In the aftermath of World War II, Americans looked across the world and saw a bitter irony. After we fought a necessary -- indeed, unavoidable -- war to crush the evil and expansionist regimes in Tokyo and Berlin, a new evil and expansionist regime began filling the vacuum created by their destruction.
The Soviet octopus spread its tentacles, and its grip was not broken for four decades.
A similar -- perhaps even bitterer -- irony now threatens to unfold in the Middle East.
Based on erroneous intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, the United States invaded Iraq to disarm and depose an evil and brutal, if secular, dictator. Our military scored a quick victory over Saddam. We then began a grand experiment in democracy-building in Baghdad, the first movement in President Bush's messianic strategy for "ending tyranny in our world."
What is the status of this experiment? In an op-ed in The Washington Post this week, Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed to what he called a "much broader Middle East realignment that began with our invasion of Iraq and that may not end for years."
It is not the pro-freedom movement President Bush sought. "At the center of the realignment is Iran," said Lugar, "which is perceived to have emerged from our Iraq intervention as the big winner."
What is Iran's strategy in Iraq? "The Iranian government sees an unprecedented opportunity to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence and prevent it from re-emerging as a threat to Iranian interests," the Defense Department said in its November report, "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq."
"Iran seeks to ensure that the Coalition bears political, economic and human casualty costs to deter future U.S. regional intervention. To achieve these objectives, Iran continues to pursue a dual-track strategy of supporting Shia unity and a stable government in Iraq -- either a functioning, unified Shia-dominated government or a federated one -- on one hand, while facilitating militia activities in Iraq on the other."
Iran, in fact, is allied with Iraqi Shiites who are part of the Iraqi government.
The Iranian-backed militias in Iran are affiliated with components of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Islamist-dominated Shiite coalition to which Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's Call to Islam Party belongs. This coalition was put together by Iraq's pre-eminent Shiite clergyman, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who is Iranian by birth.