Dave Schuler has posted some of the best-reasoned arguments for not going after Iran militarily if we can help it (which, for the record, I believe we can, or at least should look for alternatives). The reasoning for caution ranges from the fact that our own military is presently occupied to acknowledging the current state of Iranian resistance movements, to, well, let's just say that blowing into Tehran isn't as easy as throwing Saddam down a hole.
Now, from new documents found on hard drives and translated in Iraq, comes a very good reason, indeed, namely: al Qaeda thought that a war between the US and Iran would be a pretty nifty idea, and help a floundering insurgency:
"Generally speaking and despite the gloomy present situation, we find that the best solution in order to get out of this crisis is to involve the U.S. forces in waging a war against another country or any hostile groups," the document said, as quoted by al-Maliki's office.
According to the summary, insurgents were being weakened by operations against them and by their failure to attract recruits. To give new impetus to the insurgency, they would have to change tactics, it added.
"We mean specifically attempting to escalate the tension between America and Iran, and American and the Shiite in Iraq," it quoted the documents as saying, especially among moderate followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq.
"Creating disputes between America and them could hinder the U.S. cooperation with them, and subsequently weaken this kind of alliance between Shiites and the Americans," it said, adding that "the best solution is to get America involved in a war against another country and this would bring benefits."
They included "opening a new front" for the U.S. military and releasing some of the "pressure exerted on the resistance."
There is a school of thought that bin Laden and al Qaeda hoped to provoke an all-out war with the US, and that we gave him exactly what he wanted. That may be so. And it also may be so that it was a mistake to take bin Laden's bait. And yet, it is sometimes necessary to do exactly what your opponent "wants" you to do, if only to show him that you know what he is thinking, know what he is planning, and are determined to win anyway. Other time, there just aren't any good alternatives (I am not saying that there weren't any alternatives to invading Iraq).
In this case, however, the only strategy the insurgency seemed to have left was to hope for attention to be moved from them to Iran. In this stage, and possibly through no good effort of our own, the Islamists have been denied that strategy.
Of course, this doesn't in any way indicate that we are even close to presuming that we could hope that maybe someday the fighting will cease, or that the insurgency will be crushed. But for at least the present, it's looking like, whether by luck, guile or indecision, the choice to go the diplomatic course with Iran is the wise move, presently.
There were indications that it was Secretary of State Rice who persuaded the president to quiet the rhetoric and let our allies, putative and otherwise, take the lead on Iran's nuclear shell game. This may not work either, and I agree with Dave that the situation is not likely to end well.
However, this might give Iran's leadership pause, if there are any rational leaders left there. In fact, the official line coming out of Tehran indicates a certain contentment with Abu Musab al Zarqawi's demise. This may go some way to loosening the tension between Iran and the US, especially in light of the US contention that Iran has harbored al Qaeda members, even going so far to allow bin Laden in shortly after September 11. There is some evidence that the al Qaeda leader forged an alliance of sorts with grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It should be plain to the mullahs that bin Laden has been playing them all along, and that he is much more interested in setting up his own franchise of Islamist revolution than hitching his movement to the Iranian Islamic Republic.
Beyond this feature, the documents could further be exploited to demonstrate to the Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq just what the Qaeda agenda is. But it may also serve to educate those occupying the White House. The Tafkiris working inside the country now have a founding document, and it outlines the lengths they will go to in order to further their vision of conquest.
UPDATE: Look here for the AQ playbook. Most telling:
Based on the above points, it became necessary that these matters should be treated one by one:
1. To improve the image of the resistance in society, increase the number of supporters who are refusing occupation and show the clash of interest between society and the occupation and its collaborators. To use the media for spreading an effective and creative image of the resistance.
First Iran, now the media. Will the Tafkiri intrique know no bounds?!