First came Iranian volunteers. Then U.S. missiles struck sites in Iran, one a government building. Next was an attack by U.S. Apache helicopters on Syrian civilians in three busses at 160 K Station, next to a bridge. The Apaches first blew the bridge, then bombed the busses as civilians tried to flee, returning yet again to bomb them as they awaited help, killing 16 in all and wounding 19 more. Finally, on March 28, the newest signs of the threat of an expanding war reached the airwaves. Syria has been officially accused by the Pentagon of shipping military supplies to Iraqi forces, including night-vision goggles. During the daily press briefing from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he made it clear that the U.S. viewed this as "hostile acts" (of course, "errant" U.S. bombs hitting Iran or a bus load of Syrians are not "hostile" acts). He warned the U.S. would respond if the activity did not cease. He also directed threatening comments at Iran, concerning its support for those volunteers fighting in Iraq, saying those troops pose "a threat to coalition forces."
These events should not be underestimated, regarding their impact on the war in Iraq. Fighters crossing into Iraq from Iran, followed by U.S. missile strikes in Iran, are serious business, despite the fact that it has faded from the media's radar. Likewise, Syrian military support for Iraq, followed by threats from the U.S., signals that events could quickly get out of hand. This is not to mention another long-forgotten issue, that is Turkey's threat to send forces into northern Iraq to "stabilize" that region. Picture Turkish troops invading from the north, U.S. military strikes directed at Syria, and further U.S. strikes inside Iran, while the U.S. expands its troop deployment by another 50,000 soldiers this month, and 100,000 more in April (as the Pentagon announced on March 27), to a total of 400,000 U.S. soldiers in the region.
While it is far from certain the war will expand into Syria and Iran as simultaneous war rages in Iraq, the possibility nonetheless does exist. Should such a broadening occur, this war will very quickly have become a U.S.-Middle East war. 400,000 U.S. troops does seem to send a less-than-subtle signal about what the U.S. intends to do, or at least is threatening to do if "provoked." In fact, since Iran constitutes the same "threat" as Iraq, using the Bush regime's definitions of the word, there is no reason to believe a U.S. invasion of Iran is not in the near future. While the U.S. probably would prefer to mop-up in Iraq before leaping next door to Iran, to time the next war to coincide with elections, they may be reconsidering their options.
The war against Iraq has, regardless of Rumsfeld's chest-thumping denials, gone a bit off-course, with the Iraqis actually being so rude as to resist occupation. Public support for the war seems to be holding above 50%, but it is quickly slipping with every U.S. soldier killed or captured. The Bush government might realize that, once this war ends, it may be difficult to convince U.S. citizens to belly-up to the bar for another round of "kill the Arabs." Therefore, they could think that their best option is to instigate a war with Iran under the pretense of fighting the war against Iraq. It is easier to expand an existing war, than start a brand new one after peace is achieved.
So, we may be seeing the first signs of an intension to broaden this war substantially, with the rhetoric and charges, the strikes outside of Iraq, and the addition of a force that nearly doubles the U.S. deployment. Some would argue that the Pentagon prefers to finish this war before starting another one, and would not want to complicate its mission. This is no necessarily true, for a few reasons. First, the U.S. has a history of stepping into new wars before old ones are finished (the U.S. had forces in Korea at the end of WWII, and had forces in Vietnam as the Korean War ended, etc). Second, Rumsfeld specifically warned Syria and Iran that the U.S. would respond if "hostile acts" continued.
Remember, there just happens to be oil involved in this equation, too. While the oil issue is constantly pushed aside by supporters of this war, the overwhelming evidence of its significance (historically as well as currently) makes such pronouncements hollow. Securing energy reserves and U.S. military dominance in the region is of such vast importance, the Pentagon would not let an opportunity to move into Iran pass by. Besides, with 400,000 troops in place, and the huge supply of military resources at hand in the region, the U.S. would have the forces it needs to wage a two-front or even three-front war. The Syrian question is less certain, since the U.S. has been pretty silent about them for a while. The desire to engage Syria in war may be much less than with regard to Iran, but that does not mean that benefits don't exist.
War allows for disposable production, always desirable, since this is essentially the basis of the U.S. subsidized economy. There is also some benefit for the U.S. in weakening Syria, first because it weakens yet another potential challenger in the region, and second because it may be desirable for Israel. If the U.S. does have a motive to expand the war into Syria, blowing up a bus full of Syrians is certainly a good start in provoking that nation. Accusing them of supplying Iraq with military supplies is another step, and threatening them with force raises the ante yet again. In other words, if the U.S. doen't want a war against Syria, it's doing a terrible job promoting that wish.
What would this war eventually look like, if it expands to Syria and Iran? With citizens across the Middle East already outraged at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, protesting and marching on U.S. embassies, what will happen if two more nations are invaded? How would Arabs respond in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey? What could happen in Pakistan, where tensions with India flared again March 27, fighting breaking out in Kashmir as both sides accused the other of supporting fighters in that region?
A broader U.S. war might be just what it takes to put the match to fuming emotions, igniting violence all over the region, and threatening an even wider outbreak of war. Such events could lead to Israeli involvement, if any Arab states strike at Israeli targets, or if Israel decides to join in just because the opportunity presents itself (perhaps the more likely of the two reasons, since it has so much historical basis). Israel, Pakistan, and India all possess nuclear weapons, so things could get quite ugly.
Recent protests (particularly in Egypt) have been quite intense, and on March 28 Jordan saw a spontaneous protest as people left mosques, with chants of not only anti-American slogans, but of opposition to Arab governments supporting the U.S., such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. Protestors have even accused President Mubarak of Egypt of being "CIA". These events are making governments in the Middle East nervous, for this is what they warned might occur if the U.S. invaded Iraq. Their fear is a popular uprising, something looking more possible with every protest. It could easily be argued that such an uprising, were it successful, would be beneficial for the average citizens of those nations, most pro-U.S. Arab governments being as oppressive as Saddam Hussein (or worse, some would say). Nonetheless, the widespread instability and fighting would lead to much bloodshed and might easily provoke a U.S. military response to support the governments.
Of course, the odds of these worst-case scenarios are relatively low right now. The point is, every day that passes in this war brings a new round of events that move us closer to such worst-case scenarios. Day by day, those low odds get a little higher, and those worst-cases start to look increasingly possible. How long will it be before we move from the word "possible" to the word "probable"?
Well, look where we are now, and it's only been one week.