The Gift Exchange, Washington-Style

On May 24th, a piece headlined
"U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions
in Mideast" appeared on the front page of the
New York Times. It clearly involved a leak of a key, previously
unknown document, though not as far as a reader could tell by someone unfriendly
to its policy implications; nor did the Obama administration make a fuss about
it. In fact, despite its front-paging, it vanished from the news with next
to no commentary or follow up, and few expressions of surprise.

Too bad. It should have been attended
to. According to the Times' Mark Mazzetti, in September 2009
Centcom commander General David Petraeus signed a "secret directive" expanding
the use of U.S. Special Operations forces throughout the Greater Middle East
"and beyond" -- "to build networks that could 'penetrate, disrupt, defeat or
destroy' al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to 'prepare the
environment' for future attacks by American or local military

Among the most striking, if least
discussed, aspects of this leaked story were the brief summaries of Centcom's
military policy towards Iran where, we were told, the seven-page directive
"appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather
intelligence about the country's nuclear program or identify dissident groups
that might be useful for a future military offensive." The report -- too
ho-hum for most Americans to concern themselves with -- was surely read with
care in Tehran,
for it offered a genuine gift to the present Iranian regime. How useful to
its hardline leaders to know that the U.S. military has already inserted,
or is considering inserting, Special Forces teams into their country to
"identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military

And there was more. The piece quoted
an unnamed "Pentagon official with knowledge of General Petraeus's order"
saying, "The Defense Department can't be caught flat-footed" -- in the event,
that is, "that President Obama ever authorizes a strike [on

In fact, this sort of thing is little
better than a poison pill for that country's dissident Green Movement,
reinforcing the claims Iranian hardliners find it so convenient to make -- that
some reformist elements are proxies for foreigners, even paving the way for
future U.S. military action. From a purely practical point of view, this
new policy is delusional, whether ordered only by General Petraeus or by
President Obama himself, since -- despite raging fears on the left in the U.S.
-- the Obama administration, like the Bush
before it, is
functionally incapable of launching a military operation against Iranian nuclear
facilities, no less the Iranian fundamentalist government, while it has two wars
on its hands. It is, however, remarkably typical of the blustering and
blundering in Washington that has left Iranian dissidents
saying, as one did in the Los Angeles Times recently,
"Just leave us alone, please."

On the first anniversary of the fraudulent
Iranian elections and the rise of the Green Movement Juan Cole, who runs
Informed Comment,
the blog that offers the single best running commentary on the Middle East
available, recently offered quite a list of similar "gifts" offered up by Washington
and Tel Aviv, as both U.S. and Israeli policy moves continue to backfire when it
comes to Iran.

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