Iran in the Crosshairs: How to prevent Washington's next war?

By New Internationalism

Author(s): Phyllis Bennis
Contributor(s): John Cavanagh, Farrah Hassen, Erik Leaver, Saif Rahman

As George W. Bush's administration enters its last year in office, the danger of a U.S. military attack on Iran looms. Widening opposition to the illegal Iraq War, growing recognition that the war in Afghanistan has failed to bring stability or democracy to that beleaguered country, new tensions rising in Pakistan, escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, all have brought new fears but also heightened interest in the wider Middle East region, especially interest in Iran. It is to address this new and renewed interest in Iran, to answer questions, and propose some ideas to prevent another looming disaster, that this pamphlet is designed.

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Introduction

Washington watched as 2007 came to a violent and inglorious end.

U.S. wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S.-backed Israeli occupation
suffocated Palestinians, U.S.-allied governments in Pakistan and Kenya faced
national explosions over false democratization and stolen elections, and
U.S. corporate-driven poverty and resource wars ravaged Africa. Powerful
forces in the United States had already begun to critically reassess what they
saw as the diminishing value of the Bush administration’s reckless global
interventionism.

By the end of the year, that elite divide—with the Bush White House
increasingly isolated and discredited—had shown up in a leaked story
of how Bush’s CIA hid and then destroyed videotapes documenting the
interrogation-by-torture of detainees in the so-called “global war on terror.”
There was an explosive story documenting how Bush’s billions of dollars in
“anti-terrorism” military aid to Pakistan had completely failed to stabilize that
war-wracked country.1 Another leak exposed damning views that the United
States and its allies were losing the war in Afghanistan, the invasion and
occupation that were supposed to shine as Washington’s “good war”—the
war that no one could criticize because of September 11.2

But the most important evidence of the split within the powerful elites
came with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE)
on December 3, 2007.3 The NIE, reflecting the consensus view of all 16 U.S.
intelligence agencies, made clear that Iran did not have a nuclear weapon, did
not have a program to build a nuclear weapon, and was less determined to
develop nuclear weapons than U.S. intelligence agencies had earlier claimed.

How could anyone now claim there was any legal or moral pretext
for threatening Iran? But somehow the release of the NIE did not stop
Washington’s talk of war. The day after the NIE was released the Washington
Post headline read, “U.S. Renews Efforts to Keep Coalition Against Tehran.”4
The White House, the President, and especially the Vice-President, all
continued ratcheting up the rhetoric. In fact, the president had been told of
the NIE’s overall conclusions months earlier, back in the summer of 2007.

When Bush arrived in the Middle East in January 2008 for his first trip to
the region as president, Iran remained top of the agenda. One of his primary
goals was to reassure Israel that the NIE had changed nothing in U.S. policy
trajectories towards Iran and that despite the intelligence agencies’ consensus
that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon, “all options” remained on the
table. According to Newsweek, “in private conversations with Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, the President all but disowned the document, said a
senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip
to the Mideast. ‘He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence
community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own
views.’”

Newsweek went on to recognize that:

“Bush’s behind-the-scenes assurances may help to quiet a rising
chorus of voices inside Israel’s defense community that are calling for
unilateral military action against Iran. Olmert, asked by Newsweek
after Bush’s departure whether he felt reassured, replied: ‘I am
very happy.’ … Bush told Olmert he was uncomfortable with the
findings and seemed almost apologetic …. But the president may be
trying to tell his allies something more: that he thinks the document
[the NIE] is a dead letter.”

Just a couple of days before Bush’s January 2008 trip to Israel, the
Pentagon reported an “incident” in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian speed boats
had allegedly swarmed between and among three large U.S. warships heading
into the Persian Gulf, broadcasting threatening messages that the U.S. ships
were about to explode and dropping small box-like objects onto the seas. Just
as the sailors were aiming their guns at the provocateurs, the Iranian boats
reversed course and sped away.

Reuters described how the boats “aggressively approached” the U.S.
ships. The Pentagon called it “careless, reckless and potentially hostile,” the
White House “reckless and provocative.”6 Numerous Persian speakers pointed
out that the voice making the threats did not sound like a Persian accent.
The U.S. Navy itself acknowledged that they had no idea where the voice
making the threats had actually come from.7 Quickly the words “Tonkin
Gulf incident” were on many lips. Many remembered August 4, 1964, the
“attack on a U.S. Naval ship” off the coast of Vietnam Lyndon Johnson used
as a pretext for sending troops to Vietnam. Years later the world learned that
the alleged attack had never occurred at all; it was cooked up. Would the
“swarming boat incident” in the Strait of Hormuz serve as George Bush’s
Tonkin Gulf?

Despite the NIE, the possibility of a U.S. military strike on Iran remains
a very real threat. Neither operative intelligence estimates nor actual facts on
the ground would have much sway over the ideologues in the Bush White
House.

Submitted by AIFC on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 9:44am.