Tomorrow, two interesting books will be hitting the newsstands. I know both authors but have not read their books. My hunch though is that they fill in key pieces of the Iraq and Iran stories that readers will want to know about.
The first is Curveball: The Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War by Los Angeles Times correspondent Bob Drogin. At first glance, looks very good.
Secondly is USA Today Diplomatic Correspondent Barbara Slavin’s book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.
Chris Nelson of The Nelson Report asked Slavin to share some of the key findings of her book that are relevant to America’s current posture towards Iran.
Barbara Slavin writes:
The first Bush administration, according to Brent Scowcroft, was eager for contacts with Iran. “We’re happy to do it,” Scowcroft told me he told various intermediaries. “We could have it official, public or private citizen to private citizen, any way you want it.” The two sides got as far in 1990 as agreeing to meet in Switzerland, but “at the last minute the Iranians pulled the plug,” Scowcroft said.
Under Clinton, relations took several steps back because of ‘dual containment’ — the effort to sanction and isolate both Iran and Iraq. After Mohammad Khatami was elected Iranian president in 1997, a warming trend ensued but the Clinton administration made a fatal error — since continued by George W. Bush.
It sought to distinguish between the parts of the Iranian regime it liked — namely Khatami — and the parts it didn’t — namely supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s military and intelligence establishment. Clinton went so far as to name a delegation to meet with the Khatami government, a team consisting of Bruce Riedel, his top NSC Mideast adviser, then undersecretary of State Tom Pickering and deputy assistant secretary David Welch. But the Iranians wouldn’t bite.
Enter George W. Bush. He had the best chance to patch up relations after 9-11 and he blew it. The U.S. and Iran both opposed the Taliban and Iran believed Bush and Cheney, as ex-oilmen, would lift sanctions. Unknown to many, the U.S. and Iran held secret, one-on-one high-level talks in Paris and Geneva from the fall of 2001 through May 2003, talks led on the U.S. side by Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad.
In early May 2003, through Swiss intermediaries, the Iranians also presented an offer for comprehensive negotiations (reprinted in the annex to my book). Bush, full of hubris over Iraq, did not even give the Iranians the courtesy of a reply. The Europe talks ended, meanwhile, after yours truly wrote about them on the front page of USA TODAY and al-Qaeda bombings took place in Saudi Arabia that the White House said were linked to al-Qaeda detainees in Iran.
The Iranians did not give up, however. In late 2005 and through the spring of 2006, Ali Larijani, their new national security adviser, sought backchannel talks with Steve Hadley. Larijani went so far as to publicly accept a prior U.S. offer of talks on Iraq in March 2006. Supreme leader Khamenei publicly endorsed the talks, something he had never done before. Again, Bush sawed off the limb. The upshot: Larijani was weakened, Khamenei humiliated and Iran accelerated its nuclear program and its intervention in Iraq.
There is much more, including an intelligence assessment in early 2003 that invading Iraq would spur the two members of the Axis of Evil with real nuclear programs — Iran and North Korea — to intensify their efforts. Also the fact that the White House did not even ask the intelligence community for an assessment of the regional impact of toppling Saddam before invading.
It simply assumed that all would go well and that Tehran would be the next evildoer to fall. Instead of dividing our enemies by negotiating with Iran, the Bush administration has united them. And now — like the child who shot his parents and complains he’s an orphan — the White House blames Iran for taking advantage of the strategic opportunities the United States has provided.
It’s useful though quite troubling to be reminded that our current problems with Iran were entirely self-inflicted by this administration.
— Steve Clemons