Recent news accounts continue to make the thesis of Ilan Berman's new book all the more compelling. Here are the words of Iraq's former interior minister, according to published reports last week: "Iran's infiltration in Iraq has increased, and Tehran has provided paramilitary [insurgents]large-scale capabilities."
Mr. Berman, a professor and a Middle East expert at a Washington think tank, argues in his new book that "[i]n the Persian Gulf, Iran has begun to implement a new, aggressive strategic doctrine. It has launched a massive, multimillion-dollar clandestine effort in Iraq aimed at radicalizing and destabilizing its western neighbor, with notable results." Mr. Berman writes that Iranian sympathizers dominate the former Ba'athist state.
A National Public Radio account last week focused entirely on that reality: that Iranian-friendly militants have so infiltrated local police agencies that police chiefs cannot be sure their forces are interested in promoting the goals of the fledgling Iraqi state.
Mr. Berman argues that although the Bush administration had included Iran in its axis of evil, along with North Korea and Iraq, it has paid scant attention to the Iranian threat. When the war on Iraq started, one of my concerns was that it would destabilize one of the counterbalances to the Iranian mullahs. It seemed obvious that removing Saddam Hussein's secular, albeit brutal, regime would enhance the position of the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran.
Mr. Berman, although a supporter of the Iraq war, admits that Iran "has become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the war on terror." That, to me, is quite frightening, especially when one considers that its nuclear program cannot possibly have purely energy-related goals, given the amount of crude oil at its disposal.
During a recent interview at the Register, Mr. Berman emphasized, correctly, that the United Nations and other international forces are wrongheaded in their emphasis on Iranian nuclear capabilities. It's not a question of nuclear capabilities, but of "the character of the regime." The Iranian president, he said, has vowed to share his nuclear capabilities with any Islamic regime. Unlike the Cold War, where we knew the return address of the bombers, an Iranian effort to sell nuclear capabilities could make traditional efforts (i.e., mutual assured destruction) irrelevant, he added.
Mr. Berman is not advocating a war on Iran, but he does believe the United States can do some things that would help destabilize the regime. Two-thirds of Iranians, he told me, are under age 30. The Iranian citizen tends to be pro-American and tired of the oppression by the mullahs. He compares the situation in Iran to the situation in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Soviet Union, especially with regard to the dismal economic factors that cause high unemployment and hopelessness.
According to Berman, it's only a matter of time before the mullahs get the bomb. He calls for active counterproliferation efforts, similar to those the United States is undertaking in North Korea, and for the United States to more actively provide defense aid to nations in the region to make them less dependent on Iran. He believes we should be "pumping Brittany Spears into Iran." I wouldn't inflict Ms. Spears' awful gyrations on my worst enemy, but I understand his point about building closer cultural ties with the Iranian people. His book calls for the United States to "nurture viable alternatives to the current regime in Iran."
I disagree with some of his specific proposals, but Mr. Berman is clearly a member of the reality-based community. Anyone interested in the war on terror, and Iran's role in it, should read this thoughtful tome.