They May Be Right: We May Be Crazy

vonhoffman ayatollahalikham They May Be Right: We May Be CrazySince there is no rule requiring the United States to finish one war before starting the next, with each passing day the bookies are shortening the odds that Iran will be next. No war will have less justification in light of the number of chances the U.S. has been offered to settle its differences with Iran.

The most recent was an offer from the Iranian government to negotiate disarmament, including nuclear weapons, terrorism (including joint operations against Al Qaeda), regional security and economic cooperation. The offer was transmitted to the United States in May 2003 by the Swiss government. The complete text of the Iranian proposal for negotiations is to be found in a just published book titled Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S. by Trita Parsi.

In the body of his richly documented and sourced book, the author tells us what happened with the Iranian effort:

“For many in the State Department the proposal was a no-brainer,” he wrote. “Iran offered major concessions in return for an end to the sanctions policy sponsored by the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which probably had cost the United States more diplomatically than it did Iran economically … [Colin] Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, favored a positive response to the Iranians … but instead of instigating a lively debate on the details of a potential American response, [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld quickly put the matter to an end. Their argument was simple but devastating. ‘We don’t speak to evil,’ they said.”

Thus are war and peace and the lives and prosperity of millions decided by our government.

The main contention of the book is that the struggles among the three powers, Israel, Iran and the U.S., have not primarily revolved around religious faith or the clash of civilizations. Indeed, one of the points the author makes is that the Israelis have a far higher regard for the Indo-European Iranians who, Muslims though they may be, have retained the qualities of a civilization older than anything flowing out of the Arabian peninsula. In the same vein Mr. Parsi demonstrates the depth of Iranian fear and antipathy to their Arab co-religionists.

Thus, he contends, the major driving force behind the actions of Israel and Iran have been classic national interest concerns. Mr. Parsi sees some things that many of us who have opposed the Iraq invasion had missed. We had supposed that Israel and its American friends, the neocons, were the driving force behind the decision to invade Iraq and topple its dictator. If Mr. Parsi has his facts straight—and he is a formidable researcher—Israel was dead set against the American invasion.

In the end, after it was clear that the Americans were going to attack Iraq regardless of the evidence, common sense or anything else, the Israelis, always worried that their relationship with the U.S. might be usurped by another Middle Eastern power, went along with the program as did everybody from Nicaragua to Thailand. Of course, unlike nations such as Norway, which sent 150 troops to Iraq, and Portugal, which chipped in 128, Israel was not allowed to contribute military assistance, a situation that increased Israel’s persistent sense of insecurity and concern lest it be cut out of the centers of power and decision. Iran, incidentally, did help the Americans, although not with troops.

We should not conclude from the present Israeli position that they have always had their sights set on Iran. Far from it. Over the past half century the two countries have gone back and forth between friend and foe as the politics of the region and the world has invited them to see their self-interest. This has been so even after the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the present mullah-dominated Islamic republic.

Before the crackup of the Soviet empire, Iran was Israel’s source of oil, in return for which the Israelis supplied the Iranians with guns. In that period when Moscow was arming hostile Arab countries on Israeli’s borders, Tel Aviv pursued a policy of friendship with Ethiopia, Turkey and Iran, second-tier non-Arab Muslim countries, as a counterweight to the hostile first-tier Arab nations on Israel’s borders.