Is the U.S. already at war with Iran?


Reese Erlich says yes, by proxy at least.

After reporting trips to Iran, Iraq and Washington, Erlich, who spoke at the University of Minnesota October 31 told me in a phone interview:

“The U.S. is waging a covert war against Iran by encouraging, training and arming ethnic minority militias that carry out military assaults inside Iran, while at the same time Washington is cranking up diplomatic and economic pressure in the hopes of overthrowing the government of Iran. It isn’t working.”

Erlich also says that even the Bush administration’s most militant neo-conservatives know that an invasion/occupation of a country the size of Iran (population more than 65 million) is impractical. The question is whether a bomb and missile attack, combined with other measures, might topple the Iranian government before Bush’s term ends

The Iranian government is repressive, Erlich says. Many ethnic groups and democracy advocates have legitimate grievances and would like to see a change of government. But the opposition leaders whom Erlich met in Iran, “all of them, to a person, disagree with the U.S. policy.” Even the economic sanctions currently in place help rally the Iranian population behind their government. The idea that a bombing campaign would turn the public in favor of the U.S. and against the mullahs is “fantasyland,” says Erlich. When foreign forces bomb your country, you rally behind your leaders, even if you don’t like them, much like what happened in the U.S. after 9/11.
Eric Black :: Is the U.S. Already at War with Iran?
The administration’s realists, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, share this concern, Erlich says. Opposition to a confrontation with Iran from key U.S. allies such as England and Germany, and powerful rivals, such as China and Russia, are a further complications, although Israel would like to see the U.S. bomb Iran.

“The ships are in place; the missiles are targeted; and the hard-liners believe they have a very narrow window because of the election schedule, so there’s a very fierce debate going on within the administration.”

Who is this guy?

Erlich is a free-lance journalist and author of the just-published book, “The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis.” I have read neither his new book, nor his previous one, “Target Iraq: What the Media Didn’t Tell You.” But the Iraq book was published before the war and Ruth Rosen in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Erlich and his co-authors “deftly separated propaganda from reality and implicitly predicted the harsh and chaotic consequences that would result if the United States attacked Iraq.”

So as I struggle for understanding on the Iran situation, I’m willing to listen to what Erlich says he learned from reporting in Iran, Iraq and Washington. Here’s are highlights of the interview, with all the conclusions attributed to Erlich:

To many of the neocons, Iran was always target number one, Erlich says. The current official reasons for hostility toward Iran — the alleged nuclear weapons program and the support for terrorism — are either “made up or wildly exaggerated.” The International Atomic Energy Agency has never concluded that Iran has a weapons program, and Iran is many years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran and the IAEA have agreed on a procedure for inspections (which annoyed the Bush administration because it undermines Washington’s ability to complain that Iran is hiding something). “So even if you think Iran has evil intentions, the only sensible policy is to let the IAEA handle the problem through inspections,” Erlich says.

But it isn’t really about nukes.

The anti-Iran neocons have never accepted the loss of the former U.S.-Iranian alliance from the time of the Shah, an alliance that was very valuable because of Iran’s oil and its strategic location. Even as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq, these hard-liners saw it as a step on the way to Iran, believing (erroneously) that by overthrowing Saddam, the Shia of Iraq would become U.S. allies and that a U.S.-sponsored democratic example in Iraq would increase the pressure, in Iran and elsewhere, for more democracy and friendlier relations with Washington. Instead, the U.S. project in Iraq has strengthened Iran.

Meanwhile, Washington (and Israel) are trying to pressure Iran by arming, training and encouraging militias associated with aggrieved ethnic groups such as the Kurds. Erlich met with Kurds who operate from bases in northern Iraq, cross into Iran and capture or kill Iranian troops. In a piece for Mother Jones magazine, he wrote that U.S. assistance to the Kurdish guerrillas was confirmed by Kurdish and U.S. sources.

(The New York Times last week wrote about the same situation, but it balanced Iranian claims that Washington was aiding the rebels with Bush administration denials.)

To Erlich, this highlights a colossal double standard from Washington. The Kurds who operate from northern Iraq across the Iranian border belong to a group known by its Kurdish initials as PJAK (Party for Free Life in Kurdistan). PJAK is an offshoot of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a guerrilla force that also has sanctuaries in northern Iraq but which attacks Turkish troops across a different nearby border.

Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the region, has been threatening to bomb or attack inside Northern Iraq. Washington has urged Turkey not to do it, for fear of destabilizing the most peaceful region of Iraq. And Washington has condemned the PKK operations and officially declared it a terrorist organization.

Not so PJAK. It’s not on the terrorist organization list. The two groups are fighting for the same cause (autonomy or independence for Kurdistan), use the same methods, and Erlich scoffs at the idea that they are separate organizations. The main difference is that the PKK attacks Turkish troops and PJAK attacks Iranian troops. He concludes:

“So across one border, the PKK are horrible terrorists. Across a different border, PJAK is doing the same thing with active U.S. support.”