Athens, Greece — While changing planes here in this ancient capital, I arranged to meet with an old friend who has long experience in the Middle East. Fluent in many Mediterranean and Persian Gulf languages and intimately familiar with the long, sad history of enmity in the region, he worked quietly with Americans for decades. I first met him in the 1980s during sensitive — but ultimately fruitless — efforts to elicit help from Arab governments in obtaining the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon. Throughout his personal triumphs and failures, successes and frustrations, I’ve always found him optimistic, his affection and admiration for the United States undimmed. But not this time; now he is nearly despondent about the current course of events and prospects for the future.
“Does anyone in the United States understand what’s happening today?” he asked as we sat down over cups of strong coffee. “Look at this,” he said, gesturing to headlines in the stack of newspapers he had placed on the table. “The world is at the brink of a cataclysm with radical Islam, and no one in the U.S. government seems to know it. Washington is stunningly naive.”
Our conversation eventually turned to family and friends, but after we parted, his “stunningly naive” comment proved haunting. And here, on the pages of a half-dozen English-language, European newspapers he left behind, are the reasons why:
- “Iran gives ‘positive’ response to U.S.-European Nuclear Offer.” Near-identical headlines were in every paper. Each article, based on “news” services, quoted Iranian “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying Iran would “forcefully” pursue nuclear enrichment. European Union foreign policy spokesman Javier Solana observed that Tehran’s “official” 20-page reply, provided by Ali Larijani of the Iranian foreign ministry, requires “detailed and careful analysis.” President Bush and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, the only American officials cited in any of the pieces, referred the matter back to the U.N. Security Council.
- “Hezbollah gives immediate relief to help Lebanese rebuild.” An accompanying photograph shows a “Hezbollah official” dispensing $12,000 in brand new U.S. $50 and $100 bills to “victims of Israeli destruction.” Another article observed that Hezbollah was handing out “dollars for Lebanese reconstruction faster than the American government can help those made homeless by hurricanes.” It’s remarkably effective propaganda — apparently unchallenged by any media outlet or U.S. official. “Doesn’t anyone in Washington remember that the Iranians have printed millions in high-quality counterfeit U.S. currency — and made duplicate plates and paper for their friends in Pyongyang?” asked my friend. An inquiry to the State and Treasury Departments about whether anyone knew if the “Hezbollah reconstruction aid dollars” were counterfeit produced what amounts to a shrug of the shoulders.
- “Iranian military unit seizes Romanian oil rig in Persian Gulf.” According to this report, an Iranian Navy patrol boat “destroyed a crane aboard, strafed the legs and accommodation areas with machine-gun fire and then detained the 26-man crew aboard the rig.” Though news items pointed out that this is the first time an oil rig has been “occupied by force in peacetime,” no western government has charged the Iranians with piracy. An inquiry to the Department of State resulted in the observation that this is a “matter to be resolved” between the Romanian and Iranian governments. Apparently it has not occurred to the nice folks at Foggy Bottom that the Romanians don’t have a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. We do.
- “German train-bombing plot tied to Lebanese-Iranian terror network.” This story, “compiled from wire service reports,” states that German authorities believe that the attempt by two Lebanese men to plant “very sophisticated, highly lethal bombs aboard two trains was inspired by Hezbollah.” None of the articles about the attempted train-bombing mention Hezbollah’s well-established connections with Tehran.
- “Shiite militias arming for civil war in Iraq.” Though this is hardly news, the lead was followed by “analysis” that prognosticated a “significant increase in Shia ‘military activity’ as U.S. elections near.” The piece went on to suggest “the war in Iraq is likely to be the defining issue for the American electorate this November.” Unmentioned by those who prepared the article is the stark parallel to another war: Vietnam. It was this piece — viewed in the light of all the others showing Iranian complicity and intention — that that so perturbed my aging friend here at the airport in Athens.
In 1974, “we the people” elected a majority in the U.S. Congress who decided that the Vietnam War was un-winnable. The Congress proceeded to “de-fund” U.S. military and logistics support for the South Vietnamese. By April of ’75 the disaster was foregone. This time the outcome — a nuclear-armed Iran with client-states in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — would be catastrophic.
Will we elect an anti-war, “get-out-now” Congress in November? It all depends on whether those who cast ballots this autumn are wise enough to understand what we are up against or are instead, as my friend put it, “stunningly naive.”