Geopolitics

Groundhog Day in Middle East

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 14, 2005

War of Words

The United States government, supported by the British government, accuses a middle eastern nation of developing weapons of mass destruction. Using heavy-handed diplomacy, the US forces a halfhearted condemnation of the middle eastern country's activities, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency can't find any evidence the middle eastern country possesses, or is attempting to acquire, said weapons.

This middle eastern country happens to be run by a government that hates the US and happens to have one of the world's top three oil reserves. It is also dabbling with selling oil for euros instead of dollars.

Around the same time that the US government begins to threaten publicly that it may have no choice but to launch a military campaign, the British government claims that it has found evidence of links between the middle eastern country and terrorist groups.

The middle eastern country agrees to negotiate with the UN for an acceptable resolution, but the US continues to make unreasonable demands and cites the middle eastern country's refusal to accommodate those demands as evidence of foul play.

Israel weighs in with warnings and threats to launch missile strikes against the middle eastern country as the war of words heats up.

Deja Vu All Over Again

The year is 2005 and the middle eastern country is Iran. If you think you've heard the story before, it's because you have.

Demonstrating a remarkable paucity of imagination, the US and British governments are borrowing liberally from their pre-Iraq War playbook as they manoeuvre Iran into a diplomatic corner from which it cannot escape.

Like the run-up to the Iraq war, the US is systematically eliminating possible diplomatic solutions, manufacturing a crisis and strong-arming its allies to support its aims.

Also like the run-up to the Iraq war, the real issue goes almost entirely unremarked.

With Iraq, the two big issues for America were Iraq's memoranda of agreement with Russia, France, and Germany, which would effectively shut America and Britain out of its oil industry and fill Iraq with so many foreigners that invasion became impossible, and Iraq's decision in 2000 to start selling oil for euros instead of dollars, a move that threatened to undermine the global petrodollar system that allows America to run $600 billion trade deficits without economic consequences.

Manufactured Crisis in Iraq

Even though Iraq had met its obligations to destroy or render harmless its weapons of mass destruction as per UN Security Council Resolution 687 as early as 1998, America knew that its policy of regime change could not be fulfilled once the sanctions were lifted. Therefore, as US Secretary of State Christopher Warren stated in 1994, "The US does not believe that Iraq's compliance with ... Resolution 687 is enough to justify lifting the embargo."

In 1998, Richard Butler, the UN's chief inspector in Iraq, complained that Britain was blocking a UN initiative to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq by "omit[ting] the guarantee that Iraq would be released from sanctions at a certain date," a clear violation of the resolution.

When it looked like the UN was ready to give Iraq a clean bill, the US engineered a crisis by insisting that 12 inspectors enter a Ba'ath Party regional headquarters, in violation of the inspection agreement between Iraq and the UN. When local officials balked, America accused Iraq of not cooperating and ordered Richard Butler to withdraw the UN inspectors.

America and Britain launched four days of missile strikes without UN authorization, and thereafter Iraq refused to re-admit the inspectors. It was popularly reported that Iraq had "kicked out the inspectors", but this simply isn't true.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America, the Bush administration decided to advance its policy of regime change in Iraq by linking Iraq with terrorism and claiming Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction - weapons which had all been accounted and destroyed by 1998.

The real danger - international pressure to lift the sanctions and flood Iraq with European and Russian investment, as well as to formalize Saddam's decision to sell oil for euros - was almost entirely absent from mainstream coverage of the war, and remarkably scarce in even the "alternative" press.

New Manufactured Crisis: Iran

History repeats. Even though Iran has met its obligations as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that it has no evidence of Iranian plans to develop nuclear weapons, the US and UK are still trying desperately to get the imaginary 'crisis' in front of the UN Security Council by demanding that Iran suspend its nuclear program.

Iran had voluntarily suspended its program and opened itself to full and unrestricted inspections via the November 2004 Paris Agreement with Britain, France, and Germany (the EU-3), which stated, in part:

Iran reaffirms that, in accordance with Article II of the NPT, it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It commits itself to full cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. Iran will continue implementing voluntarily the Additional Protocol pending ratification.

To build further confidence, Iran has decided, on a voluntary basis, to continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities... The IAEA will be notified of this suspension and invited to verify and monitor it. The suspension will be implemented in time for the IAEA to confirm before the November Board that it has been put into effect. The suspension will be sustained while negotiations proceed on a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements.

The E3/EU recognize that this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation.

As per the Paris Agreement, Iran submitted a proposal for making its nuclear programs transparent to the EU-3 in March 2005. The EU-3 didn't respond, and by July, Iran announced that it was going to resume development of its nuclear program in the absence of a response.

The EU-3 replied with a demand that Iran stop the development of a commercial nuclear fuel industry, and Iran refused. At this point, the matter turned to the IAEA, which had not previously participated in the negotiations.

Normally, the IAEA Board of Governors makes decisions unanimously. In the case of Iran, the United States forced a vote in the sharply divided board. Twenty-two countries voted with America on its heavy-handed resolution ordering Iran to continue suspending its nuclear activities and make available documents, materials, and people for inspection beyond the formal requirements of the NPT. Venezuela voted against the resolution, and another 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstained.

The report cited past occurrences when Iran did not report its activities to the IAEA, but Iran has been complying fully since 2004, and IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei has announced repeatedly that Iran is not violating the NPT rules.

Iran has since offered to resume negotiations over inspection of its activities, but only under terms consistent with both the Paris Agreement and the NPT itself - that no country or multilateral group should order it to cease developing its program as long as it doesn't violate the NPT itself.

Interestingly, while both the Paris Agreement and the September 24, 2005 resolution start by reaffirming Iran's rights under the NPT, both subsequently call on Iran to forfeit those very rights - the former voluntarily, and the latter by orders.

Therefore, the "crisis" in Iran is nonexistent; rather, the real crisis is that the IAEA, which exists to enforce international law on nuclear power, is being distorted to violate international law on nuclear power by discriminating against a member in good standing. The harder the US and UK push against Iran, the more reluctant Iran will be to continue participating in good faith with an international process that has become a sham.

Eventually, Iran may simply withdraw from negotiations altogether, giving the US and UK an excuse to cry foul and force a military confrontation.

Project for a New American Century

The policy of lying, manufacturing crises, and exploiting military power to achieve strategic objectives are all hallmarks of neoconservative philosophy.

The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, published its master policy paper, Rebuilding America's Defenses, in 2000, calling for a fundamental transformation of America's military system and foreign policy "to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests." PNAC advocates nothing less than American global hegemony: "At present the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible."

PNAC advocates dramatic increases in military spending and a new foreign policy of pre-emption:

[We require] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities. ... The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

The signatories to the PNAC Statement of Principles include none other than:

Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, who orchestrated America's energy policy in consultation with his former peers in the oil industry and oversaw much of the pressure to produce intelligence linking Iraq to WMD and terror.

Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, who has overseen a major transformation of America's military structure consistent with the PNAC plan.

Paul Wolfowitz, the Under-Secretary of Defense from 2001-2005 (currently World Bank President), a principal advisor to President Bush who strongly advocated pre-emptive war against Iraq; Wolfowitz was also the co-author, under then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, of the draft Defense Policy Guidance in 1992, which called on America to "maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, who helped pressure America's intelligence agencies to claim Iraqi possession of WMD and links to terrorists. Libby co-wrote the Defense Policy Guidance with Wolfowitz. More recently, Libby has been accused of leaking to the press the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent, in order to embarrass her husband Joseph Wilson, a diplomat who discredited President Bush's claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Nigeria.

Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Envoy to Afghanistan and a former consultant to the oil industry.

Richard Perle, former Defense Policy Board member, forced to resign over conflicts of interest. Perle gained notoriety when he acknowledged that the Iraq war violated international law but was justified regardless.

Elliott Abrams, a director of the National Security Agency and now head of President George W. Bush's Global Democracy Strategy, who was convicted of lying to Congress over the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal before receiving a pardon from President George H. W. Bush.

And others, including Jeb Bush, President Bush's brother and the Governor of Florida. American foreign policy under President Bush has conformed almost exactly to what PNAC advocated in the late 1990s.

All Options on the Table

In the meantime, US President George W. Bush warned earlier this year that "All options are on the table." K. P. Nayar, writing in The Telegraph (India), reports, "Top-ranking Americans have told equally top-ranking Indians in recent weeks that the US has plans to invade Iran before Bush's term ends."

A recent leaked order from Vice President Dick Cheney calling on US Strategic Command to draw up a contingency plan in response to another terrorist attack in America. According to Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer writing in the American Conservative:

The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States [emphasis added]. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing — that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack — but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.

At the same time, on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's desk is the new US Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which formalizes America's new policy, first articulated in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, to merge America's conventional and nuclear weapons arsenals, allow a nuclear first strike against non-nuclear enemies, and shift the strategic purpose of America's nuclear arsenal from deterrance to "pre-emption". Rumsfeld hasn't approved it yet, but it's entirely consistent with the military transformation he initiated on taking office.

Adding to the propaganda mix, the British government is accusing Iran of supporting the insurgents in Iraq, even though Prime Minister Tony Blair admits "We cannot be sure" of the link. Blair made his customary use of weasel words in claiming, "there are certain pieces of information that lead us back either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah ... because they are similar to the devices used by Hezbollah."

Ironically, this charge comes even as Britain and the United States are suspected of supporting the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK), a terrorist group working in Iran to undermine the government there, as well as other dissident groups.

Meanwhile, Iran has also turned up the rhetorical heat, threatening alternately to review its ties with countries that voted against it, withdraw from the IAEA if a resolution isn't found, strike at its enemies' "weak points", and give Israel a lesson it won't soon forget if Israel launches any missile strikes.

Two Paths

At this point, it's still unclear which way the US intends to push its agenda. On the one hand, a military assault seems unlikely. The US military is already overstretched maintaining occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as maintaining its global network of hundreds of bases. President Bush maintains he will not reintroduce conscription, and in any case, it's unlikely that Conscripted Americans would go willingly to war as they have in decades past.

At the same time, conveniently-timed leaks about US plans to launch missile strikes - including nuclear weapons - against Iran suggest that an American offensive would be based more on destroying targets and debilitating Iran than on invading and occupying. In other words, it would be more like the first Iraq war than the second.

Realistically, the only way Americans can really be brought on board for an offensive against Iran would be if they are subjected to another major terrorist attack, something the administration knows well. As Rebuilding America's Defenses notes, "the process of [military] transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor."

However, those leaks may also be "friendly" - that is, authorized by the people in charge - to intimidate Iran into accepting the US/EU-3 conditions on its nuclear program. The big difference between Iraq and Iran is that the former was a broken country with no real military capabilities, scarred by decades of war, bombing sorties, and devastating trade sanctions.

Iran, by contrast, has been developing for the past decade and a half while Iraq stagnated. It has circumvented American trade sanctions by developing trading ties with regional powers, especially Russia, China, and India. Iran has an advanced military capability including sophisticated missile systems purchased from Russia. Iran also oversees the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and could disrupt oil shipments from the entire region.

Rather than planning a military assault, America may instead be priming the international community to accept punitive sanctions against Iran in order to weaken it economically and militarily and, to paraphrase the Defense Policy Guidance, deter Iran from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.

This is a dangerous gambit. With global oil production already at maximum, threatening to take Iranian oil off-line through military attacks or trade sanctions could easily push the global economy into a major crisis. At the same time, the messianic ideologues running the US government may just be arrogant enough to believe they can pull it off.

Further Reading

Mike Whitney, "The Inevitable War with Iran", Dissident Voice, September 24, 2005

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his essays have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on twitter.

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