T Nation

Iranian arms race

Heres a piece from the Guardian UK on likely dangers in dealing with Iran:

Next stop Tehran?
With Iraq beaten, the US is now playing the same dangerous WMD game with Iran

Simon Tisdall
Tuesday May 27, 2003
The Guardian

Imagine for a moment that you are a senior official in Iran’s foreign ministry. It’s hot outside on the dusty, congested streets of Tehran. But inside the ministry, despite the air-conditioning, it’s getting stickier all the time. You have a big problem, a problem that Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, admits is “huge and serious”. The problem is the Bush administration and, specifically, its insistence that Iran is running “an alarming clandestine nuclear weapons programme”. You fear that this, coupled with daily US claims that Iran is aiding al-Qaida, is leading in only one direction. US news reports reaching your desk indicate that the Pentagon is now advocating “regime change” in Iran.

Reading dispatches from Geneva, you note that the US abruptly walked out of low-level talks there last week, the only bilateral forum for two countries lacking formal diplomatic relations. You worry that bridge-building by Iran’s UN ambassador is getting nowhere. You understand that while Britain and the EU are telling Washington that engagement, not confrontation, is the way forward, the reality, as Iraq showed, is that if George Bush decides to do it his way, there is little the Europeans or indeed Russia can ultimately do to stop him.

What is certain is that at almost all points of the compass, the unmatchable US military machine besieges Iran’s borders. The Pentagon is sponsoring the Iraq-based Mojahedin e-Khalq, a group long dedicated to insurrection in the Islamic republic that the state department describes as terrorists. And you are fully aware that Israel is warning Washington that unless something changes soon, Iran may acquire the bomb within two years. As the temperature in the office rises, as flies buzz around the desk like F-16s in a dogfight and as beads of sweat form on furrowed brow, it seems only one conclusion is possible. The question with which you endlessly pestered your foreign missions before and during the invasion of Iraq - “who’s next?” - appears now to have but one answer. It’s us.

So what would you do?

This imaginary official may be wrong, of course. Without some new terrorist enormity in the US “homeland”, surely Bush is not so reckless as to start another all-out war as America’s election year approaches? Washington’s war of words could amount to nothing more than that. Maybe the US foolishly believes it is somehow helping reformist factions in the Majlis (parliament), the media and student bodies. Maybe destabilisation and intimidation is the name of the game and the al-Qaida claims are a pretext, as in Iraq. Perhaps the US does not itself know what it wants to do; a White House strategy meeting is due today. But who knows? Tehran’s dilemma is real: Washington’s intentions are dangerously uncertain.

Should Iran continue to deny any present bomb-making intent and facilitate additional, short-notice inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to prove it? Should it expand its EU dialogue and strengthen protective ties with countries such as Syria and Lebanon, India, Russia and China, which is its present policy? The answer is “yes”. The difficulty is that this may not be enough. Should it then go further and cancel its nuclear power contracts with Moscow? Should it abandon Hizbullah and Palestinian rejectionist groups, as America demands? This doubtless sounds like a good idea to neo-con thinktankers. But surely even they can grasp that such humiliation, under duress from the Great Satan, is politically unacceptable. Grovelling is not Persian policy.

Even the relatively moderate Khatami made it clear in Beirut recently that there would be no backtracking in the absence of a just, wider Middle East settlement. And anyway, Khatami does not control Iran’s foreign and defence policy. Indeed, it is unclear who does. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani, security chief Hassan Rohani, and the military and intelligence agencies all doubtless have a say, which may be why Iran’s policies often appear contradictory. Tension between civil society reformers and the mullahs is endemic and combustible. But as US pressure has increased, so too has the sway of Islamic hardliners.

Iran’s alternative course is the worst of all, but one which Bush’s threats make an ever more likely choice. It is to build and deploy nuclear weapons and missiles in order to pre-empt America’s regime-toppling designs. The US should hardly be surprised if it comes to this. After all, it is what Washington used to call deterrence before it abandoned that concept in favour of “anticipatory defence” or, more candidly, unilateral offensive warfare. To Iran, the US now looks very much like the Soviet Union looked to western Europe at the height of the cold war. Britain and West Germany did not waive their right to deploy US cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles to deter the combined menace of overwhelming conventional forces and an opposing, hostile ideology. Why, in all logic, should Iran, or for that matter North Korea and other so-called “rogue states” accused of developing weapons of mass destruction, act any differently?

If this is Iran’s choice, the US will be much to blame. While identifying WMD proliferation as the main global threat, its bellicose post-9/11 policies have served to increase rather than reduce it. Washington ignores, as ever, its exemplary obligation to disarm under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Despite strategic reductions negotiated with Russia, the US retains enormous firepower in every nuclear weapons category. Worse still, the White House is set on developing, not just researching, a new generation of battlefield “mini-nukes” whose only application is offensive use, not deterrence. Its new $400bn defence budget allocates funding to this work; linked to this is an expected US move to end its nuclear test moratorium in defiance of the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Bush has repeatedly warned, not least in his national security strategy, that the US is prepared to use “overwhelming force”, including first use of nuclear weapons, to crush perceived or emerging threats. It might well have done so in Iraq had the war gone badly. Bush has thereby torn up the key stabilising concept of “negative security assurance” by which nuclear powers including previous US administrations pledged, through the NPT and the UN, not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Meanwhile the US encourages egregious double standards. What it says, in effect, is that Iran (and most other states) must not be allowed a nuclear capability but, for example, Israel’s undeclared and internationally uninspected arsenal is permissible. India’s and Pakistan’s bombs, although recently and covertly acquired, are tolerated too, since they are deemed US allies. Bush’s greatest single disservice to non-proliferation came in Iraq. The US cried wolf in exaggerating Saddam’s capability. Now it is actively undermining the vital principle of independent, international inspection and verification by limiting UN access to the country. Yet would Iraq have been attacked if it really had possessed nuclear weapons? Possibly not. Thus the self-defeating, mangled message to Iran and others is: arm yourselves to the teeth, before it it too late, or you too could face the chop.

Small wonder if things grow sticky inside Tehran’s dark-windowed ministries right now. If Iran ultimately does the responsible thing and forswears the bomb, it will not be for want of the most irresponsible American provocation.

Guardian Unlimited ? Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

I agree with you Kuri…we should go over there and kick ass!

I’ve been bothered by US-iranian policy for a while. The hardliners have always drawn their strength from antagonism with the US. If the US ever wanted to undermine them and isolate them from their broader population in domestic iranian politics, public and seemingly genuine attempts at reconciliation would accomplish far more. Instead the US has chosen to play into the role of the bullying external threat as the conservatives have portrayed it, giving them strength in the excuse that they need to hang on to power to protect iranian sovereignty. This administration has already burned that bridge as well as the chances for their liberals to garner more power in the near future.

I think the US will have military chalenges in iraq to deal with before it gets any chance to “take out” iran, if that is in fact the administration’s intention. Given that the US would need quite a bit of time to mobilize for a war of that magnitude, I don’t think substantial action will be forthcoming prior to the next election, if at all.

I agree with you E McKee that the US would have many hurdles before being able to start military action against Iran. It seems what the Bush admin are doing is testing the waters, seeing how Iran will react, and what the hardliners inside Iran will do.

The article makes a good point I think in that pushing too hard, scaring the population may end up putting the hardliners back in power- then of course tensions are sure to soar. Perhaps thats what the DC wizards want, an excuse at some point to install a puppet government there, who knows.

Some say there are those advising the administration who are pushing for eventually taking down Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. I don’t know about that
but the US’s actions now sure as hell aren’t stablizing the region.

End the fascist regime in Iran it has gone on for far too long, ruined the lives of far too many people.
How? Well this will be one of the biggest diplomatic/political tests in middle east history for the Bush administration.
Don’t even bother running around Iran with guns pointing that will just fuel the hardliners with more hate for the west.
Empower the reformists, and if he’s got a friggin turban on his head… well don’t trust him.

 Who's a threat? Iran or Israel?

 Who's accused of housing terrorists? Iran or Israel?

 We have no interest in pursuing a war with an ally. We'll get to him eventually and talk him into following the rules - but honestly, with everything thats going on Iran, N Korea, Lybia, just as Iraq and Afghanistan, pose a much serious threat. We dont have the time or resources to waste beating down an ally whom we need at this time. 

 Besides, Im sure I heard something about France's very own nuclear program which violated UN regulations. You wanna go up there and fight them? Of course not, because they dont pose a fuckin threat! Eventually we'll all sit down and make sure everybody follows these regulations more closely. But we have to focus our resources and capabilities on what NEEDS to be done RIGHT NOW.

I have no comment on how we handle Iran. I would think we’d want to encourage the moderates there. But how.

But the rest of that article is full of unsupported BS. He says nuclear proliferation has gotten worse. How has nuclear proliferation increased? He gives no evidence to support this. Iran and North Korea were developing weapons (or at least building reactors) during the 90s when Clinton was president, so it has nothing to do with current administration policy.

On the contrary, it seems to me that North Korea’s bellicose statements (“we will turn the Korean peninsula into a nuclar wasteland” etc) suddenly stopped once we finally invaded Iraq, instead of getting worse as this author would have us believe. China finally gave in and is sitting in on talks with North Korea. They are not going anywhere fast of course, but things are a lot better than they were back in March if you remember.

Also, he says “As US pressure has increased, so to has the sway of Islamic hardliners”, but again no evidence is given. I have found other editorials that say moderates are gaining more power throughout the mideast, not hard liners. I mean, Palestine finally has a PM that is telling Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Fattah to knock it off.

So who is right? I would like to see some evidence either way, it seems everywhere you look there are just editorials where people give their positions which are not based on reality, just what they want reality to be based on their policital persuasion.

If anyone knows where to find any evidence (not opinion) let me know.