Former CIA analyst
George W. Bush. “Dubya.” In the media, the practice of using the W to distinguish the current president from his father is common. George Senior has two middle initials — H and W — but few media flacks seem to use them. Nevertheless, two beats one, and adding to the fetid miasma constantly enveloping Washington these days is the old but oft-repeated rumor about a dominating motivation of Bush Junior — that he would do almost anything to assure that his own reputation surpasses that of his father in historians’ future rankings of presidents. It seems to me that we might in common courtesy push him a little more quickly than might otherwise occur, at least in the name game, toward equality with (though not superiority over) his father — by giving him the honor and dignity of two middle initials. We should decree that henceforth the son shall be known as George P. W. (“Perpetual War”) Bush. Instead of just “Dubya,” how about calling him “Pee Dubya?”
Is it unfair to label the current president “Pee Dubya?” No, it is not. Let’s look at a little background. Back on March 16, 2006, the White House published a new document, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. This replaces or, more properly, supplements an earlier document with the same title that the White House put out in 2002.
Most people in the U.S. and elsewhere did not pay much attention to the new version of this document, because it is loaded with clichés and much of it reads like the propaganda put out by far too many current Bush administration spokesmen these days. It is not an inspired piece of writing. The first two pages contain a cover letter from George W. Bush to “My fellow Americans” that seems particularly propagandistic. In these two pages, the words “democracy” or “democratic” appear seven times; the words “freedom” or “free,” eleven times.
But the document is nonetheless important. Perhaps the major difference between the 2006 and the 2002 version is the greater bluntness with which the new version proclaims that the U.S. is in a struggle that will last for many years and defines who our alleged principal enemy is. Several recent speeches of Bush had already presaged this bluntness, but the new White House document puts the same thoughts into the most prestigious and official foreign policy pronouncement that the present administration makes public.
In the very beginning of the paper, immediately following Bush’s covering letter, the “ultimate goal” of the U.S. is described as “ending tyranny in our world.” A cliché? Of course, but noteworthy for its arrogance. The paper then continues, “Achieving this goal is the work of generations. The United States is in the early years of a long struggle. . . . The 20th century witnessed the triumph of freedom over the threats of fascism and communism. Yet a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion.” Later in the document, this statement appears: “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” This comparison of 20th century threats with 21st century threats makes it quite clear that the Bush administration foresees new world wars in the 21st century that may be every bit as bad as the world wars of the 20th. And there are no statements that the U.S. will make any great efforts to avoid such wars. “Pee Dubya” just doesn’t seem to care.
Nowhere in the 2002 version of The National Security Strategy were such comparisons of 20th century fascism and communism with 21st century “militant Islamic radicalism” made, although a formulation almost as blunt did appear in a very high-level U.S. publication (for the first time that this writer can recall) — in the 9/11 Commission Report released in July 2004.
The 9/11 Commission, consisting of both Republicans and Democrats appointed by the leaders of both parties, issued a report that contained absolutely no dissents or even hints of disagreements. The commissioners unanimously concluded, in what was a key passage of the report, that “the enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ some generic evil. . . . It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. . . . Bin Ladin and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the ‘head of the snake,’ and it must be converted or destroyed. . . . [This] is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground — not even respect for life — on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated. . . . This process is likely to be measured in decades, not years.” The only things missing from this diatribe were the comparisons with fascism and communism.
So, from 2002 to 2004 and then to 2006, there was a progression — a gradually increasing willingness at top levels of the government to talk explicitly about Islamic extremism as the cause of all our troubles and to talk more openly and bluntly about a conflict lasting for “decades” or “generations.” At lower levels around Washington, among mid-level neocon officials and media representatives of the neocons such as Charles Krauthammer, such bluntness has been in evidence for a considerably longer period. But by 2006 the bluntness was also an open part of the presidentially-approved dogma in the highest level U.S. documents.
All this seems intended to provide Bush a stronger reason to support the “clash of civilization” notion originally conceived by the neocons and long backed by many Christian fundamentalist leaders in the U.S., as well as by Israeli right-wingers. And since this conflict will last for “generations,” won’t it also promise great profits for those arms-makers who are among Bush’s strongest supporters and largest contributors? And isn’t it also intended to make it easier for the Bush administration to continue giving its close ally Israel a free hand to do whatever it wants to those “Muslim extremists” who recently won a democratic election in the West Bank?
Let’s look more closely at this picture of a conflict lasting for decades that the Bush administration wants to drag us into. Some among us, including me, would argue the contrary case, that if the U.S. actually changed its foreign policies, ceased its drive for political and economic domination over areas of the world that Arabs and Muslims consider to be theirs, and seriously addressed their legitimate grievances on the Palestine-Israel issue, we could reduce the threat of terrorism against us and our allies in far less time. Taking a moral stand for a change, if only by backing away from imperialism, would have the dual benefit of being moral — a nice change of pace — and pragmatically of vastly enhancing the U.S. image around the world and undermining the terrorists’ anti-American case.
Let’s look more closely also at the claim that Islamist terrorism is the great danger of the present. Danger to whom? If you were a Muslim, might you not figure instead that the greatest danger to you was U.S. and Israeli aggression and Christian fundamentalist extremism, given some of the statements certain fundamentalist leaders in the U.S. have made about Islam? Put another way, might you not see the greatest danger to you arising from the alliance of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism arrayed against your world?
Let’s take one more example. One of the action recommendations in the 9/11 Commission’s report is this: “The problems in the U.S.-Saudi relationship must be confronted, openly. . . . [An effort should be made to work toward] a shared interest in greater tolerance and cultural respect, translating into a commitment to fight the violent extremists who foment hatred.” If we say that about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, should we not ask that problems in the U.S.-Israeli-Muslim relationship be confronted just as openly? If you were a Muslim, would you not regard it as equally important to global peace that the U.S. work for tolerance and cultural respect in both America and Israel as well, and work toward translating that into a commitment to fight extremists who foment hatred of Islam in both nations?
The new 2006 version of the National Security Strategy paper also deals with U.S. policy toward Iraq, Iran, and Syria. It will not be news to readers that there is nothing in the document about the timing of even a partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Every reference to Iraq is written in a manner intended to persuade readers that U.S. forces will remain in the country indefinitely. Nor will it be news that the administration plans to continue employing preemptive military action in the region whenever and wherever it decides to do so. The paper contains no serious restrictions on any future U.S. preemptive military actions.
Syria and Iran are lumped together as “allies of terror” in the 2006 version, and they are told that “the world must hold these regimes to account.” The document contains nothing on specific U.S. plans for Syria, but Iran receives considerably more detailed treatment. The U.S. alleges that Iran “has violated its Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards obligations” and says that “we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” The paper threatens “confrontation” if diplomatic efforts do not succeed and goes on to say that the U.S. also has “broader concerns. . . . The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom.” How much of this is bluff and how much is not is impossible to know for sure, but at the least, the document intentionally leaves the impression that some form of U.S., or U.S.-Israeli, military action against Iran, possibly involving nuclear weapons, is likely in coming months.
A digression is necessary here. This writer’s belief is that the only long-term hope the world has of avoiding a quite widespread further proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional nations in the coming decade is for the U.S. to undertake honest and serious multilateral negotiations aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons everywhere. In the specific case of Iran, if we in the U.S., without launching a war, seriously want that country to forgo nuclear weapons, we should understand that Iran, despite its present denials, almost certainly wants a capability to acquire such weapons in the future, just as the Bush administration believes. Iran wants them, or will want them, first, because Israel has them; second, because the U.S. has them; and third, because numerous other nations have them. As a proud country, Iran believes it is equally entitled to them, and that belief will not change. Furthermore, in the eyes of most Muslims around the world and many other people too, Iran, with a population of close to 70 million, clearly has as much right as Israel, with a population less than one-tenth as large, to have nuclear weapons.
To reemphasize the essential point, in a world where the dominant system of governance continues to be based on sovereign nation-states, the only hope, without a war, of persuading Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program is for the U.S. to end its own monumental hypocrisy on nuclear weapons. The U.S. government itself would have to undertake a major change of policy. It would have to accept the proposition, very publicly, that until the U.S. is willing to eliminate its own nuclear weapons, other nation-states around the world, including Iran, have just as much right to them as the U.S., Israel, Russia, China, England, France, India, Pakistan — and yes, North Korea. Then, as already mentioned, the U.S. would have to begin negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons everywhere, and it would have to stop immediately all planning to expand the varieties of weapons in its own nuclear arsenal. It would also have to stop Israel from doing the same.
From here on, what would happen next becomes even more speculative. Assuming it was possible to convince most of the major powers including the U.S. to begin multilateral talks on nuclear disarmament, the negotiations would undoubtedly require several years. In the end, the United Nations or some new international organization would most likely need a strong international military force, not dominated by the U.S., to enforce and verify any agreement, with respect to both nation-states and non-state entities. Under any circumstances, such negotiations would be exceedingly difficult.
As a simultaneous and indispensable step in this scenario, parallel negotiations on a nuclear-free zone in the entire Middle East, including Israel, would also have to be undertaken simultaneously with the global nuclear disarmament talks. Most Arab nations in the past have already supported a nuclear-free zone, while Israel has been the stumbling block. But the U.S. would have to refuse to be a partner of Israel in these negotiations, because to do so would cause the negotiations to fail miserably. Instead, we would deliberately and openly have to change our policy toward Israel and put whatever pressure on that country might be necessary to bring about a nuclear-free zone. Specifically, the U.S. would probably have to announce that future U.S. aid to Israel would be tied to the successful establishment of such a zone. Stringent enforcement and verification measures would be needed.
Now let’s come down to earth. Unfortunately, it is simply impossible to envisage a situation in which any conceivable U.S. administration would at present accept even step one of this scenario — that is, even beginning a process of negotiating away its own nuclear weapons.
Therefore, any Iranian government will in the end consider that it has as much right as the rest of us to have its own nuclear weapons, regardless of the fact that it has signed the Nonproliferation Treaty. It could quite truthfully charge that the U.S. itself had already violated the NPT, and that therefore Iran was entitled to do the same. Even if Teheran, under pressure, were to sign new agreements, now or in the future, to forgo such weapons, the new agreements would be meaningless as long as the U.S., Israel, and other nuclear nations insisted that they could keep and expand their own nuclear arsenals.
Many people are aware that the critical bargain reached in the 1970 NPT — the bargain that made the treaty possible — was a trade-off: the acceptance of continued non-nuclear-weapons status by states without those weapons, in return for the simultaneous agreement by states possessing nuclear weapons to pursue good-faith negotiations on nuclear, as well as general and complete, disarmament, “under strict and effective international control.” These provisions had no teeth, and certainly many “realists” in the U.S. foreign policy establishment thought the provisions were so unrealistic that they would not and could not be enforced. And in truth they never have been. Nevertheless, the existence of these provisions was necessary to the NPT’s ratification by numerous countries, and they give any state dissatisfied with progress toward nuclear disarmament — including Iran — an excuse to abrogate or ignore the treaty.
While the niceties of international law on this issue may not be a major concern to most people, another question truly is vital. Which is more important — stopping the further proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran, or stopping the U.S. government and/or the government of Israel from instigating a war against Iran? If it is impossible to do both without military action, this question must be addressed. To this writer, the answer is crystal clear: The single most urgent objective right now is preventing a war, possibly nuclear, from being started by the U.S. and/or Israel against Iran. Such a war would be disastrous, and we should be doing whatever we can, with the highest possible priority, to prevent it from ever happening.
From 1945 until the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the U.S. never once took military action to prevent other nations from simply acquiring nuclear weapons. And numerous other nations did in fact acquire them. Washington relied instead on deterrence and containment to prevent other nations from using such weapons after they had been developed. Deterrence and containment may not be perfect policies, but they have a successful track record and can probably be applied more successfully than other policies to subnational groups as well as nation-states. It is also quite likely that Iran itself, whenever it decides that it must have its own nuclear weapons more quickly than it now seems to want them, will conclude that it too needs them for deterrent rather than preemptive and aggressive purposes against the U.S. and Israel. The point is that for Iran as well as the U.S., deterrence and containment turn out still to be better policies than the recklessness of preemption. We should therefore strongly reject any U.S.- or Israeli-initiated military actions or coup attempts against Iran. The consequence of such actions would almost certainly be a new world war.
BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be reached at Kathy.firstname.lastname@example.org.