John Hannah here argues that Saudi fear and loathing of Iran destroys the case for negotiating with Tehran. He proposes that we walk the Saudis “back from the ledge” by promising to bomb Iran if Tehran doesn’t surrender virtually entirely its nuclear enrichment program. Inadvertently, he provides a textbook example of a superpower being led around by its “allies”—if we don’t do what they want, they will destabilize the region, find other partners, acquire their own nuclear weapons, etc.
Perhaps here one should recall a salient part of Hannah’s biography: he is one of several low profile but highly placed Bush and Cheney aides who worked to set the stage for the Iraq invasion. Hannah was instrumental in channeling (“stovepiping” is the term of art) false information from an anti-Saddam Iraqi exile group into the White House, circumventing regular US intelligence vetting. He wrote the original draft of Colin Powell’s famous pre-invasion U.N. speech, in which Powell made a false but tragically effective presentation about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. So we aren’t speaking here of a random neocon bloviating about Neville Chamberlin; Hannah is a man with an actual track record in making wars happen, one who understands that facts, or “false facts,” can acquire a life of their own within a complex government bureaucracy if you know how to insert them and get them repeated in the right places. It is a process somewhat analogous to money laundering, a sort of information laundering: if you get a lie reported as fact in New York Times, you can then uses it as source, and perhaps get Colin Powell to repeat it before a global audience. And the lie (Saddam’s nuclear weapons program) assumes a life of its own.
You might think that a record like this would be detrimental to one’s career. Not really. In Washington, a neoconservative hawk never has to say he’s sorry. After his “government service” as a Cheney aide, Hannah was snapped up by the Sheldon Adelson-financed Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he now works to set the stage for a war with Iran. (It should be pointed out that the Saudis vociferously opposed the Iraq invasion. What did Hannah think about Saudi concerns back then?)
The Beltway worry used to be that Iran would get a nuclear bomb, which would would set off a “cascade of proliferation” throughout the Middle East. But any successful diplomacy with Iran will ensure that Iran not have a nuclear bomb, but a scaled down and tightly monitored uranium enrichment program. Nevertheless, Hannah deploys the same overheated language, as if it makes no difference whether five Security Council members (plus Germany) had just reached agreement to allow Iran a bomb program, or, as is actually the case, not. Hannah rails against Iran’s “march to the bomb”; he refers to John Kerry’s “stab in the back” diplomacy (a trope oft-used in early Nazi propaganda against the Weimar government; one wonders if Hannah is aware of that).
In all candor, we don’t know what the Saudi reaction to an eventual American rapprochement with Iran might be. Serious people who study the matter doubt that even if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon the Saudis would try to do the same. It’s not clear how they would acquire one, even if they wanted to. It’s not as if Saudi Arabia produces a lot of nuclear physicists.
Reduced to its essence, Hannah’s argument is that American diplomacy should be tied, apparently forever, to the fears and ambitions of a reactionary medieval monarchy. But why on earth should it? Hannah invites us to share Saudi remorse that the United States didn’t “strike” Syria, as the Saudis hoped, in order to overthrow Syria’s tyrant and replace him with some Saudi-favored jihadists. Why is that an American interest? When one reads counsel like this, from someone who was once, and may be again, highly placed in Republican foreign policy circles, one can only note how far America has strayed from George Washington’s admonition about “entangling alliances. ”
The Foreign Policy comments following Hannah’s article are caustic and often illuminating. There is clearly an informed public that won’t get fooled again. One wishes one could say the same for elected Republicans.