By coincidence, I was in the very hotel in Geneva as the world’s media descended for the next day’s talks on Iran. Judging by the excited war-babble of the Fox, Sky and CNN correspondents, the scene was set for a showdown.
The cold war with Iran, warmed up by the Pittsburgh moment when the US, Britain and France “revealed” the existence of a “secret” Iranian nuclear facility in Qom (in fact declared by Iran a full year before they were required to under the IAEA rules), seemed set to go nuclear – metaphorically, one hopes.
In fact, by the end of the day both the US and Iranian foreign ministers were hailing the outcome as “productive” (Clinton) and “constructive” (Mottaki). You could almost feel the disappointment among the fox-hole journalists and in the British, French and German camps.
Most media reaction, including the BBC’s, to news that Iran had revealed a second facility was ominously reminiscent of their mendacious complicity over Iraq. Sober interventions by the head of the international nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, that there was no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons programme were brushed aside. The testing by Iran of a missile within its borders was treated as if the Kaiser had ordered a Zeppelin over Edwardian London.
On full parade was Britain’s post-empire arrogance, which treats a sophisticated state as an errant child in need of a good slap from an authoritarian parent. But the hubris of six years ago, when US neocons debated which to attack next – Syria or Iran – while imagining they had already pacified Afghanistan and Iraq, was largely absent from Washington; though not, it should be noted, from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, who have been like bellicose understudies for Bush and Blair.
Throughout this year they and Gordon Brown have ratcheted up confrontation with Iran just as President Obama sought public diplomacy.
The Gevena meeting, heavily influenced by Russia and China, provides a space for that. It even led to Iranian calls for a summit between Obama and President Ahmadinejad. The very suggestion will bring howls from the hawks on Capitol Hill and from the bomberatti who have yet to apologise for their role in the Iraq disaster.
And therein lies the rub. The pressure for a more aggressive policy, not least from Israel and its supporters, towards Iran and others has not gone away. What the hawks oppose is Iran playing any major role in the region, though that is exactly the position it has been bequeathed thanks to the war on Iraq and the alliances of convenience the occupation has had to forge there.
They now risk the same outcome in Afghanistan. The US top brass are pushing for large new deployments into a country which has been the graveyard of armies. Nato’s commander in Kabul, General McChrystal, wants maybe 40,000 more troops. If he gets his way, Britain is likely to follow. And all into killing fields from which there is no exit strategy or clear idea of why we are there. Hamid Karzai’s election carve-up put paid to claims that the occupation would bring democracy. When Brown next reads out the names of British dead, he might like to tell us why he sent them there to die.
Talking peace with Iran while pursuing a hopeless war in another of its neighbours is a policy for chaos.
George Galloway, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.