Sunday, December 24, 2006

Engaging Iran?

Of the many aspects of the Iraq Study Group report that President Bush seems intent upon ignoring, the one piece that he may well be justified in setting aside is the recommendation that the U.S. engage Iran in a multilateral effort to stabilize Iraq. The logic of the Iraq Study Group is straightforward enough: Iran, as the dominant Shiite power in the region, has sufficient influence over Iraq’s majority Shiite population and an incentive to see Iraq avoid civil war that could spill over its borders. And in response to charges that Iran’s provocative activities warrant isolation rather than engagement, the Study Group sounds a decidedly pragmatic note: Without Iranian cooperation of some sort, Iraq will remain unstable.

Three widely covered recent events should give pause. One is the Holocaust denial conference, demonstrating that Iran’s top leadership is irrational if not genocidal. A second is Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, including a statement in defiance of the latest UN imposition of sanctions. And the third is the recent defeat of Ahmadinejad’s candidates in local elections, suggesting that the regime may moderate from within if further pressure can be kept on it. (Arguably this third point cuts the other way, however: Ahmadinejad builds support domestically by confronting the West, so cooperation may actually weaken him.)

On Friday, a fourth reason for hesitancy before engaging Iran emerged. Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth entered a default judgment for the estates of 17 U.S. service members killed in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. The principal defendants are Iran and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (“IRGC”). The full opinion can be found here. I wouldn’t say that this is the final straw, nor do I have any alternative policy recommendations. I just call readers’ attention to the findings to underscore that even if engaging Iran is a necessary element of our least bad approach to the mess in Iraq, doing is still odious. Below are the most dramatic findings of fact from Judge Lamberth’s opinion:

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6. Defendant the IRGC is a non-traditional instrumentality of Iran. It is the military arm of a kind of shadow government answering directly to the Ayatollah and the mullahs who hold power in Iran. It is similar to the Nazi party’s SA organization prior to World War II.

7. The IRGC actively supports terrorism as a means of protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power in Iran in 1979. It has its own separate funding sources, derived from confiscation of the assets of the former Shah of Iran in 1979, when the Shah was deposed.

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11. The attack was carried out by individuals recruited principally by a senior official of the IRGC, Brigadier General Ahmed Sharifi. Sharifi, who was the operational commander, planned the operation and recruited individuals for the operation at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria. He provided the passports, the paperwork, and the funds for the individuals who carried out the attack.

. . .

13. The terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers was approved by Ayatollah Khameini, the Supreme leader of Iran at the time. It was also approved and supported by the Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security (“MOIS”) at the time, Ali Fallahian, who was involved in providing intelligence security support for the operation.

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