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Advance Praise for Becoming Enemies

For those seeking to understand the roots of modern enmity between the U.S. and Iran, Becoming Enemies is a truly unique and wonderful resource.

— Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

A fascinating, eye-opening book.

— Haleh Esfandiari, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Becoming Enemies provides a profound understanding ... [and] a fascinating story ... a rare "fly-on-the-wall" perspective on how ... the United States got itself into the mess it is in today in the Persian Gulf.

— Kenneth M. Pollack, Saban Center, Brookings Institution

For those who wish to understand, this book offers invaluable insights about the world's most dysfunctional relationship.

— Stephen Kinzer, best-selling author

* * *

Join us for a book launch at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Monday, October 15, 2012, 4:00-5:30 pm, 6th Floor Auditorium.

Link to the event.

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 frictionthat included direct military clashesbetween 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.


Document 1 – Cable, American Embassy Tehran to Edmund G. Muskie, "Shah's Desire to Reside in the U.S.," Secret/Cherokee, July 28, 1979

Chargé d'Affaires Bruce Laingen, writing from Tehran, believes that allowing the Shah to establish residence in the U.S. under current conditions would be "seriously prejudicial to our interests and to the security of Americans in Iran." He adds speculatively that circumstances could change by late Fall, assuming "a good deal of good fortune for all concerned."


Document 2 – Memorandum, White House, Zbigniew Brzezinski to Jimmy Carter, "The Shah," Secret, October 20, 1979

The handwritten note on this memorandum indicates that President Carter telephoned Brzezinski with his approval for admitting the Shah to the United States for medical treatment. This U.S. decision was used by Iranian demonstrators to justify seizing control of the American embassy in Tehran.


Document 3 – Alert Memorandum, Director of Central Intelligence, for the National Security Council, "Iran - Iraq," September 17, 1980

Five days before Iraq's invasion, the CIA reports on Iraqi troop movements and their seizure of territory, which analysts conclude "represent a qualitative change that increases the danger that clashes will escalate out of control." The still-classified portion of the document relates a debriefing of the source for this new intelligence - Iranian former General Oveissi, who has just arrived in the U.S. from Iraq.


Document 4 – Memorandum, White House, Zbigniew Brzezinski to Jimmy Carter, "NSC Weekly Report #156," Secret, October 3, 1980

The National Security Advisor predicts protracted conflict, which he asserts raises important policy questions while presenting strategic opportunities for consolidating the U.S. position in the Gulf. He proposes a covert approach to Iran aimed at preventing Soviet inroads and the possible disintegration of the country


Document 5 – Talking Points, State Department, "Talking Points" [for Alexander Haig meeting with Ronald Reagan], Top Secret/Sensitive, circa April 1981

The Secretary of State's planned briefing of President Reagan following his first trip to the Middle East includes a cryptic reference to "useful intelligence" he received from the region that Carter gave Baghdad "a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd."


Document 6 – Letter, Saddam Hussein to Ronald Reagan, No Classification, November 18, 1986

The Iraqi leader reacts in measured tones to the revelation of the covert U.S. arms-for-hostages deals with Iran.


Document 7 – National Intelligence Daily, DCI, [includes two reports on the war], "Iran-Iraq: Missile War Resumes" and Special Analysis "Iran-Iraq: The Chemical Warfare Issue," Top Secret, April 5, 1988

This brief report on continued missile strikes by both sides is followed by an update on chemical weapons which states that both Iran and Iraq may increasingly resort to CW use as the war continues.


Document 8 – Report, CIA, Terrorism Review, [Excerpt] "Shootdown of Iran Air 655: Will Ira Retaliate?" Secret, July 28, 1988

The CIA's annual report includes a list of possible American targets of terrorist attack reflecting a high degree of concern over possible retaliation for the accidental Airbus incident of July 3, 1988.


Document 9 – Speech, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Opening Remarks at the International Conference on Aggression and the Sacred Defense, August 1989

Former President and Majlis Speaker Rafsanjani blames the West and the Soviet Union for the outbreak of war with Iraq and cites domestic instability and political uncertainty at home as reasons for the country's weak military position at the time of Iraq's invasion.


Document 10 – Interview, Former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezaie, Baztab Magazine, Unclassified, September 28, 2006

The ex-IRGC commander claims that much of the decision-making behind the war was influenced by politics and points the finger at Rafsanjani for mixing "extraneous interests and factors" with military strategy.


Document 11 – Interview, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Aftab News Agency, Unclassified, June 21, 2008

Rafsanjani disputes Rezaie's accusation that military strategy was at the mercy of political factors for much of the war. He asserts that every decision was made according to the "needs" and "capabilities" of the armed forces and in consultation with commanders of the IRGC, including Rezaie.


Document 12 – Interview, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, "America Did Not Start the War!" Tabnak Newsmagazine, Unclassified, September 14, 2008

In an interview for a book on his political career, Hashemi Unplugged, Rafsanjani reflects on the role of outside powers during the war with Iraq, and specifically rules out the possibility of any direct American role in starting the war with Iran.


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