Iran in the Crosshairs
by Phyllis Bennis
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. 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.
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
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." 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
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
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." 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.
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
This is the introduction to
the new primer, Iran
in the Crosshairs, published by the Institute for Policy Studies. The full
report is available here. Print copies can be ordered by calling IPS.
is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, where she directs the New
Internationalism Project and is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.