Give credit to Bob Gates. The major theme for the press of the third WikiLeaks doc dump in six months is the breadth of closed-door enthusiasm for a U.S. military strike on Iran coming from Gulf Arab capitols. Yet here’s the defense secretary earlier this month, publicly warning about the consequences of any such thing. Those governments are positively freaked out about Iran’s conventional military strength; its missile capabilities; its support for terrorism; and its potential nuclear program; and throughout the documents, they want to borrow the U.S. military to take care of it. It can’t be pressure-free for Gates to tell them to trust the sanctions or to point out the negative implications of another regional war.
And it’s understandable for clients to ask the patron to deal with the threat next door. That’s why clients seek patrons. Something I’ll be monitoring WikiLeaks to see: did these same governments raise the Iran threat when discussing a prospective U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002 with the Bush administration, or did the subsequent rise in Iranian regional influence only become vivid for them after the occupation began? In either case, it’s hard not to wonder if Gates’ successor will be as even-keeled as he’s been when it comes to Iran. (Juan Cole has a less charitable view.)
What do I mean “even-keeled”? As my boss Noah Shachtman reports, WikiLeaks also showed a far-reaching effort by the U.S. to monitor Iran’s covert missile purchases. And I’ll have something later today about a looming missile sale that became a massive behind-the-scenes geopolitical issue. There’s more than one way to deal with Iran; certainly not simply a bellicose way; though I suspect Steve Walt would consider the entire thrust of U.S. policy toward Iran to be coterminous with an eventual confrontation.