Avoiding a ‘Dumb War’ With Iran

The media and the punditry have been deliberately misrepresenting facts to persuade the people of the United States to start another war, not unlike in the lead-up to the Iraq fiasco. Since 9/11, hard-liners in the United States have depicted one Muslim country after another as major threats to U.S. security. They have justified attacks on Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, and Afghanistan, and they have endorsed Israel’s military actions against Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon — 10 Muslim countries.

This time around, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and New Gingrich are all promising to disarm Iran by force. Romney has a neocon-heavy foreign policy team, while Gingrich’s campaign received at least $5 million in financial support from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a passionate supporter of Israel. Meanwhile, the White House continues to dither by drawing “red lines” that appear to be more debating points meant to appease the Israelis than substantive policies.

Those arguing for war in Congress, think tanks, and the media have been exploiting a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report issued in November 2011, which they interpret to mean that Iran is building a nuclear weapon that poses a major threat to the United States. But the truth is that the IAEA document is essentially political, not factual. It is based on old intelligence assessments made mostly by the United States and Israel using sometimes fabricated information in an attempt to discredit Iran. In reality, the IAEA makes regular inspection visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities and has TV cameras monitoring its sites. While there is legitimate reason to challenge some of Iran’s actions, the nuclear program is not as threatening as many maintain.

Even those who are arguing against the rush to war frequently have succumbed to the propaganda. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a piece titled “Think Before Acting on Iran,” states that “Iran’s leaders are bad guys capable of doing dangerous things” and then goes on to describe “its relentless moves toward acquiring nuclear weapons.” Well, Gelb should be well-informed enough to know that Iran’s leadership is both cautious and pragmatic because it is primarily interested in regime preservation, not in exporting the revolution or converting the world to Shi’ism. He should also be aware that there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Gelb’s lack of connection with objective reality is reflected in his recommendation to openly debate the wisdom of going to war with Iran in a suitable forum like the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A genuine nuclear expert, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former IAEA director-general, said recently, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” And he is not alone in that judgment: All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded “with high confidence” in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program as of 2003. They reviewed the evidence again in 2009-10 and concluded that there was still no solid evidence that the program had been in any way revived.

It is astonishing that the American people are again being gulled by a replay of the “Iraq WMD threat,” which used false information and sustained innuendo to lead the United States into a war that did not need to be fought. As Philip Zelikow, executive secretary of the 9/11 Commission, said, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.” It is not unreasonable to argue that today the formula and rationalization are the same with the Persian threat, if there is one, making it a matter of concern mostly for Israel. And Israel is far from defenseless, with an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons of its own mounted on ballistic missiles and also on cruise missiles that can be fired from submarines.

But many knowledgeable Israelis actually argue that there is no threat from Iran, even as the politicians in Tel Aviv argue insistently that military action must be taken. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan commented that an air force strike against Iran’s nuclear installations would be “stupid,” a view also endorsed by two other ex-Mossad chiefs, Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. Dagan added his opinion that “any strike against [the civilian program] is an illegal act according to international law.” More recently, the Israeli intelligence community has prepared its own report, similar to the U.S. NIE, which concludes that Iran has not decided to construct a nuclear weapon, leading the country’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, to conclude that the possibility of a war “is very far off.”

Dagan also pointed out another reality that has not escaped some policymakers in Washington and Tel Aviv: bombing Iran would guarantee that the Iranians would decide to go nuclear for self-defense and would certainly lead them to retaliate against Israel through their principal surrogate Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which is reported to have tens of thousands of rockets and even Scud-type longer-range missiles. If American politicians and Israel’s own political leadership were really concerned about the well-being of Israel, they would be doing everything in their power to stop a new war rather than start one.

And then there is the question of what a sustained bombing campaign by the United States would actually accomplish. Since 2005, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have engaged in a major covert operation to identify and derail Iran’s nuclear program. The Pentagon has studied the Iranian nuclear target and has concluded that it would be futile to attempt to eliminate that program — which is dispersed throughout the country and frequently located underground — through aerial bombing. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other experts have stated that even a prolonged air attack would only delay any weapons program for a year or two at most. This is identical to the view of leading Israelis.

Washington is already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on national defense and $100 billion per year on Afghanistan alone, which is looking increasingly forlorn. The anti-Iran lobby has been beating the drums for an attack for years, but another Asian war on top of Afghanistan is not in America’s or Israel’s interests, whatever some of Israel’s apologists might claim. The “experts” who claim that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he would “wipe Israel off the map” have got it wrong. Genuine language specialists have pointed out that the original statement in Farsi actually said that Israel would someday collapse: “The imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” is the accurate rendition. The imam being referred to is the late Ayatollah Khomeini, making the statement a quote within a quote. It’s wishful thinking perhaps, but far from a threat. The fact is that Iran has not attacked any of its neighbors since the 17th century, when it went to war with the Ottoman Turks, and has never threatened to attack Israel. Nor does Iran threaten the United States in any way.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to open a dialogue to resolve problems with the Iranians, but that pledge has been an empty one. In reality, the United States has spoken to Iranian government officials only once in the past three years, and that encounter lasted less than 45 minutes. Since that time, offers to resolve differences through diplomacy have come several times from the Iranians and have been ignored by both official Washington and the mainstream media. Not talking means that war is the only way to obtain a resolution, which would be a very bad outcome for both sides. Washington still has time to make direct diplomacy work in an attempt to convince all parties to back down from the developing crisis, but serious intent and good-faith negotiations are necessary.

The American military has recently concluded what President Obama once labeled a “dumb war” in Iraq, so it behooves us not to undertake another dumb war against a country that is much larger, better prepared, and three times more populous. Such a conflict would not be containable and would set off a major regional war. Such a war, contrary to what some argue, would not be good for the United States, Iran, or even Israel, and it would make no one safer.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.