30th October 2007

Dear Max Hastings,

I always try to catch your articles in The Guardian, as they are welcome thoughtful contrast to the sometimes reflexive liberal group-think. I was struck by your article today and have taken a key passage out for illustration.

A genuine global diplomatic coalition against Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies would be far more likely to impress Tehran, Sprecher and a colleague argue, than sanctions perceived as an overwhelmingly American play.

Few strategists dispute either that Iranian revolutionaries are playing a prominent role in frustrating the stabilisation of Iraq, or that Iran is doing its utmost to build nuclear weapons. […] Europeans will continue to support diplomatic and economic measures adopted by the UN, designed to exhibit the world’s dismay at Iran’s behaviour. There is chronic scepticism, however, about such initiatives. Next month the UN will debate further sanctions, but neither Russia nor China will support tough action.

President Vladimir Putin last week compared Bush’s behaviour towards Iran with that of a madman “running about with a razor blade in his hand”. Not many Europeans suppose that it is desirable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Yet most think this almost inevitable, and preferable to the ghastly geopolitical consequences of adopting military action to stop it.

The seven years of the Bush presidency have witnessed a haemorrhage of American moral authority of a kind quite unknown in the 20th century.

The part in italics is key and I really am not quite sure what to make of it. I for one am determined not to sign up for any more group think: have we not learned anything from the Iraqi holocaust? With the internet we don’t have to—so much of it being out there, thank goodness (or thank Google), we can all be analysts now. My own analysis suggests that there is no such consensus and that the Iranians are almost certainly not destabilising Iraq and if they are supporting the attacks on the Americans they are doing it very discretely and with great restraint. (There is apparently reason to believe that Hezbollah has been assisting some Shia elements of the insurrection, but while Hezbollah is allied to the Iran they are distinct; over 50% of the American foreign captives were Saudi earlier in the year.) When have you ever heard of a military losing a guerrilla war ever do anything other than blame outside assistance? The Americans have done so much to fuel the insurgency that it is difficult to keep track, and both the Afghan and Iraqi governments praise Iran while criticising American short-sightedness. It doesn’t take very much poking at the American claims to see that they are highly suspect and many are suspicious and critical of Petraeus’s political ambitions and manoeuvrings (see, for example, Sycophant Savior in the American Conservative). Much the most clear-headed critiques of the Bush Whitehouse and the war on terror is coming from the likes of Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Scott Ritter and The American Conservative—i.e., from conservatives and Republicans.

With regards the nuclear programme it is very far from clear that the Iranians are even aiming at a weapons programme and they almost certainly don’t have a weapons programme now—or at least there is no evidence of one which even President Bush seemed to concede when he said in his infamous WW3 press conference that the capability to enrich uranium and knowledge of how to construct a bomb were a casus belli as far as he is concerned. However some experts suspect that the Iranian uranium deposits are so difficult to purify that, without assistance, enriching it beyond 20% might be out of their reach for the foreseeable future. Those with the weapons inspections expertise (e.g., ElBaradei, Blix, Ritter) are making some copper-bottomed statements that they see no imminent threat, and that there is plenty of time to resolve the issues with meaningful diplomacy (which we certainly haven’t seen). ElBaradei invited us to read his lips again yesterday: “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now”.

If you go back to what you say above, doesn’t the whole look more comprehensible if ‘we’ are being stampeded into another war by the Bush administration, having become so used to living under American protection that it is now inconceivable to do other than stay safely inside their narrative. The non-aligned countries are much more sympathetic to Iran and Putin has been saying consistently and vigorously what many people inside the US (liberals and conservatives) are increasingly saying, that the Bush regime lacks any concept of internal or external boundaries, the penny dropping even for the likes of Fukuyama.

Iran is no threat; the problem lies elsewhere; as long as we persist in misreading the situation it will deteriorate, and who knows maybe we will get W’s WW3 and have the satisfaction of watching him and his elected palls floating up out of their clothes to meet their maker while the rest of us fry.

The above is only the barest of outlines. I have written an open letter to President Carter where I try to explain why I think we are being herded into all these wars and to urge him and the rest of the Democrat establishment to step up to the plate because the situation is drifting. Shifts in perspective are never easy. I don’t know whether you are religious or not (I am Buddhist, but have a profound and deepening respect for other religions, including Christianity) but it might help as the letter tries to understand the perspective of the ‘other’ and look back at ourselves. Enjoy.

Thanks for the writing,