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"We Will Continue to Look and See If the Iranians Were Involved"

9/11 Report Builds Case for Expanding the War

by GARY LEUPP

One day the headlined fact of significance was that the 9-11 Commission found no Iraq/al-Qaeda link. This was a blow to the Bush administration, especially its neoconservative contingent, which must realize that it has diminishing credibility, even as it struggles to stay in power and doggedly implement its Southwest Asia regime change agenda. The next day the headlined fact was that the same commission found that eight of the 9-11 hijackers had passed between Afghanistan and Iran between October 2000 and February 2001, with Iranian border guards’ knowledge, and official orders to those guards not to stamp their passports. In other words, the report says: there’s been no al-Qaeda link to Iraq (now occupied by U.S. troops), but there has been one to Iran (not occupied by U.S. troops). Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean has said specifically that this passage of Saudis through Iran raises the possibility that Iran and al-Qaeda had an operating relationship, There must be a lot of folks thinking (as some very much want them to think); “The CIA screwed up on the intelligence, so we didn’t attack the right country. Turns out Iran’s a much more serious enemy.”

The CIA, which understands how facts can be used and abused, immediately emphasized that there’s no evidence for any operational link between Teheran and the 9-11 attacks. (The CIA has itself, by the way, been abused by the Commission’s report that faults it— for “intelligence failures,” rather than the Office of Special Plans—for collecting and disseminating pro-war disinformation.) Iranian officials predictably again denied any Iran/al-Qaeda connections, emphasized the difficulty of policing such a long border, and expressed willingness to improve relations with the U.S. The Iraqi “ambassador” to Washington (interestingly, an American citizen) told the press that Iran has actually cooperated with the present “handover” government, and has detained Afghan fighters, some of whom might have been headed to Iraq. (The new “government” of Iyad Allawi is probably not inclined to contribute to the Iran vilification campaign; Allawi is widely known as a long-term CIA operative, but he may have reasons to oppose U.S. plans for neighboring Shiite Iran.)

But this fact about these eight men, three or four years ago crossing the Afghan-Iranian border, is a potentially powerful piece of information, the sort that the neocons can be expected to maximally exploit. Regime change in Iran is, after all, a major neocon objective (although not official U.S. policy). A government official told Jenifer Johnston of the Sunday Herald that “there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran” in a second term. The neocons know that if Bush is reelected, they may be able to carry out their plans

This new, manipulable fact about border crossing is a fine addition to the anti-Iran dossier they are building. Here we supposedly find Iranian officialdom interacting in some way with the lives of some al-Qaeda terrorists, at least on the Afghan border. (The question of borders generally, and responsibility for their policing, has been an issue from the outset of the occupation of Iraq. Given the length and porousness of the borders—with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Kuwait—and the inevitability of opposition to U.S. occupation throughout the region, we can expect to hear more charges that unfriendly governments are abetting “terrorist” crossings into Iraq, as moves against those governments are prepared.) One can build on this factoid, to construct a shocking narrative in which named Iranian mullahs have foreknowledge of, and input into, 9-11. Skillfully handled, such a tale might generate sufficient public support for whatever you plan to do in Iran (and if in the future, it comes out that U.S. action rested on lies…well, the deed will be done and the liars unlikely to face trial). Anyway, this announcement of Iran travel by so many 9-11 hijackers is a gain for the neocons, coming just as their prior case for an Iraq attack collapses completely.The U.S.-Planned “Popular Uprising”

It seems there are plans for a repeat of 1953, when the CIA in one of its boasted success stories removed Mossadegh and returned the shah to the Peacock Throne. There will not be an invasion, but what some have called a “popular uprising.” A popular uprising in Iran, planned in Washington, would seem an oxymoron. But perhaps we can view the uprising as a movie scenario, authored by some fine neocon mind.

In it, the youth in a very youthful country (who lack any connection to the era of the brutal shah, which concluded in January 1978-9 with the most genuinely popular revolution ever experienced by a Muslim nation), people dissatisfied with the existing order, rise up and topple the mullahs. These are youth who, in what State Department officials have actually conceded is a form of “democracy,” are dissatisfied with the complex legislative process that gives Muslim clerics too much influence over their lives.

They are influenced by American popular culture, know a lot about America from relatives who have lived here, and some are willing to work with Americans to make the “popular uprising” possible. Their environment is oppressive enough to make them demand change, while just free enough to allow for discussion and organization, and for networking with exiles (such as the former shah’s son). A series of actions of the above-mentioned exponents of “intervention in the internal affairs of Iran,” conducted in tandem with these dissidents (and perhaps others) brings down the existing regime, through a well-planned uprising, replacing the regime with one that is pro-U.S., democratic, and pro-globalization. It agrees to host U.S. military bases, abjure any aspirations for nuclear weapons (such as those possessed by nearby states), reform its Islam, recognize Israel and contribute to a comprehensive solution of the “Middle East problem.” That’s the scenario.

Some are convinced there will be no attack on Iran, arguing that the Bush administration is overstretched and embarrassed in Iraq. But the above-mentioned “intervention in Iran’s internal affairs” (subversion, in other words) is presumably quietly underway, as we speak. Further action must be accompanied by anti-Iran propaganda credible to the American public. The announcement of putative Iran/al-Qaeda links comes as the U.S. government insists Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, violating treaties to which it is signatory. The U.S. argues that Iran has no need to even generate electricity through nuclear power, and that the whole program is military in character. (In fact the nuclear program goes back to the 1950s, and in the 1970s the U.S., Germany and France all signed contracts to construct nuclear reactors in the shah’s Iran. Meanwhile Iran discussed with Israel the purchase of Jericho missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The mullocracy that came to power with Khomeini opposed nuclear power in general, but from the early 1990s Iran negotiated with post-Cold War Russia to complete the Bushehr reactor. Putin insists Russia will go ahead with a perfectly legitimate deal. If that happens, the plant could be completed next year or at least by 2007.) The U.S. points to the fact that IAEA investigators detected traces of enriched uranium on gas centrifuges at the Nantanz facility. Iran denies that it has enriched uranium.

Israel, the Nukes and Bush

Jane’s Intelligence Digest suggests that Israel is mulling over a preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, à la Osiraq, 1981.

This has been under discussion for some time. (Israel of course has its own nuclear weapons, but views the acquisition of nukes by Iran or any of the Arab nations as an intolerable existential threat.) One imagines that some in the planning process are thinking about the relationship between this attack and the planned popular uprising. Meanwhile there is a move underway in Congress to produce legislation backing “regime change” in Iran. As with Iraq, there are multiple reasons. Iran has been accused of harboring al-Qaeda members, although Teheran says, plausibly enough, that it detains any found. Iran has been accused of complicity in the May 12, 2003 suicide attacks in Riyadh. Iran aids Hizbollah, the Shiite Lebanese militia, and various Palestinian groups. The same formula that worked in the case with Iraq (weapons of mass destruction threat; al-Qaeda connections; support for some sort of terrorism) is being applied here, while 160,000 troops battle “insurgents” across Iran’s long borders with Afghanistan and Iraq. In this situation, the remarks of the Commander-in-Chief, President Bush, are of great interest, expressing succinctly the dialectic of disinformation.

“Acting Director McLaughlin said there was no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of September the 11th,” said Bush. (The president is willing to believe the temporary CIA chief’s view, for the time being, lest he be seen as chomping at the bit to regime-change Iran.) He immediately added, however, “We will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved… As to direct connections with Sept. 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” Do not these “ifs” sound in fact like future news? Do you not suppose that the appointed long-term CIA director will, in the interview process, be asked, “What do you think about the al-Qaeda links to Iran?” There are, I’ll bet you, people working around the clock, imaginatively, to find Iranian (and Syrian) involvement in 9-11. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has already stated, when asked about Iranian connections to the 9-11 hijackers, “Apparently it’s something that’s evolved over time.” No “if” here, but the imputation of a definite and evolving relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran. Meanwhile despite assertions to the contrary by members of his own administration, Bush labels Iran “a totalitarian society…I have long expressed my concern about.”

The world-changing plan of the concerned neocons (which, one must stress, might well be adopted in its essentials by a Kerry administration) targets less the original foe, al-Qaeda, than a list of diversely uncooperative governments and peoples from the Mediterranean to Central Asia. But to proceed down their road they must use 9-11, manipulating the emotions of the masses as they approach each new task, and link each new task to that special day in autumn a few years back that means everything’s different now, and from now on, new rules apply. If the Iran/al-Qaeda/9-11 link gets further hyped in weeks to come (as Syria gets further linked to various “forces of evil”) we will know that the neocons, however beleaguered, are still driving policy.

* * *

(Later, July 20.) Ominous to see James Woolsey, former CIA head and key player in the newly created (third) Committee on the Present Danger (this time, the danger being “radical Islamism”), on CNN’s Lou Dobb program just now, brazenly repeating already discredited information about Saddam/al-Qaeda links. He’s also confidently predicting that more and more Iran/al-Qaeda links will be found. His colleagues will no doubt seek, and if they seek, they will surely find many such links, more and more reasons to hate and fear Iran. They’ll hope that people aren’t bright enough to observe that the religious faiths of bin Laden’s jihadis and Iran’s mullahs are mutually antagonistic, and that al-Qaeda militants detest the Iranian regime. Saudi “Wahhabism” and Iranian Shiism are incompatible, just as they both are with Baathist secularism. But just as the Bush administration successfully conflated (in the American mind) al-Qaeda and 9-11 with Iraq, it can try to do the same now with 9-11 and Iran.

A task force co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser (and one-time big-time advocate of anticommunist jihad in Afghanistan), has just challenged Bush Iran policy. This is good; it shows us that the elite are not united on the Iran issue, and maybe their division will even help prevent the threatened intervention. But meanwhile Hazim al-Shaalan, defense minister in the new Iraqi quasi-government declares, “Iranian intrusion has been vast and unprecedented since the establishment of the Iraqi state.” By such statements the “fully sovereign” regime, headed by CIA operative and homicidal brute Iyad Allawi, abets plans for an American intrusion into Iran.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu