As Washington's political/media class rises up in arms over new WMD allegations against Iran, it might be worth recalling how a similar process played out nearly a decade ago when the U.S. public was drawn into a war with Iraq. It wasn't just that George W. Bush told some lies; it was more complicated than that.
In 2002-2003, Official Washington professed a deep faith in the professionalism of the CIA's analytical division, which accepted enough of the bogus intelligence being pushed by neocon war hawks to create a basis for Bush's invasion of Iraq. Only later did it become clear how politicized the CIA's analysis had become.
Today, a similar role is being played by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, which -- during the run-up to war with Iraq and under different management -- was one of the few international bodies with the courage to reject some of Bush's claims about Iraq.
However, in the past two years, the IAEA has become deeply politicized under its new director general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano. Yet, you wouldn't know that from how the U.S. news media is accepting what the IAEA says about Iran, much as the U.S. press corps avoided questioning the CIA's assessments on Iraq.
The evidence of the IAEA's politicization can be found in confidential U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published last year by the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. In those cables, the IAEA's new leadership indicated it was willing to give Washington what it wanted on Iran, just as the CIA's hierarchy bent to Bush's needs on Iraq last decade.
According to the U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the IAEA's headquarters, Americans diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance American interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn't.
In a July 9, 2009, cable, American charge' Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. "Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive," the cable said.
The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director general, he would take a different "approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei" and he "saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions," i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.
Amano also discussed how to restructure the senior ranks of the IAEA, including elimination of one top official and the retention of another. "We wholly agree with Amano's assessment of these two advisors and see these decisions as positive first signs," Pyatt commented.
In return, Pyatt made clear that Amano could expect strong U.S. financial support, stating that "the United States would do everything possible to support his successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming. ... Amano offered that a 'reasonable increase' in the regular budget would be helpful."
Pyatt learned, too, that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli "immediately after his appointment" and that Michaeli "was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues." Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano's public remarks about there being "no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability" as just words that Amano felt he had to say "to persuade those who did not support him about his 'impartiality.'"
In private, Amano agreed to "consultations" with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. (It is ironic indeed that Amano would have secret contacts with Israeli officials about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, which has yet to yield a single bomb, when Israel ranks as the world's leading rogue nuclear state with a large and undeclared nuclear arsenal.)
In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano "took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that ... he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.
"More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain 'constructive ambiguity' about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December 2009."
In other words, the emerging picture of Amano is of a bureaucrat eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel, especially regarding Iran's nuclear program. Amano's behavior surely contrasts with how the more independent-minded ElBaradei resisted some of Bush's key claims about Iraq's supposed nuclear weapons program, denouncing some documents as forgeries.