Beware the Campaign for War Against Iran

Despite the horror with which the war party has received the WikiLeaks dump of secret diplomatic cables, at least some of the revelations were cheered. Those who have been agitating for an attack on Iran were pleased to see cables apparently reporting that the heads of Arab states also favor war.

As the New York Times put it, “The documents seemed to show several Arab nations, notably Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival for influence in the Persian Gulf, displaying such hostility that King Abdullah repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

This has created much relief in the “bomb Iran” community, since until now it appeared that Israel was the only foreign country lobbying for an attack. But, editorialized the Times, “As the cables show, the administration has been under pressure from both Israel and Arab states to attack Tehran’s nuclear program pre-emptively.”

The Times at least should have written “alleged nuclear program,” since the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities (it is a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), has repeatedly certified that Iran has diverted none of its uranium to weapons production. Moreover, 16 U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Iran is not making weapons. Iran says it wants a civilian nuclear capability, but that has not stopped American politicians, pundits, and reporters from routinely pretending that a weapons program is in progress.

That inconvenient fact aside, what are we to make of the apparent endorsement of war against Iran by the heads of the Arab states? As we’ve come to expect with the war party’s propaganda, there’s less than meets the eye. Seasoned observers of the region say, the Times notwithstanding, that Arab leaders (not to mention the Arab people) fear an American war on Iran.

“But a careful reading of all the diplomatic cables reporting the views of Saudi and other Gulf Arab regimes on Iran shows that the Times’ account seriously distorted the content ? and in the case of the Saudis, ignored the context ? of the cables released by Wikileaks,” write journalists Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe. “In fact, the cables show that most Gulf Arab regimes ? including Saudi Arabia itself ? have been seriously concerned about the consequences of a strike against Iran for their own security, in sharp contrast to Israel’s open advocacy of such a strike. They also show the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait expressing that concern with greater urgency in the past two years than previously.”

Porter and Lobe report that the Bush-era cables, in fact, show a far more moderate line among the Arab officials, with the focus not on nuclear weapons but on Iranian influence in Iraq. (Once the U.S. military ended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime, it was a certainty that Iranian-allied Shi’a Iraqis would dominate any new government, such as U.S.- backed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.) Porter and Lobe write,

“Even if [Saudi King] Abdullah had in fact offered explicit support for a military attack against Iran in the meeting with [Gen. David] Petraeus, however, that would not be a reliable indicator of Saudi policy toward the issue, according to Chas Freeman, a veteran diplomat who served as Washington’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992 and maintains contact with top Saudi officials.

“Freeman told us that such a statement would ‘fit a pattern of communication with the United States of ingratiating themselves with their protector'”

According to Porter and Lobe, the WikiLeaks cables from the Obama years reflect even less interest in military action against Iran. Officials of the United Arab Emirates, for example, repeatedly expressed concern to U.S. representatives that an Israeli attack on Iran would destabilize the region, and asserted that the way to reduce Iranian influence would be for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement. Those thirsting for war with Iran have left those facts out of their accounts.

The American people were stampeded into war against Iraq through a shameless propaganda and disinformation campaign led by government officials and facilitated by prominent newspapers. We must not let the same thing happen with Iran.

SHELDON RICHMAN is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman magazine.


Sheldon Richman, author of Coming to Palestine, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.