The other problem with Cheney's doctrine is that by eliminating a
one-percent threat somewhere in the world, the United States might
strengthen one of that country's rivals, thus creating a potentially
more dangerous threat, which must then be confronted.
So, the U.S. government ends up in a geopolitical version of the
children's ditty about the little old lady who swallowed a fly. To kill
the fly, she swallowed a spider, followed by larger animals until she
swallowed a horse and "was dead of course." In this guest essay, the
Independent Institute's Ivan Eland looks at such an unintended set of
consequences, with Iran growing as a threat because George W. Bush
The real driver behind U.S. policy in Iraq still remains murky. It
certainly wasn’t to enshrine the will of the people in Iraq. If that
were the case, the administration would have agreed to the proposal of
some Democrats to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from
that country. The president and vice president of Iraq have requested
one, and 80 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to go home.
Some analysts allege that the neoconservative elements of the
administration wanted to knock off an enemy of Israel. Others allege
that Bush and Cheney wanted to tidy up unfinished business from the
first Bush administration and take down the Arab leader who had
allegedly tried to assassinate Bush’s father after the first Gulf War.
Another possibility is that the United States knew that it was going
to lose its military bases in Saudi Arabia and needed to find—or
create—another friendly country near the Persian Gulf that would support
such a military presence. But none of this really matters much because,
whatever the administration’s real rationale, it made a Herculean
blunder by not focusing on the effects of the invasion on the key player
in the region—Iran.
Iran has always been the regional superpower in the Persian Gulf
area. This fact caused alarm in the West when Mohammed Mossadegh, the
then-Iranian Prime Minister, nationalized Iran’s oil industry in 1953. A
coup engineered by the U.S. and British intelligence services restored
to power the more Western-friendly Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Supporting Iran, because of its large population and abundant oil
reserves, was the keystone of U.S. foreign policy in the Persian Gulf
for much of the Cold War until Iranians became fed up with the brutality
and corruption of the Shah and overthrew him. They replaced him with a
radical theocratic regime hostile to the United States.
So alarmed was the U.S. government about this new Iranian regime that
it supported Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war during the 1980s. After
that war, however, Saddam invaded neighboring Kuwait in response to
Kuwait’s slant drilling of oil from under Iraqi territory.
Instead of warning Saddam against further moves against Saudi Arabia
and deploying a few U.S. forces there to act as a tripwire against such
further Iraqi action, President George H.W. Bush elected to demolish
half of Saddam’s army and his entire air force in the process of
Of course, Desert Storm weakened Iraq as a counterweight to the
800-pound Iranian gorilla, but at least the current president’s father
realized that completely obliterating Saddam’s regime would have given
Iran free reign in the region.
So it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that invading Iraq to
shoot the already wounded Iraqi army would make Iran—now ruled by the
despotic Ayatollah Khameini—the dominant power in the region for years
to come. During the occupation, President Bush proved that he was
certainly no rocket scientist by dismembering what was left of the
smashed Iraqi security forces.
General William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency and
a conservative, opposed the Vietnam War because he believed U.S.
involvement there helped the main U.S. adversary—the Soviet Union.
Similarly, he opposed the invasion of Iraq because it helped the country
most hostile to the United States in the Persian Gulf—Iran.
Iran is now funding, training, and supporting Shi’ite militias in
Iraq, some of which are slaughtering Sunni Arabs. Without Saddam Hussein
holding the fractious Iraq together, Iranian influence there has
Unfortunately, the Bush administration, oblivious to the stark
geopolitical realities of the region, has been squandering U.S. lives
and money—$320 billion so far—to help Iran expand its role as a regional
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.