“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program… We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.” (U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, 2007)
After four years of vacillating regarding Iran’s nuclear program, difficult years for Israel and Arabs alike, in 2007 the collective wisdom of America’s intelligence agencies arrived at what at minimum was a controversial “assessment” contradicting nearly all national intelligence agency around the world; at best a transparent fig leaf allowing President Bush a legitimate excuse to not carry through his four years threat to use military force if Iran failed to shut down its nuclear weapons program. Thanks to the CIA & Co. According to reports Bush reluctantly admitted that regarding a “military option,” the NIE report had tied his hands. And so the “gung-ho” Republican passed the baton of “military option” to the “anti war” Democrat.
Behind the scenes in bright daylight was America’s military represented by serial defense secretaries and chiefs of the Joint Chiefs strongly opposing the possibility of yet a third failure of arms in the Middle East. Whether the Gates/Mullen mantra warning of “unforeseen consequences” for attacking Iran referred to the world’s economy, or their own lack of confidence in the ability of the military they commanded was never made clear. What is public knowledge is that even with a more tough-talking defense secretary in Chuck Hagel, the same message is still heard:
“General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said in a television interview that it was "not prudent at this point" to attack Iran, and "a strike at this time would be destabilizing."”
What is at stake here is America’s credibility as “superpower.” The immediate response by observers domestic and foreign was that the 2007 NIE was tailored to allow Bush a less embarrassing retreat from his constant drum roll of threats to deal with the obvious fact that not only was the Islamic Republic developing a nuclear weapon, but the delivery system to reach not just targets local but, with its ballistic missile program, globally. As if the threat to American interests in the Arabian Gulf and Suez were not sufficient motivation; if the impending threat of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East was not enough Bush, and his successor Obama, seem committed at all costs to exit the region as quickly as possible. In the words of one observer responding to Bush and that 2007 NIE,
"The root issue for many critics comes down to credibility: Credibility of the estimate, credibility of the intelligence community that developed it and the credibility of the administration[s] for whom those agencies work.”
What was stated above is a critique America’s position in the world no longer just “plausible”: the American president threatened to punish Assad for crossing Obama’s “red line” for the August, 2013 massacre of civilians. Syria waited with baited breath for the attack… and waited. And then Obama decided he needed “Congressional approval” to use force which was a transparent retreat from his threat, and abandonment of whatever claim to credibility the U.S. retained as ”superpower.” As appeared today,
“Obama has no inclination to challenge Putin [over Ukraine], at the risk of losing his understandings with Iran and a free ride out of the Middle East by courtesy of Russia’s entry… His warning of “consequences if people step over the line” was meant to sound grave, but people remembered his warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad seven months ago since when Assad is still going strong. “
Instead Obama and Putin agreed that Assad would turn over all chemical stores for destruction with a deadline for completion today long past. And today 20 Feb 2014, after months of, what even U.S. intelligence describes as delaying tactics,
“The Syrian government may have again gassed its own people last month, but alleged survivors are having a tough time convincing the Obama administration it happened… “When we told the State Department, they really didn’t seem to care that much,” a medical official in Daraya said. “They just advised us to take pictures as if we were in a CSI episode.” All that’s for certain is Syria still hasn’t given up all of its chemical weapons despite an agreement.”
No longer is there doubt that, however dressed up, whatever the White House spin, America has been avoiding acting on Syria (and Iran), has been in retreat from the Middle East since roughly Day Two of Bush’s misconceived invasion of Iraq. And the costs to America, and particularly the Middle East for the retreat are very high. The Iraq War alone increased the U.S. debt by more than one trillion dollars because Bush chose to pay for the war with off-the-books loans; the invasion immediately triggered today’s inflated oil prices which, like falling dominoes, likely set the conditions for the Great Recession that followed. As for the cost in human lives, a low total estimate from the invasion in 2003 until 2013 is 174,000, including 123,000 civilians. 4500 U.S. military personnel died in Iraq between the invasion and 2012. But the costs of the Iraq war go far beyond that country.
President Obama may not deserve sole blame for the impending Middle East nuclear arms race. Certainly George W, mirror opposite of Obama, was first to permit and cover the ayatollahs in their pursuit of regional hegemony possibly explainable by Iranian support of the Shi’ite insurgency threatening American battlefield casualties. So, Mr. Obama may not deserve full blame for the impending regional nuclear arms race. But it is ironic that Candidate Obama promised the American electorate and that enthusiastic audience of 200,000 Berlin youths, "This is the moment to secure the peace of the world without nuclear weapons."
Instead of peace and stability the Middle East today sits at the brink of what could be another One Hundred Years War, this between Sunni and Shiite. But more likely the war triggered by America’s abandonment of responsibilities for regional commitments (now that the U.S. has its own oil reserves) and is willing to achieve “peace in our time” without concern for the consequences for the “locals.”
Two American presidents from two opposing political parties; two men with opposite social and global ideologies: Bush, with questionable motives and little strategic understanding set in motion the Arab Spring by attacking Sadam Hussein which provided Iran an ally in the heart of Arabia; Obama, anti-proliferation and anti-war encouraging a nuclear arms race in his headlong race to a détente with Iran; voluntarily surrendering the region to Vladimir Putin fifty years after America managed to get them expelled.
Follows are several headlines describing the background to this article:
20 February, 2014: US State Department rules out ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria: All other policy options ‘remain on the table here,’ says spokeswoman; Assad behind schedule on shipping out stockpiles of chemical weapons.
18 February, 2014: US asks Pakistan to halt nuclear transfer to Saudis in respect of talks with Iran: Trapped in a paradox, the Obama administration asks Pakistan to hold back its nuclear arms transfer to Saudi Arabia to avoid upsetting the six-power nuclear talks with Iran. This is hugely ironic. Washington seeks to curb the nuclear race triggered by its own acquiescence to Iran’s price for diplomacy – recognizing its right to enrich uranium. The Pakistani-Saudi nuclear deal is one outcome of Obama’s inconsistent regional policies.
6 November 2013: Saudi nuclear weapons ''on order'' from Pakistan: Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, "we will get nuclear weapons", the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions.
11 May 2010: Pakistan''s bomb and Saudi Arabia: The great anxiety underpinning this month''s NPT talks in New York, and the deepening crisis over Iranian nuclear aspirations, is the fear that if and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, it would trigger an arms race across the Middle East.
17 December, 2006: Saudis “to buy nuclear bomb” from Pakistan to counter Iranian threat: “Western intelligence services are now convinced that Saudi Arabia played a large role in financing Pakistan’s nuclear bomb project. Riyadh’s aim was to guarantee it immediate access to a nuclear arsenal to counter the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran… British Intelligence (MI6) already regards Saudi Arabia as a surrogate nuclear power, able to join the club whenever it chooses.”
JPost tonight (23 Feb) is leading off with a story under the banner: "Steinitz, after meeting US''s top negotiator: Israel reserves right to act independently." Now, that may be taken as just a prod to Iran, another round of the role play. And it likely serves that purpose. But I suspect it carries also the bottom line for Israel that, if the talks do not end with an agreement that satisfies Israel, that Israel would rather face Iran sooner rather than later.
What is already suggest in my article is that the region is standing at the cliff of a nuclear arms race. And even if it turns out that Iran, in the end, only intends a threat rather than a massive war, the impact of even a proximal bomb by the Shiite state already is motivation enough for the Saudis to go nuclear and then Turkey, and then Egypt. And in the end Israel would be surrounded with nuclear threats.
Nobody wants to see a major conflict in the region but Israel is known for pre-emption. Better to strike the lone threat than allow it to snowball into that which I described.
The threat is real. The time is short. Bad cop can and will act alone, has done so in the past against US warnings.
US take note!