Wednesday night the President threatened Iran and Syria in his speech. Then American troops raided an Iranian consulate yesterday.
However, just as in the case of North Korea, when successive dares by the Bush administration simply led to the line being crossed again and again with no consequences, the President runs the real risk here of making threats he can't back up. As deeply as we are mired in Iraq, this President is off threatening to expand the war into other countries!! Is he crazy, or just plain stupid?
Let's be honest. With the proposed addition of another 21,500 American troops in Iraq, the U.S. is stretched so thin that there is no way we could take any real military action against Iran and Syria other than bombing. So to threaten Iran and Syria without being able to back it up is foolhardy. When their inevitable defiance of the threat comes then he will be unable to actually do anything about replacing either regime. That is why bluster and threats are so stupid right now. The fact is, U.S. military power has been squandered in Iraq to the extent that Bush can make all the threats he wants but no one is afraid of them anymore.
Bombing might achieve some results but as we've seen, history shows that it is possible to survive a bombing campaign. And the Iranians probably would welcome it-- because in the politics of the middle east, they've already emerged as the dominant regional Islamic military power, and if we bomb them and they can claim they 'took our best shot' afterwards, then they also become the dominant Islamic political power in the area. There are times when I have questioned whether Ahmadinejad is angling for exactly that outcome, and it seems that once again, by threatening Iran, George Bush is playing into his hands. He knows that the U.S. is so bogged down in Iraq that there is no way we could actually invade his country, and bombing campaigns with a limited accompanying ground campaign-- well, consider how spectacularly the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon failed last year for one recent example. This is entirely besides the fact that such a bombing campaign would further gin up Islamic radicalism because even if 99% of the bombs hit what they are aimed at, the ones that will get the press coverage will the occasional errant or misdirected bomb that in an urban environment will hit something else, such as an air raid shelter full of kids, the Chinese embassy, a full apartment building (to cite some fairly recent examples) or perhaps a mosque, school or hospital. And when the bombing campaign inevitably ends with the current Iranian (or Syrian) regime still running the country, it would be hard for conservatives to justify that outcome when just about five years ago they were claiming that it was a mistake to leave Saddam in power in Iraq after the first Gulf War.
Of course the Baker-Hamilton commission, which the President himself authorized, recommended instead that we enter into negotiations with both countries about Iraq. The President refused to consider that option. But the fact is, you don't negotiate with your friends (at least not on matters of war and peace), you negotiate with your enemies. That doesn't even mean you have to trust them. As Ronald Reagan said, 'trust but verify.' Ironically the Gipper's advice would be wise for George Bush to take.
Is there ever a time internationally when the threat of military action is appropriate? Absolutely. That is why Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to threatening and sometimes taking military action once said, 'speak softly and carry a big stick.' But I don't think that Teddy would have made the threats if his holster was empty. That would take George W. Bush.