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US-IRAN: New War Rhetoric Undercuts Iraq Talks

Analysis by Trita Parsi*

WASHINGTON, Jun 12 2007 (IPS) - U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman&#39s call for cross-border raids into Iran appears to be the culmination of a two-week long campaign by proponents of war to put the military option centre-stage in the U.S. debate over Iran once more.

The immediate effect of reigniting the let&#39s-bomb-Iran discussions is the undercutting of the recently initiated U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq, which in turn will cause the military confrontation with Iran to be viewed in a new light.

Senator Lieberman out-hawked the George W. Bush administration on the television news show "Face the Nation" this past Sunday by calling for "aggressive military action against the Iranians," including "a strike over the border into Iran." Repeating by now all but abandoned accusations by the Bush administration of Iranian complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Connecticut senator&#39s comments caused a storm in the U.S. media Monday. Suddenly, the military option against Iran was once more at the centre of the U.S.&#39s Iran debate.

Earlier that week, Israel&#39s hawkish trade minister and former defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, had visited Washington to hold strategic discussions regarding Iran&#39s nuclear programme with Bush administration officials. According to press reports, Mofaz urged the United States to give diplomacy with Iran an expiration date of the end of the year, after which the military option would be exercised.

"Sanctions must be strong enough to bring about change in the Iranians by the end of 2007," Mofaz reportedly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to Channel 2 News in Israel, Mofaz went on to declare to Rice that Israel would bomb Iran&#39s nuclear facilities by year&#39s end if diplomacy and sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities.

A week prior to Mofaz&#39 visit to Washington, Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative editor-at-large of Commentary, published a lengthy op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Case for Bombing Iran." Comparing Iran&#39s fire-brand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Adolf Hitler, Podhoretz accused Iran of seeking to "overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism."

Dismissing both diplomacy and the sanctions track, Podhoretz concluded that "the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force – any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938."

Lieberman, Mofaz and Podhoretz&#39s comments all share an air of frustration and desperation in light of the growing public opinion against any new military adventures in the Middle East, the loss of key hawks within the Bush administration, reports of the new head of the U.S. Central Command, Adm. William Fallon&#39s, vehement opposition to war with Iran and the State Department&#39s recent shift towards diplomacy.

For the military option to be seriously considered by Washington once more, in spite of its significant flaws and many unpredictable risks, the diplomatic track must first be deemed a failure. If diplomacy were to produce positive results in Iraq, however, it can potentially foreclose the option of bombing Iran&#39s nuclear facilities for a foreseeable future.

In the worst case scenario, from the perspective of the proponents of war with Iran, successful diplomacy with Iran over Iraq might force the Bush administration to reach a compromise with Tehran over the nuclear issue. Such a compromise would likely entail a small-scale Iranian enrichment programme, albeit under strict IAEA inspections.

Even though limited enrichment would only pose a minor proliferation risk in the short term, Iran&#39s acquirement of the nuclear know-how and mastering of the fuel cycle can pose a devastating long-term proliferation risk, proponents of this school of thought maintain. In addition, the mere access to nuclear technology – even if Iran doesn&#39t weaponise – will tilt the balance of power in the Middle East in Tehran&#39s favour, a development that would come at the expense of regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As a result, the Bush administration&#39s experimentation with diplomacy with Iran is viewed with great concern by the advocates of war. Senator Lieberman hinted as much on Sunday when he told "Face the Nation" that "[i]f there&#39s any hope of the Iranians living according to the international rule of law and stopping, for instance, their nuclear weapons development, we can&#39t just talk to them."

Whether intentional or not, the vocal push to reignite the let&#39s-bomb-Iran discussions undermines the very diplomatic process that constitutes the greatest obstacle to turning the military option into policy.

This debate signals to the ever-so-paranoid decision-makers in Tehran that their cooperation in Iraq will not cause Washington to abandon its apparent plans to take on Iran militarily at a later stage. Absent the potential for such a trade-off with the U.S., Iran&#39s incentives to aid the United States in Iraq will quickly diminish and cause the diplomatic track to fail, a development that in turn will pave the way for the military option to be put into practice.

*Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of "Treacherous Alliance – The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States" (Yale University Press, 2007). He is also president of the National Iranian American Council (http://www.niacouncil.org/).

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