* Muriel Mirak-Weissbach on the NIE report re/ Iran *

2008-01-06

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7722


After The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran: Let The Great Debate 
Begin!

"Preemptive surgical strike by the intelligence community against the war party"

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Global Research, January 3, 2008

The issuance of the National Intelligence Estimate on Dec. 3, could be compared 
to the historic "shot heard round the world;" but, perhaps the characterization 
given by Barbara Slavin, author of a new book on Iran, is more to the point. As 
she put it in mid-December at a conference of the Center for American Progress 
in the U.S. capital, the NIE report was " a preemptive surgical strike by the 
intelligence community against the war party" of Dick Cheney et al, those who 
have been building for a military attack against Iran.

Since the publication of the report's findings, that the Islamic Republic of 
Iran has not had a military nuclear program at least since 2003, a plethora of 
reports and leaks have appeared, relevant to the process leading to its 
publication. Among the most clamorous was the account that, faced with the 
commitment by Vice President Dick Cheney and others, to block release of the 
report, members of the intelligence community expressed their willingness to go 
to the press to leak it, even if that meant they could end up in prison as a 
result ("Behind the Annapolis Meet and the Iran NIE Shock," EIR, 12.12.07). The 
French newsletter Reseau Voltaire hinted that the timing of the release of the 
report had to do with a brief visit by Cheney to the hospital for his recurring 
heart disorders (www.voltairenet.org/article153871.html).

Be that as it may, the point is that, not only has the war party been dealt a 
hopefully mortal blow, but, even more important, a process has unfolded in 
Washington, a most healthy process of serious debate on the failures of U.S. 
foreign policy in Iran to date, and the need for a radical revision and new 
definition of the same.

In this contest, two important books are circulating in the U.S. capital, which 
have fed into the debate. One is "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of 
Israel, Iran and the U.S.," by the Iranian-American scholar Trita Parsi, and the
other is "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to 
Confrontation," by USA Today journalist Barbara Slavin. Both books were 
conceived and written over the past 18 months, i.e. in the same time frame in 
which the NIE report was being prepared. Although the two books are very 
different, Parsi's being more scholarly and Slavin's, a more journalistic 
account, both drive home important points. As the two authors stressed in a 
public forum at the Center for American Progess in mid-December, the image that 
most Americans (including many lawmakers) have of Iran is utterly distorted. The
country and its people are neither anti-American, nor irrational, nor 
belligerant. The problem lies in Washington.

As Parsi has most scrupulously documented, Iran has, time and again, acted in 
ways to aid the U.S., albeit indirectly, only to be systematically rebuffed. 
This was the case in the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1991, when Iran remained
neutral, and passed up the opportunity to exploit an Iraqi Shi'ite uprising 
against Saddam Hussein. Yet, what was Iran's reward? When George Bush senior 
convened the Madrid conference in December 1991, Iran was conspicuous by its 
absence. Presaging what would occur at Annapolis in November 2007, the U.S. 
ostentatiously excluded the regional power Iran, while courting Syria, in hopes 
of breaking the alliance between Damascus and Tehran. The foreseeable result was
enhancement of those hardliners in Iran, who opposed rapprochement with the U.S.

When, in 1997, the political leadership in Iran shifted to the reform camp, and 
Seyyed Mohammad Khatami was elected president by an overwhelming mandate, again 
Tehran reached out to Washington. Not only did Khatami offer detente to the 
Arabs and the European Union, but, in an unprecendented interview to CNN, he 
addressed the American people in the spirit of reconciliation. Khatami later 
indicated his government's willingness to accept a two-state solution in the 
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in that he stated that Iran would support whatever
the Palestinian leadership agreed to. His groundbreaking proposal to the U.N. 
General Assembly, for a dialogue of civilizations, put the offer of 
collaboration on a conceptually and morally higher level. Although that was 
fortunately welcomed by the U.N., there were no loud celebrations in Washington.

Few may remember it, but in those dramatic hours following the attacks of 
September 11, 2001, it was the government and people of Iran who perhaps most 
spontaneously and demonstratively manifested their solidarity with the American 
people. When, then, the Bush Adminstration waged war against the Taliban in 
Afghanistan, Iran did not stand in the way, but de facto facilitated the 
military operations against a force which had been its own enemy. The thanks 
Iran got for its role in the Afghan war, were expressed, as ever, uneloquently, 
by President Bush, who, in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union message, 
said: Iran was nothing but a member of the "axis of evil," together with Iraq 
and North Korea.

The next, crucial step was the U.S. war against Iraq in 2003. Once the U.S. had 
ostensibly "won," in the sense that it had overthrown the Saddam Hussein regime,
the Iranians, though shedding no tears for the defeat of the regime they had 
waged a deadly eight-year war against, saw themselves increasingly encircled by 
American forces, in Afghanistan and now Iraq. It was in this context that the 
Tehran government made its boldest offer to date to the U.S., to overcome 
hostilities and reestablish normal relations. The famous 2003 offer by Tehran, 
which both Parsi and Slavin reprint as appendices, should be required reading 
for every American, emphatically every member of Congress. That document, which 
was delivered to the U.S. government through Dr. Tim Guldimann, then Swiss 
ambassador to Iran, and thus official liaison between Iran and the U.S., was a 
bombshell. In it, Iran said, essentially, it was ready to put {all} issues on 
the table: terrorism, Al Qaida, MKO, relations with Palestinian rejectionist 
groups, Iran's nuclear energy program, and so on and so forth. The response from
Washington, which had received the documents also by fax, was zilch. There was 
no response. When asked recently about the issue, Secretary of State Condi Rice 
responded that she "could not recollect" ever having heard of such an offer. One
is reminded of the classic Mafia response to similar queries: "Non c'ero, e se 
c'ero, non ho visto niente" ("I wasn't there, and if I was, I didn't see 
anything").

The point made by Parsi, as well as Slavin, in their Washington forum, was that 
the U.S. has repeatedly been offered opportunities to engage with Iran, indeed, 
to reestablish normal diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, but has 
willfully rejected any such opportunity. Why? Parsi is most forthcoming with his
analysis that the most powerful brake on U.S. policy towards Iran has been the 
so-called Zionist lobby. This should not be misread as some sort of cheap 
anti-Zionist or, worse still, anti-semitic, approach. It is nothing of the sort.
In fact, Parsi's book documents also on the Israeli side of the equation, over 
the years since the time of the Shah, how there have been tendencies in Israel 
in favor of relations with Iran, just as there have been tendencies utterly 
opposed.

A most useful concept presented by Parsi in his book, to explain Israel's 
otherwise incomprehensible behavior towards the U.S. and Iran over the last 
three decades, is that of the "periphery." Ben Gurion had elaborated this 
doctrine, which "held that the improbability of achieving peace with the 
surrounding Arab states forced Israel to build alliances with the non-Arab 
states of the periphery--primarily Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia--as well as with 
non-Arab minorities such as the Kurds and the Lebanese Christians." This 
certainly was the case during the reign of the Shah, and, even following the 
1979 revolution, the Israelis hoped to maintain a presence there. Ariel Sharon 
had even proposed sending Israeli paratroopers to save the Shah. In the deadly 
Iran-Iraq war, Israel feared Saddam Hussein would prevail, and therefore leaned 
towards Iran, and most conveniently bombed Iraq's nuclear power plant at Osirik 
on June 7, 1981 at the start of the hostilities. This anti-Iraqi posture, which 
was also behind the arms deals blown in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, prevailed,
even though the head of the Israel's Foreign Ministry, David Kimchee, stated, 
"Our big hope was that the two sides would weaken each other to such an extent 
that neither of them would be a threat to us." Parsi does not mention it, but 
this was of course the reigning doctrine of geopolitical manipulators like Henry
Kissinger: let them destroy each other.

Once Iraq had been forced to its knees, Israel, afraid that the U.S. might seek 
better relations with regional power Iran, put forward the doctrine of the "New 
Middle East," which would see Israel as the regional hegemon. In pursuit of 
this, Shimon Peres's aim, Israel had to make some sort of peace with the 
Palestinians (Oslo 1993), and, Parsi wrote, "turned the periphery doctrine on 
its head," by focussing on Iran as the new regional threat. This, as 
developments have shown, has continued.

As for U.S. attitudes towards Iran, every time there appeared to be the hope 
(or, from Israel's viewpoint, the danger) of cooling tensions and even broaching
de facto cooperation, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), 
together with the U.S. neocons, shifted into high gear, to renew sanctions about
to expire, or to push for new ones against Tehran. In response to the 
cooperation against the Taliban in late 2001, bolder steps were taken, and 
Israel intercepted the Karine A ship, claiming it was transporting "Iranian 
weapons" to the Palestinians. That was January 3, 2002, just weeks prior to 
Bush's infamous "axis of evil" speech.

Now that the intelligence community has broken a major taboo, by taking the 
argument of Iran's purported nuclear weapons program off the agenda, the 
question posed to an embarrassed U.S. Administration, the members of the 
Democratic majority in the Congress (newly famed for their tendency to cave in 
at every opportunity), and political figures worldwide is: what can and must a 
new, rational foreign policy towards Iran look like?

The response of President Bush to the NIE was reminiscent of the famous Jewish 
joke about one night in a European couchette. A male passenger, trying to sleep 
in his bunk on the night train, was prevented from doing so, by the sound of a 
woman's frail voice, emanating from another bunk, saying "Oy, am I toisty, oy, 
am I toisty...." The man climbed down from his bunk, hurried to purchase a 
bottle of water, and returned to the compartment, to give the woman the water. 
After hearing her swallow several glugs, and readying himself for sleep, he was 
soon greeted by the same frail voice, this time saying, "Oy, vas I toisty, oy 
vas I toisty..." Thus, Bush, speaking to the press after the release of the NIE 
report, could only say, "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will 
continue to be dangerous...." Nothing more could have been expected. Nor should 
it have come as a surprise that Israel dispatched a delegation to Washington, to
try to undo the damage the NIE had done.

So, there is little reason to hope that this Administration will articulate 
anything approaching a rational policy towards Iran. As Barbara Slavin remarked,
when asked whether she thought Iran could renew its famous 2003 offer for 
reviewing relations, yes, the Iranians could certainly do so, but one would have
to have a radically different Administration in Washington, for it to be heard.

The good news is, there will be a new combination coming to Washington after the
elections, and that may open the perspective for a significant change. First, 
for such a change to occur, as both authors stressed, prevailing stereotypes 
about Iran have to be trashed and replaced by a realistic view of what the 
Iranian policy establishment, and the nation more broadly, is. Contrary to the 
notion that Iran is ruled by a gang of "mad mullahs"--a notion Parsi traces back
to Israeli sources--, the reality is that the country is rational, even though 
some of its leaders may indulge in "simulated irrationality" at times. Were they
not rational, they would never have made the effort to improve relations with 
Washington, as they repeatedly have done.

Secondly, Iran must be recognized for what it is: a regional power without whose
cooperation no perspective for security or stability in the entire region could 
be thinkable. This goes for Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, 
just to name the leading protagonists. Excluding Iran, as the neocons have 
consistently done, is comparable to excluding Germany from any post-World War II
arrangement. Iran's status as a regional power comes not only from its current 
role as a force of influence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, but, 
perhaps more importantly, from its role in the history of the region. This is 
not a podunk also-ran or a banana republic, as neocon loudmouths like Kenneth 
Katzman might fantasize; it is a nation with a continuous language culture over 
thousands of years and which, notwithstanding the Arab conquest, has maintained 
its Persian identity as heir to a rich and in many ways unique cultural 
heritage.

Thus, in its relations with the U.S. and other governments, Iran demands first 
and foremost respect, and to be treated as an equal. This is a point that 
Iranian representatives have stressed repeatedly in discussions with this 
author: if the U.S. were to deal with Iran as an equal partner, anything and 
everything would be possible. Steps taken by members of the "Dialogue Caucus," a
group of Congressmen led by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest and Gregory W.Meeks, open to
discussion with their Iranian counterparts, indicate the approach required 
(www.baltimoresun.com/news/nation/politics/bal-te.gilchrest22dec22,0,7950987,pri...
12/23/2007). Iran is first and foremost interested in stability in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, its immediate neighbors. Iran knows what it can contribute to 
establish that security, and has made concrete proposals in this direction 
during the three tripartitie meetings (with Iraq and the U.S.) that have taken 
place thus far. But, if Iran continues to be excluded, it also has the ability 
to be a "spoiler factor."

It follows, thirdly, that Iran wants to be reintegrated into the socalled 
"international community," as a legitimate partner. Acknowledging Iran's role 
"could turn [the U.S.'s] Iran foreign policy into a force for stability," Parsi 
suggests, "by accomodating legitimate Iranian security objectives in return for 
Iranian concessions on various regional and international issues..." This is a 
far cry from what the West has thus far offered Tehran. For example, though 
Parsi does not discuss this, there were great expectations, also in Tehran, that
the European Union's EU-3 group (Great Britain, Germany and France) which was 
conducting talks on the nuclear issue, might come up with an interesting 
approach in summer 2005. Instead, even after Iran had unilaterally accepted an 
additional protocol to agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, 
and suspended its uranium enrichment activities, as a gesture of goodwill, what 
it got in return was an undiplomatic slap in the face. The EU "offer" made that 
summer paid lip service to promising to assist Iran's peaceful nuclear energy 
program, etc., etc., but, regarding security--i.e. guarantees that the country 
would not be given the Iraq treatment--what the Europeans could offer was only 
promises that no {nuclear power} in Europe (i.e. Great Britain or France) would 
nuke Tehran! As to what the U.S. or nuclear Israel might do, there was no 
mention. Nor was there any hint that the great European powers might abstain 
from a conventional attack. (In parentheses, it should be noted, that following 
this offer, which the Iranians had no choice but to roundly reject, the new 
French President Nicola Sarkozy threatened just such attacks.) It was rightly 
assumed that what the EU-3 proposed had been okayed by Washington.

What would a rational U.S. (and Western) foreign policy for Iran look like? It 
would start from acknowledging the geostrategic-political fact, evident to 
anyone (unlike President Bush) capable of reading a map, that Iran occupies a 
very special, indeed, unqiue, position in the world. It is the natural bridge 
for the landlocked Central Asian Republics, to the sea, and worldwide markets. 
It is also the western "column" of the Eurasian Landbridge, the project for 
reuniting Asia and Europe through reconstruction of the historical Silk Road 
transportation networks, with modern technologies, from China, via northern, 
central and southern routes, to Europe. As a clear sign of its rationality, the 
Iranian leadership was the first, in 1991, to recognize the independence of the 
Central Asian Republics following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has 
since then defined its foreign policy largely in terms of economic agreements 
with these and other Eurasian nations. The rail links Mashhad-Sarakhs-Tajan are 
merely emblematic of this thrust, as are the multiple pipeline agreements Iran 
has tried to consolidate (despite tremendous sabotage from London and 
Washington): Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey (and Europe), Iran-Pakistan-India, among 
them. Were the U.S. to alter its currently hostile stance towards Iran, which 
could help stabilize Afghanistan, even a pipeline project across Turkmenistan 
and Afghanistan might be revived.

Anyone serious about establishing stability in the Southwest Asian region 
encompassing the Persian Gulf and so-called Middle East, must take as his 
starting point the economic parameters of the region, and recognize that without
a comprehensive regional program for economic cooperation, there can be no 
stability. World history has documented sadly and frequently enough that 
"non-aggression treaties" are not worth the paper they are written on. It is 
agreement on common interests, and initiatives in the common interests in 
mankind, that establish peace and prevent wars. Happily, it appears that many 
members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have grasped this point, and have begun 
to rethink their own relations with Iran from this standpoint.

It is known that Vice President Dick Cheney, the leading protaganist of the war 
policy against Iran, travelled to Saudi Arabia in November 2006, and again in 
mid-2007, to organize the Saudis to his tactical plan of mobilizing a "moderate"
Sunni Arab force against a presumed "extremist" Shi'ite force in the region. 
This author has received firsthand reports, that Cheney made clear to his 
interlocutors in the GCC countries, as he had done via proxies to conferences at
the Gulf Studies Center, that he was planning a war against Iran, and informed 
them that he was visiting simply to know what their response would be. Whatever 
they may have said in response, as the diplomatic protocols of politeness may 
require, it is also known to this writer, that most of the GCC governments (with
the exclusion of those few truly subservient to Anglo-American interests) have 
recognized that their own further existence depends on decent relations with 
Tehran. It is no secret to anyone that, God forbid, were the U.S. to start a war
against Iran, many of the GCC countries would immediately be affected, 
especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuweit, with their Shi'ite communities, and
Kuweit and Bahrain which host U.S. armed forces.

The GCC made clear their rejection of Cheney's war plan, immediately following 
the Annapolis conference. For the first time ever, the GCC invited an Iranian 
President to attend the December 3-4 Doha summit. Ahmadinejad welcomed the 
invitation, and at the conference, put forward a rational proposal for improving
relations among the group, including a plan for an Organization of Persian Gulf 
Economic Cooperation and a security agreement. Although it was not accepted in 
toto, it established the basis on which relations among the GCC and Iran could 
proceed. Most significant in this context is also the fact that the GCC 
countries had issued a call at an earlier summit, in May, for a study on the 
feasibility of introducing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in the region. 
Not only, but they proposed to set up a joint enrichment facility for the GCC 
and Iran, to provide the fuel for such peaceful nuclear reactors. This was a 
bombshell in itself, as it signalled to the neocons in Washington 1) that the 
GCC was not going to be manipulated into an anti-Iran mode because of the threat
of nuclear weapons (which the NIE says does not exist); and 2) that it was not 
going to be bamboozled by the anti-nuclear lobby into believing that nuclear 
energy were forbidden. Iran reciprocated by offering to share its nuclear 
technology with the GCC states. A further, unprecedented sign that Iran would be
welcomed as an integrated partner among the Arab Gulf states, was the invitation
extended by Saudi King Abdallah to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to take part 
in the Hajj.

A sane U.S. foreign policy approach would view the region as a whole, extending 
from the Persian Gulf westwards and northward to include Israel, Lebanon, Syria 
and Turkey, and consider this Southwest Asian region then as part of the broader
Eurasian continent. Economic development of the entire region, vectored on 
advanced technological infrastructure for transportation, energy and water, 
should define relations among the constituent states of the area; U.S. support 
for such cooperation, and participation in such great projects, would transform 
international relations for the good. Significantly, three of the major Eurasian
powers, India, Russia and China, are oriented to precisely such a perspective, 
and this has been bolstered by clear political support for Iran, especially by 
Moscow and Beijing. What is missing is the U.S. Were a new Administration in 
Washington to define a sane approach to Iran, that could all change. And, in 
such a happy event, as Parsi has recommended, sane forces in Israel would do 
well to recognize the need to get in on such a shift, instead of trying to 
thwart it. (Their "periphery" in this event would anyway have been reduced to a 
fond memory of a failed policy.)

But the main point to be hammered home is: the great debate in Washington opened
up by the NIE report and concomitant books, articles, political initiatives and 
conferences, has placed the need and opportunity for a profound U.S. foreign 
policy shift on the top of the political agenda. Policy towards Iran is the 
litmus test.

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© Copyright Muriel Mirak-Weissbach, Global Research, 2008

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