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Nixon’s China, Obama’s Iran | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When the Former Head of the UN Weapons Inspection Team in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, presented his book to his publisher, the latter suggested cutting out the parts that might be deemed too sensitive for publishing, however, Charles Duelfer, refused to do so and his book entitled ‘Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq’ was released.

It reveals many frightening facts; however, there are parts that are fabricated. For example, it claims that the civil team affiliated to the US Department of Defense under former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, refused to listen to the truth and was content with what Ahmed Chalabi would tell the team. At the same time, Chalabi also had strong connections with Iranian intelligence and this was completely in conformity with the orientations and goals of the team.

If the former Bush administration had its eyes set on changing the Iraqi regime and therefore was not willing to accept any of the concessions offered by the Iraqi regime, then the Obama administration is adopting a completely different approach. Duelfer said, “This administration is focused on stability in general and the dangers of war. It is not fixed on how good or bad leaderships are but rather on how to develop the mindset of countries that the administration perceives as a potential threat.”

In his book, Duelfer discloses in detail the divisions that took place within the Bush administration and exhibits the weakness and incompetence of former US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, especially when she served as National Security Advisor.

“There is the danger that the Obama administration might face the same problem as we are not hearing much from the current National Security Advisor, General James L. Jones.” Nevertheless, the author explains that the Obama administration is trying to organize its priorities. But the problem with General Jones is that he lacks any strong experience with regards to Iran for example.”

In his book, Duelfer reveals that Iraq used to pay large amounts of money to the Russians to keep them on Iraq’s side in the Security Council. Does he believe that the Iranians are doing the same thing with the Russians and the Chinese to prevent the US from issuing a UN resolution against Iran? He answered that this is exactly what they are doing but on a smaller scale because “China has many interests in Iran which, in turn, offers China many facilities, especially as Iran possesses minerals in territories that other Gulf states vie over.” Moreover, Duelfer sees that other countries are offering Iran advice so that it may “bypass” the US.

Duelfer believes that this is one factor. As for Iraq, its only concern was to break the international sanctions imposed upon it and that is why it was focusing on creating an internal rift in the Security Council. “Tariq Aziz (Iraqi Foreign Minister who later became the Deputy Prime Minister) was very clever at doing that and was proud of his achievements. But this does not apply to Iran because the Security Council has not said that it collectively agreed on issuing a resolution to impose sanctions on Iran.” But would Iran change its policies if this were to happen, especially considering its failing economy? Duelfer is unsure as to whether or not Russia and China will honor their commitments and comply with the sanctions. “This might have a profound impact on Iran, because the Iranian leadership is more sensitive to the needs of its people than Saddam Hussein ever was to the needs of his people. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has seriously harmed the economic performance of his country. If we add to that the possible sanctions, the situation will become even worse. That is why Iran must be worried that the next step will be an embargo.”

Duelfer wages on the results of the Iranian presidential elections and expects that many matters will become clearer by midsummer. At that point, Iran’s future direction will be clear and we will come to know the reactions from Syria and Afghanistan as well as the reaction from Israel because the election results are likely to reshuffle the cards. Israel reiterates that Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat to its existence. What will it do then?

Duelfer does not subscribe to the idea that there is a military power that could stop any nuclear program. It might postpone it but in the case of Iran, this might strengthen the existing regime. “Under what circumstances would we not show concern or show less concern that Iran had a nuclear program? Iran might be heading towards producing a nuclear weapon, or for acquiring the capability of producing such a weapon if it decides to produce it. If there was a security deal between the US and Iran, would the US then remain apprehensive about Iran enriching uranium? Perhaps an Iran-US security deal would make it change course.”

But Pakistan has security ties with the US and look at the critical situation in that country, which is possession of a nuclear weapon.

In his book, Duelfer reveals that the Clinton administration decided to deal with the problem in Iraq because it could not be solved. Clinton wanted to restrain Iraq and so an embargo was imposed. Dueler says, “Now the Obama administration might think that managing the problem is the best we can do with Iran. But if Iran is on its way to producing a nuclear weapon then we have no time to waste in focusing on the nuclear problem. Moreover, Israel reiterates that it would not survive such a potential threat and that it will have no option…But if Israel embarks upon military action then it better be ready for the consequences.”

In his book, Duelfer relates the numerous instances in which Saddam Hussein miscalculated how the United States would react. He says, “Saddam was a master at miscalculating reactions.” Duelfer believes that the Iranians, by the same token, might miscalculate the reactions of the US and Israel as well. But then he repeats that there is a difference between Iraq and Iran. Saddam was not interested in gaining the approval of his people. “I believe this is not the case with Iran,” what they do have in common however is that Iran and Saddam both “depict the US as their archenemy and the reason behind the deteriorating economy.” He adds, “It is very easy for Iran to miscalculate America’s reaction and the extent to which the US would go in pressuring Israel. It might even take incorrect advice from China and Russia. But I fear, due to the lack of time, that Israel might pressure the US. There are several countries that could deliberately try to push the US to take steps it does not want to take. Russia, for example, could force President Obama to take a stand against the ballistic missiles that he does not want to take.”

In his book, Duelfer details the important role of Ahmed Chalabi in the invasion of Iraq. Despite the fact that President Bush had issued an official memo against handing over power in Iraq to Ahmed Chalabi after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the team at the Department of Defense was so taken by Chalabi that it insisted on transferring him to Iraq as if he were some kind of conqueror.

I asked Duelfer, “Do you think that the Obama administration needs its own Iranian Chalabi?”

“I don’t think so, even though the Iraqi Chalabi now spends most of his time in Iran. No one in Washington is talking about a change of regime in Iran. We are encouraging the development of the situation over there. Everyone is waiting for the elections. If someone other than Ahmadinejad wins, then the tension might wane. Unlike what happened in Iraq, getting rid of one person in Iran will not change the situation. Besides, Washington has learnt a lesson from invading Iraq. The problem with the US is that it chose to believe Chalabi. But now it has information regarding the internal affairs of Iran – albeit incomplete – that is much better than the information it had on Iraq. Washington gave US officials the green light to contact the Iranians. Furthermore, there are a lot of Iranians in America who are in touch with Iran, and that is very important.”

In his book, Duelfer reveals an idea that was proposed to him by Martin Indyk in 1993 with respect to Iraq. Indyk drew two parallel lines for US policy; the first suggested backing Saddam Hussein whereas the second supported an economic sanction against Iraq. At that time, the Clinton administration was thinking of ways to deal with the Iraqi issue in the hope that time would be on the administration’s side. Duelfer said, “Now the administration is keen on holding a dialogue with Syria because the latter has ties with Iran. It might convince Iran of changing its behavior. But we are waiting for the election results in Lebanon and to see whether the influence of both Iran and Syria will increase there, and how that might affect the Syrian position in Lebanon and the Iranian situation.”

Finally, I asked him the following question, “Do you believe that the Obama administration might feel obligated to deal with Iran in the same way that former President Nixon dealt with China?”

He answered, “We might get to that point. For Obama, the idea of normalizing ties is conceivable. But we don’t know what Iran is thinking. The statements that have been issued over there have a lot to do with the upcoming elections. What we now notice is that the Revolutionary Guard Corps has become rich. Its members are no longer young individuals shouting ‘Death to America!’ from the roof of the US embassy in Tehran.”