Monday, April 16, 2007


February 17, 2007

Adjunct Scholar
Middle East Institute
Washington, D.C.

Ever since the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran, the Bush administration hyped up its aggressive rhetoric towards that country, thus adding tensions to the already volatile region.

According to prudent opinions, including the US Congress, it is desired that the Bush administration and its European allies should engage Iran in a meaningful diplomacy, so that a mutually agreeable understanding can be reached. On the contrary, for last few months the Bush administration has exerted tremendous pressure on Iran - militarily, financially and politically.

In his January 29 interview on NPR (National Public Radio), Bush said that, “If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly.” Immediately after this tough talk, a case was made by the military officials in Iraq that Iran provides deadly explosives to the “insurgents”, who are responsible for the killing of the American troops.

However, the Bush administration’s charge was met with scepticism by the media and the Congress. Amanda Johnson responded in the New York Times by saying: “What we should be shocked by is the Bush administration’s attempts to create yet another pretext for an unnecessary war, this time possibly with Iran”. On the other hand, Iran dismissed the accusations saying that the United States has already “decided on a policy and is trying to fabricate evidence if it cannot find one.”

The belligerent attitude of President Bush goes against the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, commissioned by the US Congress. The Group asked for a dialogue with Iran to further settle such hotspots of the Middle East, like Iraq, Lebanon and above all the Palestinian issue. The administration’s aggressive posture is also against the wishes of the public opinion, which is against any further surge of hostilities in the region.

Highly sceptical of the intensions of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the newly elected Democratic Congress decided to exert their part of the authority in the decision making process. In numerous Congressional Committee hearings, the members repeatedly issued caution to the Bush administration to refrain from hostilities against Iran. It has become quite obvious that on Iran the country has conflicting views.

There is a strong suspicion that if not stopped by the Congress, under one pretext or the other, the Bush administration is geared to go beyond just imposing UNSC sanctions against Iran. President’s long record of hostile attitude towards Iran goes back to his State of the Union speech of January 2002. In that address he had called Iran as a part of the “axis of evil” and condemned those “axis” countries for the alleged support for international terrorism and their “despotic” governments. The term by itself is a misnomer as no joint planning or coordination exists between the four mentioned countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and North Korea, in their policies to support international terrorism. Nor was any evidence provided by President Bush to prove his allegation. Nevertheless, the rhetoric never ceased.
Hardly, a year before these serious charges Iran had held fair and free presidential elections, in which Mohammad Khatami, a moderate was re-elected as the President by a wide margin. To reduce the tensions, in 2003 the Iranian President proposed a comprehensive talks with the Bush administration on all issues of content. As according to the recent Washington Post report of February 14, this message was ignored and an opportunity was missed for the normalisation of relations between the two countries. The neocons in the Bush administration were too obsessed with Iran to pick up a conflict.

In recent months Iran had to face two pressures from the United States. First on their nuclear programme and when things got bad in Iraq, various allegations of interference were leveled against Iran. Many in the US argue that Bush administration does not have any concrete evidence of Iran’s interference in the Iraq conflict. The Iranian officials point out to the fact that their interference in Iraq will have negative repercussions on their country and therefore would not like to see Iraq being destabilised. Secondly, the Iraqi government has fairly good relations with the Iranians and it would be illogical to undermine such a regime in Iraq.

The remaining two years of the Bush administration will be testing for the American people as well as for the world community. Although the Democrat Congress will exercise its function of checks and balances but the President has the ability to create crises by improvising various methods or by creating conditions, in which the Congress has no option but to go along with the chief executive. Analogy can also be drawn with the failing of the US policy in Vietnam in the late 1960s, when President Nixon attacked Cambodia, without the knowledge of the Congress. Sensing the danger, the Washington Post in its editorial of February 13 opined that “before things get any more out of hand, President Bush needs to make his intentions toward Iran clear. And Congress needs to make it clear that this time it will be neither tricked nor bullied into supporting another disastrous war”.

Experience in Iraq and even Afghanistan demonstrates that superpower has its limitations and that the resistance can be much more stiff and lethal than anticipated. Iran is a large country with over 60 million population and is also more united and motivated than its two neighbours. Furthermore, any misadventure against Iran can prompt that country to destabilise the already precarious Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, Iran has a sufficient leverage in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East and can create serious and long lasting problems for the United States.

In the interest of world peace and for America’s own sake, the US Congress and the people are likely to restrain the Bush administration and its neocon allies. The people of the United States stand for a dialogue, as the Baker-Hamilton Report recommends. It is the best way to resolve the issues and conflicts in the Middle East region.