We don't need a war with Iran

But I fear the administration may be trying to drum up one

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I am delighted if quick work on the part of the FBI prevented the Saudi Arabian ambassador from being assassinated in Washington. Nonetheless, the report of the incident, coinciding with Department of Defense budget concerns and President Barack Obama's political woes, makes me wonder if the Obama administration isn't laying the groundwork with the American public for a war with Iran.

It would have been a disaster if someone had killed Saudi Ambassador Adel A. al-Jubeir in Washington, particularly if the assassination had taken place in a public place frequented by Washington politicians, lobbyists and other public figures. Host governments are required to assure the safety of foreign diplomats on their soil.

It would be impossible to argue that Iran's al-Quds force would not have the motive and some potential to carry out such an attack. But the tough part about sharing the conviction of al-Quds involvement held by Mr. Obama, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and members of Congress who have seen the intelligence underlying the case as presented in public is the alleged role of Mexican drug gang assassins. The idea that al-Quds approached to carry out the hit Mexican gang members who were on the payroll of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does stretch the imagination.

It could be true, but it sounds crazy. Al-Quds doesn't have any agents of its own in the United States? That is hard to imagine. Yet Al-Quds has enough contacts among the different Mexican drug gangs to find a reliable assassin? In the event the potential assassins they may have found were not reliable -- they were being paid by the U.S. government. (I always have trouble accepting coincidences.)

It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Holder and the Department of Justice will be able to obtain convictions in open court, or whether they will content themselves with holding the accused in prison forever, without due process of law, in effect putting the accused in indefinite detention. The justification would be that the information used to arrest and accuse the detainee is far too sensitive for the tender eyes of the public to see and hear in a trial.

Other elements of the affair that raise concerns include the increasingly strident public pleas on the part of the Department of Defense that its budget not be cut, either by the machinations of the congressional deficit-reduction "super-committee" or, if the committee fails to reach agreement, by the preemptive surgery on both domestic and military budgets that are scheduled to follow automatically.

The public is being told -- falsely -- that we will be left defenseless, with a hollow army, if the Pentagon has to take cuts with the rest of the government. Administration spokespersons who have weighed in on that subject recently include Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

A second reason for concern -- particularly because the American public was taken down this road prior to the Iraq war by President George W. Bush -- is that a war, particularly a new war, strengthens the hand in elections of an incumbent president. "Don't change horses while crossing a stream," campaigned President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

Mr. Bush knew quite well in 2003 that his chance of being reelected -- perhaps his only chance -- was as a "war president." So, it can be argued, the year before the presidential elections Mr. Bush took America into the now eight-year-old Iraq war under false pretenses, which included the claim that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons and that it had ties to al-Qaida.

There is no question but that Mr. Obama is feeling the hot breath of the Republican candidates on his neck. There is an argument that says Republicans believe it doesn't matter whom they nominate: A three-legged dog would be able to defeat Mr. Obama in November 2012. In that context, Mr. Obama might be tempted to become a "war president" by launching a nice new war against Iran.

Concerned about reports of Jewish-American voters losing enthusiasm for him because some consider him insufficiently pro-Israel, Mr. Obama might be tempted to accede to what appear to be the wishes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some other Israeli politicians that America either attack Iran or give Israel a green light to do so. That could either be heedless of -- or because of -- the fact that such an attack would plunge the Middle East into a big new war, to succeed the hopefully winding down Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A U.S. war with Iran, during which an Israeli attack on Iran would certainly occur, would of course be profitable for U.S. defense contractors. They no doubt would gratefully beef up their campaign contributions to Mr. Obama and members of Congress as a result.

Now, I hope none of my suspicions are grounded. The last thing in the world the United States needs right now -- with its economy in tatters, high unemployment, a growing number of poor, the population stirring in response to the maldistribution of our wealth and the disgusting paralysis in Washington in the face of the country's grave problems -- is yet another war.

It would be nice to think that Mr. Obama understands all of this and will take steps to keep the Iran war advocates and profiteers under control.

Dan Simpson , a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor ( dsimpson@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1976).


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