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Paul Krugman on Iran--NYTimes 2/12/07

February 12, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist


 Scary Movie 2

By PAUL KRUGMAN
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/paulkrugman/index.html?inline=nyt-per>

Attacking Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, even if all the
allegations now being made about Iranian actions in Iraq are true.

But it wouldn’t be the first catastrophic mistake this administration
has made, and there are indications that, at the very least, a powerful
faction in the administration is spoiling for a fight.

Before we get to the apparent war-mongering, let’s talk about the
basics. Are there people in Iran providing aid to factions in Iraq,
factions that sometimes kill Americans as well as other Iraqis? Yes,
probably. But you can say the same about Saudi Arabia, which is believed
to be a major source of financial support for Sunni insurgents — and
Sunnis, not Iranian-backed Shiites, are still responsible for most
American combat deaths.

The Bush administration, however, with its close personal and financial
ties to the Saudis, has always downplayed Saudi connections to America’s
enemies. Iran, on the other hand, which had no connection to 9/11, and
was actually quite helpful to the United States in the months after the
terrorist attack, somehow found itself linked with its bitter enemy
Saddam Hussein as part of the “axis of evil.”

So the administration has always had it in for the Iranian regime. Now,
let’s do an O. J. Simpson: if you were determined to start a war with
Iran, how would you do it?

First, you’d set up a special intelligence unit to cook up rationales
for war. A good model would be the Pentagon’s now-infamous Office of
Special Plans, led by Abram Shulsky, that helped sell the Iraq war with
false claims about links to Al Qaeda.

Sure enough, last year Donald Rumsfeld set up a new “Iranian
directorate” inside the Pentagon’s policy shop. And last September
Warren Strobel and John Walcott of McClatchy Newspapers — who were among
the few journalists to warn that the administration was hyping evidence
on Iraqi W.M.D. — reported that “current and former officials said the
Pentagon’s Iranian directorate has been headed by Abram Shulsky.”

Next, you’d go for a repeat of the highly successful strategy by which
scare stories about the Iraqi threat were disseminated to the public.

This time, however, the assertions wouldn’t be about W.M.D.; they’d be
that Iranian actions are endangering U.S. forces in Iraq. Why? Because
there’s no way Congress will approve another war resolution. But if you
can claim that Iran is doing evil in Iraq, you can assert that you don’t
need authorization to attack — that Congress has already empowered the
administration to do whatever is necessary to stabilize Iraq. And by the
time the lawyers are finished arguing — well, the war would be in full
swing.

Finally, you’d build up forces in the area, both to prepare for the
strike and, if necessary, to provoke a casus belli. There’s precedent
for the idea of provocation: in a January 2003 meeting with Prime
Minster Tony Blair, The New York Times reported last year, President
Bush “talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a
proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of
the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire.”

In the end, Mr. Bush decided that he didn’t need a confrontation to
start that particular war. But war with Iran is a harder sell, so
sending several aircraft carrier groups into the narrow waters of the
Persian Gulf, where a Gulf of Tonkin-type incident could all too easily
happen, might be just the thing.

O.K., I hope I’m worrying too much. Those carrier groups could be going
to the Persian Gulf just as a warning.

But you have to wonder about the other stuff. Why would the Pentagon put
someone who got everything wrong on Iraq in charge of intelligence on
Iran? Why wasn’t any official willing to take personal responsibility
for the reliability of alleged evidence of Iranian mischief, as opposed
to being an anonymous source? If the evidence is solid enough to bear
close scrutiny, why were all cameras and recording devices, including
cellphones, banned from yesterday’s Baghdad briefing?

It’s still hard to believe that they’re really planning to attack Iran,
when it’s so obvious that another war would be a recipe for even bigger
disaster. But remember who’s calling the shots: Dick Cheney thinks we’ve
had “enormous successes” in Iraq.

Copyright 2007
<http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html> The New
York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/>
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