If there is a victor of America’s disastrous war in Iraq, it is Iran.
By “Iran,” I mean not only the Islamic Republic of Iran, I also mean Iran as it has historically been, long before Alexander tried to found a Greco-Persian Empire, I mean Persia since Cyrus the Great unified the Persians and the Medes into one empire in 559. In short, one of the world’s great, ancient, sophisticated—and all these adjectives to the highest degree—civilizations. And much of what is now Iraq used to be part of the Persian empire: it is said that after he defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, in a gesture of sublime confidence, Cyrus walked through the gates of Babylon without resistance.
Nevertheless, in two wars (Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom) the United States has done what Iran could not do during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. We destroyed the Iraqi Army and altered the balance of power between Persian and Arab countries. This made it easier for Iran to infiltrate Iraq and shape Iraqi domestic strife across confessional lines.
In February of this year, America’s Intelligence Community released the key judgments of their National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead.” “The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence.” Moreover, the NIE scrupulously described the reality of the violence in Iraq: “Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics. Nonetheless, Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq.” (Emphasis in original.)
As a civilization, Iran, Islamic Republic or not, has an enormous stake in controlling Iraq, in, if not out-right absorbing it, rendering it a very friendly and subservient “ally”. The degree of violence—the intensity and complexity—in Iraq may not be in Iran’s best interest, lest it spill over into Iran, but the harm that violence is doing to long-term Iraqi ability to resist Persian hegemony is. So is the drain in treasure and blood that violence imposes upon America.
And yet, although our two wars against Iraq have only served Iran’s interests, and although Iran is doing what it can to bleed us in Iraq now, we must remember that (overtly) attacking Iran will also serve Iran’s long-term interests. If we attack Iran, Iran becomes a martyr in the Arab world, amongst Arabs, for standing up to America. But the stakes are larger than that: we have demonstrated our strategic bankruptcy three times in living memory: in Korea, when MacArthur disregarded Chinese warnings and threatened China, rather than confining himself to Korea; in Vietnam; and now in Iraq. Our strategic ineptitude is no secret. Now the issue is to defeat the Americans tactically, to demonstrate that Americans not only lose wars, they can also be defeated on the battlefield. And if we use tactical nuclear weapons to stave off a tactical defeat, that will be even worse.
It is not in America’s (or Europe’s) best interests to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. But preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is best done in the shadows, rather than compounding the tragedy of our invasion of Iraq by invading Iran—and rallying every Persian behind the mullahs.