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Ex-Sen. Bob Graham: Iran Strikes Could Spark World War III

Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- After Sept. 11, 2001, while the Bush administration, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and others were warning of the grave threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq, one senator was warning that the real threat to America lay with Iran.

The Iranian-supported terrorist group Hezbollah "is a much more immediate threat to the security of the United States of America, in my judgment, than Saddam Hussein," Sen. Bob Graham declared in July 2002.

And within weeks of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Graham said: "Iran has a larger warehouse of chemical and biological weapons and is closer to gaining nuclear weapons capability than Iraq."

Today Graham, a Florida Democrat, is retired from the Senate but he is still speaking out on foreign policy and intelligence matters. He is an Institute of Politics fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In an exclusive interview with NewsMax, Graham warns that the growing crisis in Iran is reaching a boiling point. He says military action by the United States against Iran's nuclear facilities could spark World War III.

Graham suggests that the Bush administration ignored Iran for years, and now America faces difficult options in dealing with this rogue state.

In 2004, Graham authored "Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America's War on Terror" with Jeff Nussbaum (Random House).

In "Intelligence Matters," Graham blasted the Bush administration for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and warned that several more severe threats facing the United States were getting short shrift, including Iran and its nuclear programs.

Today Graham's views are popular among rank-and-file Democrats. But he may have been ahead of his time when he made an unsuccessful bid for his party's nomination for president in 2004 on an anti-Iraq war platform.

Last week, NewsMax contributing editor Kenneth R. Timmerman caught up with Graham to discuss the growing crisis with Iran and other matters.

Graham: Vindicated, no. However, it does indicate another instance where this administration has had a perverted sense of priorities. It was my feeling in 2002 that there were several evils in the Middle East that were more threatening to U.S. interests than Iraq.

We skipped over Iran, which was much further along in its development of WMD than Iraq turned out to be. We skipped over Hezbollah, which is probably going to be the shock forces of Iran in its support of the Shiites. We skipped over Hamas, which has now taken over the Palestinian government and announced establishment of a rogue military unit.

All those were clearly greater threats to the U.S. than Iraq, but we decided to not only spend our resources on Iraq but pay the price on ignoring the greater threats, and that price is now being paid.

Graham: The administration had a mindset that it wanted to go to war with Saddam Hussein without regard to the relative severity of his threat. I think it was a combination of people who were involved in the first Gulf War and didn't finish the war then, by letting Saddam Hussein retreat back to Baghdad.

Others who had the idea that Iraq was the key to a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East; and others who were concerned that war in Afghanistan was going to be more difficult than they had anticipated and were looking for an excuse to divert attention from Afghanistan.

The war with Iraq was one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history, at least since the end of World War II.

Graham: I don't know. The announcement recently that they had used centrifuges to enrich uranium, if true, suggests that they have passed one of the major tests of their ability to develop nuclear weapons. The caveat is, is it true?

We accepted various representations out of Iraq as if they were true. Cheney and Rumsfeld said there is absolutely no question that Saddam Hussein has WMD. But what we learned just before the vote on the war was that we had no Americans in Iraq capable of verifying if these statements made mainly by the exile community were valid. In the end, they turned out to be invalid.

The same thing is true, I suspect, in Iran today – that we have limited if any ability to verify the true state of affairs. This is also hurting us in building an international alliance relative to Iran and its nuclear capabilities, because Bush effectively misled us into Iraq. Why should we believe him now?

Graham: You can't apply the normal standards of rationality to a government that is led by such extremist religious beliefs as is the Iranian government. If they have some degree of rationality, one thing we ought to be emphasizing to them is that the consequence of them using a nuclear weapon against the United States or any or its allies is annihilation.

The threat of mutual destruction was a significant factor in the non-use of nuclear weapons in the 40 years of the Cold War. I think we have to send a powerful message to Iran and North Korea that if they attack, their society will be attacked.

I asked the administration this same question when I was in the Senate. I asked, "Is it your belief that the Iranians or North Koreans believe that if they develop and use a nuclear weapon against the U.S. or a U.S. ally, they would be obliterated?" The answer we heard back from the administration was, we don't know. To me, that was the most chilling area of ignorance. That's an area where there should be no temporizing.

At this stage, we must clearly indicate to Iran our capability and state that we have the will to use that capacity.

This is yet another area where our policies in Iraq have hurt us: Our credibility. The Soviets didn't have any question that if they fired on us they would be obliterated, because they believed the credibility of our political leadership. How you restore that credibility with this administration, I don't know. I suspect that it's not subject to being resuscitated.

Graham: If we come to the point where the question is do we use military capabilities to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities and aspirations, or do we decide as we have with North Korea to live with it and try to contain it, that would be one of the worst choices a U.S. president would have to make. The consequences of attacking Iran could be, probably would be, to enflame the Middle East and Central Asia. It could be the beginning of World War III. So it's a very very serious option.

Graham: We may be working ourselves into a position where we ask which of two horrendous options are we going to accept. We need to look at the consequences of a military attack. We wouldn't be attacking a poor country of 25 million people as was Iraq, but a rich country with 60 million people and with two to three times the income as Iraq. Iran is a serious adversary.

Graham: We both have significant countervailing forces against the other. In 2002 and 2003 it was well known that not only did North Korea have nuclear weapons, but it had a delivery capability that would reach our allies in South Korea and Japan and was trying to get delivery that would reach Alaska and Hawaii. It was also known that the North Koreans were close to if not at the point of producing nuclear weapons on an assembly-line basis, so we wouldn't be talking about four or five weapons but multiples of that in just a matter of months.

Iraq was a country we said was trying to rebuild that capability, but was at least five years away. So what do we do? We use diplomacy with North Korea, and with Iraq, which didn't have the bomb, we invade. If I were a tyrant, the message that would send to me is that the insurance policy against invasion by the Americans is to get the bomb. So we have created a very powerful incentive by our own actions for countries like Iran to get the bomb.

Graham: Our failure since the early 1970s, when we had the first oil shock, to take any serious steps to reduce our dependence has contributed to our potential of being held hostage by not only Iran, but ... Venezuela [where Hugo Chavez has turned] from an annoyance to a very serious challenge in our own hemisphere.

There's a long list of things we should be doing, but high on that list is developing alternative sustainable sources of energy to reduce our use of energy.

Graham: I've not been close enough to have an informed judgment these last three years. It's probably a little premature.

In a list of the major challenges facing our intel agencies I'd put rebuilding our human intel capabilities. We've made some steps.

Mr. Negroponte released information that we have 100,000 people working in our intel agencies. I can tell you that at the pace we are now producing the next generation of a very depleted and culturally and linguistically deficient intel corps, it's going to be a long time before we have the people inside a place like Iran to have comfort about what's going on there.

Another challenge is to focus on missions rather than on stovepipe-like functions. In legislation that created Negroponte's position, Congress set up a counterterrorism program that would draw on resources of all functional agencies. As of last week, the CIA had yet to join in that community-wide effort. So you've got your human intelligence agency not participating in what's supposed to be the major intel effort to understand and confront terrorism. That's disappointing.

Third, one of the big issues that came out of the 9/11 inquiry was the inability or unwillingness of intel agencies to communicate with each other. As of three months ago, the FBI was no further along in dealing with its part of that problem than it was before 9/11.

I think those are some of the parts of the report card. So I'd give him an incomplete and say: You've got the equivalent of one more semester.

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WASHINGTON -- After Sept. 11, 2001, while the Bush administration, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and others were warning of the grave threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq, one senator was warning that the real threat to America lay with Iran. The...
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Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM
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