'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'--unnamed White House aide, quoted in Ron Suskind, "Without a Doubt," New York Times, Oct. 17, 2004.
"Just when you think you're out, they keep pulling you back in," Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, memorably wails with exasperation in Godfather III.
Exactly. Just when you thought the possibility of a US military strike on Iran was conclusively ruled out last week by the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate determining that Iran had given up its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and George Bush were already busy trying to create their "own reality" on Iran.
On Saturday, Gates was telling a group of Mideast leaders gathered in Bahrain that the Iranian nuclear threat was still imminent and demanded urgent action. Gates ominously claimed that the Estimate "is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons program at any ---I would add, if it has not done so already," the New York Times reported. (12/9/07).
NIE SEEN AS WARNING BY GATES
In essence, Gates--supposedly a "moderating" force in the bellicose Bush administration--was arguing that the National Intelligence Estimate was actually a warning of an ongoing if not increasing nuclear threat. The solution: the consolidation of Gulf nations into a united military front ready to confront the purported threat posed by Iran. This military alliance, assisted by the US, would include "cooperative air and missile defense, and maritime security awareness."
This ratcheting-up of the arms race in the Middle East, on top of $30 billion in military aid provided earlier this year to Saudi Arabia and Israel, is somehow portrayed by Gates as the surest route to insuring peace. The notion that the Mideast suffers from a dire shortage of military hardware like missiles is, to say the least, a unique interpretation of recent history.
But Gates left no ambiguity about the seriousness of US intentions for the region: "The United States remains committed to defending its vital interests and those of its allies in Iraq and in the wide Middle East."
Gates wrapped up his remarks by defending Israel's development of a vast number of nuclear weapons--without Israel acknowledging their possession or signing on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or monitoring by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. He even asserted that Israel "is not trying to destabilize the government of Lebanon," apparently counting on his audience to have exceedingly short memories that would exclude the bloody and destructive war Israel waged in 2006 that harmed so many Lebanese civilians and so much vital infrastructure, capped by illegally sowing huge swaths of southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the hours before a truce went into effect.
'WORLD WAR III' RHETORIC
President Bush had previously escalated the rhetorical war against Iran with talk about "world War III" in recent weeks, even as the National Intelligence Estimate was circulating through his administration. This week, Bush echoed his Administration's selective "own reality" about Iran on Tuesday, asserting that Iran's perfectly legal development of expertise and technology for nuclear power as an energy source poses a grave and continuing threat to its neighbors, especially Israel, and the US. 'Iran is dangerous, and they'll be even more dangerous if they learn how to enrich uranium,' Bush said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had responded to the National Intellegence Estimate's release by declaring that the report created the basis for a new dialogue with the US aimed at defusing tensions. Bush responded by insisting that "the ball is in their court" and the ball is in their court' and White House press secretary Dana Perino contemptuously blew off Ahmadinejad's overture as 'fanciful thinking.'
CUT OUT OF THE FRAME
Moreover, Ahmadinejad's effort to seek an accommodation with the US seemed to get buried in the mainstream US media under the Gates-Bush message of an ever-impending nuclear threat. This failing should be no surprise, given the general character of major media coverage of Iran which has given enormous weight to rarely-challenged (until the NIE's release) White House assertions of the Iranian "threat," coupled with undisguised mockery of Ahmadinejad, whose anti-Semitism, denial of the Jewish Holocaust, and his 2005 statement widely interpreted as calling for "wiping Israel off the map," indeed make him a tempting target but lead the media to vastly inflate his power.
A number of vital facts rarely enter the media's portrayal of US-Iranian relations and permit American citizens to fully understand them.
First, as odious and as seemingly dangerous Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic views are, his powers as president are limited, with foreign policy ultimately determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Second, the election of Ahmadinejad resulted in part from US rebukes to olive branches extended by moderate President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani , under whom Iran provided intelligence assistance to the US in 2001 in fighting the Taliban after 9/11. More dramatically, Iran issued a set of comprehensive diplomatic proposals to the US in 2003, seeking normalization of relations with the US in return for "a dramatic set of specific policy concessions Tehran was prepared to make in the framework of an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda," as Gareth Porter summarized the proposal (American Prospect 5/21/06).
But the US quickly spurned the offer out of hand, and the unfortunate US diplomat who merely conveyed the proposal received a severe rebuke from higher US officials. (Other previous Iranian efforts to aid the US included assistance with the release of hostages in Lebanon and providing arms to Bosnian Muslims.) With the US occupation of Iraq proceeding to kill massive numbers of civilians (now estimated at some 1.2 million) and Iranian efforts to ease relations with the US proving futile, coupled with growing poverty, Rafsanjani was overwhelmingly defeated two years later, handing Ahmadinejad both the presidency and a world stage. In a sense, Ahmadinejad's ascent was in part a product of Bush's policy of menacing Iran.
Third, Iran's earlier attempts at nuclear-weapons development were unmistakably illegal and a peril to the entire world. But unfortunately, the primary lesson taught to other nations by a pattern of US aggression in recent years--particularly under George W. Bush-- has been this: unless you arm yourself with nuclear weapons, any show of independence may be greeted with an invasion and occupation. Thus, Iraq got invaded while the US proceeded more cautiously with North Korea. Israeli military historian Martin van Creeveld observed, "The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build military weapons, they would be crazy."
The US hostility toward Iran remains so intense that when European nations and the US developed a package of incentives to steer Iran off its nuclear course, the US "insisted that all language addressing Iran's security interests be removed," as Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former National Security Council staffers, wrote in a New York Times op-ed (12/11/07)
Fourth, while oil-rich Iran's development of nuclear power is now portrayed as persuasive proof that its real intent is to build nuclear weapons, leading hawk Henry Kissinger took a different view when Iran was under the US-implanted dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi. Kissinger defended Iran's development of nuclear energy during the Shah's reign, arguing that "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion into petrochemicals."
While this is an ill-advised energy policy given the dangers of nuclear production (eg., Chernobyl and Three Mile Island) and the long-term problem of storing nuclear wastes, Iran in fact possesses the right to build nuclear-power facilities.
Fifth, the notion that Iran is supplying sophisticated improvised explosive devices to Iraqi insurgents remains unproven, regardless of how many times Gates and others may repeat this claim. A senior US officer, in attempting to document Iran's role, was forced to admit that all the non-explosive materials could be purchased "at any Radio Shack."
Sixth and most importantly, the role of the US CIA and British intelligence in destroying democracy in Iran is vital to understanding Iranians' feelings about the US government, yet is hardly mentioned in stories about Iran. The 1953 coup against democratic leader Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, who dared to seek expropriation of British-owned oil in Iran, cast Iran into 26 years of despotic rule by the Shah, followed by 28 years of domination by Islamic fundamentalists.
But without the media weaving this vital background into its current stories on Iran, the incessant repetition of the Bush Administration's "reality" inevitably colors debate and lures empire-minded Democrats like Hillary Clinton to accept underlying assumptions that are demonstrably false.
The media's ongoing failure to provide background, coupled with cowardice by leading Democrats, gives the needed space for Bush, Cheney, Gates and Co. to serve as "history's actors" and "create new realities" in Iran and elsewhere.
The Bush Administration has repeatedly proven itself not only impervious to, but utterly dis-interested in hard evidence like the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. The Bush Administration now sees itself as bolstered by the illusory success with the "surge" in Iraq, although only 38% of Americans believe it has improved conditions, according to a CBS/New York Times poll conducted Dec. 5-9.
But based upon the continuing ferocity of post-NIE statements by Bush and Gates, don't be too surprised by a "faith-based" US strike against Iran before George W. Bush leaves office.