Ben Birnbaum Attempts to Revive ‘Arab States Support Military Strike’ Argument

As mentioned in today’s Daily Talking Points, The Washington TimesBen Birnbaum is attempting to keep current the discredited, but never quite dead, argument that Arab states would support a U.S. or Israeli military strike on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

Birnbaum interviews Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S., Houda Nonoo, who tells him that:

Iran has had claims in the past on Bahrain[…]

The latest was on their 30th anniversary in February 2009, where they mentioned Bahrain as the 14th province. Very similar to [Saddam Hussein’s] Iraq mentioning Kuwait as their 19th province.

Nonoo, whose country is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, pointed out that Bahrain is just 26 miles from Bushehr and “If Iran has [a nuclear] capability, nobody is going to be able to stop them.”

What exactly Nonoo thinks will be unstoppable is unclear, but Birnbaum attempts to lead her into endorsing a military strike.

According to Birnbaum she “declined to express a preference” and only said “That’s the million-dollar question.”

But that wasn’t direct enough for Birnbaum, who was doing his best to breathe life back into a story from July when the United Arab Emirate’s ambassador to the U.S. may or may not have endorsed a military strike.

What is known is that the UAE rejected the ambassador’s comments is the strongest language possible.

The Wall Street Journal wrote on July 7th:

The U.A.E.’s assistant foreign minister for political affairs, Tareq al-Haidan, meanwhile, said Mr. Otaiba’s comments were taken out of context and “are not precise,” according to a statement by the country’s official news service released Wednesday.

“The U.A.E. totally rejects the use of force as a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” Mr. Haidan said, adding: “The U.A.E., at the same time, believes in the need of keeping the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons.”

Birnbaum, failing to get an Arab endorsement for the military option cobbles together quotes from U.S. and Israeli-based Iran-hawks.

He interviews the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Simon Henderson who makes the following unverifiable claims:

I’ve visited Bahrain and spoken to senior Bahraini officials, and although in public they are cautious not to inflame their delicate relations with Iran, they say in private that Iran is a malevolent force against the region in general and Bahrain in particular.[…]

At the very least, they fear instability in their own country but also Iranian-supported insurrection and, in a worst-case scenario, an Iranian takeover.[…]

If they woke up tomorrow and there was smoke emerging from Natanz after a bombing raid, they would be very happy.

Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Israel-based Institute of Policy Strategy, told Birnbaum:

They’d be very relieved despite the fallout… This is not speculation.

Birnbaum rounded out his set of interviews with a comment from John McCain. While known for his hawkish views on Iran, McCain surprisingly comes well short of endorsing a military strike.

He says:

The reality is that it may be too late to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Now, I’m not saying we should quit trying. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to take every measure that we can. But some of these measures, I think, could have been far more effective if we’d have taken them some years ago — and I think that’s the opinion of most experts.

An article which includes claims that unnamed Arab diplomats would welcome a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities offers no verifiable evidence that this is actually the case.

Only two individuals with serious policy-shaping roles are interviewed by Birnbaum. The most he can get is an unclear statement from Nonoo that “If Iran has [a nuclear] capability, nobody is going to be able to stop them.” John McCain seemingly accepts the possibility that “the reality is that it may be too late to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

While Birnbaum is eager to suggest that countries in the Arab world would welcome a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, his dependence on second-hand interviews–via U.S. and Israel based Iran-hawks–with unnamed officials may indicate how far Birnbaum must stretch to support his thesis.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.