The secret history of America’s thirty-year conflict with Iran

Barbara Slavin writes: A new book on the long confrontation between the US and Iran blames the George W. Bush administration for squandering opportunities to improve relations with Tehran and invading Iraq in 2003 without recognizing that Iran would wind up being the power broker in that country.

These criticisms are remarkable given their source: David Crist, author of The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran is a US Defense Department historian, lieutenant colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserve and the son of one of the early leaders of US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Crist argues that the US has been too soft when it should have retaliated for Iran-backed terrorism, and too hard when it should have embraced Iranian diplomatic overtures. The book is based on reams of US government documents, private papers and interviews with 400 former officials and includes severally previously unreported nuggets including:

  • The George W. Bush administration considered cooperating with Iran over removing the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but opposition from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, torpedoed a draft proposal by then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Instead, Rumsfeld’s office advocated getting rid of the Iranian government, too, in part by supporting an “Iranian National Congress” of exiles on the model of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. At loggerheads internally, the Bush administration failed to approve any policy toward Iran in its first term. Iraq became a quagmire and Iran-backed militias killed hundreds of Americans.
  • In Bush’s second term, Cheney’s daughter, Elizabeth, a deputy assistant secretary of State, lectured US Foreign Service officers “including those fluent in Farsi” about “the nature of Iranian society and its government” even though she “had no background on Iran,” Crist writes. The lectures were delivered to the “Iran-Syria Working Group, an interagency body co-chaired by Cheney and Elliott Abrams, a neoconservative in the Bush White House. The working group produced an “Iran Action Plan” in 2005 that sought “to drive a wedge between the Iranian population and its government” even as Rice, who was Secretary of State, offered to join European talks with Iran. Rice also set preconditions — Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment — that Iran would not accept. The two-headed policy went nowhere.
  • In an earlier era, France denied permission for the US to overfly that country in attacking Libya in 1986 out of anger that the Ronald Reagan administration reneged on joint retaliation for 1983 bombings in Beirut that killed dozens of French soldiers, as well as 241 US Marines. Armed with intelligence that Iran had backed the Beirut bombings, France went ahead with the attack on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard outpost near Baalbek, but it was an “abject failure.” Crist quotes former Reagan national security adviser John Poindexter as saying “the French never forgave us for not backing them.” (The US bombed Libya in 1986 to retaliate for a Libyan-backed terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed US military personnel.) [Continue reading…]
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