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How Iran Might See the Threats

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In nature, an aardwolf is a furry hyena of east Africa that lives in underground burrows, explaining its name which means "earth wolf" in Afrikaans.

In CIA jargon, "Aardwolf" is a label for a special genre of intelligence report from field stations abroad to headquarters in Washington. An Aardwolf conveys the Chief of Station's formal assessment regarding the direction events are taking in his or her country of assignment -- and frequently the news is bad.

An Aardwolf is relatively rare and is avidly read; it is candid -- and often unwelcome. (In the 2006 book, State of War, author James Risen describes two Aardwolfs sent to CIA headquarters in the latter half of 2003 by the station chief in Baghdad describing the deteriorating situation in Iraq -- and angering many of his bosses.)

So, let's assume there is an Iranian Chief of Station embedded in, say, Iran's UN representation in New York. It is quite likely that he or she would be tasked with crafting periodic Aardwolf-type assessments for senior officials of the Islamic Republic.

And in this time of heightened tensions with the United States and the West, Tehran presumably would be interested in a think piece assessing, based on the events of recent months, what the second half of 2012 might have in store on front-burner questions like the nuclear issue and the triangular Iran-U.S.-Israel relationship.

Putting oneself in others' shoes is always of value but often avoided by American officials and journalists. It is especially difficult in dealing with not-so-easy-for-westerners-to-understand countries like Iran. Faux history further complicates things, as do unconscious blinders that can affect even "old-paradigm" analysts who try to have no agenda other than the pursuit of objective truth.

Don't laugh. That U.S. intelligence analysts are still capable of honest, old-paradigm work can be seen in their continued resistance, so far with the full support of senior management, to strong political pressure to change their key estimate of late 2007 that the Iranians stopped working on a nuclear weapon during the fall of 2003.

Thus, let me try to put my imagination to work and see if any useful insights can be squeezed out of an attempt to "impersonate" an Iranian Chief of Station in the following notional "Aardwolf" to Tehran. Such a message might read something like this:

Nuclear Issue: What Are the U.S. & Israel Up To?

With half of 2012 behind us and the U.S. presidential election looming in just four months, I will try to be candid and blunt about what I see as the dangers facing the Islamic Republic in the coming months. Following are the key points of our mid-year assessment, more fully developed in the text that follows:

1 -- The Islamic Republic is viewed by most Americans as Enemy #1. How best to defeat our "nuclear ambitions" has become the main foreign policy issue in the election campaign for president. This is BIG.

2 -- In dealing with Iran, U.S. corporate media are behaving just as they did before the attack on Iraq. It is as though the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq never happened. This time the Islamic Republic is in the crosshairs and some influential figures seem eager to pull the trigger. For instance, Jackson Diehl, deputy chief of the Washington Post's editorial page, asked pointedly if it "would still be feasible to carry out an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities" if the U.S. gets involved militarily in Syria.

3 -- Within the "bubble" of Official Washington, the war in Iraq is often portrayed as a success and the pro-Israel neo-conservatives largely responsible for that catastrophe remain in very influential positions. The macho cry of the neocons -- "Real men go to Tehran" -- is again very much in vogue.

4 -- Cowardly politicians, especially in Congress, march "in lockstep" to Likud Lobby cadences. President Barack Obama privately may not wish to go along but he lacks the courage to break ranks.

5 -- Unlike the lead-up to Iraq, when Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were lusting for war, this time neither the White House nor the Pentagon wants hostilities. Yet, prevalent is an awkward, helpless kind of fear that, one way or another, Israel with succeed in provoking hostilities -- with little or no prior notice to its superpower "ally."

6 -- As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the top U.S. generals are virtually all careerists, and none have forgotten what happened to Admiral "no-war-on-Iran-on-my-watch" William Fallon. He was soon a retired admiral. So, they will follow orders -- legal or not -- as reflexively as the Prussians of old, letting the troops and the "indigenous" people of the target countries bear the consequences. In the U.S., it is almost unheard of for a general to resign on principle, no matter how foolish the errand.

7 -- It is conventional wisdom here that the pro-Israel vote is sine qua non for election to the White House. Thus, Obama is acutely sensitive to the perceived need to appear no less supportive of Israel than Mitt Romney, who told an Israeli newspaper last fall: "The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders."

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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