Cooler heads must prevail

The rhetoric over Iran is insane. Moreover, as an American, it sickens my heart when diplomats and leaders from other nations sound more reasonable, tending towards peace, than US diplomats and its leadership, who sound more like war hawks.

That is a curious position for the US, a nation that professes that it is at the forefront of encouraging democracy, freedom, and peace. During the Bush administration, is that all a farce?


For example, Seymour Hersh, who interviewed a former defence official who still advises the Bush administration, wrote: “There is a growing concern among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change.”


This contrasts sharply with the comments made by Yury Fedotov, the Russian ambassador in London, who explained that Russia opposed the UN Chapter VII reference because it is reminiscent of past resolutions on Iraq and Yugoslavia that led to US military action, which had not been authorised by the Security Council.


China is also opposed to the US assertion that Iran be subjected Chapter VII invocations with respect to its uranium enrichment. Causing angst to American viewers is that Russia and China are not exactly the pillars of democracy and freedom, and Presidents Putin and Hu will not be confused with human rights activists.


“I say the US should give Iran the best nukes they have; then maybe the US will not be considered a threat any more, and maybe it would be seen as a country that is here to help.”


More comments…

Our friends, the French, had this to say via the comments of Dominique de Villepin, the French prime minister: “My conviction is that military action is certainly no solution.”


Last month, Jack Straw, who was Britain’s foreign secretary, branded the idea of a nuclear strike on Iran as “completely nuts”.


He said military action against Iran was “inconceivable”, and warned his cabinet colleagues that it would be illegal for Britain to support US military action against Iran. No good deed goes unpunished. Shortly after this candid epithet, following an angry call from the White House, Straw was fired.


My reaction to Bush’s statements is not suitable for publication.

Bush has been repeatedly asked about the nuclear option with respect to Iran. Instead of rejecting the option out of hand, which any pragmatic president would do, he simply states blandly: “All options remain on the table.”


Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state, is opposed to rejecting any option because it would be a “sign of weakness”, rejecting the obvious conclusion that it would be a sign of common sense, the lack of which has been prevalent in the exchanges between Washington and Tehran.


When did all this begin? We could go back to the Iranian hostage crisis during the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when militants stormed the US embassy and took 52 Americans hostage.


The incident lasted 444 days and the crisis did not exactly endear Americans to the new Iranian Islamic regime, which dubbed America the “Great Satan” with the usual accompaniment of US flag-burning and chants of “Death to America“. But that happened 27 years ago. Perhaps, there is a closer reference.


I wish to nominate the Axis of Evil address, January 29, 2002. In this State of the Union speech, Bush stated: “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

“Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  


“The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”


“Diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies.”

Richard Armitage 

At this point in time, revenge-minded Americans were furious with the still-free Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. They wondered what in the world these regimes had to do with 9/11.

Incidentally, my reaction to Bush’s statements is not suitable for publication. For the first time, I thought, America, we have a problem. From the standpoint of the Iranian people and its leadership, it is not every day one’s nation is named as a part of an evil triumvirate by an American president. I can understand their anger and disbelief.


It is not all one-sided. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, had adopted a rather bellicose attitude toward the whole matter, perhaps, not so surprisingly. Comments such as “As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map“, really don’t help matters.

He followed that up with this stunner. He described the Holocaust as “a myth” and suggested that Israel be moved to Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska. Soon after this innocuous statement, Ahmadinejad’s boss, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the Iranian president into his office. The gist of the conversation was to tone down the rhetoric a bit.


Since then, Ahmadinejad has dealt with the issue of uranium enrichment squarely with little hyperbole. He even sent Bush a nice 18-page letter in keeping with the “Year of the Prophet” and Mohammed’s practice of writing letters to his enemies. He discussed Jesus and the “Almighty God” and their relationship to himself and Bush. Disdaining the Iranian president’s eloquence, the White House rejected the letter because it did not pertain to the issues at hand.


“Iran wants to bargain with the United States on Iran’s regional role, as well as on removal of sanctions and assurances against US attack…… and enrichment has become a big bargaining chip.”

Najmeh Bozorgmehr

Which leads us to the eloquence of Mohammad Ibrahim Dehghani, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, who stated that in response to an invasion of Iran by the US, Iran’s first target would be Israel, ignoring a postulate that it is unwise for a nation to threaten another nation that has a bigger gun. Israel already has nukes.


Of course, by now Israel had already waded in with disclaimers to Ahmadinejad’s two earlier statements, and Israeli elder statesman, Shimon Peres, in replying to Dehghani, called on Iran to scrap its nuclear programme. “Remember that Israel is exceptionally strong and knows how to defend itself,” he said. 

Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, deputy to the chief of Iran‘s military staff, said the statement by Dehghani was “his personal view and has no validity as far as the Iranian military officials are concerned”.


And so it goes, and it is so preposterous. Why is Bush even considering the use of nuclear weapons, ie, tactical nuclear bunker-busting bombs? With equal vehemence, the same could be said for an American invasion of Iran. To use such matters as a bargaining tool in diplomacy is beyond comprehension, not to mention absurd.


But cooler heads are trying desperately to prevail. Noting that Bush refuses to talk directly to Tehran, Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during Bush’s first term, said: “Diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies.”


In November American voters will re-assess the performance of the US congress. Many members are slated to be fired. The results of that election may also affect the longevity of Bush as president.

Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iran‘s foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, who interviewed Iranian national security officials in 2004, says Iran “is now primarily trying to become rehabilitated in the political order of the region”.

Najmeh Bozorgmehr, an Iranian journalist now at the Brookings Institution as a visiting scholar, agrees. She says: “Iran wants to bargain with the United States on Iran’s regional role, as well as on removal of sanctions and assurances against US attack. Tehran has been looking for any source of leverage with which to bargain with the United States on those issues and enrichment has become a big bargaining chip.”


But what the Iranians really want, say observers of Iranian national security thinking, is not nuclear weapons but the recognition of Iran’s status in the power hierarchy of the Gulf. The Iranian demand for regional status can be achieved only through a broad diplomatic agreement with the United States, according to Gareth Porter, a national security policy analyst.


It should be noted that Tehran all along has claimed that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, but nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes, electrical power. Accordingly, it is not in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Nor does democracy seem to be an issue because Iran is closer to an actual democracy than many corrupt US allies.


Comments such as ” As the Imam said, Israeli must be wiped off the map”, really don’t help matters.

Furthermore, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons on August 9, 2005. The text of the fatwa has not been released although it was referred to in an official statement at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.


Incidentally, Iran is ten times larger than Iraq with 40 million more people. So, all the evidence is in. A nuclear attack on Iran is pure lunacy. A conventional attack on Iran is beyond credulity. Which is why neither will happen. Why? There is even a limit to abject stupidity.


Speaking of which, in November American voters will re-assess the performance of the US congress. Many members are slated to be fired. The results of that election may also affect the longevity of Bush as president.

Sandy Shanks is the author of two novels, “The Bode Testament” and “Impeachment”. An avid historian, he is also a columnist, specialising in political/military issues.


The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Source : Al Jazeera

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