10th November 2007

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your gracious and clear reply. I do not by any means believe that the international community should take Iran’s claims that their nuclear programme is for exclusively civilian use at face value, retire and leave Iran in peace, unsupervised—’Just trust us’ is no basis at all for protecting arms-control agreements. It is worth bearing the following in mind:

  • Iran is subjected to the most comprehensive of all IAEA inspection regimes and has voluntarily adopted a much more aggressive inspections protocol, which some say would hardly have happened if Iran wanted to hide a covert programme to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible (as some have been claiming).

  • If we were concerned about Iraq’s nuclear programme in the 1990s, how must Iran have felt? (Some anomalies in the Iranian programme may be historical.)

  • Some independent analysts doubt that Iran will, unaided, in the foreseeable future, be able to overcome technical difficulties in purifying its domestic deposits to the 85% required to produce fissile material for weapons.
    Those who have been calling for calm, such as Dr ElBaradei, Vladimir Putin and the Chinese leadership, could hardly view the prospect of Iran subverting the NPT to gain the bomb with equanimity.

  • The whole international community would take a dim view it turned out that Iran was running a weapons programme after all, don’t you think. Iran has been investing a great deal in trying to break out of the box that the US has tried to keep it in—to humiliate all those who have been supporting the IAEA, and some very important strategic partners—it is difficult to see how it would make much sense. In any case, the heat will stay on.

  • Look at the map of the Persian Gulf responsible for transiting 20% of the world’s oil flows: as the Iranians keep saying they have a perfectly good strategic deterrent. With very little spare oil capacity, there is little doubt about some of the consequences for the world economy if Iran is attacked. (And don’t believe the neo-conservative bluster about invincible US military power; it is no coincidence that the most vigorous opposition to this reckless diplomacy has been coming from US navy officers like the CENTCOM commander Admiral William Fallon.)

We should also bear in mind that certain people, well known for their belief that US military power ought to be used to curtail Iran’s regional ambitions, successfully created a climate of ignorance and fear that stampeded us into the Iraqi invasion, and many have been monitoring these same people rerunning the same programme: see, for example Gareth Porter’s recent article: How Cheney Cooked the Intelligence on Iran. Their powers of manipulation by no means stop at the intelligence community, but become really formidable where the mainstream media are concerned. It is easy to play on fear and ignorance, and once that gets out of hand, rational arguments hold little sway as the delusion of the righteous use of arms looks more and more appealing. My point is that care must be taken to not facilitate the fear agenda, as if it is allowed to dominate, all the good sense about the folly of war will simply become moot. To avoid war, it’s causes must be attacked: ignorance, leading to fear and on to hate. In short I would plead that those who want to see less war be very careful about heightening the sense of fear.

It is indeed worth considering to what extent our fears are at all reasonable. Consider the outline of the situation, which is in essence this: the US, Israel, Britain and France are threatening Iran with nuclear war if it doesn’t halt its programme of IAEA supervised and NPT guaranteed preparation of uranium for its civilian nuclear programme. (Robert McNamara in a 2005 article for Foreign Policy, Apocalypse Soon, said ‘I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous’. The leading Republican candidates were making it plain that they would consider attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure with nuclear weapons. It is my understanding that US defence policy allows it to use nuclear weapons to deal with nuclear proliferation threats and to dig itself out of a military disaster with a non-nuclear state should one of its adventures go wrong.)

I know of Tehranis living in the shadow of a very real (and highly rational) fear that between now and the US election season they will get to see Shock and Awe II, and not on their TV screens. How do we justify our fear? Because of the personality of a popularly elected officials, with circumscribed powers, who certainly has never ever put on any tables the prospect of waging warfare on another nation (not to mention one involving nuclear munitions), but is insisting that treaties between nations be honoured. Please bear in mind that it is quite inconceivable that we (the USA, Britain and France) should strategically expose ourselves as recklessly as we are if we didn’t have the ultimate protection of our strategic nuclear deterrent.

Projection: Projection is one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud and still acknowledged today. According to Freud, projection is when someone is threatened by or afraid of their own impulses so they [unknowingly] attribute these impulses to someone else. For example, a person in psychoanalysis may insist to the therapist that he knows the therapist wants to rape some women, when in fact the client has these awful feelings to rape the woman.

Is it possible that we might be victims of projection? President Ahmadinejad’s main power comes not from guns, but from speech. That is his record and that is how he one the 2005 election that surprised everyone, and that is how he derives his power at home to this day (his formal powers being quite limited). Ahmadinejad seems to terrorize us by coming amongst us and arguing his case and showing up our hypocrisy, neuroses (and psychoses), and it is indeed terrifying. (I have written elsewhere about his other pronouncements, but am trying to keep this discussion focused on this single point.)

Of course we might say that the Islamic Republic of Iran and President Ahmadinejad are special because of the religious beliefs that are involved but there is no rational refuge here, considering the highly perverse and divisive philosophies and the irrational, frightening nihilistic millenarianism right at the centres of power in the west and being propagated through the most powerful military machine in history. (I am studying Shia Islam and I have yet to encounter objective evidence that there is anything to fear from President Ahmadinejad’s religious philosophy over any other leader; I would not be at all surprised if his ethics is a very great deal more sound than that of our dearly departed war-criminal prime minister.) Here is an extract from an article on the Britannica Blog, coming from an intellectual very much in the milieu of the US (vice-)presidential court:

Is there a military option against Iran that goes beyond bombing but does not require a Iraq-style invasion and occupation – in other words that avoids another “quagmire” in the Middle East? In fact, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, a realistic war scenario with Iran would involve an extensive air and naval campaign without a single American soldier having to set foot on Iranian soil:

1. The first step would be a United States naval blockade of the Straits of Hormuz backed by anti-missile Aegis class cruisers and destroyers, together with a guarantee of free passage for all non-Iranian oil shipping (thus reassuring the world that energy supplies will continue to flow).

2. At the same time, American Stealth fighters and bombers would target Iran’s air defense and anti-ship missile sites scattered around the Gulf, followed by what military analysts call an “Effects Based Operation,” as Air Force and Navy warplanes took out Iran’s extremely vulnerable military and economic infrastructure, including its electrical grid, transportation links, gasoline refineries, port facilities, as well as suspected nuclear sites.

3. Finally, American Special Ops and airborne forces would seize Iran’s main oil pumping station at Kargh Island and capture or neutralize its offshore oil facilities.

Far fetched?

Although the American public never noticed, the United States Navy managed to accomplish much the same thing during the so-called Tanker War in 1987-8, when Iran tried to widen its war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq by attacking foreign oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Our navy managed both to destroy the Iranian navy and protect shipping through the Hormuz Straits in order to keep the world economy stable, while Navy Seal teams blew up and neutralized key Iranian oil platforms in the Gulf.

Fantastically expensive?

From start to finish, such an operation would probably require no more than one more carrier group than is already in the area, as well as one Airborne Brigade Combat Team and one Marine Expeditionary Brigade, combined with Special Ops units-fewer troops than reinforced General Petraeus’s current surge in Iraq. In a matter of days or weeks, the key components of the Iranian oil industry would be in American hands even as Iran itself ground to a halt. Iranian crude oil would continue to flow to the world’s economy. Foreign investors in Iran’s energy industry like Russia and China would see their investments kept safe, which would help to defuse their predictable outrage over unilateral military action against Iran.

The truth is that the Iranian regime is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of campaign. Ninety percent of Iran’s oil production and facilities sit in or near the Gulf, and are exposed to naval attack. With the exception of three Russian built Kilo-class subs (which would have to be neutralized in the opening days of the campaign), the Iranian navy is small and decrepit. Since Iran imports nearly 40% of its gasoline, an air campaign that destroys its refineries and gas supplies would leave the government and its trucks, tanks, and planes starved for fuel in two weeks or even sooner. [Highlight added.]

Compare this kind of talk with Charlie Rose’s interview with President Ahmadinejad, a demanding 54 minute interview where he (and not for the first time) tried to open up a dialogue with an entirely alien and suspicious culture through one of the very few people prepared to engage meaningfully in such a dialogue. Notice his finishing of the interview on a note of wisdom (reflecting on the transience of current difficulties), love and brotherhood. Yes, many will roll their eyes at the naivety of getting taken in by such cynical, opportunistic, manipulation, but at least he has the decency to try (and then there is the prospect—just the tiniest particle of possibility—that the sentiment is genuine).

President Ahmadinejad remains an enigma to me. I don’t mean in the romantic sense, but the sense of “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.” I will only say this—the more I examine the evidence of what is before me rather than the product of other’s fevered imaginations the more I find a person very different from the laughably one-dimensional hate figure that almost the entire mainstream media, and even the not so mainstream media, have settled for.

Now is the time for the good people to keep a good hold on their critical faculties if we are to avoid opening up the gates of hell a little wider. If we really do care about the NPT and nuclear non-proliferation as much as we claim to, then we the citizens should start insisting that our leaders abandon the coercive approach (be it siege or open warfare) and get all parties to sit down to unconditional negotiations with a view to avoiding a nuclear arms race in the most unstable and turbulent region of the world and ensuring that everyone abides by the same agreement. Why do you suppose that they are so resistant to doing this?

Once again thank you very much for your patience and for providing me the opportunity to engage in this stimulating and productive correspondence.