Iraq Now. Iran Next?

On the day I write this column, The New York Times has published side by side on its front page two articles that embody the divergent possibilities of our future in Iraq. The United States, contrary to all previous statements, will join Iran and Syria in talks on Iraq. As the Iraq Study Group had earlier recommended, we are finally willing to engage nations that are strategic to the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. The other article reported a Taliban Attack on Afghan Base while Vice President Cheney was there. Cheney could only hear the bomb blast, but it killed 23 people, including two Americans. Thus, although we won victory in Afghanistan years ago, the threat remains: not untidiness or dead-enders, but a lurking enemy capable of fatal strikes and eerily patient in seeking its goals.

By the time you read this, the world may be changed. The talks may fail. We may blame it on Iran’s intransigence. Our president may have bombed Iran, warning us, this time, that Iran is our greatest threat. Then again, negotiations with Muslim countries in the gulf region might offer some hope of bringing about a peaceful solution to Iraq’s civil war precipitated by our invasion.

If we can turn our attention away from American Idol, the Academy Awards, March Madness, the Final Four, Britney with her shaved head, Anna Nicole Smith and her sobbing judge and the mutual accusation by Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump that the other is a pretentious, empty loser, we might see more clearly the urgent realities facing us.


The real world is this. We are witnessing a horror in Iraq. The number of dead is possibly 100 times greater than our own more than 3,000 fallen. Our wounded are so numerous, we scandalously fail to meet their needs for treatment and attention. Iraqi refugees are into the millions, most of them the very people needed to stabilize the country. Then there is the festering hatred, the hopeless ache, the stifled cry of almost every Iraqi, and the possibility that suicidal retaliations will reach far into the future.

Debate in the United States right now seems to be about how to escape from the web in which we are trapped. We are now into a surge strategy that has already failed twice. It is suspected that there will be permanent U.S. bases in the country, a suspicion I find quite plausible. There is talk of blood-bath and civil war if we leave; but we are in a bloody civil war already. The only thing I am sure of at this stage is that we must not abandon the Kurds. We betrayed them once. Now we must help them if they seek our help.

Many Americans disagree. The harsher recommendations range from massive military presence to a response approximating our defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II: Destroy it and begin again. But destroy what? And whom? Iraq? Iran? The entire Middle East save Israel? Pakistan? Indonesia?

Others see that something horrible is being done in our name, and they are appalled by the prospect of a $2 trillion expenditure, not on healing our country or helping the world, but on a futile dream of controlling the world at the cost of neglecting the neediest. Groups have moved on this conviction, from letters of protest by religious leaders and speeches in Congress to congressional office sit-ins by students, like those at Saint Louis University, who accept arrest just to call attention to the crisis.

There are others, like myself, who foresee that something far more treacherous could follow. This is the Iran option. There is a concerted effort among some of our leaders and media outlets to present a case that bombing Iran is necessary if we are to win. There is the intelligence mongering, so similar to that mustered prior to our Iraq invasion. There are the aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. There are the pundits who insist that we must have the will to win, as we did in the Second World War. So intense is the alarm that The Times of London reports that a number of senior military commanders in the United States said they would resign if President Bush orders an attack on Iran.

My greatest apprehension is that some morning we will awake to the news that we are bombing Iran to protect our soldiers. The president himself said on Feb. 14 that if we find devices that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple. Pure and simple. It was once Saddam’s Iraq that threatened. Now it is Iran, the great demon threatening us with its nuclear weapons and ties to terrorists. Once again we are told that we must take measures against them before the mushrooms emerge.

I anticipate that if we bomb Iran, we likely will have a mushroom cloud in the United States within five years. If Iran’s terrorist clients have all these horrible weapons and we attack Iran, why would they not attack us, using the same justifications we use for pre-emptive strikes?

I do not question our president’s patriotism or sincerity. He and his vice president may be true believers and deadly realists. But if they take an unwarranted step that stumbles us into global war, they ought to be impeached. Should they bomb Iran, mere columns on ethics will not be enough. Action will be required.

One of my students, a senior who is now making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and has received a fellowship to study for an advanced degree in Europe next year, left me with the thought: Maybe people like you and me are going to have to do something more, to risk more.

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