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Sunday
Oct282007

Doing it the hard way with Iran

John Bolton, America's recent United Nations ambassador, brags in his new tell-all memoir about thwarting efforts by his successive bosses, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to open a dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program.

If you're disturbed to read about U.S. diplomats backstabbing one other while our nation drifts toward yet another Persian Gulf war, then don't pick up Esquire's November issue because it features a story that will make your blood boil.

Titled "The Secret History of the Impending War With Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know," John Richardson's tale recounts the years-long efforts by two senior National Security Council staffers to trigger engagement with Iran that would serve America's strategic purposes throughout the Persian Gulf. Now out of government, Middle East experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann fear we're headed toward military strikes that will engulf the entire region in flames.

The scenario is easy to imagine: Because of their overriding interests in Iran's energy sector, China, India and Russia won't go along with America's push to further isolate Tehran.

As the Bush White House refuses any comprehensive engagement with Tehran until it ceases its nuclear program, it's purposely constructed a diplomatic Catch-22: Give us your main bargaining chip and then we'll negotiate!

With both President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney stating they will not leave office with a nuclear Iran, the stage is thus set for war sometime in 2008. We've already seen the dry run last month: Our regional proxy Israel strikes a suspected nuclear site in Syria, Iran's regional proxy.

Meanwhile, Tehran's continued meddling in Iraq provides a military rationale for expanding our target list far beyond Iran's nuclear sites, so when America finally bombs, it won't be "surgical."

At that point, Leverett and Mann warn, Iran will ramp up its attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and turn loose proxies Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. The result? Instability and conflict stretching from the Gaza Strip to teetering radicalized Pakistan. Mann opines, "As disastrous as Iraq has been, an attack on Iran could engulf America in a war with the entire Muslim world."

Not exactly where you thought the surge would take us, is it?

Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt, following our entry into World War II against both Japan and Germany, had summarily ruled out alliance with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. Suppose FDR said, "We'll take any help he offers but we'll offer nothing in return."

Just think about how that choice would have complicated our efforts by denying us cooperation with the one great power sandwiched between these two shared enemies.

But, say Leverett and Mann, that is exactly what the Bush administration did with Iran.

Right up to when she joined Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council a few weeks following 9/11, Hillary Mann had conducted secret negotiations with an Iranian diplomat at the U.N. This diplomat had signaled Tehran's willingness to "cooperate unconditionally" with America's impending retaliation against Iran's neighbor to the east, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, whom the Iranians despised almost as much as their immediate neighbor to the west, Saddam Hussein.

Mann saw it as an offer that "could have changed the world."

Flynt Leverett, sitting high up in the State Department at the time, saw similar offers coming across his desk from longtime enemies Syria, Libya and Sudan.

Were these rogue regimes looking to advance American interests?

Are you kidding?

But, just like Iran, these states were hoping to take advantage of the suddenly changed strategic circumstances to come in from the cold and rehabilitate their relations with an angry America, something only Libya later achieved by surrendering its nuke program.

With a Bush administration looking to shake up the Middle East's calcified dictatorships by applying a "big bang" to the region, Iran's offer of unconditional cooperation could have been put to magnificent use in Afghanistan and Iraq - not to mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the White House decided to pass on Iran's offer, confirming that regime's worst suspicions. Tehran subsequently - and quite rationally - accelerated its pursuit of the bomb as protection from anticipated U.S. invasion.

You can say that, as in the case of Stalin's U.S.S.R., America's conflict with Iran was inevitable, so better to pursue it sooner than later.

I would reply that, in strategizing choices for war and peace, timing and sequence are everything.

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