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.

Chris

A letter in response to Now is the time for clarity over Iran

6th-7th November 2007

Dear Mary Riddell,

I am writing about what I feel is a contradiction at the heart of your article in Sunday’s Observer. Logically it made sense, was warning that we risk stumbling into another catastrophic war in the middle east—I wholly agree. Yet you may have been surprised at the response when it was posted on Comment is Free (CiF). Your article is not alone: a series of articles published in the papers on Iran are being critiqued by CiF and (e.g., Max Hastings, is in full cry for Timothy Garton Ash, the Saturday leader and your article).

Here is an extract from AnthropoidApe’s comment on your article:

“We know that Saddam manufactures botulinum toxin much as Skegness makes seaside rock or the WI produces chutney. In the four years since the weapons inspectors left, Iraq’s favoured cottage industry is certain to have become more sinister.”
Mary Riddell in March 2002
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/0,11581,661096,00.html

“Saddam, as we knew, has chemical and biological weapons.”
Mary Riddell in February 2003
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12239,892046,00.html

Today:
“This time round, the intelligence is just as thin, but the Tehran weapon, unlike the phantom Baghdad bomb, is a real and dreadful prospect.”

Though a contribution of this quality would have a good chance of making its way on the letter page, this kind of analysis is not generally to be found in the print edition. (See also the comments on the article—this letter adds to them but there is much high-quality discussion that addresses many other issues).

This is worth a closer look.

The founder of the Daily Kos blog recently harangued a group of editors about their failure in Iraq, suggesting that the future was in blogs, but as one pundit pointed out on this site, blogs couldn’t operate without the traditional news media (and Guardian Unlimited/CiF maybe one of the very best site to combine both). While much has been made of the way the intelligence was manipulated in the sun up to the Iraq war less has been said about the way sentiment was manipulated, and this at the heart of the issue with seeming to detect a subtle repeat of a pattern we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq war. (Why this is so is an interesting question—social factors? media diet?) Although rationally, (almost) everyone is saying that war would be a disaster, the sentiments have been mixed—our heads and hearts are at war. The liberal establishment view seems to be (crudely): the Iranians are trying to acquire nuclear weapons and those sneaky fanatical brown people must be stopped, but how do we it without a war? The more restrained have cited an arms race in the Middle East (thereby avoiding my jibe) while others have suggested that the IRI can’t be trusted as reasons for taking action.

My point is this. Forget all the head stuff (which won’t decide anything) and consider the sentimental message (which will decide everything). The establishment pundocracy are flatly contradicting the director of the IAEA, in proclaiming as a fact that the Iranians are making a dash for the nuclear weapons, but if the director of the IAEA was one of our top scientists (and white) would we say this? What does it say about our respect for due process and the IAEA, the agency tasked with making this call? (The agency has not and won’t let Iran off the hook until all outstanding have been answered, but Dr Elbaradei has said in no uncertain terms “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now”).

In your article you plead for clarity in order to avoid a war that could spiral out of control, destabilising more than one nuclear power, involving a Christian nation attacking an Islamic state with nuclear weapons for carrying out activities it is guaranteed under the NPT, and in the name of nuclear non-proliferation. Not only are members of the current US administration ‘leaving this option on the table’ but most of the leading presidential candidates have signed up for this (especially leading Democrats) and the American public are starting to egg them on.

This is serious stuff indeed. But what do we find being discussed in your article? ‘Ahmadinejad is a pre-modern despot’ who apparently relishes executing gays while proclaiming that they don’t exist. Isn’t this a bit emotive? What is the real message being conveyed here? Bearing in mind the recent Zogby poll (reporting that half Americans want a war with Iran and half believe it is going to happen) some calm and coherent discussion is badly needed, but this is not really helped by a chorus that says the Islamic Republic of Iran is a pre-modern, despotic, depraved, duplicitous and irresponsible regime, and on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons; wrapping up all the fine words in the world around this message isn’t going to stop a slide to war.

But its all true the pundits seem to be saying. Really? Firstly it is worth pointing out that most of Iran’s immediate neighbours (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Caspian states, including Russia) seem to be somewhat appreciative of its constructive input in dealing with turbulent problems that some might ungenerously believe originate in the behaviour of countries from outside the region. Indeed Vladimir Putin has likened recent US actions to a madman running around with a razor blade in his hand and curiously enough this has not been laughed out of the court of world opinion. Far from it, to many sane and balanced people, this is downright common sense. And Afghanistan and Iraq continue to burn under their endless hellish civil wars and military occupations. (See the comments on the article for the veritable Forrest of trees in our own eyes.) It will be well to bear in mind that history will probably judge us as serial war criminals.

And what of the president of Iran, his remarks about Gays, the Iranian gay scene and the Iranian criminal justice system. Being Iranian internal affairs, these ought not to figure, but they are intimately related to our complicity in menacing the Iran with nuclear weapons for trying to exercise clauses in treaties we have signed with her. (It should be remembered that unlike Jack Straw, the current PM and FS pointedly don’t rule out military action, which they well know means a possible attack with nuclear weapons by the USA.)

As everyone well knows there is an active gay scene in Iran, and gay sex (like many crimes) is a capital crime in the Islamic Republic and (roughly) this is because Iranian Law is based on Islamic scripture which is regarded as immutable. However, the way that the law is interpreted and applied is most certainly not fixed. Practically speaking (translated into terms that we would understand) it is being retired. This was explained by Ayatollah Khatami on a trip to the USA. For this capital crime there is a very high standard of evidence, requiring multiple observers (4?) to directly witness the act. Clearly, if this evidential requirement is strictly adhered to, nobody being discrete will be bothered by this law.

From what I can tell, nobody has been executed in Iran for gay sex since July 2005. Ahmadinejad, as you will know, was elected in August of 2005. In any case the President of Iran can’t order the death of anyone, that being the province of the judiciary. While devoutly religious, the President is actually not a cleric, so (as far as I am aware) can and never will be able to take part in prosecuting any legal proceedings whatsoever. Far from being a ‘pre-modern despot’ President Ahmadinejad was a surprise victor in the 2005 elections, his anti-corruption, redistributive message striking a cord. The President of Iran is in no position to dictate much, power being quite distributed, the figure with the most power, and the commander in chief, being the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

You might be surprised to read this comment added to Timothy Garton Ash’s Friday article:

Ahmadinejaad, is not a bad guy, he gets a terrible press in the biased and one sided media here and elsewhere…He is the first non-mullah president in Iran since 1979…I think he is a very decent man and talks more sense than many other presidents in this destructive world…he wants good for Iran and Iranians… we do not want to be bullied and cornered any more and this is ultimate aim… we will overcome these dark and uncertain days…

(Ahmadinejad tried to get family enclosures set up in the football stadia so that women could attend football matches, but the clerics opposed him.) Encouraged by this hint some had a go at explaining why he would be saying some of the things he does about Israel, the Holocaust and so on in the succeeding comments (see comments on Facing disaster in Iran, Europe must finally make the hard choices) and I have attempted a more extensive explanation is a letter to Jimmy Carter posted on my blog.

I am told that in practice homosexuality is widely but discretely practised, that there is a certain amount of social stigma attached to it (the account I heard sounded similar to my own observations in some conservative Christian communities in the USA), but its not a big deal. Apparently there is a problem for adolescents as many young women are determined to preserve their virginity until marriage so young men find alternative channels for their sexual energy, and I have seen some reports that corroborate this. It sounds to me like the Iranian scene in some ways makes our look quite repressed!

And so on to the famous gay-denial comments at Columbia university. He actually said: “We do not have homosexuals in Iran of the kind you have in your country” (see Getting Lost In Translation: Ahmadinejad And The Media). The last clause is crucial: the way that the gay scene and the legal system of Iran works is so dramatically different from ours that the comparison can only be done once Iranian culture is understood. Now I think that it is safe to say that the general Western understanding of Iranian society and legal system is zero so President Ahmadinejad was quite right: there was really no point in him trying to discuss the issue. In his Columbia visit he was trying to open a dialogue with us but he has also exposed deficiencies in our collective listening skills; some remedial attention here (and maybe a little more humility) might help dissipate misunderstandings and hey, it might even prevent a few wars. We and the president of Columbia University haven’t cover ourselves in glory, but very few people seem to be even remotely aware of this. (I have discussed other ways in which President Ahmadinejad has been misunderstood; see, for example, A Letter to Jimmy carter).

In the recent Stop the War Coalition AGM, Somaye Zadeh, an exiled dissident with no warm feelings for the regime, got shouted down while trying to explain that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not anything like as repressive as generally depicted, dissidents knowing that this demagoguery is a poison that the war party is relying on to disarm all opposition on the left when the right starts to scream for Iran to be ‘taken out’ before it starts World War III.

Do you know what President Ahmadinejad chose to talk about at Columbia university? Immediately after some prefatory comments protesting Lee Bolinger’s mostly ill-informed, bullying attack he cut straight to an elegant scriptural and philosophical discourse on why humanity has a duty to use science responsibly. Did you know that Ayatollah Khomeini has issued a fatwa declaring nuclear weapons un-Islamic. I will think of that discourse and all my Iranian friends while we continue to look on from the side as Darth Vader runs his nuclear wrecking ball over the next member of the axis of evil.

Thank you for your patience and for your excellent and intelligent writing,

Chris Dornan

P.S. One of the calmest, best researched and incisive analysis of the Iranian and Israeli foreign policy is Trita Parsi’s (see his website and recent article). Parsi argues (convincingly) that both Iran and Israel have always been rational state actors pursuing realistic foreign policies, that have been packaged ideologically, and that it is clear from the interviews that he has conducted that senior officials on both sides know this very well.

A response to the Guardian leader Stopping nuclear ambitions, Saturday 3rd November 2007

Dear Sir,

Your editorial contains crucial contradiction. Firstly the IAEA determines whether there is evidence of Iran weaponising its civilian programme and the IAEA director Dr ElBaradei has stated on the 28th that “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now”, and you say yourself that they tried to enter a strategic bargain which would guarantee them fuel for their civilian programme, from which we can conclude that the Iranians have a strategic need for nuclear energy. Their religious leaders have issued fatwas that state that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic and they repeatedly declare that their nuclear programme is civilian. Yet you simply assume that they have a covert weapons programme. If you have such evidence would you please publish it so that the director of the IAEA can be made aware of it and revise his assessment.

The situation with regards concealment is complex but it is by no means the case that Iran has ‘violated the NPT’ as you say. The situation is complicated; here is the CASMII fact sheet on the matter:

Iran has met its obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has fully cooperated in the last three years with the IAEA and had voluntarily accepted and enforced safeguards well above the Additional Protocol until Iran’s nuclear file was reported under the pressure of the US to the Security Council in February 2006. (The U.S., by contrast, has neither signed nor implemented the Additional Protocol, and Israel has refused to sign the NPT.)

Iran’s earlier concealment of its nuclear programme took place in the context of the US-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam; Iraqi chemical weapons provided to Saddam by the US, German and UK companies with the approval of their governments which were used against Iranian soldiers and civilians and Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 with impunity. Iranian leaders concluded from these gross injustices that international laws are only “ink on paper” as Rafsanjani put it.

But the most direct reasons for Iran’s concealment were the American trade embargo on Iran and Washington’s organized and persistent campaign to stop civilian nuclear technology from reaching Iran from any source. For example, in 1995 Germany offered to let Kraftwerk Union (a subsidiary of Siemens) finish Iran’s Bushehr reactor, but withdrew its proposal under US pressure [3]. The following year, China cancelled its contract to build a nuclear enrichment facility in Isfahan for the same reason [4]. Thus Washington systematically violated, with impunity, Article IV of the NPT, which allows signatories to “facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

Nevertheless, Iran’s decision not to declare all of its nuclear installations did not violate any rules. According to David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, who first provided satellite imagery and analysis of the facilities at Natanz and at Arak in December 2002 [5], under the safeguards agreement in force at the time, “Iran is not required to allow IAEA inspections of a new nuclear facility until six months before nuclear material is introduced into it.”

The basis of nuclear non-proliferation is the NPT and the agency for oversight is the IAEA and the director of the IAEA is saying that the process is working. By publishing such misleading information you are undermining the IAEA and the NPT, contributing to a climate of fear and ignorance and not making the prospect of war one jot less likely.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Dornan

 

Hi,

This is just a letter of support from an overseas observer (sorry), but I do have a brother, sister in law and nephews who are American. Every time I hear of or encounter Dr Ron Paul makes me smile. Dr Paul’s humanity and integrity really shine through in way that is very, very obvious to me. Even if he doesn’t make the nomination I think he has the chance to make an big impact on the race. He is also doing a wonderful job of promoting sane and exciting conservatism—which is very exciting indeed. The articles in the American Conservative are probably the best around, and I like a lot of what Pat Buchanan is saying too. It seems that because the liberals have been to happy to just throw insults they haven’t been thinking anything like as clearly.

It may come as a surprise but I am traditionally very liberal, but I am also religious and have always liked the idea of keeping things small, that centralising power often leads to bigger problems than it tries to solve. I think this is a view that liberals may be becoming increasingly open to (and there has always been a fringe that thinks this way).

It seems to me that the main parties have become ridiculously similar and travesties of their principles, and entirely beholden to corporate interests. This has become so obvious. However there are some interesting similarities between free thinking liberals and conservatives—the importance of restoring the constitution, an ethical foreign policy and the destructiveness of unfettered trade—the way it allows the strong to prey on the weak, especially for corporations to exploit individuals.

The most exciting thing that could happen would be for Paul to team up with a prominent liberal who is sick of pandering to the system. Of course both candidates would have to compromise (there would have to be a serious programme to tackle environmental issues, for example), but I think it would be very interesting. The problem is that some of Dr Paul’s positions would cause enormous distress to large sections of the country, so while I admire the integrity of the programme I doubt if it is practical to implement all of it in one shot—it would in a sense be very undemocratic. (But I think it makes much sense in the long run, but some things might take time.) In working out a joint programme you would come up with more than enough to fill a term without starting a revolution! It could be very exciting; if it didn’t work it might give the main parties such a fright that they might come back to their senses. I don’t seriously think it will happen but I am sorry that it won’t as I am sure it would be the best thing for the country. The stupid, childish culture wars should be put behind us. They are one big excuse for lazy thinking.

Sorry if this sounds garbled. Anyhow best of luck.

Chris Dornan

31st October 2007

Dear David Lepper,

I am writing to you about our government’s support for the US policy towards Iran, and especially the Iranian nuclear programme. Folly would be the kindest description for it—Vladimir Putin’s recent likening of US policy to a ‘madman on the loose with a razor blade’ (we would say axe of course) seems entirely appropriate. It looks as if the UK government is (again) on course to partake in war crimes, with far-reaching consequences for all of us, which may ‘blow back’ much more quickly than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although my letter is longer than I would have liked, I have confined it to the bigger picture, enclosing copies of other letters that focus on different aspects of what I say here (especially, trying to understand the Iranian perspective). (You can read this and the other letters on line at https://chrisdornan.wordpress.com/, the advantage of reading them on-line being that the supporting articles are cross referenced through hypertext links).

A recently published opinion poll found that that about half of Americans support a military strike against Iran and about half think it is likely to happen before the current administration leaves office. The following extract from Arthur Herman’s article at the Britannica Blog might give a sense of how may Americans may view the situation (and it also gives an excellent insight into the way some in US [vice-]presidential intellectual circles are thinking):

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. [My Emphasis]

Far from a near-universal condemnation of this other neoconservative trial balloons we hear hardly a squawk (Rowan Williams’spotentially murderous folly’ comment being exceptional). No wonder their tails are up. However, if we leave planet Neocon and return to the real world we find an ex-US Navy commander painting a different picture.

The Air Force’s ubiquitous argument against the efficacy of Navy ships operating in restricted hostile waters is that they offer relatively little striking power in return for the vulnerability they present. This is particularly true in the Persian Gulf where Iran’s naval forces enjoy significant asymmetric advantages over ours. If I’m planning a surgical strike on Iran and want to maximize force protection, I get the Navy out of the Gulf. Operating from the North Arabian Sea limits the set of targets in Iran that carrier based jets can reach, but I suspect the Air Force has plenty of manned aircraft available for missions requiring air breathing pilots, and the Navy’s cruise missiles, only having to go one way on each mission, have a sufficient un-refueled combat radius to hit whatever they have to hit.

If I’m the Navy, of course, I’m not wild about leaving the Gulf because it will look like I ran away from the fight (because, in essence, I will have.) What’s more, once I leave the Gulf and the fight starts, it may be a long time, if ever, before I can get back in, and then how will I ever justify my share of the defense budget again?

Fortunately or unfortunately for the Navy, it will probably stay in the Gulf to serve as a casus belli. A torpedo in the side of an amphibious ship carrying Marines or a destroyer losing its bow to a mine or an anti-ship cruise missile cooking off in a carrier’s hangar bay will give the Cheney gang all the justification it needs to unilaterally declare general war against Iran

You’d like to think the administration wouldn’t sacrifice an armed service that way just to enable a Dick Cheney foreign policy initiative. But look at what they did with the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq.

(About this time last year the Navy deployed a recently-refurbished USS Eisenhower to the region, but was replaced with an older carrier, Nimitz, in April; some have speculated that this may have been done to limit the damage of the above scenario.) Indeed elements inside the US military are obviously aware of the frightful risks of such an adventure and these senior commanders are probably all that has prevented the show from hitting the road already. Central Command (CENTCOM) Chief Admiral William Fallon has reported that he will resign if there is any attempt to attack Iran (the chemistry between Fallon and his subordinate, general Petraeus, commander of Iraq forces, is apparently testy, Fallon reportedly telling Petraeus that he considered him to be “an ass-kissing little chickenshit”, adding, “I hate people like that”; the American Conservative article, Sycophant Savior, sheds some more light on this), so the latest thinking is that the President will propose a limited strike in response to an attack on the Army or Marines in Iraq, which Fallon won’t be able to refuse, and the Iranian response will be used as a pretext launch the real bombardment. All the indications are that this has at least the tacit support of the UK government.

It is worth trying to understand where this situation may be taking us. In times past people used to think it was important to try and anticipate and avoid dangerous and unstable situations, but this kind of caution (except where some US naval officers are concerned) seems to no longer be the thing. A faith based approach to these matters is more fashionable where we hope it will all turn out fine. None of what I have to say may happen, but I have seen several discussions from grounded and knowledgeable people that include the following developments after an attack on Iran. Indeed everything might turn out just fine. But given that some things that I never would have dreamt of ever, ever being said by responsible people now seem to be routine fare, I am can’t be so sanguine.

The US public, or at least the roughly half of it that is keen to get on with kicking Iranian ass, is on the above fantastical Arthur Herman-type script, so, if the Iranians do succeed in reducing some or all of the 5th fleet in the Gulf to smoking ruins the shock will be profound, at which point things start to become unpredictable. The Nuclear Posture Review allows for the use of nuclear weapons to protect the military from a significant (even conventional) threat.

Alternatively, if the navy does clear out of the gulf leaving the USAF to bombard the Iranians, then there will be little to stop the Iranians taking control of the straits of Hormuz and closing it off until the world has agreed to bring the war criminals to justice. 20% of the world’s oil flows though the straits, with no spare capacity in the system. Do you remember the impact of the fuel protests in 2000? The disruption to the world economy (and the world) will be severe. What happens here is equally unpredictable; we could see an escalation that includes an intensified bombardment by the USAF to get the Iranians to back off, possibly followed by attacks on the Iraqi garrison by the Iranians, jeopardising their supply lines, again risking an American nuclear strike.

If Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other repressive American clients with overwhelmingly Muslim populations aren’t destabilised by such an assault it would be a miracle.

Nothing is more common than to read of American and British analysts sneering at Russians protests over NATO encroachment (reviving cold-war type bomber reconnaissance sorties, etc.) as a sign of strategic weakness but this is not the only reading. The end of cheap oil and gas has arrived, and Russia has huge reserves, and as the price rockets Russia’s position will strengthen. However, the Americans (and the UK),are utterly dependent on it, nearly all US strategic military deployments being an effort to try and secure the oil habit, and it won’t be so funny, with the dollar collapsing, the Chinese economy hitting the buffers and unable to finance the US deficit. Indeed the fuel bill for the Pentagon is itself enormous and this could pose some problems in itself; the US strategic petroleum reserves will be used but the shock will still be profound.

This is a kind of strength is not dissimilar to that of Saddam Hussein’s in 1990 after the end of the War with Iran, sitting astride a vast and unsustainable military machine, which to be sure can inflict immense destruction, but is actually of little constructive use to its owner, and indeed a crushing burden.

The Iranians represent no immediate threat to anybody of course. In outline, the facts are as follows.

  • The USA, UK and the Islamic Republic of Iran are signatories to the NPT which guarantees that nuclear-capable states (the USA and the UK) must assist non-nuclear signatories (Iran) to acquire uranium enrichment technology for peaceful use.
  • Iran has a strong strategic requirement to diversify its means of generating electricity, has always insisted it’s programme is peaceful, has subjected itself to the most stringent inspection regime of any IAEA member, and the IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, reminded us (again) on Sunday “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now”.
  • President Ahmadinejad never said that he would ‘wipe Israel off the map’, Iran has not attacked any nation in modern history and there is no evidence that Iran poses a military threat to anyone now or in the future. Yet the most senior members of the US administration continue to misrepresent President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 comments suggesting they have no serious interest whatsoever in finding a diplomatic solution.
  • The US government continues to feed a stream of allegations into the public domain that Iran is destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan and assisting the insurgency, yet no objective evidence to support these allegations is forthcoming. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Turkey continue to praise Iran’s constructive relationship while (especially Iraq and Afghanistan) criticizing US military short-sightedness and brutality, the Iraqi government vigorously objecting to the US military supplying arms to paramilitaries in Anbar. (The US military and the Iraqi governments have different objectives of course; when the paramilitaries in Anbar find an alternative use for their guns the US military can, if they are consistent with past behaviour, simply blame Iran. When has an army failing to defeat guerrillas ever not blamed outsiders for their woes?)

The Iranians have also finished hosting a successful Caspian Sea littoral states summit. Yet the our press continues to push this fantasy that Iran is some pariah, rogue state, a threat to its neighbours.

The Iraqi fiasco seems to have left us with a contempt for all of reality and ethics. The people who sold us the bill of goods, those responsible for the ongoing Mesopotamian holocaust, ought to be in the Hague spending more time with their lawyers, but they remain among us. The recent Chinese and Russian statements were models of good sense, that seems entirely absent inside the American imperium.

We in the West seem to have lost any sense of ourselves and continue to rely on a vast military arsenal to construct our own reality, shred treaty obligations and destroy anybody who gets in our way. (The USA, of course, spends more than a half of the combined total that the rest of the world spends on arms.) Are we like the good Germans in the 1930s “looking from the side”, our minds numbed and pickled in propaganda, with all sense of ethics and reality collectively dissolving?

President Bush is apparently confident that God speaks to him and some evangelical Christians believe that the End Times are approaching, but that when the conflagration arrives they will float up out of their clothes into heaven. Maybe. The coming times could certainly be extremely challenging, with society and the environment breaking up, the kind of times where it would be useful to have an (authentic) religious faith and practice, but it would really be much better if we could find a better way, and we surely can if choose to. There is much scope for the Iraq chaos to start spreading to consume more than just foreigners and poor kids. Are we really doing everything we can to try and minimise the chances of this happening?

Yours sincerely,

Chris Dornan

30th October 2007

Tel.: 07857 795985

From: Chris Dornan, Brighton

Dear Sir,

Re: A counter-productive display of international machismo

After your sharp analysis leading up to and through the Iraq hell-disaster you seem to be losing your edge. Your narrative is superficially reasonable but a closer look reveals that it is facilitating the Bush administration’s long drive to war with Iran.

The principle facts of the case are as follows.

  • The USA, UK and the Islamic Republic of Iran are signatories to the NPT which guarantees that nuclear-capable states (the USA and the UK) must assist non-nuclear signatories (Iran) to acquire uranium enrichment technology for peaceful use.
  • Iran has a strong strategic requirement to diversify its means of generating electricity, has always insisted it’s programme is peaceful, has subjected itself to the most stringent inspection regime of any IAEA member, and the IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, reminded us (again) on Sunday “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now”.
  • President Ahmadinejad never said that he would ‘wipe Israel off the map’, Iran has not attacked any nation in modern history and there is no evidence that Iran poses a military threat to anyone now or in the future. Yet the most senior members of the US administration continue to misrepresent President Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 comments suggesting they have no serious interest whatsoever in finding a diplomatic solution.
  • The US government continues to feed a stream of allegations into the public domain that Iran is destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan and assisting the insurgency, yet no objective evidence to support these allegations is forthcoming. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Turkey continue to praise Iran’s constructive relationship while (especially Iraq and Afghanistan) criticizing US military short-sightedness and brutality, objecting strenuously to the US military supplying arms to paramilitaries in Anbar. (The US military and the Iraqi governments have different objectives of course; when the paramilitaries find a less satisfactory use for their guns the Americans can always blame Iran.)

In 2003 we heard shrieks of a new nuclear-armed terrorist-supporting Hitler is endangering the international community and a million violent deaths and many millions of displaced people later we see them rerunning exactly the same programme, with the Iranians apparently being blamed for the countries on their eastern and western borders having their civil society and infrastructure destroyed, and being bogged down in seemingly endless civil wars.  And it is working a treat!

Everywhere good people seem to be turning the other way and shrugging their shoulders. Those pesky obstinate Iranians eh. Are we the new ‘good Germans’, ground down by an unending stream of propaganda?

There is apparently no consensus on exactly what scuppered the Mayans. Long after Bush and his elected pals leave us to fry while they fly up out of their clothes into the heavens to meet their maker, when future archaeologists and anthropologists are trying to put the pieces together, they too will probably be just as puzzled. Of course they will be trying to rely on logic. Suckers.

Chris Dornan

Brighton

P.S. Hint if anyone wants to work out what is going before it is too late, try Target Iran: The Truth about the US government’s plans for regime change, Ritter’s articles at Target Iran?, at the Britannica Blog or at truthdig; the letters I have written to various public figures are on my blog are supported with references, especially the Letter to Jimmy Carter.)

P.S. Once the disposition of the parties is understood they look more rational and less obstinate.

For the USA, excluding the (scandalously) irrelevant State Department, the title Ritter’s book (Target Iran: The Truth about the US government’s plans for regime change) says all you need to know about the US government intentions, the only meaningful resistance coming from within the Pentagon (otherwise the rubber surely would have hit the road by now). As for the Iranians, they know perfectly well that the Europeans, like the Democrats and the state department (and almost everyone else in the ‘west’ it seems), for a variety of reasons, seem set to let the neocon crazies take their project to the next stage, and we can get a taster of their thought processes from Arthur Herman’s article at the Britannica Blog:

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. [My Emphasis]

With trial balloons like this raising hardly a squawk from the mainstream media it is no wonder they are encouraged. This project has been under way for a long time. Ritter finished his mid 2005 Al Jazeera article The US War with Iran has Already Begun: “We now know that the war [with Iraq] had started much earlier. Likewise, history will show that the US-led war with Iran will not have begun once a similar formal statement is offered by the Bush administration, but, rather, had already been under way since June 2005, when the CIA began its programme of MEK-executed terror bombings in Iran.” See also The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn’t Want You to Know for a first-hand account of the diplomatic perspective of the Bush government’s treatment of Iran going back to 2001.

Faced with the kind of full-spectrum aggression, with two possible scenarios in which the Bush administration could deploy tactical nuclear weapons (according to the Nuclear Posture Review), the Iranians are well advised to remain firm. No attempts by the Iraqis or the Taliban to reason with the beast was of the slightest benefit. Vladimir Putin is not alone in observing that the Bush administration have lost all sense of boundaries—many Americans, even the likes of Francis Fukuyama, are coming to the same conclusion.

See earlier letters on chrisdornan.blogspot.com.

Dear David Cameron,

Thank you for explaining your policy position.

There are two problems with it though. In principle it violates the spirit and letter of the NPT, to which the UK and the Islamic Republic of Iran are signatories. In practice it passively facilitates the Bush administration’s upcoming war with Iran, and indeed it facilitates the PM’s facilitation of the Bush administration’s upcoming war (for war it is if nobody does anything to stop it). Indeed your policy makes Gordon Brown’s policy look like reckless political adventurism.

As in the case of Iraq (assuming there will be anybody left) the truth will out and it will become just as clear that we have been stampeded into another war, but on ‘pragmatic’ rather than ‘idealistic’ grounds this time. The same cast that herded us into the last war are behind this one and the same people that warned us about the folly of the last one are repeating their warnings with ElBaradei inviting 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”.

That Iran is destabilising Iraq or Afghanistan is belied by the fact their governments praise Iran’s constructive influence and condemn American short-sightedness, insensitivity and brutality. The American’s latest hair-brained scheme makes a great story at home but is shortsighted—arming paramilitaries may work for a while but in the long run they will find an alternative use for their guns not so conducive to their government and armourers. Does the fact that the sovereign government of Iraq is vehemently objecting to these activities count for anything? We don’t know when this bright idea will unravel but of this much we can be certain: the Iranians will be responsible (or maybe the Syrians if it is more convenient, but who knows).

Do we know of any military losing to guerrillas that has not blamed outside agents for their woes? There has been much analysis of the American claims and the great majority of them fall apart when the tyres are kicked: some tie ups between Hezbollah and Shia paramilitaries are plausible but not much else. (While Hezbollah and Iran are allied they are of course distinct.)

Check out what the likes of Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan are saying or the articles turning up in the American Conservative:

  • Superpower Trip: Plagued by narcissism and impatience, U.S. foreign policy betrays all of the symptoms of Criminal Thinking
  • Sycophant Savior: General Petraeus wins a battle in Washington—if not in Baghdad [note that this is quite different from the mainstream/herd perspective and more congruent with Petraeus’s superior’s assessment (an ‘an ass-kissing little chickenshit’)];
  • Rudy Bombs in London: America’s mayor poses as the heir to Churchill and Thatcher

Or Fukuyama’s latest article:

Check out Ron Paul getting Bill Maher’s progressive audience cheering almost deliriously.

Look I have never been a Conservative and had serious problem with their 1980s programme but I don’t believe in one party states. Shouldn’t you be doing your job as an opposition beyond posturing weekly for TV cameras? Can you not see that the Conservative adherence to the government line on Iraq was a disaster for yourselves and the country (and the world). Sure, don’t play politics with national policy but the current dynamic is facilitating a drift into a catastrophic and very unpredictable war, which, believe me, is even less defensible than the Iraq invasion.

I have attached a message I sent to Max Hastings in response to his article in today’s Guardian, and a letter I sent to President Carter in response to an interview with him published in the Guardian last week. If anyone should find the time to read them you might start to understand why I think your policy is (on analysis) unprincipled, dreadfully misconceived and self-defeating (for all of us).

I will understand that you can’t engage in a debate here and I don’t want to consume your precious time restating your current policy which has been clearly stated. If there is any questions I can answer please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Chris Dornan

 

 

 

From: CAMERON, David [mailto:CAMEROND@parliament.uk]
Sent: 29 October 2007 10:48
To: chris@chrisdornan.com
Subject: An open letter to David Cameron and William Hague

Dear Mr Dornan,

Thank you for emailing David Cameron – I am replying on his behalf. I do apologise for the delay in my reply.

It is disappointing that the last Security Council Resolution on Iran was agreed in March, seven months ago. We need a step change in the international approach to Iran. If sanctions continue to move at this pace, Iranian leaders will conclude that they can safely ride out international opposition to their nuclear programme.

We believe that UN sanctions are the best way to put pressure on Iran to return to negotiations. We would like to see a new Security Council Resolution containing a ban on new arms sales to Iran, more effective steps against those involved in Iran’s nuclear programme, and action to target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

However we also believe that the EU, as Iran’s largest trading partner, could do much more. European nations should adopt measures that the US has taken to deny certain Iranian banks access to the US financial system. They should also ban new European export credit guarantees to Iran, and begin targeted action to restrict European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields.

Thank you once again for taking the trouble to write.

Yours sincerely,

David Beal
Correspondence Secretary
David Cameron’s Office
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA