THE NEW YORK TIMES
Before things get any more out of hand, President Bush needs to make his intentions toward Iran clear. And Congress needs to make it clear that this time it will be neither tricked nor bullied into supporting another disastrous war.
How little this administration has learned from its failures is a constant source of amazement. It seems the bigger the failure, the less it learns.
Consider last weekendâ€™s supersecret briefing in Baghdad by a group of American military officials whose names could not be revealed to the voters who are paying for this war with their taxes and their childrenâ€™s blood. The briefers tried to prove the White Houseâ€™s case that Iran is shipping deadly weapons, including armor-piercing explosives, to Shiite militias in Iraq.
Unlike Colin Powellâ€™s infamous prewar presentation on Iraq at the United Nations, this briefing had actual weapons to look at. And perhaps in time, the administration will be able to prove conclusively that the weapons came from arms factories in Iran.
But the officials offered no evidence to support their charge that â€œthe highest levels of the Iranian governmentâ€ had authorized smuggling these weapons into Iraq for use against American forces. Nor could they adequately explain why they had been sitting on this urgent evidence since 2004. The only thing that was not surprising was the refusal of any of the briefers to allow their names to be published. Mr. Powell is probably wondering why he didnâ€™t insist on the same deal.
We have no doubt about Iranâ€™s malign intent. Iran is defying the Security Councilâ€™s order to halt its nuclear activities, and it is certainly meddling inside Iraq. But we are also certain that the Iraq war has so strained the American military and so shattered this presidentâ€™s credibility that shrill accusations and saber rattling are far more likely to frighten the allies America needs to contain Iranâ€™s nuclear ambitions than to change Tehranâ€™s behavior.
If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Shiite militias killing Americans in Iraq â€” and he should be â€” he needs to start showing this evidence to Iraqâ€™s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He needs to demand that Mr. Maliki stop protecting the militias and make it clear that there will be serious consequences if he continues to refuse.
If Mr. Bush is truly worried about Iran fanning Iraqâ€™s ever more bloody civil war â€” and he should be â€” he needs to stop fantasizing about regime change and start trying to find a way to persuade Iranâ€™s leaders to help rein in the chaos in Iraq.
And if Mr. Bush is worried that Americans no longer believe him when he warns of mortal threats to the country â€” and he should be â€” he needs to start proving that he really understands who is most responsible for the Iraq disaster. And he needs to explain how he plans to extricate American troops without setting off an even bigger war.
Thatâ€™s the briefing the American people need to hear. And they need to hear it from the most senior American official of all, George Walker Bush.