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The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know

The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know

Two former high-ranking policy experts from the Bush Administration say the U.S. has been gearing up for a war with Iran for years, despite claiming otherwise. It'll be Iraq all over again.

By John H. Richardson for Esquire Magazine


In the years after 9/11, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann worked at the highest levels of the Bush administration as Middle East policy experts for the National Security Council. Mann conducted secret negotiations with Iran. Leverett traveled with Colin Powell and advised Condoleezza Rice. They each played crucial roles in formulating policy for the region leading up to the war in Iraq. But when they left the White House, they left with a growing sense of alarm -- not only was the Bush administration headed straight for war with Iran, it had been set on this course for years. That was what people didn't realize. It was just like Iraq, when the White House was so eager for war it couldn't wait for the UN inspectors to leave. The steps have been many and steady and all in the same direction. And now things are getting much worse. We are getting closer and closer to the tripline, they say."

The hard-liners are upping the pressure on the State Department," says Leverett. "They're basically saying, 'You've been trying to engage Iran for more than a year now and what do you have to show for it? They keep building more centrifuges, they're sending this IED stuff over into Iraq that's killing American soldiers, the human-rights internal political situation has gotten more repressive -- what the hell do you have to show for this engagement strategy?' "

But the engagement strategy was never serious and was designed to fail, they say. Over the last year, Rice has begun saying she would talk to "anybody, anywhere, anytime," but not to the Iranians unless they stopped enriching uranium first. That's not a serious approach to diplomacy, Mann says. Diplomacy is about talking to your enemies. That's how wars are averted. You work up to the big things. And when U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had his much-publicized meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad this spring, he didn't even have permission from the White House to schedule a second meeting.

Points made:

  • After 9/11 Iran sympathized with U.S. and agreed to unconditional secret talks with the hope of thawing the 25 year old relationship freeze between the U.S. and Iran.
  • Iran worked closely with Bush administration in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Iran was holding secret talks with Bush admin for one year PRIOR to the 'axis of evil" speech where Iran was denounced as a 'terrorist ally'. They continued to talk for another year afterwards despite the shock the denouncement caused to Iran and its diplomats.
  • Every Arab nation signed onto Saudi Prince Abdullah's plan for final settlement with Israel, calling for "full normalization" in exchange for "full withdrawal" from the occupied territories. The Cheney-Bush administration wasn't interested in the least despite this herculean feat by Abdullah.
  • Former Sec. of State Colin Powell very publicly went to negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine thinking he had authorization from Cheney-Bush only to be humiliated in a withdrawal of authorization.
  • In an unprecedented move by any arab leader Saudi Prince Abdullah pressed Bush for a yes/no answer on support for peace for Palestine. When Bush waffled, Abdullah threatened to walk out of the meeting. Bush then promised to get serious about the Palestinian issue.
  • Bush then gave lip service to the two state road map the King of Jordan offered to give political cover to arab states while America invaded Iraq. Nothing came of it since ideologues in the administration took the attitude that negotiation was just a reward for bad behavior. In their view first the Palestinians had to reject terrorism and practice democracy.
  • Ariel Sharon asked the Bush administration to shelve the roadmap because in his view it would interfere with Israeli elections. This completely undermined the negotiators who had been working with the arab countries to get consensus around the plan.
  • During the Iraq invasion Iran made a major diplomatic move via the Swiss ambassador, making one dramatic concession after another -- "decisive action" against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program, and also an agreement to recognize Israel. Cheney-Bush's response: to lodge a formal complaint with the Swiss government about the Swiss ambassador's so-called meddling.
  • Esquire got confirmation on the substance of these points with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, saying "We talked to the Iranians quietly up until 2003. The president chose not to continue that channel."
  • The only major dispute Powell gave was whether the sweeping concessions the Iranians made through the Swiss constituted a major breakthrough. Powell now says that he and his associates don't recall seeing this initiative as a grand bargain."
  • Leverett and Mann tried various methods to get the warning out of what was happening behind the scenes including a long paper to a Washington think tank that the WH blocked, and NYT OpEd that was redacted and finally printed in full ( ) and a talk to the Cato Institute covered by CSPAN. Mostly they've been unsuccessful in getting public attention to the relentless march to war Cheney-Bush have been on.
  • From that point the Cheney-Bush administration escalated the situation. This excerpt from the article traces Cheney-Bush's actions:

Bush sent a second carrier group to the Persian Gulf.

U.S. troops started to arrest Iranians living in Baghdad, accusing them of working with insurgents.

Bush accused Iran of "providing material support" for attacks on U.S. forces, a formulation that suggested a legal justification for a preemptive attack.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia pushed through an amendment requiring Bush to get congressional authorization for an attack.

Colin Powell broke his long silence with a pointed warning. "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.' "

Even Henry Kissinger started giving interviews on the need to "exhaust every possibility to come to an understanding with Iran."

From inside the White House, Leverett was hearing a scary scenario: The Russians were scheduled to ship fuel rods to the Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr, which meant the reactor would become operational by this November, at which point it would be impossible to bomb -- the fallout alone would turn the city into an urban Chernobyl. The White House was seriously considering a preemptive attack when the Russians cooled things down by saying Iran hadn't paid its bills, so they would hold back the Bushehr fuel rods for a while.

That put things into a summer lull. But by August, tensions were rising again. U.S. troops in Baghdad arrested an official delegation of Iranian energy experts, leading them out of a hotel in blindfolds and handcuffs. Then Iran said that it had paid its bills and that the Russians were ready to deliver the Bushehr shipment.

In Time magazine, former CIA officer and author Robert Baer quoted a highly placed White House official: "IEDs are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran.


The most ominous new development is the Bush administration's push to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

"The U. S. has designated any number of states over the years as state sponsors of terrorism," says Leverett. "But here for the first time the U. S. is saying that part of a government is itself a terrorist organization."


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