The Prospect of Change in US Relations With Russia, Iran and Afghanistan Alarms the Washington Post

Friday, 09 October 2009 14:47 By Melvin A Goodman, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

The Prospect of Change in US Relations With Russia, Iran and Afghanistan Alarms the Washington Post
President Barack Obama recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts. (Photo: nznationalparty / flickr)

    The Washington Post is running scared these days with its editorial writers having great difficulty coming to terms with the possibility of improved US relations with Russia and Iran. They also can't understand why the Obama administration might decide that additional US military forces in Afghanistan will not solve the political and military problems there. There have been several editorials and op-eds this week that distort developments in each of these situations and predict failure for President Barack Obama. The fact that a "reset" button is needed and may offer the promise of success in our relations with Russia, Iran and even Afghanistan appears to be anathema to the Post.

    These policy changes, moreover, presumably led to today's news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his "extraordinary efforts to gain international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," which must have these writers apoplectic. Only yesterday, Post op-ed writer David Ignatius termed the prospect of any change of policy in Afghanistan as "lawless," and today Post op-ed writer Charles Krauthammer compared the president to a young Hamlet, who "frets, demurs, agonizes."

    President Obama's most persistent critic at the Post has been Fred Hiatt, the editor of the editorial page. His column earlier this week perpetuated a number of distortions and errors on the topic of Russia. Hiatt does not comprehend that the Russians are concerned about possible nuclear weapons in Iran or that Russia has genuine concerns about nuclear proliferation. In fact, the Russians do share our concerns on these issues. In the 1960s, Moscow was the major driver for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), because it feared that the United States wanted to give West Germany a role in decision-making in the use of nuclear weapons. The Kremlin adhered carefully to the dictates of the NPT and, until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, carefully monitored the types of technology that were sent to foreign countries. When Moscow's nonproliferation regime broke down in the chaos of the 1990s, during the erratic rule of President Boris Yeltsin, it was actually Vladimir Putin who stepped in and stopped the sale of sensitive technologies to third world countries. This is the same Vladimir Putin, who Hiatt believes will prevent President Dmitry Medvedev from controlling Moscow's nuclear-technology complex; Hiatt believes that Moscow prefers trade with Iran over the prevention of nuclear weapons in Iran.

    Hiatt also argues that Russia values its commercial and military exchanges with Iran far too much to work toward a nuclear-free Iran. Again, the facts put the lie to Hiatt's arguments. US-Russian talks about Iran's military programs began in the mid-1990s, when Russia froze military sales to Iran for a five-year period. Even when sales were resumed in 2000, the Russians kept a tight leash on the types of weapons that Iran purchased. Moscow has stopped delivery on the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system and has dragged its heels on the delivery of other weapons systems.

    Russia, moreover, was never the enabler of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Iran received its nuclear starter kit from Pakistan in 1987 and its missile support from North Korea in the 1990s. Russia always supported international efforts to keep Iran from going nuclear, but it opposed the coercive steps of the Bush administration that Moscow considered counterproductive. Even last week's agreement to send uranium from Iran to Russia for enrichment stems from an earlier Russian offer to receive uranium from the Natanz enrichment facility for upgrading. Hiatt, of course, is welcome to his opinions, but he shouldn't make up his own facts.

    Hiatt's deputy on the editorial page is Jackson Diehl, and they are two peas in a pod, accurately representing the views of the paper's publisher Katharine Weymouth. Diehl favors a policy of regime change in Iran and not even last week's promising talks in Geneva between high-ranking US and Iranian officials - the first formal, direct negotiations between the two countries in 30 years - has disabused Diehl of his support for undermining the regime. The fact that Iran has essentially agreed to the creation of a diplomatic clock that will set times for the monitoring of the uranium enrichment facility near Qom and to the transfer of uranium from Iran to Russia and France for enrichment has made no impression on Diehl. Geneva for Diehl was simply "seven hours of palaver" that did nothing to assuage the "deep and growing gloom in Washington and European capitals" about Iran's nuclear program. All of his examples of the so-called gloom were remarks, including those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, made before the Geneva talks, not after. Diehl is still talking about an "escalation of sanctions," when it is quite possible that the talks in Geneva could lead to a situation that doesn't call for additional sanctions. Diehl fears that international inspections and the transfer of uranium for additional enrichment will only "complicate the negotiations and the prospects for sanctions." For Diehl, the objective in Iran is sanctions and regime change - not the prevention of nuclear weapons.

    Diehl certainly fails to understand the reality on the ground in Iran, where the opponents of the regime in Tehran oppose further sanctions and fully support the uranium enrichment program of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also fails to remember the disastrous consequences of our overthrow of a legitimate Iranian government in 1953.

    Yesterday, an editorial in The Washington Post marked another attempt by the paper to prod President Obama to adapt the "surge model (in Iraq) to Afghanistan." Forget that the so-called surge of troops in Iraq in 2007 had tactical, but no strategic, benefits. Certainly, there were operational benefits from increasing US military forces in Iraq, but the surge was designed to provide an opportunity for the Iraq leadership to strengthen and unify its political rule in Baghdad and to break the logjam on important legislative issues that stymie political progress in Iraq. There is no evidence to support the notion that the Iraqi government took political advantage of the surge. And forget, also, that the proponents of more troops for Afghanistan consistently underestimate the degree of ethnic violence, local rivalries and the intensity of resistance to occupation in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The Post writers mistakenly believe that the absence of a troop surge would "damage the effort to persuade Taliban fighters ... to switch sides." The paper fails to recognize that the Taliban movement is far more coordinated and centralized than the US military commanders appear to believe. Have the Post writers learned no lessons from the painful 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and our own painful and long-term occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan? Or examine the long-term struggle of the French in Algeria, where they were entrenched for over a century, but lost a battle against a murky mix of nationalists and Islamicists. It is unlikely that adding another 40,000 US troops will make a difference in Afghanistan where Taliban forces already move freely in most of the country.

    A final word of warning to the neocon editorial writers at the Post: They have been focusing so strongly on attacking change in Russia, Iran and Afghanistan that they possibly have not noticed that the North Koreans have been sending signals to Washington and Seoul about the possibility of change in that arena. In the recent past, we have witnessed the release of two American journalists to former president Bill Clinton, progress in the reunification of families from North and South Korea and, now, the expressed interest of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in resuming six-power talks on nuclear disarmament. Even the "hermit kingdom" may be coming in from the cold, so the Post writers had better sharpen their pencils.

Melvin A Goodman

Melvin A. Goodman is national security and intelligence columnist for Truthout. He is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. His 42-year government career included service at the CIA, State Department, Defense Department and the US Army. His latest book is "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA."
Last modified on Saturday, 10 October 2009 09:08