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Sleepwalking towards war

Online Journal | January 31, 2007
Linda S. Heard

It seems that dialogue has almost become a dirty word. Dialogue doesn't kill or destroy cities yet it's been cast aside as a diplomatic tool to save this region from another potential conflagration.

The question is why does the Bush administration refuse to talk to Iran? Tehran has made tentative approaches on numerous occasions and has been constantly rebuffed.

In 2003, Tehran offered conciliatory concessions to the US that included help with the stabilisation of Iraq, cessation of support for militant groups and the opening up of it nuclear programme in exchange for amicable relations. This offer was rejected by Dick Cheney.

In recent times, Iranians President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent olive branches to US President George W. Bush and was either ridiculed or ignored.

If Iran is perceived as a threat then surely the best deterrent would be to bring it into the international fold. Put simply, friends don't normally bomb one another and economic partners have nothing to gain from doing so.

In recent months, a slew of prominent figures from all sides of the US political spectrum have recommended that America engage with Iran.

Charles Kupchan, director of European Studies at the Council on Foreign Relation, has said "the Europeans are jumping up and down telling the US it's time to engage". Engagement was also a staple of the shredded Baker-Hamilton report.

Current tensions

Last week in Davos, chief of the nuclear watchdog Mohamad ElBaradei sought to defuse the current tensions by calling for a diplomatic time-out and putting forward proposals whereby Iran would suspend uranium enrichment in return for the postponement of UN sanctions.

Iran says it is considering this offer and has asked Russia to act as an intermediary. It has also asked Russia to come up with new proposals relating to enrichment on Russian soil.

While Russia reluctantly voted for limited sanctions against Iran, it has made clear its objections to isolating Iran and has vowed to continue assisting it achieve its peaceful nuclear objectives.

America's military buildup in the region has made Russia nervous. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the US to explain its increased military presence, saying, "What's it all about?"

According to Dick Cheney the aircraft carriers, strike forces and nuclear submarines dispatched to the neighbourhood are there to send "a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organisations to deal with the Iranian threat".

Wait a minute! Iran hasn't threatened the US and even if it wanted to it doesn't have the capability to rain missiles on New York or Los Angeles.

Moreover, according to ElBaradei, Iran is years away from enriching uranium to specifications and quantities needed for nuclear bombs and there is no evidence to suggest its ambitions lie in that direction.

ElBaradei does say, however, that using force to eliminate Iran's enrichment programme would "strengthen the hand of those who say 'let us develop a weapon'."

In fact, this is exactly what happened in Iraq. Before the Israelis bombed the Osirak facility at Tuwaitha in 1981, the Iraqi programme was peaceful. Only subsequent to Israel's aggression did Saddam Hussain call his scientists to ask them to build a bomb.

In any event, even if Iran did produce a nuclear weapon it would exist only as a deterrent or as a tool to balance regional power.

It's unthinkable that Iran would launch a preemptive nuclear strike on either the US or Israel as that would equate to suicide given the latter's nuclear and military superiority. And there is nothing to suggest the Iranian leadership has suicidal tendencies.

So, in reality, there is no Iranian threat. The threat is coming from a stubborn White House intent on flexing its muscles and showing the region who's the boss.

As former UN weapons inspector and author Scott Ritter recently said in a radio address, "America's foreign policy in the Middle East is a vehicle of empowerment".

Defuse the situation

If the White House wanted to defuse the situation it could do so at any time by sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tehran with offers of economic cooperation and security guarantees.

In response, Tehran would undertake to lift its hand from Iraq and suspend uranium enrichment. It may really be that simple.

If Iran were to reject such sincere overtures then at least the White House could say it pulled out all the stops for diplomacy's sake and return to banging the drums.

While urging the US not to isolate Iran and Syria, Sergei Lavrov has this to say: "In general, the problems that exist in the Middle East and the surrounding region are linked to muddle-headed ideas about prestige."

If he's correct then this is a shocking indictment of the way powerful politicians with massive egos are playing with people's lives just to save face. But personally I think that view is too simplistic.

The US administration's main players and their newly appointed like-minded generals still adhere to the neocon game plan despite all the obstacles and opposition. With two years to go, this is their last hurrah.

They're already down, so they've little to lose and everything to gain like a gambler on a roulette table down to his last wretched chip.

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