"Let’s get some more now on our top story, President Bush authorizing U.S. military forces in Iraq to capture or kill Iranian agents in that country if there’s intelligence showing they’re planning to attack U.S. or coalition forces.
Let’s get a little bit of analysis now what this means. Joining us, retired U.S. Army colonel Pat Lang, former chief of Mideast intelligence over at the Pentagon.
Pat, you know this area well. You studied it your whole life. You speak the language.
If the U.S. goes ahead, soldiers or Marines, and kill Iranians on the spot in Iraq, what are the Iranians do in retaliation?
COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. atomic agency, has it right. Everybody ought to calm down and take a step back and take a few deep breaths, because there’s a kind of cycle of accelerated statements and heated developments that’s going on now that tends to ratchet up the situation so much that it tends to push you in the direction of war. And something like that, in which we start to eliminate their people because we have information that we think might incriminate them is a very — is a very dangerous escalating move.
BLITZER: Well, what would happen if the U.S. does kill these Iranians and the president has signed off on it?
LANG: Well, if he has signed off on it and intelligence is developed that indicates that what he says it’s true, then they will in fact eliminate the people. The problem is, is that the Iranians will then have to make a decision as to how they’re going to retaliate for that.
BLITZER: Well, how could they retaliate?
LANG: They could retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq in a big way.
BLITZER: How could they do that?
LANG: They have hundreds of thousands of people from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard corps already in Iraq. (This figure included "encouraged" emigrants to Iraq)
BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands?
LANG: Oh, yes. That’s a well-established figure that’s thought to be true across the community of people that look at this. And they’re there as liaison personnel with the very Shia militias and things like that. And if they get sufficiently angry with us, they can start retaliating directly against our forces.
BLITZER: And in terms of in the past, Iranians, at least according to U.S. officials, have been accused of using terror organizations as sort of a cover for what they’re plotting.
LANG: The Islamic Republic of Iran has been the principal international sponsor of Islamic terrorism, both Sunni and Shia, ever since its foundation after the revolution against the Shah. They’re very skilled at this. They’ve done it all over the world. And they would be — that would be right in character with the way they do things to start using terrorism as an instrument of retaliation.
BLITZER: You’re referring to Iran right now?
LANG: I’m referring to Iran, that’s right. And they could do it anywhere in the world, not just in Iraq.
BLITZER: So, basically, there is potential here for what is a really bad situation getting increasingly worse?
LANG: Yes, there’s a cycle of escalation going on right now between (us and them)– certainly on our side. The Iranians, on their side, have kind of hunkered down and are acting stubborn about things in the way that people in the third world sometimes do when their ambitions are interfered with.
But I don’t see any tendency to a de-escalation through negotiation on our part. Instead, we’re just telling the Iranians, we want you to stop interfering in Iraq. And that’s the end of the conversation.
BLITZER: There’s been some suggestion that the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is in sort of shaky ground right now and that the supreme leader may be angry at what he’s done and that others are clearly irritated.
What’s your sense about his stability right now?
LANG: Well, the way the Iranian republic is set up, in fact, he is not the sole possessor of power in the same way the president of the United States is over the American armed forces. There are a lot of other actors in Iran, and a lot of them are very irritated with him, because he is, in fact, enabling a cycle of escalation against Iran which could be devastating if the United States decided to use its main strategic forces against the country.
BLITZER: I was told recently by a senior administration official that U.S. intelligence on actually what’s happening inside of Iran right now, as far as his strength, Ahmadinejad is concerned, is not necessarily all that good.
LANG: No. I think probably if you go around the academic community and the think tank community in the United States, talk to people in New York and in California and here, academics who deal with Iran, you’ll probably have a better, clearer idea of what is actually happening politically in Iran.
BLITZER: Is there, in your sense, bottom line, a desire on the part of the Iranians to engage directly with the United States in Iraq?
LANG: You mean in a combat sense?
BLITZER: Yes. In other words, to use — the suggestion has been they’re already supplying sophisticated improvised explosive devices, other military equipment, training to their friends in Iraq. But do you sense that the Iranians will get directly involved?
LANG: I don’t think they’ll do that if they think that their ambitions for their Shia co-religionists in Iraq are going to be fulfilled in the way that we have been going toward with a Shia government in Iraq and that kind of thing. On the other hand, if the situation of competition between the United States and Iran gets out of hand, then, in fact, it could get very hot, very fast.
BLITZER: The deployment of another 21,000 or so U.S. troops to the Baghdad area, to the Al Anbar Province — you’ve studied Iraq for a long time — is it going to make a difference?
LANG: Well, in the overall situation?
LANG: I don’t think it will because the force is too small in the Baghdad area and it will rely too heavily on Iraqi efficiency in carrying this out. And we’re going to have a lot of people scattered in little penny packets all over the city, backed with Iraqi forces. I doubt if that’s actually going to have the clearing effect in Baghdad that we expect it will have.
BLITZER: So what’s going to happen over the next six months?
LANG: Over the next six months I think the United States government will come to the realization that Prime Minister Maliki cannot deliver on some of things that he has told them he’s going to be able to do. And, therefore, we might well have a change of government in Iraq.
BLITZER: A change — would that be good?
LANG: It probably would be another Shia led government which also cannot deliver on promises it might make the United States, because any government there that is Shia in character has to depend on the Shia parties and militias for its support. So they can’t fight these people in the long run.
BLITZER: What the American public wants to know is, the vulnerability, what’s going to happen to 160,000 or so American troops in Iraq over the next six months to a year?
LANG: Over the next year, I would say that we’re going to have a situation which will not improve markedly, but we will still have approximately the same number of people in Iraq. And a year from now, say in the middle of ’08, we will be facing a situation in which things will not have greatly improved but we’ll still be there.
BLITZER: It will basically the same as what’s happening right now, is that what you’re saying?
LANG: I’m afraid that’s true.
BLITZER: If you were still at the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and you were briefing the president or the secretary of defense right now, what would be your recommendation?
LANG: Well, intelligence people don’t usually make recommendations. But, I will in this case.
I would say that what we need to have is a general, forceful, persistent round of negotiations throughout the region to settle as many interests as we can. Bring the temperature down enough so that we can all live with it without going to war some more. We don’t need any more wars. Wars are really bad.
BLITZER: Colonel Pat Lang, retired U.S. Army intelligence.
Thanks very much more for coming in.
LANG: My pleasure"