Oliver North

Second, Moscow and Tehran share a strategic interest in bad outcomes for the U.S. in Iraq. An American collapse in Mesopotamia gives Iran the kind of regional hegemony that Persians have sought for centuries. And a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would confirm Moscow's assertion that the U.S. is an unreliable partner -- thus undermining NATO's eastward expansion.

Finally -- if the joint statement issued after the so-called Caspian littoral summit is to be believed -- Tehran and Moscow have now coerced their neighbors into what amounts to a collective security agreement. According to Putin, "We are saying that no Caspian nation should offer its territory to third powers for use of force or military aggression against any Caspian state." Just in case anyone missed the point, Ahmadinejad added, "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea, and it only belongs to the Caspian states. Therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here." So much for any NATO plans to use air bases in Azerbaijan to launch, recover or refuel aircraft striking Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.

None of this was forecast by U.S. or allied intelligence agencies. Nor do we know what Presidents Putin and Ahmadinejad discussed in private. We can only hope that Putin's "aviation industry" reference doesn't mean that Iran is about to acquire hundreds of Bal-E anti-shipping missiles or that Tehran is planning to replace its ancient F-14s with a fleet of new Russian-built Su-27s. All we know for certain is that Iran, awash in petrodollars, easily can afford both and Moscow is in a selling mood.

Importantly, Putin the puppet master timed all of this to coincide with meetings among U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their Russian counterparts in Moscow. According to our State Department, the ostensible purpose of these meetings was to "review security issues of mutual concern in Europe."

To underscore how much we have "misunderestimated" Putin, President Bush, when asked by reporters what all this might mean to U.S. interests, responded, "I'm looking forward to getting President Putin's readout from the meeting." So much for U.S. intelligence and diplomacy.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.