Although on the surface, things have been going well lately for President Bush on Iraq—the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the installing at long last of a permanent government in Iraq, and a vote of support in the U.S. House of Representatives for the President’s Iraq policy—it is easy to forget that even if the United States wins the war in Iraq, it loses. Even if the Bush administration eventually creates, in the words of the House resolution, a “sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq,” the big winner there will be Iran.

The real driver behind U.S. policy in Iraq still remains murky. It certainly wasn’t to enshrine the will of the people in Iraq. If that were the case, the administration would have agreed to the proposal of some Democrats to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country. The president and vice president of Iraq have requested one, and 80 percent of Iraqis want U.S. troops to go home.

Some analysts allege that the neoconservative elements of the administration wanted to knock off an enemy of Israel. Others allege that Bush and Cheney wanted to tidy up unfinished business from the first Bush administration and take down the Arab leader who had allegedly tried to assassinate Bush’s father after the first Gulf War. Another possibility is that the United States knew that it was going to lose its military bases in Saudi Arabia and needed to find—or create—another friendly country near the Persian Gulf that would support such a military presence. But none of this really matters much because, whatever the administration’s real rationale, it made a Herculean blunder by not focusing on the effects of the invasion on the key player in the region—Iran.

Iran has always been the regional superpower in the Persian Gulf area. This fact caused alarm in the West when Mohammed Mossadegh, the then-Iranian Prime Minister, nationalized Iran’s oil industry in 1953. A coup engineered by the U.S. and British intelligence services restored to power the more Western-friendly Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Supporting Iran, because of its large population and abundant oil reserves, was the keystone of U.S. foreign policy in the Persian Gulf for much of the Cold War until Iranians became fed up with the brutality and corruption of the Shah and overthrew him. They replaced him with a radical theocratic regime hostile to the United States. So alarmed was the U.S. government about this new Iranian regime that it supported Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war during the 1980s. After that war, however, Saddam invaded neighboring Kuwait in response to Kuwait’s slant drilling of oil from under Iraqi territory. Instead of warning Saddam against further moves against Saudi Arabia and deploying a few U.S. forces there to act as a tripwire against such further Iraqi action, President George H.W. Bush elected to demolish half of Saddam’s army and his entire air force in the process of liberating Kuwait.

Of course, Desert Storm weakened Iraq as a counterweight to the 800-pound Iranian gorilla, but at least the current president’s father realized that completely obliterating Saddam’s regime would have given Iran free reign in the region.

So it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that invading Iraq to shoot the already wounded Iraqi army would make Iran—now ruled by the despotic Ayatollah Khameini—the dominant power in the region for years to come. During the occupation, President Bush proved that he was certainly no rocket scientist by dismembering what was left of the smashed Iraqi security forces.

General William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency and a conservative, opposed the Vietnam War because he believed U.S. involvement there helped the main U.S. adversary—the Soviet Union. Similarly, he opposed the invasion of Iraq because it helped the country most hostile to the United States in the Persian Gulf—Iran. Iran is now funding, training, and supporting Shi’ite militias in Iraq, some of which are slaughtering Sunni Arabs. Without Saddam Hussein holding the fractious Iraq together, Iranian influence there has skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration, oblivious to the stark geopolitical realities of the region, has been squandering U.S. lives and money—$320 billion so far—to help Iran expand its role as a regional superpower.