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Wikileaks and Iran

We have plenty of people here at FDL willing and plenty able to deal with the Wikileaks release of State Department cables (the entire result of which will be, probably, more debriefings in person and on the telephone instead of by email or telegram). But I’ve been struck by the emphasis in the documents on Iran. If the cables are to be believed, the entire Arab world wants them bombed and don’t want their fingerprints on the bombing. Top officials from Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE basically concurred that they want something done with Iran before they become a nuclear power and tip the balance in the region. The Egyptian President even intimated that Iran sponsored terror, though he would not say it publicly.

I think we have to account for the fact that these Arab nations want weapons from the United States and don’t necessarily offer unvarnished opinions even confidentially to diplomats as much as they tell people what they want to hear. But the idea that Arab nations would be fearful of a nuclear power in their region is not only a banal thought, it was said at the time by lots of liberals as a potential negative cause of the Iraq war. It was beyond clear at the time that an invasion of Iraq would eliminate the Sunni/Shia buffer zone in the region and tip the balance of power toward the Iranians, and certainly the Saudis, for example, would oppose that consequence. The Arab world right now doesn’t have what you’d consider a paradise, but certainly a belligerent power at their doorstep would give them cause for worry. You didn’t have to see it in print in confidential cables to recognize that.

I agree that you’re going to start seeing warmongers use these Arab governments as proof that Iran’s nuclear program must be dealt with. The proper response is that this was entirely prefigured by the neocon invasion of Iraq. That’s exactly what Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told John Kerry in one Wikileaks cable, that “as a result of the invasion of Iraq, Iran is spreading everywhere.” It destabilized the region, just like liberals said it would. And an Iranian invasion to compensate for a failed Iraqi invasion would be just as destabilizing if not more so. That’s particularly true from an economic sense, because it would trigger an energy crisis, as a separate Wikileak acknowledges.

What also emerges here is the idea that Iran has advanced their nuclear weapons capabilities beyond the publicly available National Intelligence Estimates, and that some of the advance comes from North Korea:

Secret American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iran has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, based on a Russian design, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal, diplomatic cables show.

Iran obtained 19 of the missiles from North Korea, according to a cable dated Feb. 24 of this year. The cable is a detailed, highly classified account of a meeting between top Russian officials and an American delegation led by Vann H. Van Diepen, an official with the State Department’s nonproliferation division who, as a national intelligence officer several years ago, played a crucial role in the 2007 assessment of Iran’s nuclear capacity.

The missiles could for the first time give Iran the capacity to strike at capitals in Western Europe or easily reach Moscow, and American officials warned that their advanced propulsion could speed Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Again, this could be expected in a world where nuclear proliferation is allowed to go unchecked, much like the world where the START treaty elapses and the perfectly reasonable follow-on treaty never gets out of the Senate.

A lot of these reports seem pretty dangerous, particularly the idea that Iran is abusing the Red Crescent to smuggle weapons into war zones. But overall, I get the sense that the cables reveal a world wanting to tell America what it wants to hear. It’s a small miracle that we haven’t dropped a bomb on Iran at this point, but warmongers are almost certain to selectively use Wikileaks, when it isn’t wanting to declare them a terrorist organization, to argue for another war.

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David Dayen

David Dayen