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First, Bush certainly appears to be moving away from his earlier rigid stance against Irans nuclear program. During Tuesdays speech he said:
"The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons."
Compare that to what he said in last year's State of the Union:
"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror--pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror."
It would appear Bush has now become willing to let the Iranians enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium for the goal of providing nuclear energy. All the talk about sanctions has quietly disappeared amid the push for a diplomatic solution.
But this is a small point in the overall confusion of American foreign policy at this moment. On the one hand, Bush was trumpeting democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and promising its spread across the Mideast, but on the other was attacking democratic elections whose results he doesn't like, as with Hamas in Palestine. And after all, the Iranians too held their own elections not long ago.
In supporting democratic institutions in Iraq, Bush is in effect supporting the rise of Shiite political factions. These same Shiites have drawn closer to the reigning religious powers in Iran over the years.
The Associated Press spells all this out clearly in a recent brief article. It's worth summarizing a few of its main points:
While Iran is mostly Shiite, Iraq is close to two-thirds Shiite. The Shiites were opposed by Saddam Hussein, who, under the watchful gaze of the American victors following the Gulf war, brutally put them down in the south of Iraq.
In Iraq's elections last month, Shiites won 128 seats in the 275-seat parliament. A Kurdish alliance got 53 seats and Sunni groups 55.
The Shiite political alliance called the United Iraqi Alliance includes three key parties--the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Al-Dawa, and Al-Dawa-Tanzim al-Iraq. All three have emerged triumphant. And their victory resulted in the al-Dawa leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari being picked for prime minister.
All three parties are closely tied to Iran. The Supreme Council originally received the support of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni. Writes the AP:
"Its leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, was commander of the group's Badr Brigade militia that fought alongside Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq. Much of the militia's younger generation, who now make up a large chunk of the Iraqi security services and military, were born in Iran and many speak Arabic with a slight Persian accent. Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, also is a former Badr Brigade commander. And the Supreme Council dominates Iraq's paramilitary police commandos, who are regarded by Sunnis as nothing more than death squads."
Hence, the Bush foreign policy has resulted in binding together more tightly Iraq and Iran and has led to the ascendancy of a religious faction both Democratic and Republican governments in the U.S. have long decreed to be our enemies. They are at the heart of the radical fundamentalist Islam Bush was attacking last night.
Additional reporting: Michael Roston