“Listen to my advice for once," [Mubarak] recalled telling Cheney in English. "You have vital interests in the Gulf region, especially oil."
On his recent visit to the Middle East ex-CIA chief and now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta posed this question to Israel: “Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” An interesting question and, if this is the case, appropriately posed by Israel’s partner in the “special relationship.” In an 5 October response Lee Smith writes, “it’s the United States—not Israel—that’s losing power in the region.” Nobody would argue that there has been a seismic shift in the Middle East. I will discuss several issues that created the conditions for that change below. But the implication of Panetta’s statement is that Israel, primarily by failing to make peace with the Palestinians, is responsible for what Panetta refers to as her isolation. I will document below that America, and not Israel, is the cause of that “seismic shift” in the region. And while it is self-evidently true that Israel would be far more secure today, if no less despised in the region, had she and the Palestinian leadership been able to negotiate the “two state solution,” in fact Israel is only one party to those discussions, the opposite party divided by two claimants to leadership, one of which opposes negotiations out of hand.
Due to material to be covered, I will divide this article in two parts, the first covering the war in Iraq and the US-Iran dialogue. The second part will look at the “Arab Spring,” and the Israel-Palestine issue.
Clockwise, starting at top left: a joint patrol in Samarra; the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square; an Iraqi Army soldier readies his rifle during an assault; a roadside bomb detonates in South Baghdad. (Wikipedia)
“It seems like only yesterday we were marching into Baghdad, waiting to be greeted with shouts of gratitude and appreciation for saving you from the evil dictator who ruled your totalitarian state with an iron fist. Well, the surge is over and we''re gonna roll pretty soon, so I just wanted to mention that it''s not too late to greet us as liberators if you get the chance.” GEN. RAY ODIERNO
America invades Iraq: Lawrence Wilkerson, in 2002 a member of the State Department''s Policy Planning Staff and later chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell recalled in an interview that, "the Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy -- Iran is the enemy. If you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy." Wilkerson recalled that the message “was conveyed to the administration by a wide range of Israeli sources, including political figures, intelligence and private citizens.” Nor was Israel the only concerned bystander. Turkey’s prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, at a time when that country was still a strong ally of the United States and Israel and still under secular rule delivered the same message, as did the Saudis, Lebanon and Egypt.
Hosni Mubarak prophetically “told the American government that if you strike at the Iraqi people... we fear a state of disorder and chaos may prevail in the region."
As Air Force 2 approached Riyadh on the first leg of a mission to convince the Saudis and Gulf Emirates that America invading Iraq was in their interest, Dick Cheney was informed that Crown Prince Abdullah had just told ABC News, ''''I do not believe it is in the United States'' interests, or the interest of the region, or the world''s interest, to do so… And I don''t believe it will achieve the desired result.” But neither the advice of the Saudis, the Israelis and the Turks individually or collectively could deter Bush once he made up his mind.
From the beginning the logic of those warnings by America’s allies in the region should also have been obvious to America’s policy-makers. For how could anybody with any background in the region have not foreseen the pivotal role of Iraq as deterrent to Iran? But the administration was bent on following its own inner voice. Emblematic of administration ignorance, Vice President Cheney told Meet the Press that he and Bush fully expected the American invaders to “be greeted as liberators.”
America’s informal alliance with Iran: The Iranians had fought a decade-long war with Iraq and suffered a million casualties. The Islamic Republic was not anxious to try again. They needed a proxy to topple Sadam. America’s first Gulf war stopped at the gates of Baghdad because Bush, Sr. understood Sadam’s role as deterrent. “Iran knew it could not invade Iraq and win by itself.” Iran would have to encourage the Americans to do the job for them.
“Influential people in the White House, the Pentagon and Congress saw [Ahmed Chalabi] as an Iraqi George Washington.” The MIT-educated, secular Shiite Muslim, “was the Pentagon''s and Vice President Dick Cheney''s candidate to lead Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.” In fact Chalabi, close confidant and major source of intelligence regarding those phantom Iraqi WMD (weapons of mass destruction and rationale to invade), was an Iranian spy who both kept Teheran informed of US planning, and provided Bush what it wanted to hear in support of its intentions: “The CIA blames him for some of the bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” And, “intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbor, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.”
Rather than the welcome as liberators of the oppressed Shia majority of Iraq the “liberators” were met by a well organized community bent on fighting the infidels. While Ahmadinejad had been baiting the American invasion the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had been organizing and training their Shia co-religionists to fight the invasion. Iran funded, provided weapons and training and, as the insurrection progressed, even officers to lead the militias. It turned out that defeating the Iraqi army and deposing Sadam was the easy part.
Iran had deftly manipulated the superpower, and would deftly continue to do so with great profit. With the US military bogged down in Iraq the administration had little appetite for yet another Muslim adventure. Although they could never acknowledge it, Bush was now dependent on Iran as a moderating force needed to keep American casualties low. When in 2007 Bush introduced his “successful” Surge, its success was dependent on Iranian cooperation. Ahmadinejad ordered the Shia Mehdi Army, highly successful in fighting the Americans, to withdraw from the streets of Baghdad.
“The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.” Was it mere coincidence that the Mehdi Army abandoned the streets to the US, and that Bush provided Ahmadinejad that State Department Interest Section in downtown Teheran, reversing a thirty year US policy of diplomatically isolating the Islamic Republic? But if Bush bought Iranian assistance with that Interest Section it was unnecessary. Iran would have gladly provided Bush any assistance desired, no strings attached, to encourage the Americans to leave. That had been Iranian policy from the start.
The Iranian Bomb: On its surface, based on the statements of Bush and Cheney, the US was committed to use force to stop Iran’s nuclear bomb project. But if that were really policy, why appoint a defense secretary who opposed that policy from the start; why appoint a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who saw eye-to-eye with the defense secretary? In fact American policy regarding the Iranian bomb had been bluster and inaction long before the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran provided cover by concluding, “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
But Gates and Mullen needed no such fig leaf; they had long been on record opposing war with Iran. “In 2007, [Secretary of Defense Gates] told a private meeting of Congressmen that bombing Iran would "create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America… They will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and they will be less secure at the end than they are now." And chairman Mullen: “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome.” What do such statements mean in context of the president who hired them? What does it say about the intentions of Bush’s successor: President Obama asked both to remain?
New York Times, 10 July, 2011: Panetta Says Iranian Arms in Iraq Are a ‘Concern’
“…Mr. Panetta is the third top American official to raise an alarm about Iranian influence in Iraq in recent days. The American ambassador to Iraq, James F. Jeffrey, said last week that the United States had “forensic” evidence that weapons and weapons parts from Iran were being used by Shiite militias against American troops. His remarks were echoed two days later in Washington by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Iran’s motive, American officials say, is to claim credit for driving American forces out of Iraq at a time when those forces are more than halfway out the door… In April, Robert M. Gates, Mr. Panetta’s predecessor as defense secretary, all but begged the Iraqis to ask for troops to stay… On Sunday, Mr. Panetta echoed Mr. Gates.”
Other articles in this series:4. George Bush and the Diplomacy of Inadvertence