June 8, 2006his
morning I wake up to learn, as I peruse Antiwar.com, that the Bush
suddenly agreed to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Then
almost immediately thereafter, from the TV, that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has
been killed. Then from the car radio I learn for the first time, and from
the mouth of President Bush in his statement announcing Zarqawi’s death,
that Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki has finally appointed defense and
interior ministers to his cabinet. The failure of the client-state to do
this for five months following the parliamentary elections in January (and
thereby actually pose as a state in the real world where state power grows
out of the barrel of a gun) had become an acute embarrassment for those
attempting to lend it legitimacy.
So a big morning for Bush! He gets to
announce that a major leader of the "terrorists and insurgents" in Iraq
has been eliminated due to the heroic actions of the finest military in
the world. (Never mind Abu Ghraib, Haditha and all that.) And he gets to
show political progress as well.
The mainstream media is touting his
statement as one of his better speeches, although some commentators have
cautioned that al-Qaeda constitutes only 5-10% of the "insurgency". They
might add that much of what we’ve heard about Zarqawi to date, including
some stuff repeated in the president’s announcement, is probably
disinformation. Zarqawi was the devil who, had he not existed, would have
been necessary for the U.S. to create. He’s been the useful "link" between
al-Qaeda and Iraq, after all.
Whether planned this way or not, the twin
successes in Iraq announced with fanfare take place while anonymous
administration officials quietly confirm that the U.S. will accept what
international law confirms: Iran and every country signatory to the
Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to enrich uranium for civilian
energy purposes. This, following Bush’s contention that this provision in
constitutes a "loophole", and intimated that the treaty (which has
some provisions already ignored by the U.S.) ought to be rewritten! This,
Vice President Cheney’s repeated declarations that the Iranians are
"already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why
they need nuclear as well to generate energy." The neocons have all along
challenged Iran’s right to continue the nuclear program begun with U.S.
support under the Shah. But now Condoleezza Rice is specifically
acknowledging that right. These are significant changes, and will likely
result in talks.
But even if Iran suspends enrichment -- as
it has before during negotiations with the Europeans, as a voluntary
confidence-building measure, losing no face thereby; and even if Iranian
delegates sit down at the table with Americans somewhat humbled by the
imbroglio in Iraq and persuaded reluctantly of the limits of U.S. power,
there’s still a rocky road ahead. At any point the U.S. could announce
that it has new evidence that contradicts Iran’s stated denial of a
nuclear weapons program, terminate the talks -- saying, "We’ve gone that
last mile!" -- and begin what would likely be either unilateral military
moves against Iran, or ones conducted in tandem with Israel.
In a Fox interview just after the
administration announced it would enter multilateral negotiations with
Iran if it suspended its enrichment program, UN Ambassador John Bolton
made it sound like a likely set-up. "The president’s made it very clear he
wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear weapons program [sic] though peaceful
and diplomatic means, but he’s also said that Iran with nuclear weapons is
unacceptable," he told Neil Cavuto.
Cavuto: But unacceptable means that if it
keeps going on you’re going to do something about it . . .
Bolton: No option is taken off the table.
Cavuto: Military as well?
Cavuto: Unilateral military action?
Bolton: Secretary Rice made that point . . .
that’s why . . .
Cavuto: That we would act alone if we had
Bolton: That’s why he says no option is
taken off the table. But it’s also why the president has reached out to
[Russian] President Putin and other leaders in the past couple of days to
say, "We’re making a significant step here" -- that will be criticized by
many of the president’s staunchest supporters here at home, but he’s
taking this step to show strength and American leadership. He’s doing it
to say "We gave Iran this last chance to show they are serious when they
say 'We don’t want nuclear weapons.’" This is "put up or shut up" time for
Among the "staunchest supporters" of Bush’s
warmongering policies is of course the notorious former head of the
Defense Policy Board who retains strong ties to the neocons surrounding
Cheney who have dominated foreign policy to date. Addressing a sympathetic
audience at the AIPAC conference in April, Richard Perle opined that "The
attack [on Iran] would be over before anybody knew what had happened,"
adding that a dozen B-2 bombers could solve the problem overnight.
Bolton’s comment about criticism of the
decision may hint at the disappointment felt by Cheney’s staff as well as
Bolton himself, who’s been chomping at the bit to attack Syria and Iran.
They may resent Condi’s growing grip on foreign policy and the relative
decline (too slight so far to break open any champagne bottles) in the
neocons’ power. The changing U.S. position causes me some hope that the
war plans already well advanced will remain on hold and maybe even be
shelved, to the great relief of the top brass and most rational people.
But as the diplomacy proceeds, one must avoid delusional optimism.
Perhaps there’s a relationship between the
timing of the (supposed) Iraqi breakthroughs and the Washington Post’s
reporting of a strategic retreat from an attack on Iran. It allows the
neocons to save some face, surely. Their first project, the imposition of
Pax Americana on Afghanistan, has in this fifth year since the fall of
Kabul produced anti-American rioting in the capital, reestablishment of
Taliban control over the south, record opium harvests, and one U.S. GI
death every four days. The second, the acquisition of control over Iraq,
has failed miserably. A college campus-sized "embassy" -- the largest in
the world -- rises in the heart of Baghdad, a fortress to shelter the
world’s largest diplomatic mission from the wrath of a people enraged by
the Abu Ghraibs, Hadithas, and daily abuses, humiliations and intolerable
inconveniences caused by a criminal invasion. 1,400 civilians were killed
by "sectarian violence" unknown under the old regime in Baghdad, in May
alone! Failure, failure, failure.
And then, a message from Russia and China
(and the world in general), delivered through Condi to Bush: We won’t
play along with your game, designed to legitimate your planned attack on
Iran. We won’t pass your resolution in the Security Council.
Bush reportedly winced as his trusted Secretary of State recommended the
first U.S.-Iranian negotiations in 27 years. Hadn’t Cheney said, "We don’t
negotiate with evil, we defeat it"? In that context, had the killing of
Zarqawi not occurred, today’s good news would’ve had to be invented.
is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion,
at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He
can be reached at: