Letter From Tehran

by , May 11, 2006

As the UN Security Council comes to grips with the issue of Iran’s determination to join the nuclear club, and the question becomes the focus of a debate in the U.S. similar to that which preceded the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President George W. Bush that has been described, variously, as “rambling,” a “diversion,” and “doesn’t address the dispute over Iran’s enrichment of uranium.”

That was before the full text became available, however, and we can see that this latter accusation is untrue. Here is what President Ahmadinejad has to say about his country’s drive to acquire nuclear technology:

“Why is it that any scientific and technological achievement reached in the Middle East region is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime? Is not scientific R&D one of the basic rights of nations?

“You are familiar with history. In what other point in history has scientific and technical progress been a crime? Can the possibility of scientific achievements being utilized for military purposes be reason enough to oppose science and technology altogether? If such a supposition is true, then all scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, engineering, etc., must be opposed.”

A “diversion”? To the contrary, framing the issue in the context of Israel’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, President Ahmadinejad addresses the issue directly and honestly, which is more than we can say for the Americans, not to mention the Israelis – and where, pray tell, is his answer? Why is it that everything that goes on in the region must be seen in the context of the effect it has on Israel? And what are the limits of the restrictions placed on Iran and other nations when it comes the development of “dual use” technology?

What’s clear enough, however, is that these restrictions do not apply to Israel, which, as everybody knows, possesses nukes. Much is made of the possibility that Iran, facing sanctions, has threatened to drop out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – yet we hardly hear that Israel refused to sign it in the first place.

It’s downright odd that the letter was not made available immediately to the American public; the various excerpts published by Western newspapers were carefully edited to highlight Ahmadinejad’s opposition to the Iraq war, as well as his comments on the Holocaust and his call for the U.S. to live up to its self-proclaimed Christian and liberal values. But editors have left out certain key passages – although, to be fair, it is an 18-page document – that might be surprising, even illuminating, to Western readers.

Yes, the letter is filled with references to religion, and he does say that Western liberalism is “shattering” and has “failed.” His own brand of clericalism is upheld as the only alternative: but these are the parts of his letter addressed to his own people, I think it’s fair to say. He is apparently having some trouble on the home front, and seeks to justify his policies – including his foreign policy pronouncements – in religious terms. Insofar as he discusses the religious aspect of all this, however, his message is conciliatory: it stresses the common threads that, intertwined, make up the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, three religions joined at the very roots.

As for the significant passages that are left out, these fall into two categories: those that express sympathy for the West, and those that make some very specific accusations. Skillful propagandist that he is, President Ahmadinejad links the former to the latter, as in the passage that starts out this way:

“September Eleven was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world. Our government immediately declared its disgust with the perpetrators and offered its condolences to the bereaved and expressed its sympathies.”

By the way, there is not a word about this statement in Western media reports about the letter: instead, we get headlines like “Iranian Letter Lambastes Bush,” “Iran Letter Faults U.S., Makes No Nuclear Proposals,” and “A Dead Letter, but Shrewdly Timed.” The one major exception was the Chicago Tribune, which ran the head: “Let’s Talk, Iranians Tell Bush.”

This underscores another section of the letter, in which the Iranian president makes his debut as a media critic, putting his critique of Western news outlets during the run-up to war with Iraq in some pretty familiar terms. After excoriating the media for ratcheting up the climate of fear that accompanied 9/11, he writes:

“In media charters, correct dissemination of information and honest reporting of a story are established tenets. I express my deep regret about the disregard shown by certain Western media for these principles. The main pretext for an attack on Iraq was the existence of WMDs. This was repeated incessantly – for the public to finally believe – and the ground set for an attack on Iraq.”

Just as the canard that Iraq possessed WMD was accepted as an article of faith by the stenographers who call themselves American journalists, so similar fabrications about Iran are being readied for unveiling by the same crowd. Judith Miller may no longer be writing for the New York Times, but there are no doubt platoons of accommodating news hounds more than willing to take her place as a major conduit for the War Party’s lies.

President Ahmadinejad is hardly done with his media critique, however: he continues his comments about 9/11, and makes an astonishing accusation. After expressing his sympathy for the U.S., he goes on to question why no one charged with protecting the American people was ever put on trial: and it is true that not a single U.S. government official was so much as fired, let alone charged with dereliction of duty. Some Western critics of the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 crisis note this, too, but Ahmadinejad’s questioning of this curious fact goes much further:

“All governments have a duty to protect the lives, property, and good standing of their citizens. Reportedly your government employs extensive security, protection, and intelligence systems – and even hunts its opponents abroad. September 11 was not a simple operation. Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services – or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess….”

Surely it was more than a guess, however, that prompted certain Western media outlets, including Fox News, to claim that one intelligence service in particular may have had advance notice of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a four-part series run in mid-December, Carl Cameron – a reporter not known for his hostility to either the Bush administration or Israel – reported:

“Since Sept. 11, more than 60 Israelis have been arrested or detained, either under the new PATRIOT anti-terrorism law, or for immigration violations. A handful of active Israeli military were among those detained, according to investigators, who say some of the detainees also failed polygraph questions when asked about alleged surveillance activities against and in the United States.

“There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are ‘tie-ins.’ But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’”

It looks like they’re watching Fox News in Tehran – or else the Iranian intelligence service, which is so good at culling secrets from the U.S., knows something the American public doesn’t.

The Iranian letter goes into the history of U.S. depredations in Iran, and agrees that Saddam was indeed a “murderous dictator.” Ahmadinejad even admits that the people of the region are glad he’s gone, but then goes on to point out that the U.S. supported him against Iran.

My point is that there is clearly room for some sort of dialogue, if not rapprochement. Iran formally insists that it seeks nuclear power only for peaceful purposes, and the letter of the NPT supports their right to do so. The realities of the Middle East’s precarious balance of power dictate that we recognize the reasons for the Iranian determination to forge ahead on this front: Israel, after all, is now the only nuclear power in the region. Tehran is pursuing a policy of deterrence – the same strategy the U.S. employed against the USSR for as long as the Cold War lasted. And it worked. No wonder the Iranians are so eager to pursue it: the alternative is to leave the entire region open to the possibility of an Israeli first strike, which, in today’s political climate, is not at all inconceivable.

As other commentators have pointed out, the prospect of Iran acquiring nukes does not mean the end of the world. It means that the natural tendency of nations to achieve a balance of power will, in this case, be fulfilled, and that the Middle East will muddle along, just as the East bloc and the West did for all those years, without actually engaging in a nuclear exchange. In any case, no one country will be able to engage in nuclear blackmail.

Israel is in a frenzy to prevent this development, for it would mean that their strategic position would be considerably diminished. It would not, in any sense, mean the annihilation of the Jewish state. What Americans have to decide is whether going to war to preserve Israeli nuclear hegemony in the region is worth it.

Read more by Justin Raimondo