I don't believe a word this administration says about Iran. We hear the Iranians are just moments away from flipping the switch on a nuclear weapons program. Then a national intelligence estimate discredits that theory. We hear they are funneling arms to the Iraqi insurgency and "special groups" (by the way, can we please go back to calling them militias? "Special groups" sounds like Pentagon-speak). Yet, as Time magazine recently reported, "the U.S. allegations appear to be based on speculation, spurred by the appearance about a year ago of a new breed of roadside bomb in Iraq." We hear they are arming the Taliban, their longtime nemesis, in Afghanistan, with the interest of destabilizing that country. Again, on this latest charge, be very skeptical.
First, why would Iran want a basket case on its border, which would lead to another round of Afghan refugees streaming across its border? Second, why would Tehran want to encourage the Taliban-financed opium growers across its borders, when they are feeding Iran's growing heroin epidemic (with 70 percent of Iran's population under 30, rampant unemployment, and alcohol forbidden, what do you expect?). Finally, Iran has significantly enhanced cross-border trade with Afghanistan -- why jeopardize that by rearming the Taliban?
Yes, the explosives used by the Taliban increasingly bear the hallmarks of those used in Iraq. But many of the Iranian-made arms found in Afghanistan could have come from third-party channels. Some could be knock-offs made in Pakistan. And, while I'm no arms expert, I'm told that if Iran really wanted to, it could disguise the markings so that the arms could not be traced back to Tehran -- why advertise to the world their origins, unless to gain leverage (Iran's strategy vis-à-vis the U.S. may be: "Press us on the nuke issue and we can make life hell for you in Iraq and Afghanistan").
To be sure, Iran has a vested interest in seeing the United States humiliated and out of the region, and to that end, it has favored a policy of "managed chaos," meaning it backs a constellation of groups in Iraq and Afghanistan whose views do not always sync with Shiite Islam. Also, it is fair to say that within the Iranian government there are competing elements pursuing dual-track policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But I am skeptical of the Bush administration's repeated assertion that if those pesky Iranians would just leave us alone, everything would be hunky-dory in Iraq and Afghanistan and they both would have all the trappings of American democracy, like butterfly ballots, superdelegates, and an Electoral College. That absolves those in Washington who have really screwed up this war. It seems if Iran did not exist, the White House would have to invent it. Think about it -- a theocratic anti-American state (well, their clerical leadership is anyways) on the border of our two most pressing conflicts with an anti-Semitic leader who refuses to button his collar.
The Bush administration's "Blame Iran" routine has a faintly South Park ring to it. Don't let the Iranians off the hook, but at the same time, let's not kid ourselves that they are behind everything that ails us in the region.