Brzezinski on Iran: “Been there, done that”


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,0,3700317.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
From the Los Angeles Times
Been there, done that

Talk of a U.S. strike on Iran is eerily reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq 

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security advisor to President Carter from 1977 
to 1981.

April 23, 2006

IRAN'S ANNOUNCEMENT that it has enriched a minute amount of uranium has 
unleashed urgent calls for a preventive U.S. airstrike from the same sources 
that earlier urged war on Iraq. If there is another terrorist attack in the 
United States, you can bet your bottom dollar that there also will be immediate 
charges that Iran was responsible in order to generate public hysteria in favor 
of military action.

But there are four compelling reasons against a preventive air attack on Iranian
nuclear facilities:

First, in the absence of an imminent threat (and the Iranians are at least 
several years away from having a nuclear arsenal), the attack would be a 
unilateral act of war. If undertaken without a formal congressional declaration 
of war, an attack would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the 
president. Similarly, if undertaken without the sanction of the United Nations 
Security Council, either alone by the United States or in complicity with 
Israel, it would stamp the perpetrator(s) as an international outlaw(s).

Second, likely Iranian reactions would significantly compound ongoing U.S. 
difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps precipitate new violence by 
Hezbollah in Lebanon and possibly elsewhere, and in all probability bog down the
United States in regional violence for a decade or more. Iran is a country of 
about 70 million people, and a conflict with it would make the misadventure in 
Iraq look trivial.

Third, oil prices would climb steeply, especially if the Iranians were to cut 
their production or seek to disrupt the flow of oil from the nearby Saudi oil 
fields. The world economy would be severely affected, and the United States 
would be blamed for it. Note that oil prices have already shot above $70 per 
barrel, in part because of fears of a U.S.-Iran clash.

Finally, the United States, in the wake of the attack, would become an even more
likely target of terrorism while reinforcing global suspicions that U.S. support
for Israel is in itself a major cause of the rise of Islamic terrorism. The 
United States would become more isolated and thus more vulnerable while 
prospects for an eventual regional accommodation between Israel and its 
neighbors would be ever more remote.

In short, an attack on Iran would be an act of political folly, setting in 
motion a progressive upheaval in world affairs. With the U.S. increasingly the 
object of widespread hostility, the era of American preponderance could even 
come to a premature end. Although the United States is clearly dominant in the 
world at the moment, it has neither the power nor the domestic inclination to 
impose and then to sustain its will in the face of protracted and costly 
resistance. That certainly is the lesson taught by its experiences in Vietnam 
and Iraq.

Even if the United States is not planning an imminent military strike on Iran, 
persistent hints by official spokesmen that "the military option is on the 
table" impede the kind of negotiations that could make that option unnecessary. 
Such threats are likely to unite Iranian nationalists and Shiite fundamentalists
because most Iranians are proud of their nuclear program.

Military threats also reinforce growing international suspicions that the U.S. 
might be deliberately encouraging greater Iranian intransigence. Sadly, one has 
to wonder whether, in fact, such suspicions may not be partly justified. How 
else to explain the current U.S. "negotiating" stance: refusing to participate 
in the ongoing negotiations with Iran and insisting on dealing only through 
proxies. (That stands in sharp contrast with the simultaneous U.S. negotiations 
with North Korea.)

The U.S. is already allocating funds for the destabilization of the Iranian 
regime and reportedly sending Special Forces teams into Iran to stir up 
non-Iranian ethnic minorities in order to fragment the Iranian state (in the 
name of democratization!). And there are clearly people in the Bush 
administration who do not wish for any negotiated solution, abetted by outside 
drum-beaters for military action and egged on by full-page ads hyping the 
Iranian threat.

There is unintended irony in a situation in which the outrageous language of 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (whose powers are much more limited than 
his title implies) helps to justify threats by administration figures, which in 
turn help Ahmadinejad to exploit his intransigence further, gaining more fervent
domestic support for himself as well as for the Iranian nuclear program.

It is therefore high time for the administration to sober up and think 
strategically, with a historic perspective and the U.S.

national interest primarily in mind. It's time to cool the rhetoric. The United 
States should not be guided by emotions or a sense of a religiously inspired 
mission. Nor should it lose sight of the fact that deterrence has worked in 
U.S.-Soviet relations, in U.S.-Chinese relations and in Indo-Pakistani 

Moreover, the notion floated by some who favor military action that Tehran might
someday just hand over the bomb to some terrorist conveniently ignores the fact 
that doing so would be tantamount to suicide for all of Iran because it would be
a prime suspect, and nuclear forensics would make it difficult to disguise the 
point of origin.

It is true, however, that an eventual Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons 
would heighten tensions in the region and perhaps prompt imitation by such 
countries as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Israel, despite its large nuclear arsenal, 
would feel less secure. Preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons is, 
therefore, justified, but in seeking that goal, the U.S. must bear in mind 
longer-run prospects for Iran's political and social development.

Iran has the objective preconditions in terms of education, the place of women 
in social affairs, and in social aspirations (especially of the youth) to 
emulate in the foreseeable future the evolution of Turkey. The mullahs are 
Iran's past, not its future; it is not in our interest to engage in acts that 
help to reverse that sequence.

Serious negotiations require not only a patient engagement but also a 
constructive atmosphere. Artificial deadlines, propounded most often by those 
who do not wish the U.S. to negotiate in earnest, are counterproductive. 
Name-calling and saber rattling, as well as a refusal to even consider the other
side's security concerns, can be useful tactics only if the goal is to derail 
the negotiating process.

The United States should join Britain, France and Germany, as well as perhaps 
Russia and China (both veto-casting U.N. Security Council members), in direct 
negotiations with Iran, using the model of the concurrent multilateral talks 
with North Korea. As it does with North Korea, the U.S. also should 
simultaneously engage in bilateral talks with Iran about security and financial 
issues of mutual concern.

It follows that the U.S. should be a signatory party to any quid pro quo 
arrangements in the event of a satisfactory resolution of the Iranian nuclear 
program and of regional security issues. At some point, such talks could lead to
a regional agreement for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East ‹ 
especially after the conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement ‹ 
endorsed also by all the Arab states of the region. At this stage, however, it 
would be premature to inject that complicated issue into the negotiating process
with Iran.

For now, our choice is either to be stampeded into a reckless adventure 
profoundly damaging to long-term U.S. national interests or to become serious 
about giving negotiations with Iran a genuine chance. The mullahs were on the 
skids several years ago but were given a new burst of life by the intensifying 
confrontation with the United States. Our strategic goal, pursued by real 
negotiations and not by posturing, should be to separate Iranian nationalism 
from religious fundamentalism.

Treating Iran with respect and within a historical perspective would help to 
advance that objective. American policy should not be swayed by the current 
contrived atmosphere of urgency ominously reminiscent of what preceded the 
misguided intervention in Iraq.

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Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

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