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13 January 2012


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William R. Cumming

Apparently the Bush Administration could "hear" but could not "listen" on many topics as recorded by Richard Clarke in "Against All Enemies"!

Reading the Lewis Gaddis biography of George Kennan and clearly he [Kennan} not just heard but listened as a diplomat. Very interesting book on Kennan's life.


The Bush conduct does make perfect sense when the actually policy was not 'bringing them to the table' but regime change.

It is conceivable that some among the Bushmen saw that as the end in question anyway. If you want to be one of the real men who go to Tehran, well, the worse relations with Iran get, the easier it is to demonise the Iranians and make the case for war.

In that sense, to them the interagency process was not so much broken, the problem was that the career people who thought in dimensions like 'bringing them to the table' were out of line and were not brought in line.

Clearly, the obviously remedy to that lamentable state of affairs would be to have, for instance, more Regent University alumni as political appointees. People in Bachmann's mold would reliably and fearlessly execute administration policies, unencumbered by the expertise, experience and resulting concerns baggage career people carry with them.


Lesson here:
If you hurt Iran's feelings they'll go off and develop a nuclear weapon.
Imagine what they'd do if you really hurt their feelings?
Like seizing one of their embassies, for example.



That is not a serious comment. I don't like solemn comments but I do like serious comments. pl



"...the actually policy was not 'bringing them to the table' but regime change." That appears to be correct. The '43 Bush Administration had a policy of regime change with regard to both Iran and Syria from the beginning and nothing was allowed to distract from that policy. Bashar Assad's governent repeatedly tried to engage the US in a dentente inclucing peace with Israel. They were rejected in these sub-rosa appeals. Then, we have this matter of Iran. I also have it on good witness that the Taliban offered to hand over bin Laden in the period after 9/11 and before we invaded the country. That was resolutely ignored. Instead the Bushmen (and women) preferred "perception management" operations such the farce over Libya's non-existent nuclear weapons program. pl

Charles I

Last night Gary Sick was on Charlie Rose. Neither ever gives me a headache.

Sick postulated that having been attacked by Saddam was a significant Iranian motivator of capability for deterrent purposes. He stated that once the U.S. deposed Saddam, the evidence is that after 2003 the Iranians stopped the weaponization push, whatever the current state of affairs.


It's not necessarily due to a focus on regime change. Reading through the history of US overtures to Iran since the Revolution, there's a pronounced thread around issues of questioning whether one is talking to "the right people" who are empowered to negotiate on behalf of Iran. IIRC, Parsi points out in his latest that there is unlikely to be an effective substitute for engaging in time consuming dialogue with the many power centres in Iran, given the dispersed and situational nature of power there (i.e., there is no longer [if indeed there was] such a thing as one set of "the right people" for the US to talk to). It rather makes me think that we don't really need the added complication of Congress jiggling everyone's arm...


There were actually a series of offers which took place in mid-October. At first, the Taliban offered to discuss handing over bin Laden in exchange for a stop in the bombing campaign. Then they offered to hand him over to a third country for a possible trial provided the US could prove to the Taliban that he was behind the attacks. The last offer was the same but dropped the requirement for proof.

The administration ignored these offers because the Taliban had made similar offers to the Clinton administration which went nowhere. A declassified summary of the talks (dated July 2001), which began in 1996, can be found here (PDF file). Considering this history, Taliban promises did not have much credibility in the administration or the intelligence community.



I would agree. I think the Iranian nuclear weapons program was clearly a response to Iraq. The strategic rational for it went away in 2003 once Iraq ceased to be any kind of threat to Iran. It remains to be seen if Iran has another rationale for continuing the program and what that rationale might be.

And just to be clear about "weaponization" a country needs three things for a nuclear weapons capability: fissile material, a delivery vehicle, and a functional warhead design (ie. "weaponization"). According to the intelligence community, Iran "halted" (to use the language in the NIE) warhead-related efforts in 2003, but continues work in the first two areas.


“While there is no way to know if they were offering in good faith”

I believe Mohammad Khatami made the offer in good faith, though the charismatic weak-willed ideological gentleman pictured with this article would have undermined it just as he undermined the nuclear talks by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in October 2009.


passed on without comment, but of definite relative interest....



I vividly recall the events cited in the post and can add some further clarifications. First, the offer was fully vetted by the Supreme Leader Khamenei, so the same Iranian leadership that sent the 2003 letter is still in place, and available for negotiations if the Obama Administration chooses to enter into a serious diplomatic track this time around, as people like Tom Pickering and Paul Pillar are urging. Today, Gary Sick on CNN added a further update to the negotiations to date, indicating that the Turkish and Brazilian offer, accepted more recently by Iran, would involve Iran turning over their 20 percent enriched uranium in return for the actual fuel rods they need for their medical isotope reactor. Note that Iran has accepted Turkish mediation with the P5+1 and Larijani, who will likely emerge as the most powerful political figure in Iran, coming out of the March 2012 majlis elections, was just in Ankara, following the Turkish foreign minister's visit to Tehran.

The line I get from Administration officials is that we are conducted harsh sanctions, strangling economic warfare and covert assassinations and cyberwar as a "war avoidance" policy. This makes no sense to me. We clearly have a narrow window of opportunity to resume real diplomacy, without the low intensity war to get the Iranians to modify their behavior. The 2003 letter would be a sensible starting point, even at this late date. The Obama adminstration has badly blown the diplomatic opportunities, almost as badly as the Bush administration a few years earlier. The consequences of failure are pretty grave--a war in the Persian Gulf in which vital Russian and Chinese interests will be directly challenged. Note recent Russian statements by Rogozin and Primakov, just the latest to warn about the larger war dangers stemming from a U.S. or Israeli/U.S. hit on Iran.

Gen. Wesley Clark has a favorite stump speech, in which he recounts two Pentagon encounters. One was right after 911, when he was told by JCS people that the U.S. was going to war against Iraq. In 1992, he was told by Wolfowitz that there was a 10-15 year window to change regimes in Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, while the Soviet Union was gone and the next superpower challenge was still waiting in the wings to emerge.


"Bushmen (and women)"
my apology for insisting, for the sake of the pun, to call them Bushmen either way.

The Twisted Genius

While serving as CINC CENTCOM, General Anthony Zinni earnestly sought for a way to open a dialog with the Iranians through military to military contacts. I wish he was better supported and encouraged to do that.

Richard Hack

In fact, apparently during the run up to the 2007 NIE on Iran, the DIA explicitly made this argument: that Iran decided sometime in the 1990's out of concern over the news that Saddam had a nuclear weapons program to do what the DIA characterized as a "paper study" on obtaining nuclear weapons.

In my view, Iran proceeded to do "due diligence". Threatened by the possibility of Iraq achieving nuclear weapons, Iran set up a "research database" concerning what they needed to do with their nuclear technology to make obtaining a nuclear weapon feasible (i.e., what kinds of enrichment, what kinds of centriifuges, how to protect the systems, etc.) and how to obtain the designs for a nuclear weapon.

The important point here is that Iran was not concerned about Israel's nuclear arsenal or the U.S. arsenal because the Iranians knew they could never compete with those.

HOWEVER, once Iraq was destroyed in 2003, clearly there was no longer a need for an Iranian nuclear program. And the Iranians also knew that such a program would do nothing to improve their regional geopolitical influence, but instead would harm it.

So then Khamenei makes his fatwa declaring Muslim possession of nuclear weapons haram. And what little program they had was stopped.

Iran still has the means to do a "break out", which is inherent in the mastering of the fuel cycle. And I'm sure the Iranians are aware of that. But Iran has made it very clear that they do not need, do not want, and have no intention of actually building nuclear weapons and would prefer a nuclear free Middle East.

Mike C

Tangent to the topic, but NPR ran a story about the Roshan assassination this afternoon, and interviewed Dennis Ross.


I sort of wish they'd asked Dennis what's in it for Iran if they completely knuckle under to our demands. I wonder what Iran expects would happen?


Richard Hack

"Khamenei makes his fatwa declaring Muslim possession of nuclear weapons haram" This is the first I've heard of a fatwa. Can you be more specific? pl

mac n.

"Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa declaring the "production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons" against the beliefs of Islam."



mac n.

Date? pl


The best I've been able to find in the way of a date for issuance of the fatwa is September, 2004 (see Mowatt-Larssen, R. (2011). Islam and the Bomb: Religious Justification for and Against Nuclear Weapons out of the Belfer Center and available online).

It seems to me there are some interpretational challenges, in that no one appears to have ever cited the complete text of the fatwa and there are assertions to the effect that Khomeini had made statements against the production, stockpiling and use of chem weapons back in the day, which were treated somewhat flexibly in time of dire need. I don't know how true these assertions re. Khomeini are (they are suspiciously handy to some rhetoric), but these are practical men.



A good summary of the fatwa can be found here:


Charles I

Yes, the fatwa, whatever its domestic political or religious function is something almost wholly ignored by MSM. Ditto previous Hamas offers of Hudnas, or explicit recognition in return for 1967 peace.

mac n.

I did not have an opportunity to get the answer sooner but I see it has already been located. Sorry for not responding sooner.

Mac N.



“First, the offer was fully vetted by the Supreme Leader Khamenei,”

That is an interesting fact to learn. Now the question is he still willing to talk?

It looks as if the Obama administration is trying to engage in diplomacy with Sec Clinton denying involvement in the recent assassination, the announcement of the US-Israeli war game postponement, the Mark Perry Foreign Policy article saying it was the Israelis posing as CIA supporting Jundallah, and a formal letter sent to the IRI about closing the Strait of Hormuz as a red line for the US. The last can be used as a basis for Khamenei to engage in talks without losing face.

As for the Administration blowing previous opportunities, wasn’t that why Dennis Ross was removed from his position?

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