The bolt from the blue called the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which was released on Monday the 3rd of December, reported “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program ‘because of international pressure'.”
The NIE, in reality, is a final acknowledgement, and a sort of culmination, of a long trail of track-2 diplomacy and intel gathering that the US State department and intelligence agencies have been conducting, and misconducting, with their Iranian counterparts for some time now.
The report is almost a complete U-turn of the community's 2005 judgment that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons”. Apart from being a supposed damper on the war lust of the Neocons, the report is a grudging acknowledgement by the West's intelligence agencies of the rationality of the mad Mullahs.
Now that it is proven that the mad Mullahs were not so mad after all, is Iran off the hook? To answer this question let us go back in time to the immediate post 9/11 period.
In a very recent article written by John H. Richardson in the Esquire magazine, two former high-ranking policy experts from the Bush administration have, in some startling disclosures, enumerated several Iranian overtures to resolve their issues with the United States and the Americans' arrogant rejection of the same.
In this revealing Esquire report, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, who worked at the highest levels of the Bush administration as Middle East policy experts for the National Security Council, disclosed that whatever little overt U.S.-Iran engagement the world did see was ‘never serious and designed to fail'. They cite, as an example, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker's much-publicized meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad. Crocker didn't even have permission from the White House to schedule a second meeting.
Earlier too, according to the duo, the Iranians had been offering to provide many significant concessions in the war against the Taliban. They agreed to provide assistance if any American was shot down near their territory, consented to let the U.S. send food in through their border, and even agreed to restrain some “really bad Afghans,” like an extremely anti-American warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, by quietly putting him under house arrest in Tehran. But the most important thing, according to Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, was that the Iranians agreed to talk unconditionally. Mann says, “They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the U.S., and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in twenty-five years.”
The American response came in President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address. In that speech Bush linked Iran to Iraq and North Korea in a portentous phrase, “the axis of evil”. By then the Iranians had been trying to engage American government in high-level diplomacy for more than a year. The shock for them was profound.
Despite the rude ‘axis of evil' jolt, according to the illuminating Esquire article, the Iranians continued to walk the extra mile in their efforts to normalize their relations with United States. In a fax to the State Department from the Swiss ambassador to Iran, who represented American interests in that country, the ambassador reported to have met with Sadeq Kharrazi, a well-connected Iranian who was the nephew of the then foreign minister and son-in-law to the supreme leader. Kharazzi presented to the Swiss ambassador a stunning proposal for peace in the Middle East, approved at the highest levels in Tehran. In the two-page summary of the proposal, the Iranians gave some spectacular allowances to the United States. Among other things, they promised to take “decisive action” against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program and, above all, also an agreement to recognize Israel .
The White House not only ignored the offer, it lodged a formal complaint with the Swiss government about their ambassador's meddling. What's more, a little while later, America sent a second carrier group to the Persian Gulf, its troops began to arrest Iranians living in Baghdad, blaming them for meddling in Iraq and openly started accusing Iran of “providing material support” for attacks on U.S. forces, with undertones of a legal justification for a preemptive attack.
According to the op-ed, the situation, in fact, became so alarming that Colin Powell had to warn, “You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start'.” Even Henry Kissinger, the chief author of the Cambodian Bombing campaign, urged the need to “exhaust every possibility to come to an understanding with Iran.”
The overtures of the protagonists in the events, from immediately post 9/11 period right up to the 2007 NIE, show pretty unambiguously who had whom fixed in their sights and to what end. So much for the madness of the mad Mullahs.
That was then.
Since the report has been released, in the past few days, the war mongers within the US establishment, and their sympathizers all around, have left no stone unturned in disparaging the NIE to make sure that the US war machine stays on course i.e. on an inexorable path of slamming into Iran.
It has come to light that at the time of his infamous World War-3 statement in the month of October, President George Bush was already aware of the contents of the yet to be released NIE report. Despite the knowledge, he went ahead and proclaimed, “I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,”. His administration, resultantly, remains unyielding in its position that policy toward Iran shouldn't change.
Generally speaking, nearly all the U.S. hardliners on Iran are saying the intelligence document is too ridden with internal political bickerings to be credible. In a Washington Post Op-ed , one John R. Bolton, a fanatical Neocon, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” and currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, observes;
“That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this “intelligence” torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were.”
Fox News reports Rush Limbaugh, a rabid Neocon mouthpiece, as blasting the testimony in the Conservative talk radio. He called it a “sabotage of the Bush administration,”. The Wall Street Journal editorial , yet another conservative periodical, shreds the credibility of the NIE by proclaiming some of its authors as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.'
Above all Israel, the chief beneficiary of America's foreign policy largesse, doesn't seem too happy with the NIE. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is said to have observed , “We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the Earth, even if it is from our greatest friend.” If Israel is not happy with the NIE, it does not matter who else is.
So in conclusion, none of the original members of the war party seem to be much impressed by the NIE. Moreover, little things like a NIE cannot be allowed to stand in the way of ideologies needing solid military muscle for a springboard. Iran, therefore, stays on the hook. The American military juggernaut, for the same reason, stays on course. Only the countdown may be delayed a wee bit.
In an inadvertently honest observation, the NIE categorically states that “Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to weapons irrespective of the political, economic and military costs”. Wish the same could be said of the country in whose service the spy masters have compiled the report.
By Anwaar Hussain
Copyright © 2007 Anwaar Hussain
Anwaar Hussain is an ex-F-16 fighter pilot from Pakistan Air Force. A Masters in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, he now resides in UAE. He started writing as a hobby not very far back and has, since then, published a series of articles in Defense Journal, South Asia Tribune and a host of other web portals. Other than international affairs, Anwaar Hussain has written extensively on religious and political issues that plague Pakistan.
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