Credibility is a precious trait, but once it is lost, it's darned difficult to restore. That's the main problem of the Bush administration. After the outrageously false claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the White House has no credibility. Hence, its new claims that the Iranian government is supplying weapons to the insurgents in Iraq are rightly met with great skepticism.
I notice that some of the television news outlets have already fallen into the administration's trap. In this case, the administration wants us to accept as fact that the weapons are from Iran but argue about whether they were sent with the complicity of the government. This is an easy argument for the administration to win, since the Iranian government is tightly controlled.
But the claim that the weapons came from Iran is not an established fact. Look at the peculiar circumstances of the briefing in Baghdad on the subject. Cameras and recorders were barred. Officials conducting the briefing are to remain anonymous. No direct evidence that the weapons came from Iran was presented. Instead, reporters were told that this was "inferred from other intelligence."
One question I have that hasn't been answered is why a mortar shell allegedly from Iran would have markings written in English. The English writing is plain to see in the photographs.
As for the claim that the U.S. has traced the serial numbers back to Iran, how does the United States have access to Iranian serial numbers? And why, presumably, were the numbers written in the system used by the West instead of in Farsi? (Part of the great fun of traveling in the Middle East on an expense account is to come home and dump a large package of receipts -- all written in Arabic -- on the company accountant's desk. The glyphs used in Iran are known as East Arabic-Indic.)
The administration also made much of the fact that some of these munitions were what is known as shaped charges, which are designed to penetrate heavy armor. It was implied that this was new on the battlefield. In fact, shaped charges have been around for decades. Since Saddam Hussein had the fourth-largest army in the world before our wars and sanctions, it's dead certain that there were tens of thousands of shaped charges in the form of tank and artillery rounds in his arsenals.
Here we come back to another strategic blunder. There were so few U.S. soldiers in Iraq that we lacked the manpower to guard and dispose of all of the arsenals we found. Many of these were looted. There are two things Iraq has never been short of: weapons and people who know how to use them.
Another reason for suspicion is the timing. Claims that Iran was sending weapons to Iraq surfaced 16 months ago. The British stopped making the claims for lack of evidence. So why did the Bush administration choose this particular time to make the charge, and why did it do so in such a way as to ensure skepticism? The way to restore credibility is to lay all the evidence out in a transparent manner and to say truthfully what is known and what is not known.
The American people must be careful not to let this administration lead them into yet another war, this time with Iran, with the same kinds of deception it used to justify the Iraq war.
Perhaps the Iranians are supplying some weapons to Shiite militias, but the Bush administration has yet to prove it.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years. He writes for Lew Rockwell Syndicate.