Middle East 'Bright Side' Blinding Us To Costly U.S. Reality

Diana West

3/14/2008 10:46:33 AM - Diana West

As a reasonably optimistic person, I try to look on the bright side whenever possible -- unless bright-side facts are completely blotted out by bleak ones.

Example: In a recent e-mail blast, former Republican senator Rick Santorum urged readers to be heartened by Middle East developments that may have been obscured by bad news elsewhere. There was even good news, he wrote, coming out of Iran. To wit:

"A new poll in Iran suggests that Iranians want more democracy and less theocracy, including the power to elect their Supreme Leader," Santorum wrote, referring to recent findings from the polling group Terror Free Tomorrow. "Three-quarters also wished for normal relations and trade with the U.S."

Gee, that sounds swell -- so long as you don't read the rest of the poll results. These include the finding that roughly six in 10 Iranians support Iran's military and financial assistance for Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq and assorted Palestinian terror groups. The good news (I guess) that Iranians want to elect their Supreme Leader directly is overridden by the bad news that they will probably elect someone who supports global jihad. This makes it tough to buy into Santorum's happy-dappy assessment.

Similarly, consider the reaction to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent trip to Iraq. Conservatives seem to agree -- I say "seem" because few pundits have actually ventured an opinion on this momentous visit (in itself more than passing strange) -- that it was a "debacle" for Iran, as the headline of Amir Taheri's New York Post piece called it.

Huh? In last week's column, I called the visit a Mesopotamian slap across the American face -- a symbolic outrage, at least, to the U.S. troops who continue to be killed and maimed by Iran in Iraq.

But no. According to my fellow conservatives, the visit was a Good Thing. Far from catching Iraq two-timing with a barbaric rival of the United States, it rather demonstrated, as Taheri put it in his oft-cited column, "the limits" of Iran's influence in Iraq.

This argument rests on two main points. First, there was the absence of Iraqi crowds cheering for Ahmadinejad, and the presence of protestors in Iraqi cities -- largely, but not exclusively, in Sunni enclaves, which are unsurprisingly hostile to the Iranian Shiite president. (No protest was very large -- infinitesimal next to the 100,000-plus Iraqis who in 2006 demonstrated in support of Iranian proxy Hezbollah.) The other main point concerns Ahmadinejad's failure to arrange face-time with the Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, the leading Shiite in Iraq.

The first point might be more telling if Iraq were not, as we all surely know by now, a democracy. It was Iraq's democratically elected leaders -- including the Kurdish president and Shiite prime minister -- who welcomed the genocidal terror master with fanfare, regardless of whether some Iraqis took to the streets (or not). For years now, these same elected leaders have been effectively intertwining Iraq's economy with Iran's to the point where Radio Free Liberty analyst Kathleen Ridolfo recently noted that "observers say Iraq is becoming economically, if not politically, subordinate to Iran." Little wonder, then, that the Iraqi government put out the red carpet for the Thug of Tehran.

This bilateral relationship -- the energy accords, export market (Iraq is Iran's largest), oil trade, cooperation in education, customs, insurance, transportation, industrial projects, tourism, Iran's billion-dollar loan (interest free), and, to cap it off, the joint statement condemning Israel for taking action in Gaza to stop Hamas rockets -- presents a conflict as the U.S. combats the very terrorism Iran exports. For example, last year, the U.S. Treasury blacklisted Iran's Bank Melli for its involvement in terrorism and the pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Last year, Ridolfo reported, Bank Melli opened a branch in Baghdad. (No word on whether Ahmadinejad opened an account during his visit.)

As for Point No. 2, who can claim to know the inside skinny on the Sistani meeting? One possibility, reported by Stratfor.com, was that domestic Iranian opposition -- not Sistanian opposition -- might have been a factor. Perhaps more to the point is the fact that Sistani, who retains Iranian citizenship, has met with every other Iranian government officials to visit Iraq before Ahmadinejad. And that includes Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, national security official Ali Larijani and, shortly before Ahmadinejad arrived, Tehran Mayor Mohammed-Baqer Qalibaf. Sounds to me as if Iran is too close to Iraq for U.S. comfort.

I try to look on the bright side -- really. Just not when the brightness is blinding.