This morning I wake up to learn, as I peruse Antiwar.com, that the Bush administration has suddenly agreed to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Then almost immediately thereafter, from the TV, that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed. Then from the car radio I learn for the first time, and from the mouth of President Bush in his statement announcing Zarqawi’s death, that Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki has finally appointed defense and interior ministers to his cabinet. The failure of the client-state to do this for five months following the parliamentary elections in January (and thereby actually pose as a state in the real world where state power grows out of the barrel of a gun) had become an acute embarrassment for those attempting to lend it legitimacy.
So a big morning for Bush! He gets to announce that a major leader of the “terrorists and insurgents” in Iraq has been eliminated due to the heroic actions of the finest military in the world. (Never mind Abu Ghraib, Haditha and all that.) And he gets to show political progress as well.
The mainstream media is touting his statement as one of his better speeches, although some commentators have cautioned that al-Qaeda constitutes only 5-10% of the “insurgency”. They might add that much of what we’ve heard about Zarqawi to date, including some stuff repeated in the president’s announcement, is probably disinformation. Zarqawi was the devil who, had he not existed, would have been necessary for the U.S. to create. He’s been the useful “link” between al-Qaeda and Iraq, after all.
Whether planned this way or not, the twin successes in Iraq announced with fanfare take place while anonymous administration officials quietly confirm that the U.S. will accept what international law confirms: Iran and every country signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to enrich uranium for civilian energy purposes. This, following Bush’s contention that this provision in the treaty constitutes a “loophole”, and intimated that the treaty (which has some provisions already ignored by the U.S.) ought to be rewritten! This, following Vice President Cheney’s repeated declarations that the Iranians are “already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.” The neocons have all along challenged Iran’s right to continue the nuclear program begun with U.S. support under the Shah. But now Condoleezza Rice is specifically acknowledging that right. These are significant changes, and will likely result in talks.
But even if Iran suspends enrichment -- as it has before during negotiations with the Europeans, as a voluntary confidence-building measure, losing no face thereby; and even if Iranian delegates sit down at the table with Americans somewhat humbled by the imbroglio in Iraq and persuaded reluctantly of the limits of U.S. power, there’s still a rocky road ahead. At any point the U.S. could announce that it has new evidence that contradicts Iran’s stated denial of a nuclear weapons program, terminate the talks -- saying, “We’ve gone that last mile!” -- and begin what would likely be either unilateral military moves against Iran, or ones conducted in tandem with Israel.
In a Fox interview just after the administration announced it would enter multilateral negotiations with Iran if it suspended its enrichment program, UN Ambassador John Bolton made it sound like a likely set-up. “The president’s made it very clear he wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear weapons program [sic] though peaceful and diplomatic means, but he’s also said that Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable,” he told Neil Cavuto.
Cavuto: But unacceptable means that if it keeps going on you’re going to do something about it . . .
Bolton: No option is taken off the table.
Cavuto: Military as well?
Cavuto: Unilateral military action?
Bolton: Secretary Rice made that point . . . that’s why . . .
Cavuto: That we would act alone if we had to?
Bolton: That’s why he says no option is taken off the table. But it’s also why the president has reached out to [Russian] President Putin and other leaders in the past couple of days to say, “We’re making a significant step here” -- that will be criticized by many of the president’s staunchest supporters here at home, but he’s taking this step to show strength and American leadership. He’s doing it to say “We gave Iran this last chance to show they are serious when they say ‘We don’t want nuclear weapons.’” This is “put up or shut up” time for Iran.
Among the “staunchest supporters” of Bush’s warmongering policies is of course the notorious former head of the Defense Policy Board who retains strong ties to the neocons surrounding Cheney who have dominated foreign policy to date. Addressing a sympathetic audience at the AIPAC conference in April, Richard Perle opined that “The attack [on Iran] would be over before anybody knew what had happened,” adding that a dozen B-2 bombers could solve the problem overnight.
Bolton’s comment about criticism of the decision may hint at the disappointment felt by Cheney’s staff as well as Bolton himself, who’s been chomping at the bit to attack Syria and Iran. They may resent Condi’s growing grip on foreign policy and the relative decline (too slight so far to break open any champagne bottles) in the neocons’ power. The changing U.S. position causes me some hope that the war plans already well advanced will remain on hold and maybe even be shelved, to the great relief of the top brass and most rational people. But as the diplomacy proceeds, one must avoid delusional optimism.
Perhaps there’s a relationship between the timing of the (supposed) Iraqi breakthroughs and the Washington Post’s reporting of a strategic retreat from an attack on Iran. It allows the neocons to save some face, surely. Their first project, the imposition of Pax Americana on Afghanistan, has in this fifth year since the fall of Kabul produced anti-American rioting in the capital, reestablishment of Taliban control over the south, record opium harvests, and one U.S. GI death every four days. The second, the acquisition of control over Iraq, has failed miserably. A college campus-sized “embassy” -- the largest in the world -- rises in the heart of Baghdad, a fortress to shelter the world’s largest diplomatic mission from the wrath of a people enraged by the Abu Ghraibs, Hadithas, and daily abuses, humiliations and intolerable inconveniences caused by a criminal invasion. 1,400 civilians were killed by “sectarian violence” unknown under the old regime in Baghdad, in May alone! Failure, failure, failure.
And then, a message from Russia and China (and the world in general), delivered through Condi to Bush: We won’t play along with your game, designed to legitimate your planned attack on Iran. We won’t pass your resolution in the Security Council. Bush reportedly winced as his trusted Secretary of State recommended the first U.S.-Iranian negotiations in 27 years. Hadn’t Cheney said, “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it”? In that context, had the killing of Zarqawi not occurred, today’s good news would’ve had to be invented.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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