Never Taking Yes for an Answer Gary Leupp / May 22nd, 2010
No policy of the Obama administration better illustrates its fundamental mendacity than its policy of bullying Iran. In this the administration is Bush/Cheney Regime, Part II. The Post-9/11 Geopolitical Power Grab, Continued. The March of Folly: the sequel.
Obama, in his very first press conference following the election, was asked his response to Iranian leader Ahmadinejad’s congratulatory letter. He replied, changing the subject: “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.” It was a clear signal to the outgoing administration and its neocon masters of the Big Lie that he would persevere in their crusade to topple the Tehran government, using the convenient ploy of nuclear fear-mongering.
“Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon…is unacceptable.” That assumes that Iran is trying to get one. This rootless assumption was relentlessly promoted by the disinformation specialists nested in the Office of the Vice President throughout the Bush administration. The same ones who insisted that al-Qaeda had an intimate relationship with Saddam Hussein, that Iraq was procuring uranium from Niger, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, etc. (Outrageous lies Obama has never wanted to investigate, urging us all to just “move on” and thus forgive the prevaricators and ignore all the blood on their hands.)
Bush’s State Department had initially responded positively to Iranian overtures for rapprochement, including the remarkable 2003 offer most Americans have probably never heard about. That initiative, conveyed to the U.S. through the Swiss ambassador to the country, entailed talks designed to reopen diplomatic and trade ties, commit Iran to a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, end Iranian support for Hamas and Hizbollah, and alleviate U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Flynt Leverett, then a senior director on the National Security Council staff , has called it “a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.” Secretary of State Colin Powell was receptive.
But Vice President Dick Cheney, countermanding Powell — whom he had used in 2002 to deliver the false testimony about Iraq to the UN — rejected it out of hand. He even berated the Swiss ambassador and warned him from ever again troubling the U.S. with such a bothersome communication. (Isn’t it odd, by the way, that during the Bush/Cheney years the Office of the Vice President, traditionally a rather ceremonial institution, acquired such power while maintaining such secrecy, defiantly refusing to divulge to appropriate authorities even the number of confidential documents in its bloated files?)
Cheney made it U.S. policy to insist that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Chief talking point, crafted by Cheney’s super-secretive office: Iran has so much oil, thus no need for nuclear energy. The purpose for the program can only be military.
Cheney banked (successfully) on people’s ignorance of history. But the flaw of this line of reasoning has been well-exposed to any with eyes to see and ears to hear. The peaceful nuclear program was begun under the Shah when he was a reliable tool of the U.S. It was initiated under the U.S.’s “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s and encouraged by successive U.S. administrations into the 1970s. U.S. corporations such as General Electric were intimately involved in its development. The nuclear reactor that produces medical isotopes for treating cancer patients, at the center of the recent Brazil-Turkey-Iran uranium enrichment deal, was built by the U.S.
When the Shah was in power, there was no talk of Iran’s nuclear program having the sole and obvious purpose of producing nuclear weapons. Iran was and is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It sought, as it now seeks, with Russian support, nuclear energy for electric power generation. Its supply of oil will likely run out within decades, and in any case, Iran seeks to sell its oil to generate capital for national development.
The charge has nothing to do with empirical reality. The entire U.S. intelligence community, 16 agencies including the CIA and military intelligence agencies, issued a “National Intelligence Estimate” in late 2007 (delayed a year due to Cheney’s obstruction) concluding “with high confidence” that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” (The Russian foreign minister questioned whether there had ever been such a program, noting that Russian intelligence hadn’t concluded such. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter also expressed doubts. It’s quite possible that the positing of a historical nuclear weapons program was inserted at Cheney’s insistance to validate in some measure his wild accusations.) Top intelligence officials continue to endorse this assessment, although under enormous pressure to “fix the facts around policy.” (That, by the way, is how British intelligence characterized the U.S. propaganda campaign against Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.)
This isn’t about the rational assessment of reality but about fear-mongering, Goebbels style ( “…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism…”) And it’s worked. A CNN poll in Febuary 2010 found that 71% of U.S. residents believe that Iran already has nuclear weapons. The professionals, the IAEA, say repeatedly there’s no evidence even for a military program. But the “Bomb Iran” faction in the U.S. ruling elite, cynically aware of how gullible people can be, has persuaded most of the American people that there’s not just a program but actual nukes!
A quarter of this malleable mass would back military action now, and “if economic and diplomatic efforts fail” (meaning: if Obama and the New York Times can convince them the U.S. has gone that last mile to defuse an unproven threat) 57% would support a U.S. attack. These figures should sicken anyone reading this. (On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found that 54% supported an invasion without UN authorization. Most had been brainwashed into thinking Iraq was somehow connected to 9-11.)
These bellicose people are not stupid, of course, merely misinformed and misled, victims of a culture of cowboy violence, The mainstream press has not emphasized the fact that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never found an iota of evidence for a military program. Instead it has embraced a program of demonization. Any new item of disinformation funnelled it by those hell-bent on vilifying Iran, from the preposterous allegation that the Iranian parliament was considering a bill to badge Jews, to the charge that Iran is backing the Taliban in Afghanistan, to the claim that Iran is harboring al-Qaeda, receives respectful treatment. Thus the barrage of accusations — even those immediately discredited — produce the desired effect on an impressional public. And the media has been deeply complicit in efforts to blur any distinction between Iran’s Shiite republicanism and radical Sunni dreams of a global emirate.
With Congress it is a somewhat different matter. The legislators aren’t so much producing lies as amicably humoring and abetting the liars. This means maintaining a comfortable distance from researched reality. In the fall of 2006 Jeff Stein of the Congressional Quarterly interviewed key legislators and intelligence officials involved with foreign policy, asking them if they knew the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni. His premise was that to develop a reasoned opinion about U.S. policy in Southwest Asia one had to know some basic facts about the region. Religious differences make certain alignments all but unthinkable. Iran almost went to war with the ferociously anti-Shiite Taliban in 1999. Al-Qaeda does not recognize Shiites as real Muslims and despises the Tehran regime with a passion.
The response of Representative Terry Everett, seven-term Alabama Republican, then vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, was typical. “One’s in one location, another’s in another location,” he told Stein, chuckling. “No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.” Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican heading a House intelligence subcommittee, ventured, “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia… Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni. I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”
No hint of of embarrassment. Team players conflating disparate groups in order to attack them as “Evil” or “Terror” don’t need to do much homework, or ask their staffs to research such obscure questions. Indeed, such questions produce umbrage. FBI spokesman John Miller berated Stein for the “cheap shot” of “playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit.’”
What a damning statement. The differences between Muslims are trivial? That’s like saying that differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants in modern Europe have been trivial. This is willful ignorance, the stubborn desire to avoid inconvenient truths such as the fact that Shiite-Sunni differences virtually preclude Iranian involvement in al-Qaeda terrorism. The fact is, the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. generated a wave of sympathy for the U.S. in Iran, and thousands demonstrated their solidarity with the American people, not al-Qaeda. Iran moreover provided intelligence to the U.S. as it undertook its invasion of Afghanistan.
Time and again Congress has passed resolutions, with near unanimity, calling for sterner actions against Iran. AIPAC, however scandal-tainted, can boast an endless record of success in shaping legislators’ actions against Iran. Not only does Iran definitely have a nuclear weapons program, argues this unregistered foreign lobby group, but once it has a weapon it will surely use it against Israel, to inflict a “nuclear holocaust”! This foisting of a Big Lie on the American people is one of AIPAC’s greatest recent triumphs as it campaigns for the U.S. to bomb Iran on nuclear Israel’s behalf.
The current plan is advocated by Dennis Ross, advisor to the president on Iran working out of the White House for the National Security Agency. He has been in the Obama inner circle since the campaign — Obama’s neocon. Ross, whom a Jewish colleague in the State Department involved in U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations once matter-of-factly labelled “Israel’s lawyer,” says: “Everybody needs to worry about Iran.” The plan involves imposing sanctions on Iran including an embargo on the export of gas to the country: an act of war designed to provoke a response justifying a massive assault destroying not just nuclear facilities but the entire government infrastructure.
Uncomfortable with U.S. plans, which are bound to further destabilize the region, Europe proposed a deal whereby Iran would send most of its low-enriched (3.5%) uranium to Russia, where the enrichment process for electricity producing purposes (20%) would be completed. Russia would then send the uranium to France for conversion into fuel rods before being sent back to Iran. This would alleviate any fears about Iranian enrichment plans prior to the activation of a nuclear reactor designed for medical research. The Iranians expressed interest, but also mistrust of the French, who had reneged on agreements with them in the past. The U.S., along with Britain and Germany, backed the European deal, if grudgingly, indeed demanded that Iran agree in order to stave off further sanctions. The UN backed it as well. The Iranians, however, declined to accept it last fall, citing specific concerns.
In the last week, following energetic diplomacy by Brazil and Turkey, both temporary members of the UN Security Council, it was announced that Iran would accept a version of the European plan. But Turkey, rather than Russia, would receive the low-enriched uranium. That’s (from the traditional State Department standpoint) secular Muslim Turkey, U.S. ally, NATO member, EU applicant. Friend of Israel as well as Iran. From the Iranian point of view, perhaps, an honest broker.
If Washington were sincere, there would have been champagne toasts last week in the White House. Finally, this problem’s resolved! But no! There were dour faces. “Too little, too late,” says one top official. “Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program,” says Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, “we continue to have serious concerns.” Indeed, in worried anticipation of the Brazil-Turkey-Iran deal, the U.S. announced that the permanent Security Council members plus Germany had agreed on a new round of sanctions against Iran. Just saying this doesn’t make it so, and indeed the deal might quash the plot to bully the “international community” into backing Washington’s regime-change plot.
Washington is irked at both Brazil and Turkey for betraying the anti-Iran cause and even threatens to retaliate by opposing a permanent Brazilian seat on the Security Council and backing off on support for Turkey’s admission into the EU. Typical thuggery.
If Obama does diss the new agreement, the dishonesty of his Iran policy should be apparent to all. The real intention — the toppling of a third government in Muslim Southwest Asia, the better to establish long-term U.S. hegemony — ought to be plain. And the real character of the Obama administration, as yet another regime dependent on the manipulation of opinion via big lies and fear-mongering, ought also to become clear — even (hopefully, especially) in the minds of sometime supporters.
This is not the promised “change,” but more of the same. There is no “hope” here, but rather cause for deep foreboding. The same sort of foreboding, so soon validated, that many of us felt as of early 2003. But what to do? Calls to “your” Congressman/woman won’t do anything. Electing more people who pretend to be (sort of) anti-war won’t do jack-shit if their sense of political “realism” (and in Obama’s case, instinctive inclination towards “conciliation” with the most vicious proponants of ongoing aggression) causes them, upon taking office, to jump in bed with the military-industrial complex. And that is the norm, the default mode. The sincere anti-imperialist cannot survive long in Congress, any more than a freshwater fish in salt water.
Hope-spinner Obama’s capitulation to the liars shows that real change is hopeless under the status quo, that this system that never really triumphed after the collapse of “communism” in 1991 has just tread water, swimming into deepening crisis. Capitalism isn’t healthy. Capitalist imperialism isn’t healthy. U.S. imperialism specifically is in trouble, although Europe, whose share of the world economy now exceeds that of the U.S., is also in deep shit.
It would be so nice (think some) to buy some time for the teetering U.S. by conquering what the neocons call “the Greater Middle East.” But that means explaining the project to the people of this country. That gets really hard to do after Iran says “Yes” to what — up until last week — was a U.S.-backed offer.
* Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history.