Stakes Grow Higher In Iraq, And Danger Grows Of A Confrontation With Iran
There were two elements of the President's speech last night that struck me as particularly significant.
One was the line about fewer restrictions being imposed on U.S. troops. Mr. Bush did not elaborate, but, already, in the clashes on Haifa St. on Tuesday, much more American air power was used to batter the insurgents than has often been the case in the Baghdad area. It seems that the rules of engagement have been altered, and the casualties, both among soldiers and civilians, may well go up.
Second, was Mr. Bush's bellicose language toward Iran and Syria, his warning that the U.S. would go after "networks" of support from outside Iraq of the violence inside the country.
The danger of a military confrontation, particularly with Iran, is growing. The U.S. is moving a second carrier to the Persian Gulf, and this week it has taken further action to restrict Iranian banking in its international transactions. Earlier today, there was another seizure of Iranian personnel in a raid on an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq. Relations with Iran, never good, are now at a tinder point.
Last Sunday, it should be noted, the London Times carried a report that the Israelis may be preparing a tactical nuclear strike against certain Iranian nuclear facilities. If such an attack were to take place, it could well mean the spread of a general war throughout the Middle East. It is unlikely such a strike would occur without the approval of the U.S. and yet the other options for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons so far aren't working.
The exact meaning of certain other portions of the President's speech was unclear. For instance, what exactly is the nature of Mr. Bush's warning to the Iraqi government about the consequences of not living up to assurances given by Premier Nouri Maliki that he, at long last, will crack down on the Shiite militias led by the radical cleric, Moktada al-Sadr? It should be noted that without the 30 deputies Sadr has in Maliki's coaltion, he cannot mount a majority in the Iraqi Parliament.
Is Mr. Bush saying the U.S. would get out of Iraq if Maliki continues to support the sectarian violence of the militias? Or is he suggesting that the U.S. would take action to oust Maliki? Already, there have been rumors of a coup in Baghdad.
No one at this point can have any doubt that the Bush Administration is in a desperate situation in the war, with opposition growing here at home, and the military options so grim. What will Mr. Bush do exactly to prevent a defeat in the war? One gets the impression that to him, defeat is not an option. If this is so, we are entering into a period of unparalleled danger in the War on Terror.