War cries ringing in Obama's ears
By Ali Gharib and Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The leaked reports sent by United States officials abroad to
Washington reveal a treacherous playing field for the United States in the
While the some of the 219 diplomatic cables publicly released to date - of a
reported 251,000 obtained by WikiLeaks, an independent international
organization that facilitates leaks and makes documents public - cover a range
of countries and issues, a major theme of particular interest to US media was
the support by some Arab leaders for a US attack on Iran.
For US President Barack Obama, the now-revealed symphony of war cries could
pose challenges to his stated policies toward Iran, which so far have focused
on averting a war over Iran's nuclear
program by attempting to engage Tehran at the negotiating table while
simultaneously pressuring the Islamic Republic with unilateral and multilateral
diplomatic and economic sanctions.
The US, along with the four other permanent members of the United Nations
Security Council and Germany, will meet with a senior Iranian diplomat for the
first time in more than a year next week in Geneva, it was announced on Monday.
The cables, drawn from diplomatic meetings in the region between 2006 and early
2010, recorded comments hostile to Iran by high-ranking Arab officials from the
United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon,
Egypt and Yemen.
In 2009, for instance, Mohammed bin Zayed, a crown prince of UAE's Abu Dhabi,
called Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad "Hitler" and warned against
"appeasement", the latter in the words of the US note-taker.
Separately, the Saudi ambassador to the US reportedly "recalled the king's
[Abdullah's] frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end
to its nuclear weapons program" in an April 17, 2008 meeting with US diplomats.
"He told you to cut off the head of the snake," Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir
told US diplomats, according to a cable sent to the State Department three days
Neo-conservatives and other war hawks, including those in power in Israel, have
responded to those comments with barely concealed glee.
"[T]he most interesting thing to come from the latest WikiLeaks round is Arab
world leaders' being forced to come out of the diplomatic closet and declare
Iran's regime the number one enemy in the Middle East," wrote Benjamin
Weinthal, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, on the website
of the National Review.
"In the Israeli media, defense analysts are concluding that the leaked comments
vindicate Israel's long-standing position on the need for swift and powerful
action against Iran's out-of-control regime," Weinthal continued.
"The corollary to this is that Arab leaders very generally will not speak to
Americans - though they will speak to others - about their fear of Israel,"
Chas Freeman, a former diplomat who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told
Inter Press Service (IPS). "So the fact that Israel doesn't feature in these
conversations says nothing other than the Arabs are tactfully obsequious."
Jennifer Rubin of Commentary magazine used a quip from bin Zayed to declare
that "linkage" - the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process helps US
interests in the Middle East - was "nonsense". She said the peace process was a
"distraction" and that "Obama frittered away two years that could have been
spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran".
The pressure to attack Iran from Israeli and US hawks and now, publicly for the
first time, Arab officials will force Obama to make "some tough decisions" in
"a region on the verge of a major war", National Iranian American Council
president Trita Parsi, currently a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center here,
wrote in an e-mail to Politico's Laura Rozen.
"The cables reveal that even though Obama came in with a strong vision for
engagement, that vision has since inauguration day 2009 been compromised for
several reasons, including opposition from some Arab states, France and Israel
as well as the actions of Tehran," wrote Parsi. "The choice now is between
trying diplomacy in earnest or prepare for the confrontation that inevitably
will come if the current trajectory of tensions prevail."
Gary Sick, an Iran expert and Columbia University professor who served on the
National Security Council for three presidents, expanded on a separate point by
Parsi, writing on his blog that the Obama administration created a
self-fulfilling prophecy by telling allies early on that negotiations with Iran
"The US undertook its engagement strategy with Iran with the clear conviction
that it would fail," wrote Sick. "At the same time, it was preparing [and
disseminating in private] an alternative pressure strategy. This is the most
serious indictment of all."
"Iran could hardly have been unaware of all this, so the chance that they would
respond favorably - even before the contested election in June 2009 and the
brutal crackdown that followed - was essentially zero," he continued. "The only
conclusion I can draw from this is that Obama was never sincere about his
engagement strategy. It has yet to be tried."
But Freeman, the former US diplomat, thought that the lessons and effects of
the WikiLeaks document dump were not as significant and represented normal
"It's never been a secret that the Gulf Arabs are deeply concerned by Iran's
growth in power and influence in the region, much of which was made possible by
various US policies [in Iraq, Syria, the occupied territories and Lebanon]," he
"But I think it's easy to misread these expressions. If you say 'cut off the
head of the snake', or if you say 'not dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue
is more dangerous than dealing with it', what you're saying, in my experience
with rulers in the Gulf, is that you look to the US to solve problems that you
have no idea how to deal with but which bother you," Freeman said.
"Does that mean that you're endorsing military strikes? Despite the vivid
language, I'd say it doesn't. What is says is there's a problem and we look to
you [as a superpower] to handle it," he said.