The Bolton-Telegraph Scare

When Don Rumsfeld ruled over the Department of Defense, articles from the Daily Telegraph (and the Jerusalem Post) would often be featured in the Pentagon’s daily “Early Bird” compilation of important news stories that was then distributed throughout the national-security bureaucracy. Since Rumsfeld’s departure, however, the frequency with which Telegraph articles have appeared has diminished sharply, a measure, I believe, of the degree to which Robert Gates and his principal aides consider the publication credible, as opposed, say, to yet another media megaphone through which neo-conservatives and other hawks could shout their views and wage their “war of ideas” against liberals and other assorted enemies.

Now, the Telegraph has offered a soapbox to John Bolton who, consistent with his views of the past four or five months, still believes that George W. Bush will not order an attack on Iran before he leaves office, but also now argues that Israel will do so between the November elections and the inaugural of the new president, particularly if that president is Sen. Obama. “With McCain they might still be looking at a delay” beyond the inauguration, Bolton told the newspaper. “But, [g]iven that time is on Iran’s side, I think the argument for military action is sooner rather than later absent some other development.”

(Bolton also insists that the Arab world would be privately “pleased” by such an attack, although, given his acute cultural sensitivity, I have no idea how he might reach such a conclusion, particularly given recent polling data, as well as the consistent and unequivocal statements of opposition to any attack (least of all one by Israel) by top Arab leaders, most recently in the Washington Post by Jordan’s King Abdullah.)

The interview with Bolton comes on the heels of the New York Times’ (somewhat credulous) account of Israeli military exercises over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece last week which was depicted as a trial run for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. That report, which has traveled through the global media at the speed of light, has obviously added to speculation regarding Israel’s intentions and Washington’s attitude.

Unfortunately, neither the Telegraph article nor Bolton addresses whether Israel would seek a green light from Washington before carrying out such an attack and whether, if it did, the Bush administration would offer one — a key point given the fact that Israeli warplanes would almost certainly have to traverse U.S.-controlled Iraqi air space to get to their targets. Most analysts believe that Israel is most unlikely to act without some sign of U.S. approval in light of the enormous consequences — economic, as well as military and political — that would almost certainly ensue from such an action. And, of course, if Washington went along, then it would clearly be considered an accomplice, which, accordingly, raises the question why, under those circumstances, it wouldn’t itself take part. (The Telegraph notes that Bill Kristol still holds out hope that Bush himself will order an attack, particularly if Obama wins the election.)

I believe it is increasingly clear that if there is going to be an attack on Iran — be it Israeli or U.S. or both — before Bush leaves office, it will take place in the period between the election and the inauguration. And I also agree that an attack is more likely if Obama wins the election than if McCain win. That said, however, I still believe an attack is more of a possibility than a probability and that what we are seeing in the ongoing flurry of threats, predictions, and leaks is more psychological warfare directed at persuading Iran, Russia, China, and Washington’s European allies that war is really going to happen unless Tehran halts its uranium enrichment program than it is the real thing. As one former senior U.S. Middle East intelligence officer noted today, the Israelis have long relied on the element of surprise in their military strategy (see last December’s attack on the alleged Syrian nuclear facility), and advertising their intentions quite as ostentatiously as they have been does not appear consistent with that record. Indeed, using Bolton in the Telegraph as a channel for scaring the Iranians, if, indeed, the Israelis put him up to it, would seem counter-productive.

Still, this drumbeat of threats, which shows no signs yet of diminishing, carries with it its momentum that not only strengthens hard-liners in both camps, but also makes the situation on the ground far more tense and volatile. So, regardless of actual intention, the chances of war breaking out accidentally appear to be on the rise.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. I have never understood the notion of scaring Iran. Iran’s nuclear policy is a pretext, I repeat a PRETEXT, for an attack on Iran. Everybody knows they do not have a nuclear weapons program. What we object to is Iran’s existence. When the United States leaves Iraq, and it will have to leave Iraq, Iran will dominate the area. It will dominate not only Iraq and Iran, but also the oil producing areas of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and probably the other small oil producing countries of the Gulf. It will do this not because of any clever machinations, but because it is by far the biggest and strongest country in the Gulf. Just like Saddam could not do enough to satisfy Bush, even though he was willing to leave, Iran could not do enough. For how could it negotiate away its own existence?

  2. I don’t think it is precise to talk about Bolton, or anyone else for that matter, in terms of whether “the Israelis put him up to it” or not. Which Israelis? Logically, the only “Israelis who would put him up to it” are those so firmly in the pocket of Lockheed Martin, etc., that their “Israeliness” becomes merely a tactical detail. Remember the origins of neocon inlfuence, in the staff of Scoop Jackson, “the Senator from Boeing” – it’s the same sort of deal, isn’t it?

  3. Jim’s going to be very surprised when Bush launches an attack before the end of the year – and very possibly before the elections.

    The Bushehr reactor goes on line in a couple months. The Israelis and the neocons will use that event to ratchet up the rhetoric and use it as justification for the attack.

    Bush is pushing for Iraq to sign the SOFA because he can then use that as an excuse to attack Iran.

    The Congress is pushing a bill to set up a blockade of Iran. It may pass next week – plenty of time for Bush to send the ships already in the Persian Gulf into position. This alone will be an act of war that will undoubtedly trigger a deadly incident at sea.

    There is no downside to Bush launching an attack either immediately before or after the US elections.

    If before, McCain the “war hero” gets a “war bounce”. Since Obama has already said Iran is a “threate” and promised AIPAC he would everything in his power to prevent Iran going nuclear, he will be unable to differentiate himself from McCain on the issue, and thus will lose points – and possibly the election.

    In any event, whether before or after, Bush and Cheney will have successfully tied the hands of ANY incoming administration – and thus insure higher oil prices for their oil company friends and more war profits for their military-industrial-complex cronies. And nobody will be able to do anything about it.

    Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern believes that a “perfect storm” is building for an Iran war this fall. Former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter agrees. I think it’s pretty naive to believe that Bush has any compelling reason NOT to attack Iran. The only question likely to be in his mind is the timing – how can he get the maximum benefit out of it for himself and the Republicans?

  4. Michael
    I absolutely agree with this comment. It is ridiculous to believe that even if Iran possess a couple of nukes, it will launch a suicidal attack on Israel with her One Hundred and Fifty nukes.
    The Iranian Nuke, if there is going to be one, will serve only as a deterrent. Prercisely this is what the U.S. and Israel do not like, as they want their freedom to make a ‘Saddam Hussain’ of Iran whenever they want.

  5. Dear Jim Lobe,
    Interesting, is it not, that from time to time Yosemite Sam pops his head over the parapet, and cries “Let’s go out and kill people!”. Your readers might be interested in the following extract from a book which Dr Jim Swire and I are preparing on the history of the Lockerbie bombing. In this section we focus on Iran and its relations with the US prior to and during the US Libyan crisis, including the year 1988, the year of the Lockerbie bombing. Let all who deny that the Iraq and Iran stories have nothing to do with oil eat their words and drink a pint of Saudi crude before breakfast.
    “On June 17th 1985, United States National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane prepared a top secret analysis of U.S. policy towards Iran. His memorandum was directed to Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary for Defense Casper Weinberger, and was to serve as a statement of policy options towards Iran over the coming decade.
    McFarlane noted that the Director of the CIA had just distributed a top secret document Iran: Prospects for Near-Term Instability. That document made clear that, by the middle of 1985, “instability in Iran is accelerating, with potentially momentous consequences for U.S. strategic interests. It seems sensible to ask whether our current policy towards Iran is adequate to achieve our interests.”
    McFarlane tried to estimate the effect of the likely death of the Ayatollah Khomeini some time within the next few years, and the opportunity it would offer to the Soviet Union to increase its influence within Iran. “While we pursue a number of broad, long-term goals, our primary short-term challenge must be to block Moscow’s efforts to increase Soviet influence now and after the death of Khomeini.” America must, he added, improve her ability to protect American interests during the struggle for succession.
    America would try to achieve this through several options: firstly, to “prevent the disintegration of Iran and use it as an independent strategic buffer which separates the Soviet Union from the Persian Gulf.”; second, “to limit the scope and opportunity for Soviet actions in Iran, while positioning ourselves to cope with the changing Iranian internal situation.”; third, by “maintaining access to Persian Gulf oil and ensuring unimpeded transit of the Strait of Hormuz.”
    We may interpret from these that America’s key interests were, and still are, simply defined. The first of those interests was the preservation of Caspian sea oil supplies, to be transported across Iran, through Iraq, and on to Al Aqaba, a Jordanian oil terminal on the shores of the Red Sea. That oil transportation had already been facilitated following a 1984 meeting between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld had been carefully briefed by Secretary of State Shultz to advise Iraq on the best approach in order to obtain financial backing for the Al-Aqaba pipeline from the U.S export-import bank EXIM. The funding, and the construction, would take place between 1985 and 1990. During all those years, Saddam Hussein would slaughter thousands of his own people and up to a million Iranians. He would use, among other things, chemical weapons created from pre-cursors and insecticides supplied by American companies, all with the full knowledge and encouragement of President Ronald Reagan and his various secretaries of state.
    Vincent Cannistraro and his colleagues would soon appear as part of the structure serving the McFarlane philosophy of achievement of that strategic balance. The Washington Post, as part of an in-depth investigation into America’s involvement with Saddam Hussein at the height of his terrorising of his neighbours, concluded, “The story of U.S. involvement with Saddam Hussein in the years before his 1990 attack on Kuwait – which included large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq’s acquisition of chemical and biological precursors – is a topical example of the underside of U.S. foreign policy. It is a world in which deals can be struck with dictators, human rights violations overlooked, and accommodations made with arms proliferators, all on the principle that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’.” Through all these years, as would soon be shown in the White House Emails to be published in November 1995, North, Poindexter, Cannistraro and others played key roles, both at the White House, on the National Security Council, and at Langley Virginia.
    McFarlane continued to explain that the second U.S. interest was continued assured access through the Straits of Hormuz, for oil tankers travelling to and from Southern Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia’s main oil outlet of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. He then moved to broader objectives. The first of these was to assist Iran towards her “resumption of a moderate and constructive role as a member respectively of the non-communist political community of its region, and of the world petroleum economy.” The second, in order of priority, was to ensure “continued Iranian resistance to the expansion of Soviet power in general, and to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in particular.”
    Strangely, in contrast to America’s recurring hostility to any form of international jurisdiction, McFarlane listed among America’s priorities, “the resolution of American and legal and financial claims through the Hague Tribunal.” Also listed was that other recurring theme of American foreign policy, oil supply, via “Iranian moderation on OPEC pricing policy.”
    (U.S. Policy Toward Iran, Top secret memorandum prepared by Robert McFarlane for Secretary of State Shultz and Secretary of State for Defense, Casper Weinberger, June 17th 1985, partially declassified 22nd June 1987. )
    Best wishes,
    Peter Biddulph,
    Worcestershire, England

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