By signalling an aggressive posture by the US toward Iran, the promotion of George Bush's favourite general is a dangerous miscalculation
By naming his favourite military officer, General David Petraeus, to head the US Central Command, President Bush evidently hopes to terrify Iran. Americans and people in the rest of the world, however, have at least as much reason to be terrified as anyone in Tehran.
For several years, President Bush and those around him sought to justify the idea of attacking Iran on the grounds that Iranian leaders were on the brink of producing nuclear weapons. "Iran's pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust," Bush said in August last year.
That argument was deflated by the end of last year, when US intelligence agencies announced their conclusion that Iran was not, in fact, building nuclear weapons. Almost immediately, the administration found a new argument: Iran is an outlaw state because it is responsible for killing Americans in Iraq. General Petraeus has vigorously promoted this view.
"Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?" Senator Joseph Lieberman asked General Petraeus at a recent hearing in Washington. "It certainly is," Petraeus replied. "That is correct."
General Petraeus and President Bush may well be right that groups in Iran are supporting and arming factions in Iraq. Their suggestion that some Iranian leaders dream of building nuclear weapons may also be true. What makes their charges so frightening, though, is their evident belief that these transgressions may justify an American attack on Iran. Such an attack would strengthen militant factions in Iran rather than weakening them; make Iran more dangerous rather than less; and undermine US national security rather than strengthening it.