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The USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) aircraft carrier battle group is heading to the Persian Gulf to join the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69) aircraft carrier battle group currently on station there. Clearly, the Bush administration is planning to make a show of force to the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran.

For two years, I have been arguing that a military solution to Iran pursuing nuclear weapons is the worst approach imaginable.

In writing “Atomic Iran” in 2005, I argued that Iran is a terrorist state that is brutally repressive to the Iranian people, a state that will utilize nuclear weapons once Iran is capable of developing them. In writing “Showdown with Nuclear Iran” in 2006 with co-author Michael Evans, we argued that Ahmadinejad’s radical religious belief that the Twelfth Imam will return from occlusion to occasion the worldwide triumph of Shiite Islam is particularly dangerous since Ahmadinejad believes it will require an apocalypse to bring the Mahdi out of the well.

Yet, consistently I have argued that peaceful regime change from within is the best solution. In 2005, I spent nearly a month walking 200 miles on the Iran Freedom Walk from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the White House to support the Iranian expatriates around the world who want to restore freedom to their homeland.

Repeatedly, I have written urging the State Department to release the millions Congress has authorized through the determined efforts of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., as well as the Iran Freedom Support Act, to fund the non-governmental groups in the U.S. and around the world that hold out the possibility that Iran could change from within.

In the second term, President Bush has followed the failed policies of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a James Baker-prot?g?, to negotiate with Iran through the EU-3 (France, Germany and the UK) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In both books, I predicted this path would take us to the U.N. Security Council, where we would achieve nothing effective. Russia and China, already allied with Tehran, have recently invited Iran to join their emerging Shanghai Cooperation Pact.

The message of the Iran Study Group was clear – Bush was advised to cut and walk out of Iraq, as fast as possible. In case President Bush missed the point, the James Baker-led group was delivering to him the official word of the Council on Foreign Relations, despite the presence of Ed Meese on the panel. Defiantly, Bush is apparently going to reject the CFR advice, deciding instead to boost our military presence in Iraq, on the premise that more troops will solve the problem. Unfortunately, a surge in troops will probably end up only placing more good U.S. military in harm’s way of the civil war in Iraq, a civil war being inflamed by Iran.

I do not agree with the Iran Study Group, or with the CFR Middle East advice, which typically reduces to a formula of securing the oil, then withdrawing the troops and ultimately abandoning Israel. Still, I have to observe that Bush is turning his back on the CFR advice served up by his father at his own peril.

My argument is that military occupation will never produce freedom in Iraq any more than a military strike on Iran will stop the Ahmadinejad regime from pursuing terrorism.

In the Middle East, we continue to miss the point that we must engage the Iraqis, just as we must engage the Iranian people, if fundamental change is to occur. Today, more heroin is coming out of the warlords in Afghanistan than before the U.S. military defeated the Taliban. Meanwhile, Israel has legitimate reason to worry how strongly a U.S. government will support its right to exist, especially when we join the United Nations efforts to leash in Israel, as we did in the recent Lebanon war against Hezbollah.

Putting a second carrier group in the Persian Gulf could easily incite Iran to take a dangerously provocative step. During the last Lebanon war against Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces embedded with Hezbollah hit an Israeli ship in the Mediterranean with a Chinese-designed cruise missile that Iran has re-engineered and is now manufacturing in Iran. What happens if Iran launches a cruise missile against a U.S. carrier battle group? Should a U.S. ship get hit by an Iranian missile, we would immediately be on the brink of a regional war in the Middle East.

Just withdrawing from Iraq, whether we withdraw fast or slow, is not a solution, any more than Israel withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 was a solution.

What we have failed to perceive is that our troops in Iraq today are confined within military compounds, with the countryside left undeveloped economically and wide open for the local factional militia who want to terrorize the people and take control.

Hezbollah has succeeded in southern Lebanon precisely because Hezbollah takes funds raised worldwide in so-called charity and applies some of the proceeds to paying the local populace. Who’s paying the local populace in Iraq right now? In Afghanistan, the local population is realigning with the warlords precisely because the drug money is permitting the warlords to pay the people.

Besides, what makes President Bush think that a Democratic Congress is going to approve the funds to permit a troop surge in Iraq? Already, liberal Democrats are positioning to cut off funds to continue the war altogether. That was the point of Cindy Sheehan’s shouting protest in the halls of Congress this week.

Bush’s decisions on the Middle East do not seem to be following a consistent line of thinking. If the president won’t listen to Council of Foreign Relations-aligned James Baker, then why is he moving John Negroponte, a strong CFR member, to be the deputy to Condi Rice at the State Department?

Put simply, the Bush administration policy in the Middle East is continuing to fail. Sending more troops to Iraq sends a signal that we intend to maintain the military occupation, even if the Bush administration claims the troops are there only as a temporary “surge.” Now, why are we sending a second carrier group to the Gulf if we don’t want to threaten war against Iran?

What we should be doing is following the path President Reagan used to bring down the Soviet Union. President Bush should get on the national media and start praising the brave Iranian students who have again taken to the streets to oppose Ahmadinejad. We make a mistake to think that the Ahmadinejad regime has a firm hold on Iran. It does not.

We do not need more war to make progress in the Middle East; we need less war.

Ahmadinejad has just been rebuked in local elections throughout Iran. He is unpopular in Iran because he has failed to keep his election promise to distribute the country’s oil wealth to the people. Yet, President Bush and the State Department are doing nothing to exploit that opportunity.

Peaceful change from within is the only way the Middle East will change for the good. Unfortunately, Hezbollah and the drug warlords of Afghanistan so far are the only forces in the region that have discovered the economic keys needed to win the support of the people.



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