NSA 12 October 2012: New Book – U.S.-Iran: Lessons from an Earlier War

12 October 2012National Security Archive

New Book–Becoming Enemies–Explores Roots of the Current Crisis with Iran
Ex-Officials’ Candid Accounts & Declassified Documents Provide Fresh Details, Illuminate Ongoing Hostility

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information contact:
Malcolm Byrne – 202/994-7000 or mbyrne@gwu.edu


Washington, D.C., October 12, 2012 — As the crisis between the United States and Iran continues to spiral upwards, it becomes increasingly important to understand how the roots of the two governments’ unrelenting mutual animosity may be driving Washington and Tehran toward conflict. A new book featuring remarkably candid recollections by former U.S. officials, along with selected declassified documents, provides an original perspective on the current state of tensions by exploring one of the periods of highest friction–that included direct military clashes–between the two countries since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 was a pivotal episode in the modern Middle East, in addition to being one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent memory. For various reasons, the United States tilted toward Baghdad. Over the course of the war, Washington provided extensive diplomatic, economic and even military backing to the Iraqis, including tacit support (despite public expressions of opposition) for Baghdad‘s use of chemical weapons against Iran. These actions, punctuated by direct firefights and the accidental shoot-down of a civilian Iranian airliner, placed Washington and Tehran in direct, bitter opposition.

Becoming Enemies presents new angles with which to view those events–as well as today’s unfolding crisis. It consists of the results of an unusual conference of former U.S. officials, primarily from the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency, along with a key U.N. diplomat. The meeting was designed to get beyond the available historical record by eliciting first-person accounts, from those directly involved, of how events developed, why U.S. policy took the path that it did, and what the outcomes–intended or otherwise–were.

The participants (and their posts at the time of the war) included:
* Charles Cogan, Chief of Near East and South Asia operations at CIA
* Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State
* David Newton, U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad
* Giandomenico Picco, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for political affairs
* Tom Pickering, Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador to Israel and to the U.N.
* Bruce Riedel, Middle East expert at CIA
* Thomas Twetten, Deputy Chief, then Chief, Near East and South Asia operations at CIA

Along the way, the discussion touched on a number of sensitive issues, providing new disclosures and details about:
* The Carter administration’s decision to admit the Shah into the U.S. for medical treatment and its impact on Iranian attitudes
* U.S. awareness (or lack thereof) of Saddam Hussein’s plans to launch the invasion of Iran in September 1980
* The underlying rationales for the Reagan administration’s “tilt” toward Baghdad
* The secret U.S. provision of satellite-based intelligence to Iraq, which began in July 1982
* Washington’s deliberations surrounding the Tanker War and leading to direct U.S. Naval involvement in the Persian Gulf
* The extraordinary role played by the U.N. in helping to arrange a cease-fire

With an eye to the current standoff between Washington and Tehran, the volume also explores in depth the question of whether there were any realistic opportunities to head off the escalation of tensions and conflict during that crucial period. The consensus–yes. (The group’s views on this are laid out in detail.)

Becoming Enemies is co-authored by James G. Blight and janet Lang, (Balsillie School of International Affairs, University of Waterloo, Ontario); John Tirman (Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology); Hussein Banai (then-doctoral candidate at Brown University, currently assistant professor at Occidental College); and Malcolm Byrne (National Security Archive). Bruce Riedel, now of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, provided the Foreword.

Scholars participating in the conference on which the book is based included:
* Joyce Battle, the National Security Archive
* Tom Blanton, the National Security Archive
* Farideh Farhi, University of Hawaii-Manoa
* Mark J. Gasiorowski, Louisiana State University
* Joost Hiltermann, International Crisis Group

The conference took place at the Musgrove conference facility on St. Simons Island, Georgia.

The National Security Archive and its partners are grateful to the following for their support of the project to date: the Carnegie Corporation of New York; an anonymous family at MIT; the Arca Foundation, and especially the hospitality of the Brenn Foundation’s Musgrove facility; and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Conference and Study Center.

Check out today’s posting at the National Security Archive website – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20121012/

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Unredacted, the Archive blog – http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/

THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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