Richard Heinberg's Museletter Update - Iran: Another Puzzle Piece

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01 Jun 2007
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MuseLetter Update / June 1, 2007
by Richard Heinberg

Iran: Another Puzzle Piece

MuseLetter for March this year, titled, “Iran: We Will Know Soon”, was a summary of the information available at that time regarding the likelihood of a US or Israeli air attack on Iran’s nuclear research facilities—an attack that many informed commentators and analysts have considered very likely.

Some recent news on this score is very good. It appears that efforts to ramp up US military presence in the region in preparation for an attack—or at least to put hard pressure on Iran during upcoming negotiations over the fate of Iraq—have been undermined by none other than George Bush’s nominee to head Central Command (CENTCOM), Admiral William Fallon. According to an article by Gareth Porter in Asia Times Online on May 17,(www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IE17Ak03.html) Fallon “expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of aircraft-carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately that there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM, according to sources with access to his thinking.”

At the same time, US policy and rhetoric toward Iran seem to have moderated. Porter suggests that this shift “away from increased military threats and toward diplomatic engagement,” for which “no credible explanation has been offered by administration,” may have resulted from Fallon’s resistance to deploying the carrier task force. Fallon had been strongly recommended for his post by the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates—who in turn had been a member of the Iraq Study Group. It seems that the voices of moderation, likely orchestrated in the background at least partly by the former President George H. W. Bush, are succeeding in thwarting vice president Cheney’s efforts to distract attention from the entirely predictable US failure in Iraq by disastrously widening the war further.

Tellingly, Porter quotes “a source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity” as saying that Fallon told him, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” It looks as though the world may have dodged a very nasty bullet, at least for now. Next come what are sure to be extremely difficult and tense negotiations between the US and Iran over Iraq’s future. Both sides want a stable, unified government, and both want an orderly a partial US withdrawal. Iran can help the US save face in the process, but in return wants the American administration to back off from its dire threats regarding Tehran’s developing nuclear program. Given the nature of the two governments involved in the negotiations, success is far from assured.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to make progress toward the production of a nuclear weapon—a development that Washington is determined to thwart. The questions on everyone’s mind: to what lengths is the Bush administration willing to go to achieve that end? And, What are Bush’s realistic options? With Tony Blair leaving office at the end of June, British support for a US air strike against Tehran is not to be taken for granted. And political turmoil in the Israeli government, partly resulting from the botched invasion of Lebanon last year, may make bold action by that nation against Iran more difficult. In short, Bush’s (or should we say, Cheney’s?) options are being constrained at every turn. Leaders in Tehran must see themselves as having a strong negotiating position. But surely they must realize that the people with whom they are negotiating are subject to a bizarre brew of motives and needs.

One rumor circulating in Washington (www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/002145.php) holds that the vice president is attempting to accomplish an end-run around the commander-in-chief by talking Israel into launching just a few missiles at Iran’s nuclear sites. This would no doubt cause the Iranians to retaliate against US warships, which would in turn force America’s hand: Bush would have to launch an all-out attack. The rumor mill also suggests that the atmosphere between Cheney and Bush is increasingly frosty, as the latter leans further toward the advice of Secretary of State Rice—who counsels negotiation rather than force. Rumors can be a misleading waste of time, but the general tenor of these is consistent with the objectively reported events, and in a nation where the operations of the highest levels of government are so thoroughly cloaked in secrecy and lies, one must read the tea leaves as best one can. Let us hope that the vice president’s influence, which is clearly evaporating within Washington, has also waned sufficiently in Tel Aviv so that the end-run plan, if it exists, comes to naught.