West Asia: The New US Backyard

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released by the US two weeks back on Iran has knocked the bottom out of the Bush administration’s campaign on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. The NIE, jointly prepared by all of US’s 16 Intelligence agencies, now admits that after looking at all the evidence it has, it is forced to conclude that Iran stopped all nuclear weapons programs since 2003. NIE 2007 modifies the NIE 2005, which had left this question open. It also shows that the sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council as well as the two crucial IAEA votes were based on false premises. What is not so well known about this latest Intelligence Estimate is that it was known within the administration since end of last year. Famous US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh had also written about it in November, 2006. Despite knowing that the claims of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons program was simply not supported by facts, Bush, Cheney and other neo-cons – called by Washington insiders as the War Party – talked of Iran’s threat and World War III. They fought a long and hard rearguard battle, first to try and tailor the report to their liking, failing which not to allow its release. It was only the fear that it would get leaked in any case and that would damage the credibility of the Bush administration even further that the report saw the light of the day.

The centrality of West Asia in global politics today is hard to miss. The United States undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, said this year: “Ten years ago Europe was the epicentre of American foreign policy”. Burns went on to add, the Middle East is now “the place that Europe once was for the administrations of the 20th century”. As, Alain Gresh the editor of Le Monde diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East has written, the Middle East – from Morocco to Pakistan – is now Uncle Sam’s new backyard. Unlike Latin America, the earlier US backyard, this unfortunately is slam bang next to us. If the US continues its neo-imperialist adventures in West Asia, it not only will destroy many of the existing states there, it will engulf the whole region – and much of Asia and Africa – in conflicts and large-scale destruction.


Not only has US intervened earlier militarily in Iraq on the now discredited plank of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), they have now prepared their forces for military strikes on Iran. One-third of the US Navy is now in or near the Persian Gulf, fully primed for such strikes. The plans are fully in place for so-called surgical strikes to take out not only nuclear installations but also other military installations so that Iran would not be able to retaliate against the US forces in the region. The NIE therefore is a set back to these plans.

Two justifications for these strikes were being given. One was to harp – as in Iraq – the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, and the other Iranian intervention in Iraq, endangering the US forces there.

The US had claimed that the Iraqi regime was building WMD’s as a justification for their attack on Iraq. It is now public that the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld gang had cooked up the intelligence reports that were the basis of the information on WMD’s. The US intelligence agencies had actually made clear internally that they did not share the administration’s belief in Iraqi WMD’s. It was another matter that they went along publicly with the US administration’s doctoring of intelligence, knowing them to be false. In this, the British MI5 with its infamous “dodgy dossier” also helped the US to whip up war hysteria.

It is now clear that the danger of another war being unleashed in West Asia has unnerved a section of the US Intelligence and military establishment. The State Department (the US foreign office) has been marginalised in the policy making in West Asia in any case, with West Asia policies being centralised with the US president. It was clear to the military top brass that any attack on Iran would not stop with a so-called surgical strike. Iran would hit back and it would embroil West Asia in a long-term conflict that the US could not possibly win. With the Iraqi occupation taking an increasing toll of the morale of the US Army, another war there was what the US military forces do not want. The elections for the next president of the US is now about a year away and the “war party” is certain to lose the White House, irrespective of whether the Republicans or the Democrats win the next elections. This has undoubtedly given some courage to the Intelligence establishment to stand up to the Bush-Cheney lot and come out with the actual status of Iran’s nuclear program.


However, even though the nuclear weapons plank for an attack has weakened considerably after the NIE report, the danger of war has not disappeared. The neo-cons, with vice president Cheney being the most ardent supporter of a military strike on Iran, are now plugging the safety of the US forces in Iraq to demand an attack on Iran. For this, there is campaign that Iran is “meddling” in Iraq and endangering the safety of the US soldiers there. The cynical nature of this campaign is obvious to the entire world. The US cooked up its entire case of WMD’s in Iraq, declared an illegal war, and has systematically destroyed the Iraqi state and the Iraqi nation. It is now complaining that Iran is meddling in Iraq and this endangers the health of the US soldiers who are in illegal occupation of that country!

Regarding the nuclear weapons program, there is now a change in tack. The argument being advanced is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has three components, enrichment of uranium, developing missiles and creating nuclear warheads (Kissinger: Washington Post, December 13, 2007) According these analysts, NIE only addresses the issue of nuclear warheads leaving out the other two. Therefore, the continued danger of a nuclear Iran.

The problem with this argument is that under Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has a right to fuel enrichment for its nuclear energy program. In fact, NPT went even further. It also lay down that countries who have nuclear energy technology would share it with those who had signed the NPT. Much of the criticism of Iran having a secret nuclear program comes out of Iran trying to beat the illegal sanctions that were put on it after the Shah of Iran, the US protégé, was kicked out. Though Iran under Shah had an ambitious nuclear program with the blessings of the US, the only way that Iran could continue this program was by secretly accessing the nuclear black market. IAEA has accepted that Iran’s violations were procedural and reporting violations and not one of Iran carrying out activities in violation of the NPT. Interestingly enough, the IAEA reports, even the latest one in August, has held that the evidence they have is consistent with the information that Iran has furnished on their nuclear program and none of these show that Iran was making nuclear weapons. They have asked for more information on certain issues, but the major issues that IAEA had raised earlier have been largely resolved.


This brings us back to what are the US goals in Iran. If it was to see that Iran does not produce nuclear weapons, this was always achievable through negotiations. Iran has indicated time and again that they are willing to place enrichment under complete safeguards, even willing to consider the Russian offer of enrichment outside Iran or in a joint multilateral facility, and with only a token enrichment program for research purposes within Iran. The only reciprocity that they have sought is that there should be firm security guarantees against attacks on Iran (by the US and Israel) and lifting of sanctions. These are guarantees that the US is not willing to give.

However, the issue for the US is not nuclear Iran; that is the pretext for war hysteria. The real issue is regime change in Iran. Therefore the sanctions have to be kept in place and military strikes threatened, if not executed. That is why Bush now insists that Iran pursuing “knowledge” on nuclear issues is the threat! This is in an age where the knowledge to make the hydrogen bomb is available on the Internet. In any case, if Iran has to stop its quest for knowledge as Bush insists, what should it do, shut down its physics and mathematics departments? All connections to the Internet?

At a more serious level, the attempt is to re-engineer the NPT arrangement and deny fuel enrichment technology to countries that the US does not like. The US vision is a new arrangement where fuel enrichment will be restricted to a small cartel created by the US and that will control the global nuclear energy sector. And in this, there is a rare unanimity in the US nuclear establishment, including those who are opposing military strikes on Iran. For them, the goal is right but not the means for achieving this goal.

What do the US’s West Asian policies mean? For the US, its strategic vision is “full spectrum” dominance in every possible theatre of war in the world. Its strategic doctrine has spelt this out time and again after the dismantling of socialism in the Soviet Union. It will not tolerate even a regional challenge in any part of the world. That is why the emergence of Iran as an independent regional player is not acceptable to the US, that too in an area that the US considers vital to its “national” interest. The issue is not about nuclear Iran but any possible challenge to the US-Israel military dominance of the region.


However, the problem with this vision is that a “containment” of Iran strategy using Arab states while letting Israel continue its apartheid policies in Palestine is doomed to failure. The only Arab state that could act as military counterweight to Iran was Iraq. That is why the US had instigated Iraq’s war on Iran. US’s subsequent break with Saddam Hussein on Kuwait and its dismantling of the Iraqi state means that its “allies” in the region do not have the military clout to take on Iran or act as its counterweight.

The US has tried to cobble a loose grouping, consisting of Sunni Arab states and hoped to use a Sunni block against Shia Iran. In Annapolis, it had hoped that this block would work with Israel to isolate Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is now clear that Annapolis failed to deliver such a grouping. Even the US’s close allies such as Saudi Arabia have accepted the reality of the region and are distancing themselves from such a policy. Any future peace in the region can be only achieved by including Iran, Hezbollah and the Hamas in the process.

India’s independent foreign policy is increasingly threatened by the policies of “convergence” with the US that the UPA government is currently pursuing. The State Bank of India is reportedly not honouring Letters of Credit from Iranian banks because the US has imposed illegal sanctions on these banks. The Indian government welcomed Annapolis talks, when its real intention was to legitimise Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and isolate those who are not willing to fall in line. Its participation in the Paris donors meet is on same lines. India also kept away from the Gas pipeline talks with Iran and Pakistan, after receiving threatening letters from US Congressmen. In this, as was seen earlier on the crucial IAEA Iran votes, the “congruence” in foreign policy demanded by the Hyde Act is being scrupulously followed by the Indian government.

The US strategic embrace of India and the Indian government’s acquiescence to the US policies in West Asia, is not only dangerous for West Asia, also dangerous for us.  India needs peace and stability in West Asia in its own interest – 80 per cent of our hydro carbon imports and a large part of foreign exchange remittances come from West Asia. The imperative to stop the India-US Nuclear Deal stems from the need to prevent India from becoming a subordinate ally of the US and becoming a party to the larger West Asia conflicts. It is unfortunate that many who profess to be against US imperialism have failed to see the immediacy of the threat of the US policies in West Asia and the need to fight against India becoming a strategic partner of the US. Instead, they have pursued a one point agenda of Left bashing over Nandigram. It is time people understand the real threats that exist and the need to build a broad resistance against imperialism. This includes the stopping of the US-India Nuclear Deal, the various defence agreements with the US, as well as forcing the government take an independent position on West Asia, particularly on Palestine, Iraq and Iran.