For those who spend time observing and analyzing the US’s policy toward Iran objectively, it is commonplace to point out that there always seem to be two entirely different trends to developments, which point in different directions and yet maintain an uneasy co-existence. This understanding is based on both what is happening now with regards to Iran, and parallels with what happened a few years ago, in the build-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
On the one hand, we have the belligerent rhetoric of the neo-conservatives in Washington, along with increasingly provocative policies designed to create a sense of inevitable confrontation in order to prepare the ground for future conflict. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with the neo-cons, because of the US’s failure in Iraq, this is increasingly echoed by others in the US, either because they are taken in by the years of anti-Iranian propaganda generated by the neo-cons, the pro-zionist lobby and the right-wing media, or because they do not want to be accused of being soft on America’s perceived enemies. It is also being echoed by some of the US’s overseas allies, such as Britain and France. Britain has a long record of blindly supporting the US in its foreign policy adventures, which is unlikely to change under Gordon Brown, the new prime minister, despite widespread scepticism about American policies in the country. Meanwhile, France’s new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, have joined the US’s demonization of Iran since coming to power, suggesting that France’s unsuccessful attempts to slow the US’s rush to war against Iraq before the invasion in 2003 are unlikely to be repeated.
Alongside this political posturing, we have the work of international organizations manned by non-political personnel, dealing with the actual realities on the ground, as opposed to the un-realities that the politicians are trying to realise on the ground in future. In Iraq, we had UNSCOM (from 1991 to 1998), followed by UNMOVIC, headed by Hans Blix in the run-up to the invasion. Through the revelations of former UN officials such as Scott Ritter and Blix, among others, we now know a great deal about how the US used these bodies and their findings to manipulate the situation in Iraq and justify its war plans. The current equivalent in Iran is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), headed by Mohamed ElBaradei. Perhaps aware of the experiences of his predecessors dealing with the US over Iraq, ElBaradei has apparently tried to be as clear as possible in his statements on Iran, so that there is as little ambiguity as possible for the US to exploit. He has repeatedly emphasised that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. On September 18, speaking at the General Conference of the IAEA in Vienna, he warned against the use of force against Iran, citing the example of Iraq as a precedent, and concluding that “I do not believe at this stage that we are facing a clear and present danger that requires that we go beyond diplomacy.”
George Bush and his allies were particularly belligerent towards Iran in the run-up to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York at the end of September, perhaps aiming to increase the hostility towards Iran before Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York and the UN for the Assembly. In terms of actual political developments on the ground, where these two trends of developments come together, progress was less confrontational. Before its meeting in Vienna, the IAEA had reached agreement with Iran on a series of measures, describes as a “work plan”, to resolve its outstanding queries about its nuclear program. At theVienna meeting, ElBaradei confirmed that he was satisfied with Iran’s co-operation with the IAEA. As a result, Bush was not able to turn his rhetoric into any concrete action against Iran at the UN. The Security Council said on September 28 that it would defer any decision on sanctions against Iran until November. Ahmadinejad’s optimistic suggestion in his speech to the UN that Iran’s nuclear issue is resolved (see p. 22 below) may be wishful thinking; but Iran has certainly succeeded in blocking the US’s manouevring for another few weeks. Experience shows, however, that when the US does want to ratchet a campaign against anyone to the next level, nothing that agencies such as the IAEA say is likely to stop it.
Alongside these two fronts of development, however, there is also a third area of activity which is, by definition, far less known. This consists of the planning of the US and its allies, and covert political, intelligence and military operations it undertakes to realise its plans. Since the US invasion of Iraq, huge amounts of information about the US’s activities in the build-up to the invasion, which were unknown at the time, have emerged. Relatively little of this has been aired in the press; it is generally regarded as yesterday’s news. Similar developments are undoubtedly taking place now as part of the US’s campaign against Iran. This is the most likely explanation for Israel’s air attack on Syria on September 6, few details of which have emerged as yet. There is little point rehearsing the rumours and speculations that have circulated about the raid, save to say that the Iraqi precedent suggests that it is probably just one part of a far bigger campaign of covert operations against Iran’s perceived allies. The US-Israeli war on Hizbullah last year was explicitly acknowledged as part of a plan to remake the Middle East to a US-Israeli blueprint – “a new Middle East”, in Condoleezza Rice’s memorable words – and it is unlikely that these plans have been shelved just because they suffered a setback inLebanon.
The implications of all this are clear: Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, and Ahmadinejad’s impressive performance at the UN – which was widely admired by the representatives of other countries with reason to distrust the US; hence his successful tour of South American countries after leaving New York – may make it more difficult for the US to advance its plans, but they are unlikely to prevent it from pursuing its broader objectives. For nearly three decades, the US has plotted to undermine and destroy the Islamic Revolution and State. Every time its machinations have failed, it has come back with more devious and aggressive ones to try.
Despite its successes in heading off the US to date, Iran and all objective observers must know that the US will come for it again and more aggressively in the future, and that there is little Iran can do but be prepared to defend itself when that time comes.