By Sharmine Narwani
The New York Times‘ lengthy explanation of why it decided to publish the WikiLeaks Cables leaves out one important consideration. What on earth would the State Department have done if a major US paper had not “interpreted” the information dump for the American masses?
Someone had to take on the “national responsibility” of “crafting” the leaks into supporting US policy initiatives, after all.
In the first few days after the WikiLeaks Cables release, there was notably disproportionate focus on what amounts to nothing more than political gossip — the tired old refrain of Arab leaders warmongering against Iran, Turkish PM Erdogan’s “hatred” for Israel — over the critical examination of actual behind-the-scenes policy deliberations that contradict our public stances: regime change discussions on Iran, US-Israeli collusion on almost all things Mideast, and the startling revelations that deal-brokering in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and over Iran’s nuclear program is a mere facade?
The Wikileaks Cables are plump with evidence of US doublespeak, proof that “conspiracy-minded” Middle Easterners are, well, correct on most counts.
Iran Was Right
Here is a startling September 2009 Cable from the US Embassy in London summarizing a high level US-UK meeting that included British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher. Discussing the upcoming P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear program, the principals agree to push through an unrealistically short time frame for negotiations, and initiate plans for sanctions almost immediately. The recommendation that western nations tie together Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs is as politically cynical as things come:
FS Milband opined that U.S. Administration is “rightly trying to overcome a deficit of prejudice and mistrust in a relatively short time” by diplomatic outreach to Iran. He continued that the Iranian elections were a “bad outcome” — an outcome that had given extremists the upper hand and resulted in a “culling of reformists.” Miliband said that, in his opinion, Iran’s extremist government would not make concessions in a short time. Nonetheless, the U.S. “Administration’s support for a diplomatic solution is very wise.” He praised the impact of financial sanctions spearheaded by Treasury U/S Levey. Leslie asserted that the Iranian administration is “in a state of flux” and “not focused,” so probably unable to respond to overtures.
McDonald stressed that the PM supports the President’s outreach efforts to Iran, but this outreach should not be “open ended.” The UK view is that “if Iran is not responsive, we have to get serious.” UK experts have concluded that stronger sanctions should be in place by the end of the year if Iran is not significantly responsive by the end of September. McDonald observed that it would take some time to negotiate a UNSCR; in the meantime, the UK is considering national steps it could take as well as possible steps the EU could take. HMG shares NSA Jones’ view that proliferation problems posed by Iran and North Korea should be addressed together, not as separate, unrelated issues, McDonald said.
One can hardly fault the Iranians for believing that the US was never serious about negotiations, and the Cable is a reminder of the days before our invasion of Iraq, when Baghdad complained that every time they tried to make concessions on IAEA inspections, “the goalposts were moved.”
After the June 2009 Iranian elections, the regime often complained publicly about US/Israeli/British interference in domestic affairs, and warned that “external” players were undertaking a “regime change” agenda. These comments were generally dismissed by US and Israeli officials and by our media. But a 2007 Wikileaks Cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv lends credibility to Iran’s warnings. Israel’s Mossad Chief Meir Dagan discusses a “Five Pillar” Iran strategy with Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns – who also leads the US delegation at nuclear talks with Iran. Besides advocating covert activity, further sanctions, political and counter proliferation efforts, the Cable discloses Israel’s fifth “pillar” in its Iran agenda:
“Force Regime Change: Dagan said that more should be done to foment regime change in Iran, possibly with the support of student democracy movements, and ethnic groups (e.g., Azeris, Kurds, Baluchs) opposed to the ruling regime.”
Iran’s suspicions don’t seem quite so implausible any longer.
Arabs Vs Iran — The New York Times Refrain
Instead of honing in on significant disclosures that shed some light on the many Middle East policy failures that have marked US decision making in the region for decades, the US press went with “silly” and “sully.” Those much-touted Cables reporting the acidic — and not very diplomatic — barbs of Arab leaders against Iran do not represent any “new” thinking, and need instead to be examined in context:
Firstly, these rulers have never recovered from their 1979 “bogeyman” fear of a Shia-majority, non-Arab, Islamist regional hegemon on their doorstep — one that continued to thrive even after the predominantly Sunni, Arab Persian-Gulf nations, Egypt, Jordan and others misguidedly backed Saddam Hussein’s hostile 1980 invasion of Iranian territory.
Secondly, many of these rulers are viewed – internally and throughout the Arab world — as corrupt, often illegitimate and beholden to foreign interests. These heads of state are bitterly resentful that, by comparison, leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syria’s Bashar al Assad are viewed vastly more favorably by populations throughout the Mideast and Muslim world.
In fact, when asked in a July 2010 Brookings poll about the prospects of a “nuclear” Iran, 57% of the populations of the same Arab nations whose leaders were caught in this Wikileaks pants-down-moment supported a nuclearized Iran. Why? Because only 10% of the Arab public view Iran as a threat, as opposed to their leaders. Instead, 88% of Arabs views Israel as their main threat, followed closely by 77% who worry about the United States.
To be honest, the “real” story is that this many Arab nations had secret dealings with Israel, which they bash very publicly for domestic and regional consumption. I suppose the theme here is Iran-in-secret, Israel-in-public. (more…)