Is Bush setting us up for war with Iran?
In his unpopular January speech announcing an escalation of the U.S. war in Iraq, George W. Bush surprised journalists by threatening Iran and Syria. Prior to the speech, the administration was sabre-rattling about Iran's nuclear program. International weapons inspectors say there is no evidence of nuclear weapons manufacture, but mainstream headlines in the U.S. imply Iran is about to have the bomb. Then, in Bush's recent Iraq war speech, he said: "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." But the administration has provided no evidence of Iranian provision of weapons or support. Could we be about to experience a replay of the lies that this administration told to get us into Iraq?
For a look at the danger of Bush administration policies towards Iran, we're reprinting an article by Noam Chomsky about Iran and nuclear weapons, and one by Gareth Porter concerning administration charges of Iranian support for the Iraqi resistance.
Iran is willing to negotiate, is the U.S.?
The urgency of halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and moving toward their elimination, could hardly be greater. Failure to do so is almost certain to lead to grim consequences, even the end of biology's only experiment with higher intelligence. As threatening as the crisis is, the means exist to defuse it.
A near-meltdown seems to be imminent over Iran and its nuclear programmes. Before 1979, when the Shah was in power, Washington strongly supported these programmes. Today the standard claim is that Iran has no need for nuclear power, and therefore must be pursuing a secret weapons programme. "For a major oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources," Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post last year.
Thirty years ago, however, when Kissinger was secretary of state for President Gerald Ford, he held that "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."
Last year Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post asked Kissinger about his reversal of opinion. Kissinger responded with his usual engaging frankness: "They were an allied country."
In 1976 the Ford administration "endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium - the two pathways to a nuclear bomb", Linzer wrote. The top planners of the Bush administration, who are now denouncing these programmes, were then in key national security posts: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
Iranians are surely not as willing as the west to discard history to the rubbish heap. They know that the United States, along with its allies, has been tormenting Iranians for more than 50 years, ever since a US-UK military coup overthrew the parliamentary government and installed the Shah, who ruled with an iron hand until a popular uprising expelled him in 1979.
The Reagan administration then supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran, providing him with military and other aid that helped him slaughter hundreds of thousands of Iranians (along with Iraqi Kurds). Then came President Clinton's harsh sanctions, followed by Bush's threats to attack Iran - themselves a serious breach of the UN charter.
Last month the Bush administration conditionally agreed to join its European allies in direct talks with Iran, but refused to withdraw the threat of attack, rendering virtually meaningless any negotiations offer that comes, in effect, at gunpoint. Recent history provides further reason for scepticism about Washington's intentions.
In May 2003, according to Flynt Leverett, then a senior official in Bush's National Security Council, the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami proposed "an agenda for a diplomatic process that was intended to resolve on a comprehensive basis all of the bilateral differences between the United States and Iran."
Included were "weapons of mass destruction, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Lebanon's Hizbullah organisation and cooperation with the UN nuclear safeguards agency", the Financial Times reported last month. The Bush administration refused, and reprimanded the Swiss diplomat who conveyed the offer.
A year later the European Union and Iran struck a bargain: Iran would temporarily suspend uranium enrichment, and in return Europe would provide assurances that the United States and Israel would not attack Iran. Under US pressure, Europe backed off, and Iran renewed its enrichment processes.
Iran's nuclear programmes, as far as is known, fall within its rights under article four of the non- proliferation treaty (NPT), which grants non-nuclear states the right to produce fuel for nuclear energy. The Bush administration argues that article four should be strengthened, and I think that makes sense.
When the NPT came into force in 1970 there was a considerable gap between producing fuel for energy and for nuclear weapons. But advances in technology have narrowed the gap. However, any such revision of article four would have to ensure unimpeded access for non- military use, in accord with the initial NPT bargain between declared nuclear powers and the non-nuclear states.
In 2003 a reasonable proposal to this end was put forward by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency: that all production and processing of weapon-usable material be under international control, with "assurance that legitimate would-be users could get their supplies". That should be the first step, he proposed, toward fully implementing the 1993 UN resolution for a fissile material cutoff treaty (or Fissban).
ElBaradei's proposal has to date been accepted by only one state, to my knowledge: Iran, in February, in an interview with Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. The Bush administration rejects a verifiable Fissban - and stands nearly alone. In November 2004 the UN committee on disarmament voted in favour of a verifiable Fissban. The vote was 147 to one (United States), with two abstentions: Israel and Britain. Last year a vote in the full general assembly was 179 to two, Israel and Britain again abstaining. The United States was joined by Palau.
There are ways to mitigate and probably end these crises. The first is to call off the very credible US and Israeli threats that virtually urge Iran to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent. A second step would be to join the rest of the world in accepting a verifiable Fissban treaty, as well as ElBaradei's proposal, or something similar.
A third step would be to live up to article six of the NPT, which obligates the nuclear states to take "good-faith" efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, a binding legal obligation, as the world court determined. None of the nuclear states has lived up to that obligation, but the United States is far in the lead in violating it.
Even steps in these directions would mitigate the upcoming crisis with Iran. Above all, it is important to heed the words of Mohamed ElBaradei: "There is no military solution to this situation. It is inconceivable. The only durable solution is a negotiated solution." And it is within reach.
Noam Chomsky's new book is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy; he is professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. www.chomsky.info This article originally appeared June 19, 2006 as a Comment in The Guardian (UK). http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1800630,00.html Guardian (UK)
Bush's new Iran policy - no evidence for IED charges
WASHINGTON, January 16 - For 18 months now, the George W. Bush administration has periodically raised the charge that Iran is supplying anti-coalition forces in Iraq with arms.
But in the past, high administration officials have always admitted that they have no real evidence to support it. Now, they are going further. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on her current Middle Eastern trip, "I think there is plenty of evidence that there is Iranian involvement with these networks that are making high-explosive IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and that are endangering our troops, and that's going to be dealt with."
However, Rice failed to provide any evidence of official Iranian involvement.
The previous pattern had been that U.S. and British officials suggest that Iranian government involvement in the use by Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias of "shaped charges" that can penetrate U.S. armoured vehicles is the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from the facts. But when asked point blank, they admit that they have no evidence to support it.
That charge serves not just one administration objective but two: it provides an additional justification for aggressive rhetoric and pressures against Tehran and also suggests that Iran bears much of the blame for the sectarian violence in Baghdad and high levels of U.S. casualties from IEDs.
The origins of the theme of Iranian complicity strongly suggest that it was a propaganda line aimed at reducing the Bush administration's acute embarrassment at its inability to stop the growing death toll of U.S. troops from shaped charges fired at armoured vehicles by Sunni insurgents.
The U.S. command admitted at first that the Sunnis were making the shaped charges themselves. On Jun. 21, 2005, Gen. John R. Vines, then the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters that the insurgents had probably drawn on bomb-making expertise from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's army.
A Pentagon official involved in combating the new IEDs also told the New York Times that the first such bombs examined by the U.S. military had required considerable expertise, and that well-trained former government specialists were probably involved in making them. The use of infrared detonators was regarded as a tribute to the insurgents' "resourcefulness", according to the Pentagon source.
But sometime in the next six weeks, the Bush administration made a decision to start blaming its new problem in Iraq on Tehran. On Aug. 4, 2005, Pentagon and intelligence officials leaked the story to NBC and CBS that U.S. troops had "intercepted" dozens of shaped charges said to have been "smuggled into northeastern Iraq only last week".
The NBC story quoted intelligence officials as saying they believed the IEDs were shipped into Iraq by Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah, but were "convinced it could not have happened without the full consent of the Iranian government."
These stories were leaked to coincide with public accusations by then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad that Iran was meddling in Iraqi affairs. A few days after the stories appeared, Rumsfeld declared that these shaped charges were "clearly, unambiguously from Iran" and blamed Tehran for allowing the cross-border traffic.
But the administration had a major credibility problem with that story. It could not explain why Iran would want to assist the enemies of the militant Shiite parties in Iraq that were aligned with Iran.
British troops in Shiite southern Iraq, where the shaped charges were apparently used by Shiite militias, had an equally embarrassing problem with the IEDs penetrating their armoured vehicles. An unnamed senior British official in London told BCC on Oct. 5, 2005 that the shaped charges that had killed British troops in southern Iraq had come from Hezbollah in Lebanon via Iran.
The following day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair took the occasion of a joint press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to declare that the circumstances surrounding the bombs that killed British soldiers "lead us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah." But Blair conceded that he had no evidence of such a link.
Privately British officials said that the only basis for their suspicions was that the technology was similar in design to the shaped charges used by Hezbollah in its war to drive Israel out of southern Lebanon in the 1980s.
Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, explained why the story line blaming Iran for the IED problem in Iraq didn't hold water. "A lot of this is just technology that is leaked into an informal network," he told Associated Press. "What works in one country gets known elsewhere."
The Blair government soon dropped that propaganda line. The Independent reported Jan. 5, 2006 that government officials acknowledged privately that there was no "reliable intelligence" connecting the Iranian government to the more powerful IEDs in the south.
However, the U.S. administration continued to push that accusation, and Bush himself raised the theme for the first time at a press conference Mar. 13, 2006. "Some of the most powerful IEDs we're seeing in Iraq today," he said, "came from Iran."
Bush quoted the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, as testifying, "Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militia with the capability to building improvised explosive devices."
No reporter has followed up on what Negroponte meant by providing the "capability" to build such devices or why it the militias would need to go outside Iraq to find that know-how.
The day after Bush's press conference, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at a Pentagon news conference that he had no evidence of the Iranian government sending any military equipment or personnel into Iraq. Rumsfeld, appearing with Pace, said, "All you know is that you find equipment in a country that came from the neighbouring country."
Last November, as the release of the Iraq Study Report approached, administration officials again planted the story of intercepted Iranian-made weapons and munitions it had leaked in mid-2005. ABC news reported Nov. 30 that a "senior defence official" had told them of "smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand new weapons fresh from Iranian factories."
The new twist in the story was that the weapons allegedly had manufacturing dates in 2006. The story continued, "This suggests, say the sources, that the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias, rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market."
The assumption underlying the anti-Iran defence department spin that a private market for weapons or, more likely, components, could not move them from Iran across the porous border to Iraq in a few months is far-fetched.
At about the same time Bush apparently gave orders that the U.S. military should seize any Iranians in the country in an effort to get some kind of evidence to use in support of its propaganda theme. The first such operation came in central Baghdad just before Christmas, and a second raid against Iranian diplomats in Erbil was carried out to coincide with the president's speech last Wednesday.
These raids, presented to the public as part of a campaign against targets supposedly identified through good intelligence, were clearly aimed at trying to substantiate an anti-Iran line for which the administration has no credible evidence. Those raids now create a requirement to produce something new to justify them.
This article is copyright January 16, 2007 by Inter Press Service. We got it from Common Dreams - www.commondreams.org
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.
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