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Cease fire! ...
Cease fire! ... pause ... consider accounts ... then move toward truce or regroup and trounce?
by Craig Rowley
Tonight seems to be the eve of the hoped for ceasefire in the conflict in southern Lebanon and northern Israel. If all falls into place tomorrow there is a real opportunity to make a play for a greater peace, if only the pause in hostilities can be translated into something longer lasting and further reaching. Will all those involved in the immediate conflict, and more importantly the war by proxy behind it, just give peace a chance? Or is hope in what is possible only false promise and do we face the prospect that, more probably, the parties will be taking us to the brink again before the year is out?
Comment on the recent post by Professor Jeffrey Sachs - The Middle East's Military Delusions - has prompted me to look back over Should Iran be attacked? a post by Professor Joseph S Nye we published in May.
Professor Nye's post commenced with the question that reports had suggested was being explored by President George W Bush and his administration, and it becomes clear on reading the post that he sees how costly use of force against Iran would be (and he's not just talking about financial costs). Professor Nye concluded his post by offering some points to think about on policy alternatives the U.S. could take up and in the early part of our conversation thread we started exploring what could be done instead of attack, what the application of some clear thinking could come up with, and what might make up the steps on a better path to dealing with the potential threat represented by Iran's nuclear program.
Despite the promising start we didn't really build on the momentum. (It would be good if we could now, particularly as the translation of a ceasefire into truce can only come from new thinking by the parties involved.) I felt that in both the thread following Nye's post and that following Sachs' we didn't really bring the shift in U.S. foreign policy positions on Iran into focus and, from the basis of a better understanding of why such a shift occurred, develop ideas about how it could be shifted again to a position with better prospects for bringing about a little more peace.
That shift in U.S. foreign policy positions I speak of is evident in these quotes:
"...President Clinton and I welcomed the new Iranian President's call for a dialogue between our people.... Now we have concluded the time is right to broaden our perspective even further."
Madeleine K. Albright
"Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom ... States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world ... "
President George W. Bush
"I think it's best I just leave it that all options should be on the table, and the last option is the military option."
President George W. Bush
Now we can debate whether the shift has been substantial or otherwise. Some take the 'last option' emphasis to signify that U.S. policy toward Iran has not shifted to a totally militaristic stance. Some see a shift from a policy prescription based on the premise that a dialogue could be opened and diplomacy would work, to one where plans to attack are being (or have been) worked up.
I understand that at the beginning of George W. Bush's presidency there were two groups in the administration waging an intense struggle over policy on Iran. The U.S. government went month after month without an official policy at that time.
Then the attack on America on September 11, 2001 created an entirely new strategic context for U.S. relations with other nations and certainly this was true with respect to its approach to Iran. There was a choice to make and official U.S. policy on Iran had to be determined. Within the broader response to September 11 - the global war on terrorism - there were (and there continues to be) a variety of strategic options, various opportunities.
One was the choice of immediate response focus and the Bush administration decided on destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda network it had harboured. When you think about it selection of this option opened a choice about how to deal with Iran. Washington could begin a period of extraordinary strategic cooperation between America and Iran in order to support the action to be taken in Afghanistan, it could select a status quo strategy leaving Iran on the sidelines to wonder whether it would be drawn in at some stage, or it could plot the point when Iran would become the priority in prosecuting the long war on terrorism and start preparing for it.
Gareth Porter, a historian and journalist who writes regularly on U.S. policy in Iran and Iraq for Inter Press Service, has reported that as America began preparing for the military operation in Afghanistan, the then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker held a series of meetings with Iranian officials in Geneva. Iran offered search-and-rescue help, humanitarian assistance, and even advice on which targets to bomb in Afghanistan. The Iranians, who had been working for years with the main anti-Taliban coalition, the Northern Alliance, also advised the Americans about how to negotiate the major ethnic and political fault lines in the country.
By November 2001, the U.S. Office of Policy Planning had written a paper arguing that there was “a real opportunity” to work more closely with Iran on al-Qaeda. This would have been a smart strategy to take up if your interests were in genuinely separating terrorist organisations from the sponsorship of states. You aim to gain the cooperation of states considered sponsors of terrorism and say, ‘We will take you off the state-sponsors-of-terrorism list if you do the following.’”
What happened instead was that a State of the Union Address was being prepared for President George W. Bush to deliver in January 2002 that included Iran in the “axis of evil”. In the weighing up of the carrot and stick balancing act some wanted the U.S. to come on strong with the stick.
In the weeks after 11 September 2001, President Bush had been sent this letter supporting a "broad and sustained campaign" of military action by the US. How much influence the authors of that letter from the Project for a New American Century actually had on the President's decision-making is a matter of speculation. It may have had more to do with a President going gaga over reports that Iran was the source of an arms cache intercepted on route to Gaza. Whatever the case, it is clear that President Bush, the Commander-in-Chief, champion of the Coalition of the Willing and leader of the free world, decided that to engage with any of those on the state-sponsors-of-terrorism list was a concession to terrorism, a reward for bad behaviour. There would be no deals done with naughty boys. U.S. policy would be that Iran could never be treated as a sovereign equal on any issue. Iran was in the "axis of evil".
President Bush’s axis-of-evil speech was followed by talk of Iran deliberately “harbouring” al-Qaeda cadres who had fled from Afghanistan and signals came from the Bush administration discrediting the promising prospect of cooperation between Tehran and Washington as a means for Iran to obtain U.S. concessions. By May 2002, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the idea of negotiations with the United States as useless.
From the perspective of some the "real opportunity", ripe for the taking, was left to wither. From the perspective of others, Bush administration saying no to negotiations and taking a hardline with Tehran was the right thing to do. By September 2002, the U.S. was set on a security framework that shifted its foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack America. With momentum building for military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, with the White House setting out the Doctrine of Preemptive War, and saying it would never negotiate with terrorists (nowadays at term that seems all inclusive of organisations such as al-Qaeda and all nations on the state-sponsors-of-terrorism list), what other conclusion would Iran come to than that the path ahead might lead to more than the invasion of the neighbour it had even less love for than Afghanistan?
As the tension mounted amongst those searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq where they weren't located, the only other member of the "axis of evil" without the bomb was feeling tense too. What would the Iranians have made of President Bush telling the American people on 16 October 2002 that: "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope that the use of force will not become necessary"? What would they then have made of what happened on 19 March 2003 when they witnessed the 'shock and awe' of the invasion of Iraq? If they made haste in making the bomb, then perhaps it shows all the more what waste junking the "real opportunity" was.
Not everyone saw the "real opportunity" as totally wasted. The two contending camps within U.S. foreign policy setting circles struggled again in 2003 over a proposal by realists, like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, to reopen the Geneva channel with Iran that had been used successfully on Afghanistan in 2001-2002. It would not have been easy given that by June that year a number of 'experts' were saying Iran would have nuclear weapons by 2006, but somehow Richard Armitage was able by October to say in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
"Iran is a country in the midst of a tremendous transformation, and I believe American policy can affect the direction Iran will take ... United States policy is, therefore, to support the Iranian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous country that is a trusted member of the international community ... As President Bush noted when talking about Iran last week, not every policy issue needs to be dealt with by force."
Though it was not really clear whether the American policy that would 'affect the direction Iran would take' included any carrot or just a thumping big "evil" regime changing stick. And by the end of 2003, Howard Dean (at that time the Democrat presidential frontrunner), was saying U.S. President George Bush has a "schizophrenic foreign policy" regarding Iran:
"Earlier this year, Bush said Iran was part of the Axis of Evil, now we're shipping food, medicine and other supplies to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Iranians. There seems to be a chronic disconnect in the Bush administration between the Iranian people and the actions of the Iranian government. The president needs to make up his mind -- is Iran evil or not?"
In January 2004, more of those shipments of food, medicine and other supplies would be much needed in Iran. Bush may not have made up his mind to use force to beat the bad guys and win out against "evil", but then Bam felt the brutal forces of nature that northern winter and the suffering people of Iran where to be in the Bush administration's thoughts and prayers. By the end of 2004, thoughts and prayers had once again turned to thoughts of bringing to bear that big stick. A new, more aggressive policy on Iran was said to have the backing of then secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser.
At the start of 2005, Dick Cheney had placed Iran at the top of Washington’s list of world trouble spots and said that he feared that Israel might strike Tehran in order to eliminate its nuclear threat. “We don’t want a war in the Middle East if we can avoid it,” said Mr Cheney in January 2005.
A month later Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, was renewing criticism that Iran had been left on what he called 'a back burner' during the Bush administration. "Our policy on Iran has been a non-policy," he said. "The negotiating regarding the nuclear facilities in Iran have [sic] been conducted by other countries. We have not been a player in that, and I think that is too bad. As important as Iran is to a settlement of the problems we have in the Middle East the president should personally be involved. Certainly we shouldn't leave this to other countries." California Democrat Bob Filner was echoing Howard Dean calling U.S. policy on Iran contradictory. "We have been going on this schizophrenic policy of preparing for war perhaps, which I think is a dangerous situation, just in a military fashion we seem to be overstrained to our limits just with Iraq and Afghanistan, and to try an even more problematic situation would be difficult for our nation," he said.
At about the same time, John Bolton, the State Department's top international security official, was echoing Dick Cheney saying publicly that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear sites because the Jewish state has "a history" of such actions (referring to Israel's 1981 bombing raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor).
President George W. Bush would later make 'clear' in his 2005 State of the Union address that he wanted a peaceful solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. In the UK, Tony Blair would echo Bush saying "I don't know of anybody planning military action against Iran", news of which would break on the same day as Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his government 'has no intention' of launching a strike against Iranian nuclear installations and two days after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had never authorised sending reconnaissance planes over Iran to spy on it.
By April 2005, state delegations of Iranian-Americans across the U.S. had come together for the first ever National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran was held in Washington. They declared their resounding support for democratic change in Iran and called for "third option" in policy toward Tehran, first introduced by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, at the time the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The third option: 'No to Appeasement, No to War, Yes to Democratic Change by the Iranian People'.
By June 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line mayor of Tehran who had invoked Iran's 1979 revolution and expressed doubts about rapprochement with the United States in his campaign to become President, was 'elected' under circumstances seen by the U.S. and most of the democratic world as far more controversial than a hanging chad ever could be. A month later, outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said the prospect of dialogue resuming between the United States and Iran was more distant. "We are further from it (a resumption of dialogue) today than we have been for some years," he said. He couldn't see a "real opportunity" for dialogue arising again.
By the end of 2005, influential Republican congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a Bush loyalist who chairs a House of Representatives subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, expressed frustration over President Bush's approach to Iran. She wasn't just saying pressure was building for a tougher U.S. policy. Ros-Lehtinen said she did not believe the administration had a clear idea of "what they want to do there and what is the end game". Get out the big stick in other words.
At the beginning of this year Iran’s new hard-line President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the Islamic Republic’s 1979 Islamic revolution was a great movement and a stepping stone to a final “great event” in the world. And you can understand why those who dismissed the "real opportunity" would now want that big stick so bad. By June a growing chorus of critics on the American right were saying the Bush administration is being soft on Iran and other so-called "enemies of freedom." Events of the past month give them all the more reason to raise the volume. But if there were a way to get back to what were once "real opportunities", if a way could be found, a firm and fair way, to have Iran take those steps needed for it to be taken off the state-sponsors-of-terrorism list without anyone being wiped of any map, would they tune in?