, we’d hear that the US had “reports” that Saudi Arabian agents were placing the orders from inside Iran to implicate Iran rather than the Kingdom. Which may be what’s happening, more or less. If I were Iranian intelligence and I were helping “the insurgents” in Iraq, I would not need to have these geegaws flowing through my borders. If they wanted a war with China, we’d be told authoritatively that whipping up a booby trap with a mail-order sensor and some copper in a tube was something only a malevolent superpower could do, working through its primitive Iranian catspaws.
At this point, I would say that's the appropriate level of skepticism with which to face any claims made by "intelligence officials" of this administration. The credibility of the Bush administration is entirely shot, such that they will probably need to fax each American copies of their top secret reports for them to have any chance of persuading this country to pursue yet another war.
UPDATE: And now, more of the same. President Bush has authorized American forces to kill Iranian agents operating inside of Iraq:
For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The "catch and release" policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries.
U.S. forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go.
Last summer, however, senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran's regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing. The country's nuclear work was advancing, U.S. allies were resisting robust sanctions against the Tehran government, and Iran was aggravating sectarian violence in Iraq.
"There were no costs for the Iranians," said one senior administration official. "They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back."
Now, the irony:
Three officials said that about 150 Iranian intelligence officers, plus members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, are believed to be active inside Iraq at any given time. There is no evidence the Iranians have directly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, intelligence officials said.
So now our troops are authorized to kill Iranians who have not yet killed any American soldiers. Do you think that the Iranians might seriously consider retaliation for this act? Do birds fly?
And now, your moment of super-irony:
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the CIA, told the Senate recently that the amount of Iranian-supplied materiel used against U.S. troops in Iraq "has been quite striking." "Iran seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a sense of dangerous triumphalism," Hayden said.
In a movie, that would be the point at which the hearer of that comment looks at the camera with no expression on his face, for several quiet, uncomfortable seconds.
I take no issue with harassing, detaining, arresting, finger-printing, photographing, etc., etc., Iranian agents in Iraq. They are not there to help us, they may be inciting attacks on American troops, and they are certainly influencing Shiite groups in the country in an effort to increase their power in Iraq even before we withdraw. But authorizing killings of Iranian agents is utter foolishness. For one, there is no proof that Iran has done anything to invite such retaliation. Simply aiding the Shiites is not reason enough. After all, most of our soldiers are still being killed by Sunni insurgents, and I know of no incidents in which American soldiers were killed by Shiite militias wielding sophisticated arms only obtainable from Iran. Second, it is idiotic to think that the Iranians are not in a position to retaliate for any killings of their agents. To think that this is the next logical step in confrontation with the Iranians is simply the hallmark of the Bush administration, which clearly believes that there is no violent and unstable situation which could not be aided with the application of yet more force. But the Iranians will have something to say about that as well.
It's impossible to know if this is simply the typical Bush administration response to conflict, or if this is part of subtle process to ratchet up tension with Iran and provide some sort of justification for future hostilities, or some combination of both (given the sheer scale of ineptitude as practiced by this administration, I vote for both.) But the Bush administration has clearly not yet learned the lesson of Iraq. To edge towards further conflict with Iran does not guarantee an outcome that is to our liking. In fact, such an outcome is very unlikely indeed.