An extraordinary remark was made by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger on ABC's This Week With David Brinkley on September 27. Though it got little attention in most newspapers, it cast an alarming light on what may be the Reagan Administration's real war aims in the Persian Gulf, from which the Secretary was speaking. Weinberger expressed hope for an arms embargo against Iran that "would gradually dry up Iran's capability of fighting.' Then he added. "Short of that, I think, perhaps on a longer range basis, there will need to be a totally different kind of government in Iran, because no one can deal with an irrational, fanatical government of the kind that they have now.'
This deserves attention in two different debates now going on about the Persian Gulf. One is in the U.N. Security Council, where U.S. demands for an arms embargo against Iran have been sidetracked for diplomatic attempts to bring about a cease-fire. The other is the Congressional debate over the War Powers Act and the bill sponsored by Senators Robert Byrd and Sam Nunn to give Congress veto power over the Kuwaiti tanker reflagging program, which has made the United States Iraq's ally rather than a mediator.
The revelation of Weinberger's thinking will hardly make the United Nations' efforts easier. If Iran thinks that the goal of the United States is not peace but the overthrow of the Khomeini regime, Teheran may feel that it is being driven into a corner where it must fight for its very existence.
On the other hand, the remark will not make it easier for the Administration to convince Congress to keep its hands off its giddy gulf policies. For Weinberger's remark implies that we are engaged not in peacemaking but in the first stages of a protracted and costly war. It would no longer be a question of Congress' right, under the War Powers Act, to impose restraint on military activity in an area where hostilities are "imminent.' The Secretary is charting a course that undercuts the Constitution, which gives Congress alone the right to declare war. These provisions reflect several centuries of British struggle to take the war power away from the crown and rest it in Parliament. This is relevant again in the age of our imperial presidency.
Was Weinberger mischief-making--trying to make the Iranian regime all the more suspicious and resistant to U.N. diplomacy? Or was he, under the pressure of a heated discussion on TV, blurting out the truth about the Reagan Administration's intentions? The appropriate Senate committees ought to ask him for a fuller explanation.
Until now Congress has been offered diverse and often disingenuous explanations of what the Administration is doing in the gulf. It was said to be protecting the world's oil supplies, but then why tilt to Iraq, which began the tanker war and is again escalating it? It claimed to be defending freedom of navigation, but then why were we not escorting Iranian as well as Kuwaiti vessels? Iran is wholly dependent on the gulf for its shipping and, unlike Iraq and Saudi Arabia, has no pipelines to the open seas. The United States said it was trying to keep Iran from falling under Soviet influence. Then why object when the Russians began to escort Kuwaiti vessels? What better way to drive a wedge between Teheran and Moscow?
Britain has an arms embargo against both Iran and Iraq. That would seem a model for an evenhanded U.N. effort to stop the war, rather than the one-sided embargo against Iran that the United States favors. This would reward Iraq, which was the aggressor.
Arms embargoes historically have proven as porous as a sieve. They escalate the profits of the world's arms traders. A more effective way to hit Iran would be to blockade the entrance to the Persian Gulf. But that would bring a sharp rise in the price of oil and cut off a main source of supply for Japan as well as the West. There seems to be no reasonable alternative but to pursue the search through the United Nations for a cease-fire. That always takes time and patience, even in a labor dispute, much less a mortal combat between nations. The Reagan Administration is much too hasty and frenetic, as if it is in a panic lest the forthcoming Congressional report on the Iran/contra affair and indictments by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh will do fresh damage to Reagan's reputations. A military crisis with Iran would come in handy.
Weinberger says the Iranian regime is too fanatical and irrational to be dealt with. Was it any less so when Reagan was wooing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini with pastry and a Bible? The execution of Mehdi Hashemi in Teheran recently is a reminder that but for his faction's whistle-blowing leak to a Lebanes newspaper last November, we might still be selling arms to Iran at inflated prices to carry on a secret war in Central America. We already need to be reminded that the final twist in this corkscrew intrigue was that we were then publicly urging our allies to embargo arms for Iran as a terrorist state. That was only eleven short months ago.
Maybe Teheran sees the execution as an olive branch to Reagan for the damage Hashemi caused him the renewed headaches fresh revelations may soon bring.
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|Title Annotation:||Caspar Weinberger's opinion on how to end the Iran-Iraq war|
|Date:||Oct 10, 1987|
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