Michael Hirsh and Mark Hosenball write about the power struggle between Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice over Iran policy, with Rice supposedly favoring diplomacy — however a Bush acolyte would define that word — and Cheney pushing hard for war. Here’s a particularly telling bit [bolds are mine]:
In the last few weeks, Cheney’s staff have unexpectedly become more active participants in an interagency group that steers policy on Afghanistan, according to an official familiar with the internal deliberations. During weekly meetings of the committee, known as the Afghanistan Interagency Operating Group, Cheney staffers have been intensely interested in a single issue: recent intelligence reports alleging that Iran is supplying weapons to Afghanistan’s resurgent Islamist militia, the Taliban, according to two administration officials who asked for anonymity when discussing internal meetings.
Historically, Iran and the Taliban have been more often bitter enemies than allies; in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cooperated with U.S. efforts to oust the Afghan regime that harbored Osama bin Laden. Tehran went so far as to round up Qaeda suspects transiting or residing in Iran for possible deportation to countries (like Saudi Arabia or Egypt) aligned more closely with Washington. In early April, however, British forces operating under NATO command in Afghanistan’s wild-west Helmand province stopped a convoy carrying what appeared to be ordnance of Iranian origin intended for delivery to the Taliban. The explosives bore suspected Iranian markings similar to those found on weapons confiscated from Shiite militias in Iraq—and the Brits intercepted another shipment a month later.
An official familiar with the interagency group’s deliberations said that Cheney’s aides kept asking what sounded like leading questions, demanding to know whether there was any Iranian entity other than the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—the state security force Washington accuses of arming Iraqi insurgents—that could be responsible for the arms shipments. Cheney’s aides, the official added, appeared less interested in other more mundane items on the Afghanistan policy committee’s agenda. British officials who asked for anonymity because of the nature of their work emphasize that they lack hard evidence linking the shipments to the Revolutionary Guards, and that the weapons could just as easily have been bought on the black market in Iran. But according to one official familiar with the intelligence on Iranian interference in Iraq, Cheney earlier this year began exhibiting particular interest in any evidence detailing Tehran’s aid to anti-American insurgents there.
Hey, why not? Cherry-picking intelligence worked so well in Iraq; why not try it with Iran, too?
Emptywheel notes that Cheney is not at all concerned with any of Aghanistan’s continuing war-related problems — all he cares about is finding evidence that Iran is behind the arms shipments:
Here’s what this says to me: once again (or still?) Cheney is ignoring the plight of Afghanistan. But he’s using events there in an attempt to drum up inconclusive intelligence with which he can pressure Condi to give up her negotiations with Iran (and Syria).
Iran has increased arms shipments to both Iraq’s Shiite extremists and Afghanistan’s Taliban in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to pressure American and other Western troops operating in its two strategic neighbors, according to senior U.S. and European officials.
In Iraq, Iranian 240mm rockets, which have a range of up to 30 miles and could significantly change the battlefield, have been used recently by Shiite extremists against U.S. and British targets in Basra and Baghdad, the officials said. Three of the rockets have targeted U.S. facilities in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and one came very close to hitting the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital, according to the U.S. officials.
The 240mm rocket is the biggest and longest-range weapon in the hands of Shiite extremist groups, U.S. officials said. Remnants of the rockets bear the markings of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and are dated 2007, those sources said. The Tehran government has supplied the same weapon, known as the Fajr-3, to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.
In Afghanistan, British forces have intercepted at least two arms shipments from Iran to Afghanistan’s Helmand province since late April, the officials said. Such shipments reflect an unlikely liaison between two historic rivals, the Shiite theocrats in Iran and the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan, they said.
Both shipments were carried out after Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly put Iran on notice in mid-April that the United States was aware it was sending arms to the Taliban.
The intercepted shipments to Afghanistan included 107mm mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, C-4 explosives and small arms, identical to shipments to Iraqi militias around Basra in March, according to the U.S. and European sources, who track arms movements. The C-4 explosives in both shipments have fake U.S. markings, a common deceptive tactic, the sources added.
“We’re concerned about what appears to be an escalating flow of Iranian arms shipments to extremists operating in Iraq and about Iran’s stepped-up efforts to supply weapons to Taliban militants in Afghanistan,” said a senior U.S. official who monitors Iranian activity in the region.
Cernig draws our attention to the amusing attempt by U.S. officials to have it both ways on the weapons’ provenance [the bolds in the paste above are his]:
These anonymous officials know that the rockets in Iraq are Iranian because they bear Iranian markings (in English, probably) but know the C-4 is Iranian because it bears fake US markings? So why not put fake markings on the rockets too, if this is all supposed to be some great and covert plot orchestrated by the Iranian leadership rather than the usual, run of the mill, middle-eastern profiteering from private arms-dealing enterprise?
Note too that the WaPo piece makes no note whatsoever of any British thoughts, as explained by Newsweek, that private enterprise may in fact be the explanation for Iran-made arms in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
I guess we now know which faction at the White House is leaking to the Washington Post’s Robin Wright.