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.
The Independent‘s Robert Fisk provides further, comedic context for these kinds of barbs:
Here is Saudi King Abdullah, via his ambassador in Washington, saying that Abdullah believes America must “cut off the head of this snake” — the snake being Iran or Ahmadinejad or Iranian nuclear facilities, or whatever.
But the Saudis are always threatening to cut off the head of their latest snakes. In 1982, Yasser Arafat said he would cut off Israel’s left arm after its invasion of Lebanon, and then the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said he would cut off Arafat’s right arm. And I suppose that when it is revealed to us — as, alas, it is in these Wikileaks papers — that unsuitable applicants for US visas are called by American diplomats “visa vipers,” we can only conclude that snakes are much in demand.
The problem is that for decades, Middle East potentates have been threatening to chop off the heads of snakes, serpents, rats and Iranian insects — the latter a favourite of Saddam Hussein who used US-supplied “insecticide” to destroy them, as we all know — while Israeli leaders have called Palestinians “cockroaches” (Rafael Eitan), “crocodiles” (Ehud Barak) and “three-legged beasts” (Begin).”
This is what the New York Times views as “Stop The Presses” information?
Wikileaks “Beef” — Some Random, Informative Analysis
The Wikileaks Cables do disclose some very telling snippets of information that provide critical information on a changing Middle East. I research shifting centers of influence in the region, and have long pointed out that we are erroneously lumping Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas together as a exclusive club of four. This grouping — often referred to as the “Resistance Bloc” — is perhaps the ground zero of a new and fast-growing “Worldview” emanating from the Mideast, but there are other important participants, namely Qatar, Turkey, maybe Oman, Iraq, and more.
This worldview — put simply — reflects a “desire to act in their own self-interest,” and its adherents, who come from varying backgrounds, place “opportunism” ahead of “ideology” which has led to new and unexpected political and economic alliances, both regionally and internationally.
A revealing March 2009 Cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv shows that we are aware of these subtleties, but obviously choose not to assign importance to the regional shifts in influence and alliances. They simply and inconveniently do not “fit” our own worldview.
In a July 2007 Cable, Israel’s Mossad Chief Meir Dagan characterizes Qatar as “a real problem,” and accused its Emir Sheikh Hamad of “annoying everyone.” The Cable continues: “In his view, Qatar is trying to play all sides — Syria, Iran, Hamas — in an effort to achieve security and some degree of independence.”
Bingo. There is your New Middle East right there.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for the Middle East Yacov Hadas provides a March 2009 briefing for US political counselors along the same lines, stressing “that he thought Qatar’s policies were not a matter of a shift in ideology toward the radical camp, but linked to their rivalry with the Saudis and, by extension, with Egypt. ”
Far more interesting than slurs against Iran by the “usual suspects,” is the disintegration of uniform thinking on the Islamic Republic by the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries bordering the Persian Gulf.
Hadas calls “the Omanis the “most problematic” of the Gulf states in terms of their view of Iran. He said Oman has “its own definition” of what poses a threat to the Gulf, partly due to Oman’s geographical location. He did not think Oman would be willing to join the rest of the GCC against Iran.”
In yet another Cable from the Abu Dhabi Embassy in August 2009: “While MbZ (Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi Mohammad bin Zayed) is a hard liner on Iran, there are accommodationists within his own system, especially in Dubai, where the Ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (Prime Minister of the UAE) takes a position that is much closer to Qatar’s.”
It continues: “MbZ is particularly concerned at the divisions among the Gulf Arabs, and sees Qatar’s and Oman’s decision to accommodate, rather than challenge, Iranian power as troubling.”
That surefire coalition of “Arabs” against Iran that our media is portraying looks increasingly rhetorical, does it not?
And there’s more: “Hadas agreed that the UAE was increasingly hostile to Iran, but there remained a question as to how far they were prepared to go.” Correct. Big old gasbags who want us to do their dirty work for them, as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recounts in another 2010 Wikileaks Cable about Saudi “Cut off the head of the snake” Arabia: “the Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American.”
Insightful observation, really.
But perhaps this discussion on why the media focused in on the “mundane” aspects of the Mideast Cables and not the valuable information assets, should not be left without the musings of the very frank and thoughtful Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the US Department of State during Bush’s first administration.
Wilkerson, who believes “there is very little real damage done in the diplomatic community (by the release of the Wikileaks Cables) because most diplomats are pros and understand that this sort of traffic is essential to their tradecraft,” also points out that while “they do regret that we cannot keep secrets, won’t stop dealing with us when it’s in their interest to do so–and it almost always is.” He reflects, however:
“There is a detectable undertone to this latest tranche of cables that, if I were a detective like Hercule Poirot, I would say appears to be the work of someone trying to capitalize on the leak and through that process give confirmation to a particular set of views now prominent in certain parts of the U.S. (and other) policy community — e.g., views on the “dire and existential” threat to Israel; on the nefarious, duplicitous and arms-seeking Iranians; on the untrustworthiness of the Arabs in general and the Saudis in particular (still backing al Qaeda?)… Whether these “confirming views” originate in the spin of the diplomats and leaders in the host countries, or are in some sophisticated and covert way planted in the midst of this leak, is for more calculating minds than my own to decipher.”
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that the “spin” is noticeable and has been duly noted.
The Wikileaks “Funny File”
And finally, in line with the content of this article, I am publishing my favorite Iran Cable tidbit:
In a cable sent from the US Embassy in Paris to the White House/NSC shortly after the hotly-contested 2009 Iranian elections, our man explains that EU ambassadors would be attending President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration ceremony, but in an apparent snit, would only send “low-ranking” officials to the first two events and “they will not inform the Iranians of their plans…If the Iranians find out beforehand that the EU will not send Ambassador-level representation…then they may rescind the invitations… “It’s hard to keep a secret when 27 nations are involved – but we are trying.”
It gets better.
The EU Ambassadors would all be attending the August 5 ceremony in the Iranian Parliament, but the French source of this information notes:
“We will walk right out if Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust or declares that his regime will destroy Israel.” (NOTE: Paucelle admitted that since non-Muslims had never before received an invitation to the inauguration ceremony presided over by the Supreme Leader, EU diplomats in Tehran have never entered the building where the event will take place, and so they are not sure how they will stage their walk-out, logistically, should they need to do so. They are worried that the doors may be locked. END NOTE.)”