One of the half-truths driving current Administration and McCain-campaign rhetoric about Iraq is that our problems there are due largely to Iran, and that one consequence of our leaving would be to increase Iranian influence in Iraq. There’s no doubt that Iran is fishing troubled waters, or that an Iraq not occupied by U.S. forces would tend to drift into the Iranian orbit: to the Iraqi Shi’a majority, oppressed by the Sunni secularist Saddam Hussein and double-crossed by Bush the First, James Baker, and Colin Powell, Iran was the one reliable source of support in dark times, and several of the currently dominant Iraqi politicians spent a time in Iranian exile.
That view is only half of the truth, because much of our problem in Iraq is with the Sunni minority, and because the rise of Iranian influence was a predictable consequence of the intervention that Bush and McCain still think was a good idea. Toppling Saddam Hussein without increasing Iranian power in Iraq was about as feasible as diving into the ocean and not getting wet.
Since it was very much in Iran’s interest for the U.S. to invade Iraq, it would have been natural for Iranian agents to have done what they could to promote that invasion. (Four years ago, Ted Galen Carpenter of CATO called for an investigation on that issue.) And indeed we now know that was the case: Ahmed Chalabi, who did more than any other Iraqi to stir up the U.S. against Saddam Hussein, turns out to be working for Teheran (specifically for the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, formally proclaimed by the Senate as a terrorist organization).
Of course, Chalabi couldn’t move American policy without hiring American lobbyists to move American politicians: lobbyists such as Randy Scheunemann and Charlie Black, and politicians such as John McCain. I have no reason to believe that Scheunemann and Black knew they were doing Teheran’s bidding, though it should have been obvious that the course of action they helped promote would have as one of its side-effects a big enhancement of Iran’s regional power.
Still, it ought to count as an astonishing fact that the Republican candidate for President — the one who criticizes his opponent as being insufficiently hostile to Iran — has unrepentant tools of an Iranian agent as his chief foreign policy adviser and chief campaign strategist. If the shoe were on the other foot, it would be front-page news.
Footnote In this case, even the bad excuse offered by Black for working for other tyrants and terrorists — that doing so was consistent with U.S. foreign policy at the time — doesn’t hold. Scheunemann, on Chalabi’s behalf, attacked the State Department and the CIA for telling part of the truth about him.