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Criticism of David Crist's book Twilight War
Editor's note: David Crist is a US "government historian" and adviser to the United States Central Command. His recent book: THE TWILIGHT WAR The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran has just been published.
Having perused the much-lauded book by David Crist, I can't help but notice that it is not only light on citations but the material on Iran, and Iran's nuclear program in particular, is either flat wrong or merely a reinforcement of conventional wisdom, doused in a good bit of innuendo and credulously passed along as fact with barely an acknowledgement of contrary information. This is exacerbated by his status as a "government historian" as well as someone with personal connections and knowledge of the events covered in the book, which when coupled with the dearth of citations makes it hard to tell whether he's writing a personal memoir, official history, or a dramatic thriller.
I'm of course not in a position to check the accuracy of his characterizations of what people like Rice, Cheney, Abrams, or the generals in Baghdad knew, thought, felt or believed especially about military matters -- though apparently he is. However I can cite three examples on the Iran situation which do not match up to the known public record:
First, on page 500 he asserts that Ahmadinejad restared Iran's enrichment program. This is one of those oft-repeated claims that has taken on the status of fact through repetition(1), the implication being that 'that guy', the 'hardline president', showed up and ruined it all.
However, Iran had announced the definite decision to end the freeze in a bitter letter to the IAEA on Aug 1st, before Ahmadinejad was sworn-in on Aug 6th. And, the Iranians had repeatedly warned that they planned to do so even before the 2005 elections started (2). In fact on July 18th, Hassan Rowhani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, wrote a letter to the EU3 specifically informing them that the election had no effect on Iran's negotiating position, that the process had the continued support of "both the President and the President-elect" as well as other agencies and officials, and warning them that they should not use the opportunity to back out of the negotiations nor make an offer which was intended to be rejected.
It is true the IAEA seals were broken on Aug 10th, just days after Ahmadinejad took office on Aug 6th. The actual resumption of enrichment was delayed because the IAEA had requested time to re-install their monitoring equipment -- but it is simply incorrect to say that "Ahmadinejad restarted enrichment" and indeed I wonder if Ahmadinejad even had the legal authority to issue such orders since the nuclear program did not fall under the exclusive control of the President.
Meanwhile, absent from Crist's account of affairs are the many Iranian compromise proposals that were put forth from 2003-2005, which included placing additional restrictions on the nuclear program well beyond what the NPT or even the Additional Protocol require (including an upper limit on enrichment) -- or that all of these offers were summarily rejected due to Sec of State Rice's insistence that "not a single spinning centrifuge" should exist in Iran. Months before Ahmadinejad's election, the EU-3 had already agreed with the US to refer Iran's file to the UNSC should Iran ever restart enrichment, contrary to EU's promise to recognize Iran's right to enrichment under the prior Paris Agreement and Saadabad Declaration -- another fact that goes unmentioned by Crist. The whole affair is simply stripped of any such context or nuance and instead we're told that Ahmadinejad came along and restarted enrichment. This is hardly a minor point
because the lesson to the Iranians was clear from this whole fiasco for the Khatami administration, in which the enrichment program was set back for 3 years with nothing to show for it.
Furthermore, on the whole plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador affair, Crist seems to have already tried and convicted the accused used car salesman/ alleged hitman Arbabsiar. In fact he tells us that Arbabsiar's handler in the Al-Qods force thought he had to rely on Arbabsiar since he didn't have any other active operatives in the US, but felt that he could rely on Arbabsiar nontheless since the two were related. How Crist knows what Arbabsiar's handler knew, felt, or believed -- or if the handler is really related to Arbabsiar or even if he exists -- is never explained. Crist simply treats this whole assassination plot as established fact, with not even a pretence of any critical analysis or use of hedging language such as "allegedly" or "reportedly". This, even before Mr Arbabsiar has had his day in court.
Finally, on the Khobar Towers bombing, again Crist seems to pass along the established conventional wisdom without reference to contrary facts or information. He claims that Khatami wrote a letter in response to the allegations by the US in a "typically Persian" fashion, denying Iran's involvement and yet promising that the situation would not happen again. However, Khatami's letter is a matter of public record and can been found online(4). Not even a tortured reading of the letter even implies any such implied acknowledgment by Khatami of Iranian involvement at Khobar. While Crist proclaims that the Iranians had "once again" escaped any consequences for killing Americans, no reference is made to contrary information such as US Defense Sec William Perry's statements in 2007 that the evidence actually pointed to Al-Qaeda(5).
Other bits of innuendo: He assures us that the Bush administration "had no doubt about the intentions of the nuclear program" because the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak is "similar to" such reactors in other countries that have nuclear weapons programs -- nevermind that any structural similarity is simply due to the fact that the laws of physics equally apply to Iran as well as other parts of the world, or that Iran's nuclear program including the reactor at Arak are subject to IAEA monitoring under the terms of Iran's safeguards agreement (the dispute about the site is precisely when Iran should formally declare the site to the IAEA: before construction starts as required by the enhanced safeguards that Iran voluntarily implemented for a time as a good faith gesture, or 180-days prior to the introduction fissile material as required by the basic safeguards agreement. Nevertheless the Iranians have already allowed the IAEA visits
to the construction site. Furthermore, heavy water is itself not "nuclear material" and therefore falls outside of the IAEA's legal inspection authority.)
I must emphasize that I only perused the book but didn't read it cover-to-cover, and don't plan to do so.
(1) For example: "The freeze lasted until August of 2005 when the newly elected President Ahmadinejad restarted the program." http://www.carnegieendowment.org/static/npp/Jill_Iran_fact_1_Oct_sheet_1.pdf
(2) "Iran to Resume Nuclear Plans, Official States at U.N. Conference" - NY Times, May 4th 2005; "FM Kharrazi: Iran determined resume uranium enrichment activities" AFP Mar 1 2005.
(3) Message from Dr. Rohani to E3/EU Ministers, July 18, 2005 http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/20050718_Iran_Rowhani_EU3.pdf
(4) Iranian Response to Clinton Letter, undated, early September 1999. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB318/doc03.pdf
(5) "Perry: U.S. eyed Iran attack after bombing" UPI, June 6 2007 http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2007/06/06/Perry-US-eyed-Iran-attack-after-bombing/UPI-70451181161509/