When a NBC military analyst made the case that US withdrawal from Iraq would have very harmful consequences, you might have expected Meredith Vieira to argue the point. But not only did the NBC host seem to buy into his logic, she took it a significant step farther toward its logical conclusion.Retired LTC Rick Francona was Meredith's guest on this morning's "Today." The appearance was sparked by reports that the US has amassed firm evidence that Iran is supplying a variety of weaponry to Shia militias in Iraq, including shoulder-fired missiles and sophisticated IEDs responsible for the deaths of many Americans. The screen graphic posed the question "Is U.S. Fighting Iran in Iraq?"
Francona made his thesis clear from the get-go: "We're in a power struggle with the Iranians over who's going to exercise influence in the future in Iraq, and they want to be that power. It's either us or them."
Vieira set the stage for her off-the-Dem-reservation remarks with this question: "So they're hoping if and when we leave Iraq they will fill the power vacuum that is left?"
View video here.Francona: "Exactly. They want their Shia proxies to do it. They're going to be supporting the government as well as these multiple Shia militias because they believe the Americans are going to go home very shortly. They've made that assessment, and when that happens they want to be sure that power vacuum is filled by Iranians."
Vieira: "So their activities are aimed less at the US and more at inflaming a civil war, then."
Francona: "They're aimed not directly at the US. But by taking actions against the US they hasten our withdrawal. Everything they do is calculated on being the surviving power there. If that means killing American forces, supplying weapons to the different insurgent groups, they're going to do that. Anything they can do to get us out of there."
Vieira: "Do you believe that Iran and the US are already involved in a proxy war in Iraq?"
Francona: "I think the Iranians have looked at it that way for some time now. . . I think they believed they're involved in that kind of war already. I think we're just coming around to that realization."
That's when Meredith, shockingly, asked a question that seemed not merely to embrace Francona's view, but to take it the logical step further:
"If their plan really is to fill this gap once we leave this country, then can we afford to leave the country?"
Francona: "I don't think we can afford to leave it in the hands of the Iranians. Now, how we do that is really the big question. Is there some way that we can prop up an Iraqi government so they do what we want them to do rather than what the Iranians want them to do? It's one or the other. I don't think we're going to come to some middle ground here."
Didn't Meredith get Hillary's memo? We've got to be out by the end of W's term!
Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org