Don't Panic! February 13 2002
Terror tips for the terrified
How did Iran go from ally in the war against terror to member of President Bush's Axis of Evil?
During his State of the Union address last month, President Bush shocked political observers around the world by declaring that Iran is part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. No country was more shocked than Iran because the declaration signaled a sudden and negative shift in U.S. policy toward Iran. It also shocked Iranians because it showed that, after 15 years of tagging us as "The Great Satan," that we are finally their equals in the sport of bitchy name-calling.
Prior to Bush's speech, the U.S. had a more nuanced policy toward Iran. We tried to bolster Iran's more pro-Western (or perhaps a better term would be less anti-Western) elements by toning down aggressive rhetoric and re-opening political and economic channels that were severed after they took our embassy staff hostage in 1979.
Lee Greenwood was never in danger of charting a hit single there, but after Sept. 11, the Iranian government reached out to the United States in ways without recent precedent. They offered condolences for our 9-11 loss and supported our attack against the Taliban. Iranians hated the Taliban as much as anyone and they were key supporters of the Northern Alliance back when the only Afghans that Americans knew of were crocheted wool blankets. And by many accounts, Iran was key to getting certain reluctant Afghan warlords to support Afghanistan's post-Taliban government led by Hamid Karzai.
Supporting the new government is in Iran's strategic best interest. Other than the Afghans themselves, no one stands more to gain from a stable and peaceful Afghanistan than Iranians. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan has been the world's biggest source of refugees with most of them fleeing to Iran, placing a huge economic and social burden on a country that had plenty to begin with.
So what went wrong? Why'd we go all "axis of evil" on them?
Well, the U.S. thinks that Iran is talking out of both sides of its mouth in Afghanistan (do countries have mouths?) by simultaneously supporting the new government yet working to undermine it by arming pro-Iranian warlords. We suspect that Iran is moved to undermine the new government because they fear that Afghanistan will become a U.S.-occupied puppet regime. The U.S. already has substantial military forces in neighboring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
We also suspect that Iran allowed some senior al-Qaeda forces to escape Afghanistan through their country. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Osama bin Laden's personal chef has told the U.S. that bin Laden is hiding in Iran. I suspect that we'll find out all about that in the chef's upcoming autobiography, A Steady Diet of Terror.
But perhaps the single biggest factor: a shipment of arms by Iran to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority that was intercepted by Israel. For all of the high-falutin' talk about getting along better with Iran, one thing that we disagree on is Israel's policy toward Palestinians. Iran supports anti-Israeli Muslim terrorist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. The intercepted arms shipment strengthened Israel's argument that Iran was the biggest threat to peace in the Middle East. Though how you threaten a peace that doesn't exist hasn't been explained. The Bush administration seems to believe that this new get-tough approach will force Iran to play by our rules. Iran's recent request for our help in identifying fleeing al-Qaeda is a good sign.
Meanwhile, they're trying to think of clever playground taunts to equal "axis of evil."??