Posts Tagged 'Iran'

When the leaders speak of peace … Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

As Brecht wrote:

When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

Monthly Review MRzine July 22, 2010

Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

By Darwin BondGraham

No medium of propaganda is as powerful and effective as film.  Think of the classics, the most notorious efforts to sway the public with the electrifying and collective passion of cinema: racial apartheid was justified in the US with Birth of a Nation.  The Soviets glorified their revolution with The Battleship Potemkin.  Then there was Triumph of the Will.

A typical propaganda film tugs at emotions and invokes fears.  It invokes dark threats to “the people,” and it offers up solutions extolling state and corporate power.  Unlike a political documentary it will not criticize the state or corporations.  Instead it will celebrate great men as our leaders and saviors.  Distinct from a run-of-the-mill political documentary, a propaganda film butchers the complexity and contradictions that permeate politics and real life, presenting things in simplistic moral terms.  Functionally, propaganda is mobilized to secure popular support for a primary, often hidden agenda that is not apparent in the film’s narrative.  Propaganda is a tool used by elites to secure the consent of the masses, channeling their anxieties.

Now hitting theaters is one of the most dangerous propaganda films produced in decades.  Countdown to Zero “traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs.”  A promotional blurb on the film’s web site claims that it “makes a compelling case for worldwide nuclear disarmament, an issue more topical than ever with the Obama administration working to revive this goal today.”

Before I go any further in explaining Countdown as a propaganda film I should note that not all propaganda need be the product of a secretive and manipulative council of elites behind some curtain.  Instead, the many contributors to Countdown and its promotional efforts have different motivations and intentions.  What makes this film a coherent piece of propaganda is its medium, style, and likely effects on the US political climate.  There are powerful actors who will use it for nefarious ends.

On its surface Countdown to Zero is about nuclear disarmament, but deeper down the film is making a very specific case that isn’t about disarmament at all.  Its political function will prove to be quite different.  Countdown is joining a suite of political campaigns and other propagandistic efforts, the point of which is to build support for increased US spending on nuclear weapons, as well as a more belligerent foreign policy, based around Islamophobic depictions of “terrorists” and “rogue states.”  Countdown is likely to be used by hawks to drum up support for military action against Iran, North Korea, and other states that would dare to transgress the current near-monopoly that a handful of states have on the bomb.

To understand how this is possible, one has to break through the simplistic and moralizing presentation of issues in the film and its promotional materials, and explore the complex political situation into which it is being launched.

The first and most important thing to understand is that the Obama administration does not have a disarmament agenda.  Because the entire moral thrust of the film rests on this notion, it’s important to dispel it right off the bat.  Obama and his military advisers have made their nuclear ambitions abundantly clear on multiple occasions.

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review in no significant way changed the nuclear force structure or use doctrines.  The NPR makes it abundantly clear that US national security is founded on the nuclear “deterrent” and that no one in government will seek to reduce the role of nukes in the foreseeable future.

The recently negotiated New START treaty does not significantly cut the US and Russian arsenals.  In fact the treaty language secures an allowance for US “missile defense” programs as well as the “prompt global strike” weapons system while consolidating the US stockpile and reaffirming existing strategic agreements with Russia that are about balance.  As noted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the irony here is that the Senate’s possible ratification of New START is premised on the Obama administration’s pledge to fund US nuclear weapons programs upwards of $180 billion over the next ten years, something even George W. Bush could not accomplish.  The down payment for the next fiscal year includes a $624 million surge in nuke spending, for a total of $7.01 billion.  The administration foresees spending more than $1 billion each year to refurbish and upgrade existing warheads and bombs.  To support New START requires accepting these huge infrastructural and programmatic investments in nuclear weapons, far into the future.

To put it more simply, the debate in Washington revolves around two camps fighting over how large an increase in nuclear weapons spending there will be.  At this point in time all agree on expending billions more.  All agree on building a new plutonium pit factory, a new uranium processing facility, a new components factory, and five other major capital projects in the nuclear weapons complex to extend the US nuclear enterprise half a decade or more into the future.  Most agree on procuring a new class of nuclear equipped submarines.  Most agree on new ballistic missiles.  Everyone seems to be fine with upgrading warheads and bombs.

Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the cosmetic cuts to the stockpile that will be made under the auspices of New START.  Senate Republicans have circled their wagons to demand greater funding increases in consideration of ratification, and given all of the agreements they have with the Democrats and the Obama administration over expanding the weapons complex, they are actually correct.  In order to carry out this bi-partisan nuclear arms buildup, quite a bit more than a $1 billion per year boost (at its peak) will be needed for the NNSA‘s budget, especially as inflation eats into the real value of future year budgets.

Determining the future of the US nuclear weapons complex is a tricky balancing act for the foreign policy elite because it is embedded in a larger set of much more important goals.  The overriding goal of foreign policy for the United States, with respect to nuclear weapons, is to maintain control of nuclear weapons and materials.  Forget lofty ideas like disarmament.  Lofty moral oughts only matter with respect to the realpolitik of geo-strategy (and this is where Countdown comes in, as we shall see).

To elite strategists who will decide at the end of the day, the power of nuclear weapons only matter within, and comprise a small part of, a much greater geopolitical game.  Henry Kissinger made this very point in 1957 with his first book, the subject being the role of nuclear weapons in US foreign policy.  Controlling resources, energy supplies, and access to geo-strategic regions for US corporations and allies is the primary goal of US foreign policy, and this requires a stable imbalance of powers, with the US the weightier.

Nuclear weapons are problematic today because they remain a necessary means of overpowering other nations and intimidating foes, but they have also become a liability as other states threaten to go nuclear in order to restore balance to a unipolar world.  A blatant display of American hypocrisy is seen as a major weakness for the maintenance of American power by liberal imperialists like Obama.  Conservatives like Senator Jon Kyl would rather just avoid soft power altogether and stick to a hard-nosed defense policy.

This is why US policy with respect to Iran seems so disjointed and paralyzed.  Iran possesses immense energy resources, it straddles a region of geo-strategic importance, and its influence and power is growing.  For US elites, Iran must be controlled at all cost.  A nuclear Iran would make this much, much more difficult.  Regime change is the goal, just like in Iraq.  Nonproliferation as an end in itself seems to offer the most justifiable reason for using force and “rebuilding” nations (remember that it was the reason given for the 2003 invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq).  But with its Bush-era reputation of seeking new nukes, liberals fear, the United States can hardly coerce or attack Iran in the name of nonproliferation.  The US being the world’s preeminent nuclear power with no interest in disarming, that would be bald hypocrisy.  But then again the US will not disarm, for this would be anathema to the needs and goals of the foreign policy elite.  What to do?

Into this mix arrives Countdown to Zero and similarly crafted propaganda pieces.  Countdown‘s major achievement is repackaging the strategy of anti-nuclear nuclearism into a sexy and thrilling propaganda film full of special effects and heart-pulsing music.  It will invoke fear of nuclear weapons to justify aggression, war, and the extension of US control over much of the rest of the world.

While the film’s title and a lot of the fanfare surrounding it emphasizes the “zero” message of disarmament, Countdown is actually an alarmist portrayal of dark-skinned men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and other racial or ethnic bogeymen who we are told, over the span of 90 minutes, are seeking nuclear weapons to use against the American people.  A related theme in the film is the demonization of Iran and North Korea which are portrayed as dangerous rogue states with ties to terrorist organizations, and who must be controlled, against whom military action may be warranted — or else.  Or else what?

One of the main “experts” in Countdown to Zero, Joseph Cirincione frames the take home message at the outset by invoking a very post-9-11 Bush administration theme:

“That day changed our sense of security and how we view the world.  We learned how vulnerable we are to the destructive acts of a determined few.  Just think how worse it would have been if the terrorist had nuclear weapons.”

Cirincione is not just any expert.  He is the doyen of the Democratic Party’s NGO apparatus that shapes nuclear weapons policy through foundation funding of grassroots groups and elite policy shops.  Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund.  In spite of its name, Ploughshares’ mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords.

Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons.  In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced.  Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives.  Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry.  Those NGOs that obeyed the consolidation period survived with funding and access to media, so long as they kissed the ring.

Ploughshares was at the center of it all.  Today the Fund’s priorities are shaped by its board of directors made up of Democratic Party donors, other foundation executives, and liberal academics.  The Fund’s advisers include men like George Shultz, the former Bechtel president who served as Reagan’s Secretary of State, and former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and William Perry.  The last is actually a board member of the for-profit corporations that manage the nation’s two nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Livermore.  You figure it out.

Ploughshares’ adviser and propagandist Jeff Skoll is president of Participant Media, one of the production companies behind Countdown to Zero. The film’s co-producer, the World Security Institute (a major recipient of Ploughshares Fund dollars), tapped its Global Zero project membership to narrate the film through dozens of interviews with the likes of elder statesmen and NGO executives like Cirincione who are very friendly to the Obama administration’s nuclear buildup.

Participant Media is a full service propaganda shop for liberal campaigns, producing both documentaries and dramas.  In addition to the benchmark documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Participant is responsible for some very excellent and thoughtful films like Syriana, Food, Inc., and The Cove.  And this is where complexity comes in.  Some of the producers and voices featured in Countdown to Zero have wonderful intentions, and all of them are probably genuinely concerned with, and fear, the possible day that nuclear weapons might be used, whether by a state or by a criminal group.  Herein also is the propagandistic danger of Countdown to Zero.

Albert Camus once wrote that “the evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”  Backed with a lot of foundation money, the producers of Countdown to Zero have paid organizers across the US to do considerable outreach for the film, whipping up interest on Facebook and other social media and generally co-opting the energies and intentions of many anti-nuclear activists.  Countdown premiers July 23 and will be shown in theaters across the US.  Many screenings are being organized by activists whose intentions are unimpeachable, if naive.

What audiences are going to learn from Countdown to Zero is that nuclear weapons are a threat today because the bad guys might get a hold of them.  They’ll learn that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons, which is their sworn duty; that highly enriched uranium is easy to smuggle; that “we are on the verge of a nuclear 9-11″; that tens of thousands of pounds of uranium are stored under virtually no security around the globe.  In other words they’ll learn that dark scary men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and anarchists are trying to kill them with nuclear weapons, and that nations like Iran and North Korea will gladly assist them.  Their feelings of revulsion for nuclear weapons will be stimulated and channeled against these dark enemies of civilization.

What they’ll learn about US nuclear weapons and policy, if it is discussed in any real and honest depth at all, is that better control and management is needed, a slightly smaller arsenal is desirable.  But mostly they’ll learn to just trust our leaders: everything will turn out alright so long as the proper authorities are in power.  Joseph Cirincione will eagerly explain to audiences that George Shulz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn are hard at work to “secure” our nuclear weapons.  It all sounds great, but the “four horsemen,” as they have come to be known, are actually among the biggest lobbyists for the surge in nuclear weapons spending and the construction of a new US nuclear weapons complex.

In a promotional video attached to the START ratification effort Cirincione urges viewers to “join this patriotic consensus” toward zero.  In a recent op-ed, he has urged Senate ratification of New START, writing, “The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America’s leadership on this urgent security challenge.”  The capital C Consensus he’s referring to is a newly formed NGO, created to translate the groundswell of public response they expect from propaganda efforts like Countdown to Zero, into sharp policy programs for government, including aggressive military action against would-be nuclear states, much of it in the name of nonproliferation.  The Consensus for American Security is one manifestation of the platform that many foreign policy elites hope will solve the contradiction in current US nuclear policy.  The mission statement of the Consensus includes, “strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security,” because it “is a vital element of protecting the United States and its allies.”

Ploughshares put up the money for The Consensus for American Security . . . an organization dedicated to strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security.  Modernizing is not an arbitrary word.  In the current policy debate over the future of the US nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, modernization means a very specific thing.  It means approving the Obama administration’s program to build a pit factory, a uranium processing facility, a components plant, and other billion-dollar capital projects for the weapons complex.  It also means modernizing warheads and bombs by rebuilding them and designing new features.  And it means acquiring new, very expensive platforms like subs, bombers, and missiles.

Members of the Ploughshares Consensus include a predictable list of centrist retired military brass and statesmen, most of whom occupy revolving door positions on other foundation and NGO boards like Ploughshares, and more than a few of whom have links to the military industrial complex: George Shulz, Samuel Berger, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, and physicist Sidney Drell, all of them strong supporters of US nuclear weapons programs and American empire.

The Consensus’s second mission appears to involve stoking Islamophobia.  A special project of the Consensus, the American Security Project, is a well-funded think tank churning out reports about “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” and “Are We Winning?  Measuring Progress in the Struggle Against al Qaeda and Associate Movements.”  ASP’s homepage features a photograph of “terrorists” in black masks hauling an American nuclear warhead (a W-76 or W-88 it appears) on a bamboo rickshaw over a wooden bridge toward a waiting van in some distant jungle.

Countdown to Zero is one component of a larger and coherent foundation campaign to stoke up public fears about nuclear weapons for the purpose of extending a near-monopoly on nuclear weapons, and legitimating a more aggressive foreign policy aimed at regime change in Iran and elsewhere.  The consensus behind those who funded and produced the film has little to do with disarmament, and a lot to do with stabilizing the American empire.


Darwin BondGraham is a board member of the Los Alamos Study Group, a disarmament, energy, and economic development organization based in Albuquerque, N.M.  See, also, “The US-Russia START Treaty: Just What Does ‘Arms Control’ Really Mean?” (MRZine, 20 May 2010).

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US-China tensions the result of rise of China’s power

US fears about China reflect changes in their relative economic strength. While the US has been at the centre of the global financial crisis, China has continued to grow. China’s GDP is still well below that of the US, but it is set to overtake Japan this year as the world’s second largest economy. Moreover China is in a stronger position to offer economic incentives to potential allies. A China-ASEAN free trade agreement came into effect on January 1, creating the world’s third-largest free trade bloc, further undermining US influence in South East Asia. … The Pentagon is acutely aware of China’s rising military strength. A recent assessment by the US Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that China’s naval expansion would be at its height in the next 10–15 years, with “one or more aircraft carriers” and 75 submarines operating beyond Taiwan and South China Sea to protect China’s vital sea lanes, particularly to the Middle East and Africa.  Every government has been compelled to try to balance economic relations with China against concerns to maintain relations with the US.  But the US insists it is ““not a visiting power in Asia, but a resident power”.

World Socialist Web Site (UK),  January 15, 2010

Clinton speech underlines US-China tensions

By John Chan

A keynote speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hawaii on Tuesday again underscored the rising rivalry between the US and China in the Asia-Pacific region and internationally. Clinton was in Hawaii to start a trip to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia, where China would have been a major topic of discussion. The trip was called off following the Haitian earthquake.

In the lead-up to her visit, the Obama administration approved the sale of advanced Patriot-3 surface-to-air missiles to Taiwan. Although it was part of a package agreed by the Bush administration in 2008, the White House decision to proceed with the sale provoked protests from Beijing. China tested an anti-ballistic missile on Monday, destroying a missile in outer space. Clinton denied that the Chinese test was connected to the Taiwan arms deal, but Beijing was clearly sending a message about China’s growing military capability.

In another move that irritated Beijing, Obama recently announced his intention to meet the Dalai Lama, reversing a decision last year not to do so. Speaking to the media, Clinton justified the meeting by saying that while the US recognised China’s sovereignty over Tibet, “we support the legitimate desire for cultural, religious respect and autonomy”.

US-China relations over trade have also worsened, with Washington imposing anti-dumping tariffs against Chinese goods ranging from tyres to steel products. During Obama’s visit to China last November he pressed Chinese leaders to revalue the yuan against the dollar, but was bluntly turned down. In late December, the US announced a 15-percent tariff on Chinese steel pipes as a penalty for allegedly unfair subsidies.

In a statement, Clinton seized on Google’s current threat to pull out of China over Beijing’s tight control over the Internet. She expressed her “serious concerns” over the issue, saying: “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation.” Her statement indicates that Washington intends to ratchet up its rhetoric on human rights in China, including over Internet censorship—issues that it had played down.

In this context, Clinton’s speech to the East-West Centre in Hawaii highlighted the Obama administration’s determination to counter China’s growing influence in Asia. She declared: “I don’t think there is any doubt, if there was when this administration began, that the United States is back in Asia, but I want to underscore, we are back to stay.” She underlined earlier comments by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that the US is “not a visiting power in Asia, but a resident power”.

Clinton criticised the Bush administration’s failure to participate in Asia-Pacific regional bodies, especially the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The “lack of respect and a willingness to engage” with South East Asia had effectively allowed China to increase its influence in the past decade. “And that is why I made it very clear upon becoming Secretary of State that the United States would show up,” she said. (See: “Clinton’s ASEAN appearance signals US ‘back in Asia’”)

US fears about China reflect changes in their relative economic strength. While the US has been at the centre of the global financial crisis, China has continued to grow. China’s GDP is still well below that of the US, but it is set to overtake Japan this year as the world’s second largest economy. Moreover China is in a stronger position to offer economic incentives to potential allies. A China-ASEAN free trade agreement came into effect on January 1, creating the world’s third-largest free trade bloc, further undermining US influence in South East Asia.

In her speech, Clinton signalled the Obama administration’s intention to make more aggressive diplomatic moves. She declared that the US would seek to “actively participate” in all key regional forums, including ASEAN+3 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. ASEAN+3 is an exclusively Asian body involving the ASEAN countries plus China, Japan and South Korea. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed by Russia and China in 2001 to counter growing US involvement in Central Asia.

The secretary of state emphasised that the “future of this region depends on America”. It was in the interests of Asian countries to have the US as “a dynamic economic partner and a stabilising military influence”. She highlighted Washington’s formal defence treaties with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines as the cornerstone of US policy in Asia.

These remarks sought to send a message that the US would not allow Beijing to use its economic power to exclude the US from the region, and would contain China militarily. Clinton was more explicit in comments to reporters on Monday, declaring: “Everyone’s aware that China is a rising power of the 21st century. But people want to see the United States fully engaged in Asia, so that as China rises the United States is there as a force of peace.”

Far from being a “force for peace,” the US military build-up raises the dangers of conflict between the two powers. As its economic power has waned, Washington has increasingly used its military might to further its interests. Its alliances in Asia form part of a longstanding US strategy of encircling China with allies, strategic partners and military bases. As planned in 2006, the US will deploy 6 of its 11 aircraft carriers and 60 percent of its submarine fleet in the Pacific this year, shifting from its previous strategic focus on the Atlantic.

The Pentagon is acutely aware of China’s rising military strength. A recent assessment by the US Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that China’s naval expansion would be at its height in the next 10–15 years, with “one or more aircraft carriers” and 75 submarines operating beyond Taiwan and South China Sea to protect China’s vital sea lanes, particularly to the Middle East and Africa.

The growing rivalry between the US and China is reverberating throughout the region. Every government has been compelled to try to balance economic relations with China against concerns to maintain relations with the US. Those issues would certainly have dominated Clinton’s discussions in Australia, which relies heavily on exports of minerals and other raw materials to China, but depends on its military alliance with the US, not least to back its interventions in neighbouring island states.

Even Japan, which has been a cornerstone of US strategy in Asia since the end of World War II, is torn by this dilemma. While in Hawaii, Clinton met with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in an effort to patch up relations with the Democratic Party government that took power in September. Unlike the previous Liberal Democratic Party governments, which rested on Japan’s Cold War alliance with the US, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has advocated that Tokyo play a greater role in Asia, especially by establishing firmer relations with Beijing.

Japan too has become more reliant on trade with and investment in China, which is now Japan’s largest trading partner. The global economic crisis has battered its export industries. According to official statistics, Japan’s GDP contracted by 5.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009 from the same period in 2008. The Hatoyama government has already reached an agreement with China and South Korea to establish a currency swap scheme to stabilise Asian currencies.

At the same time, Hatoyama has indicated that he wants to refashion Japan’s strategic alliance with the US, leading to tensions over the large American military presence in Japan. His government has called for a renegotiation of a 2006 agreement to relocate a US marine air base in Okinawa, but Washington has refused to revise the pact.

Clinton failed to convince Okada to abide by the 2006 agreement. She had to tell reporters she “respected” Hatoyama’s decision last December to wait until May to decide upon the issue. Previously Hatoyama effectively snubbed Obama, when he refused to settle the issue prior to the US president’s visit to Tokyo last November.

Hatoyama, who is facing an upper house election by mid-year, is appealing to widespread concerns in Japan about the continued US military presence and opposition to Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government will release a report this month that is likely to expose a secret treaty signed by Washington and Tokyo in the 1960s that allowed nuclear-armed US warships to dock in Japan without disclosing their armaments. The disclosure will place further strains on the US-Japan relationship.

As the Obama administration pursues its “back in Asia” offensive, tensions with China will only continue to rise, further exacerbating the dilemmas facing countries throughout the region.

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The First World War: The origin of real Terrorism and the beginning of ongoing Oil War

Kanan48, November 13, 2009

The First World War: The origin of real Terrorism and the beginning of ongoing Oil War

By Yamin Zakaria

Art by Naji Al AliVia: Media Monitors Network.

The cessation of hostilities was declared on the 11th hour, the 11th day of the 11th month on the Western Front, between the Allies of World War I (WWI) and Germany. Today, the nation commemorates the 2.5 Million dead with a two-minute silence, a war that took approximately 20 Million lives in total.

Despite the enormous loss, and after almost one hundred years, there is little reflection on the causes of this war, hardly any discussion on this point, and the lessons to be learnt from it. They say historians to date cannot agree on the causes. The history books in schools and colleges point to the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire by the Serb nationalists as the trigger for WWI.

Nations did not mobilise their forces and wage costly wars due to the assassination of one man. The war was not one of good versus evil, tyranny versus freedom, but simply a struggle for material resources. It was a war over territory, colony, inflamed by nationalism and historical feuds. The war was simply a global clash of empires.

Once the war was triggered, the central powers (German Empire, Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire) on one side faced the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). This conflict was marked by the introduction of air raids and poison gas, a prelude to the birth of state-terrorism. In the early 1920s, the British used chemical weapons on the Kurds in Iraq, under the direction of Winston Churchill long before Saddam Hussein. During the next global war, these methods involving air raids, chemical weapons and explosives were developed and deployed on a larger scale on the civilian population. This is the origin of real terrorism.

The Germans tried to instigate a pan-Indian uprising against the British Raj by conspiring with the Ghadar Party and some Indian nationalists. This plan was thwarted when British intelligence infiltrated the movement. India was the Crown Jewel for the British Empire; it gave her so much wealth and the ability to raise an army. Many Indians did serve in the British forces, in fact a third of the British forces in France were from India.

Fighting also broke out between the British and the German in the various colonies in Africa (Togoland, Cameroon, South West Africa and East Africa).

Just prior to the war, Germany was strengthening political and economic ties with the Ottoman Empire. They advised and supported the building of the Berlin to Baghdad railway, which was planned to link with the Hejaz railway that was being built at the same time. The railway would operate from Istanbul to Damascus, then to Medina and Mecca. Both railways would make most of the provinces easily accessible to the Ottoman Caliphate. Part of the reason why this was constructed was to keep the British forces out of these Arab provinces.

The Hejaz railway links were never completed, the Ottomans joined in the war in 1914, Sultan Mehmed V declared the last Jihad by a Caliph. It had very little impact on the Muslims. The Arabs sided with the British, a major act of treachery against the Caliphate. The Muslims from India continued to serve the British Forces.

In response to the Ottomans declaring war, the first major military act by the British forces was to land troops in Abadan, near the southern tip of Iran. This was to protect the flow of oil to west. Substantial investment into the Iranian oil fields was already made by Britain and France. Two years earlier the British Royal Navy switched from coal to oil, and it was the fuel for its planes and tanks. Naturally, they felt the need to secure Iraq as a way of defending those supplies and the British forces marched along the Tigris and settled in Kut-al-Amra. This marked the beginning of the oil war, from this point on the entire region was subjected to western interventions in the successive years until present day.

Internally, the Ottomans faced rebellion in many areas, propelled by Slavic nationalism, the Russians, the Greeks and the Serbs supported the various Orthodox Christian communities within the Ottoman State to rise in revolt. The Ottomans State fragmented by the end of the war, Palestine was acquired by Britain as war booty. So began the sufferings of the Palestinians, as their land was already promised to the Zionist Jews, according to the Belfour Declaration of 1917. Lord Balfour agreed to the Zionist demand as they promised to use their influence into bring the US into war on the side of the Allies. Which proved to be a turning point in the war, and the late entry by the US meant it minimised self-injury, whilst maximised the war booty.

The Arabs betrayed the Ottoman Caliphate and now it was their turn to be betrayed. The British betrayed them first by giving Palestine to the Zionist-Jews, and a secret treaty drawn up with France (Sykes-Picot) to carve up the Middle East amongst themselves, discarding the earlier promises of independence made to the Arabs in return for their support in rising against the Ottomans.

Armistice Day should remind us all of the mess created in the Middle East, all stems from treachery and the greed of Capitalist nations.

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

CounterPunch, July 31, 2009

The Biden and Clinton Mutinies

By Alexander Cockburn

Time bombs tossed seemingly casually in the past month by his vice president and his secretary of state disclose president Obama, in the dawn of his first term, already the target of carefully meditated onslaughts by senior members of his own cabinet.

At the superficial level Obama is presiding over an undisciplined administration; on a more realistic and sinister construction, he is facing mutiny, publicly conducted by two people who only a year ago were claiming that their qualifications to be in the Oval Office were far superior to those of the junior senator from Illinois .

The great danger to Obama posed by Biden’s and Clinton’s “time bombs” (a precisely correct description if we call them political, not diplomatic time bombs) is not international confusion and ridicule over what precisely are the US government’s policies, but a direct onslaught on his presidency by a domestic Israeli lobby that is so out of control that it renders ridiculous Obama’s puny attempt to stop settlements–or to curb Israeli aggression in any other way.

Take Joe Biden. Three weeks ago he gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran, only to be swiftly corrected by his boss. At the time it seemed yet another,somewhat comical mile marker in a lifetime of gaffes, perpetrated in the cause of self-promotion and personal political advantage.

But Biden’s subsequent activities invite a darker construction. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s Moscow visit, the air still soft with honeyed words about a new era of trust and cooperation, Biden headed for Ukraine and Georgia, harshly ridiculing Russia as an economic basket case with no future. In Tbilisi he told the Georgian parliament that the U.S. would continue helping Georgia “to modernize” its military and that Washington “fully supports” Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO and would help Tbilisi meet the alliance’s standards. This elicited a furious reaction from Moscow, pledging sanctions against any power rearming Georgia.

Georgia could play a vital, enabling role, in the event that Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear complex. The flight path from Israel to Iran is diplomatically and geographically challenging. On the other hand, Georgia is perfectly situated as the take-off point for any such raid. Israel has been heavily involved in supplying and training Georgia’s armed forces. President Saakashvili has boasted that his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili and also Temur Yakobashvili , the minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia, lived in Israel before moving to Georgia, adding “Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.”

On the heels of Biden’s shameless pandering in Tbilisi, Secretary of State Clinton took herself off to Thailand for an international confab with Asian leaders and let drop to a tv chat show that “a nuclear Iran could be contained by a U.S. ‘defense umbrella,’” actually a nuclear defense umbrella for Israel and for Egypt and Saudi Arabia too.

The Israel lobby has been promoting the idea of a US “nuclear umbrella” for some years, with one of its leading exponents being Dennis Ross, now in charge of Middle Eastern policy at Obama’s National Security Council. In her campaign last year Clinton flourished the notion as an example of the sort of policy initiative that set her apart from that novice in foreign affairs, Barack Obama.

From any rational point of view the “nuclear umbrella” is an awful idea, redolent with all the gimcrack theology of the high cold war era, about “first strike”, “second strike”, “stable deterrence” ,“controlled escalation” and “mutual assured destruction”, used to sell US escalations in nuclear arms production, from Kennedy and the late Robert McNamara(“the Missile Gap”) to Reagan (“Star Wars”).

Indeed, as one Pentagon veteran remarked to me earlier this week, “the Administration’s whole nuclear stance is turning into a cheesy rerun of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction, all based on a horrible exaggeration of one or two Iranian nuclear bombs that the Persians may be too incompetent to build and most certainly are too incompetent to deliver.”

The Biden and Clinton “foreign” policy is: 1) to recreate the same old Cold War (with a new appendage, the US versus Iran nuclear confrontation) for the same old reasons: to pump up domestic defense spending; and 2) to continue sixty years of supporting Israeli imperialism for the same reasons that every president from Harry to Dubya (perhaps barring Ike) did so: to corner Israel lobby money and votes. Regarding the latter, Obama did the same by grabbing the Chicago-based Crown and Pritzker family money very early in his campaign and by making Rahm Emanuel his very first appointment (the two are hardly unrelated).

So right from the start Obama was already an Israel lobby fellow traveler. The Mitchell appointment and the toothless blather about settlements were simply cosmetic, bones tossed to the increasing proportion of the American electorate that’s grossed out by the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs from the Holy Land. Obama does have a coherent strategy: keep the defense money flowing and increasing, but without making so much noise as the older generation did about ancient Cold War enemies (e.g. Russia and Cuba). The F-22 — to date, the one and only presidential issue on which he’s shown any toughness at all — is in no sense a departure from keeping the money flowing, since he is indeed increasing the defense budget, in part by using the F-22 cancellation to push spending on the even worse F-35 and to hide his acquiescence to all the other pork in the Congressional defense budget.

The window for any new president to impose a decisive change in foreign policy comes in the first three months, before opposition has time to solidify. Obama squandered that opportunity, stocking his foreign policy team with tarnished players such as Ross. As the calculated indiscretions of Biden and Clinton suggest, not to mention the arrogance of Netanyahu and his political associates, the window of opportunity has closed.

Would it have been that hard to signal a change in course? Not really. Obama could have excited the world by renouncing the Bush administration’s assertion, in the “National Defense Strategy of the United States” of 2002 — preserved in its essence in ensuing years — of the right and intention of the United States to preëmptively attack any country “at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.” As William Polk, the State Department’s middle east advisor in the Kennedy era, wrote last year: “As long as this remains a valid statement of American policy, the Iranian government would be foolish not to seek a nuclear weapon.”

But Obama, surrounded with Clinton-era veterans of NATO expansionism and, as his Accra speech indicated, hobbled with an impeccably conventional view of how the world works, is rapidly being overwhelmed by the press of events. He’s bailed out the banks. He’s transferred war from Iraq to Afghanistan. The big lobbies know they have him on the run.

Hence Biden and Clinton’s mutinies, conducted on behalf of the Israel lobby and designed to seize administration policy as Obama’s popularity weakens. When the results of the latest Rasmussen presidential poll were published, showing Obama’s declining numbers, there were news reports of cheering in Tel Aviv. And remember two useful guiding principles: first, it is impossible to overestimate the vanity of politicians, particularly of Joe Biden. Maybe he secretly entertains some mad notion of challenging Obama in 2012, propelled by Israel Lobby money withheld from Obama. Maybe Bill is reminding HRC that he reached the White House in 1992 partly because the Israel lobby turned against George Bush Sr. Second principle: there is no such thing as foreign policy, neither in democratic governments nor in dictatorships. As Thalheimer’s Law* decrees. All policy is domestic.

Israeli officials reject U.S. findings on Iran

For a truly bizarre take on Iran and the Mideast, check out the December 5 Wall Street Journal opinion piece below suggesting that that perhaps the Gulf States should carry out the air strikes against Iran.McClatchy Newspapers, December 4, 2007

Israeli officials reject U.S. findings on Iran

By Dion Nissenbaum |

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials, who’ve been warning that Iran would soon pose a nuclear threat to the world, reacted angrily Tuesday to a new U.S. intelligence finding that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and to date hasn’t resumed trying to produce nuclear weapons.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak directly challenged the new assessment in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new finding wouldn’t deter Israel or the United States from pressing its campaign to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

“It seems Iran in 2003 halted for a certain period of time its military nuclear program, but as far as we know, it has probably since revived it,” Barak said.

“Even after this report, the American stance will still focus on preventing Iran from attaining nuclear capability,” Olmert said. “We will expend every effort along with our friends in the U.S. to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons.”

Probably no country felt more blindsided than Israel by the announcement Monday that 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, in a stunning reassessment, had concluded with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003 and with “moderate confidence” that it hadn’t restarted that program as of mid-2007.

For years, Israel has been at the forefront of international efforts to isolate Iran, with Israeli intelligence estimates warning that Iran was on the brink of a nuclear “point of no return,” an ominous assessment that often fueled calls for a military strike.

Israeli officials also have sought to isolate Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, citing his calls for Israel’s destruction and his skepticism that the Holocaust took place.

The U.S. intelligence finding said that evidence “suggests” that Iran isn’t as determined as U.S. officials thought to develop a nuclear weapon and that a diplomatic approach that included economic pressure and some nod to Iranian goals for regional influence might persuade Iran to continue to suspend weapons development.

On Tuesday morning, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper called the U.S. findings “a blow below the belt.” An analysis in the competing Haaretz newspaper suggested that Israel might come to be viewed as a “panic-stricken rabbit” and said that the U.S. intelligence estimate established “a new, dramatic reality: The military option, American or Israeli, is off the table, indefinitely.”

“This is definitely a blow to attempts to stop Iran from becoming nuclear because now everybody will be relaxed and those that were reluctant to go ahead with harsher sanctions will now have a good excuse,” said Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

The estimate created an awkward situation for Israeli leaders, who mostly tried to sidestep direct criticism of the Bush administration.

Olmert sought to focus on the report’s finding that Iran had been deterred in 2003 from pursuing its nuclear weapons program by international pressure. That, said Olmert, made continued sanctions essential.

Barak was tougher and promised that the report wouldn’t influence Israeli policy.

“We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the earth, even if it is from our greatest friend,” he said.

Israeli officials also highlighted where the U.S. and Israeli assessments agree.

They noted that while the latest U.S. assessment said that the earliest Iran was likely to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb was 2010, Israeli assessments weren’t dramatically different, finding that Iran could develop the workings for a nuclear bomb by 2009.

Gerald Steinberg, the chairman of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University, suggested that the findings might increase the chances that Israel will attack Iran because they reduce the chances that the United States will act.

“I think it may introduce a lot of stress in the Israeli-American relationship,” he said.

But Emily Landau, the director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said it would be very difficult for Israel to launch an attack without explicit support from the United States.

“If Israel were to carry out a military action, it would have to be in coordination with the United States, so if the United States is moving away from that option, it would have implications for Israel as well,” she said.

(McClatchy special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this report from Jerusalem.)

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Wall Street Journal Commentary, December 5, 2007

The Gulf States and Iran

By MAX BOOT
December 5, 2007; Page A25

The release of the new National Intelligence Estimate will provide more fodder for those who claim that “neoconservative ideologues” and the “Israel lobby” are overly alarmed about the rise of Iran. In reality, some of those most worried about the mullahs wear flowing headdresses, not yarmulkes, and they have good cause for concern, notwithstanding the sanguine tilt many news accounts put on the NIE.

I recently visited the Persian Gulf region as part of a delegation of American policy wonks organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Throughout our meetings in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, the top issue was Iran’s ambitions to dominate the region.

Evidence of those imperial designs is not hard to find. The Iranians are aiding extremists who are undermining nascent democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The beneficiaries of Tehran’s largess include Hamas, Hezbollah and even, the evidence indicates, al Qaeda. (Saudi officials are quietly furious that Tehran has given refuge to some suspects in the 2003 Riyadh attacks.) Iran is building up its military arsenal, and has threatened to shut down the Persian Gulf (or, as Arabs call it, the Arabian Gulf).

What particularly concerns Gulf Arabs is the possibility that Iran could go nuclear — a concern unlikely to be erased by the ambiguous findings of the new NIE. While this NIE claims that Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 (in direct contradiction to an NIE finding issued just two years ago that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons”), it concedes that “Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing.” Such a “civilian” program could be converted speedily and stealthily to military use. As the new NIE notes, “Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.”

That thought fills Sunni Arabs with dread. “If we accept Iran as a nuclear power that is like accepting Hitler in 1933-34,” warned one senior Arab official, using the kind of analogy that back in Washington would get him dismissed as a neocon warmonger.

On our recent trip to the Persian Gulf, we found no unanimity about how to respond to this threat, but many officials and private citizens alike called for a pre-emptive military strike. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reportedly came away from his March summit in Riyadh with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad convinced that the Iranian president is dangerous and unstable. We also learned that many in the governments of Saudi Arabia and UAE privately favor military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. We were assured by numerous interlocutors in both countries that the consequences of such raids, which would probably include Iranian-backed terrorism, would be “manageable.”

The key word here is “privately.” Those states are afraid to get into a public spat with the Shiite fundamentalists across the Straits of Hormuz. They are even unwilling to impose unilateral economic sanctions that could head off a military confrontation. That’s particularly significant in the case of the UAE, which is the leading offshore commercial center for Iran.

The Iranian Business Council estimates that Iranians hold $300 billion in assets in the UAE, that 10,000 Iranian companies have offices in the UAE, and that trade between the two countries was over $11 billion last year. If the UAE were to freeze these operations, it would impose real pain on Tehran. But, unlike the U.S., it refuses to go beyond the weak sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China block more significant steps.

As for the possibility of air strikes on Iran, much as the Arabs may applaud such a move by the U.S., they do not contemplate doing so on their own. Yet they easily could. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the air forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) match up quite favorably with those of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The GCC states boast 627 combat-capable aircraft vs. only 286 for Iran, and most of the GCC aircraft are much more advanced. The GCC is well-supplied with modern American fighter-bombers — F-15s, F-16s, F-18s — and they are buying more top-of-the-line hardware all the time. Iran, by contrast, is still reliant on F-4s and F-5s acquired by the shah three decades ago, supplemented by a few more modern Russian and Chinese fighters.

Even though Iran has also been acquiring surface-to-air missiles from Russia, either the UAE or Saudi Arabia has, at least on paper, an air force capable of dealing the Iranian nuclear program a devastating blow. Of course a Gulf air armada would take heavier casualties than an American one. Gulf pilots do not have the full panoply of surveillance and electronic warfare systems needed to totally suppress air defenses. Nor do they have the “bunker buster” munitions needed to take out deep-buried facilities.

But the Gulf air forces have had years of training, and their pilots do practice alongside those from the U.S., Britain, France and other nations in the kinds of elaborate air-warfare scenarios pioneered in the “red flag” exercises at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Some of the weaknesses of the Gulf air forces, such as lack of bunker busters, could easily be remedied by purchases from the American arsenal.

The U.S. is making those very kinds of transfers to help the Israeli Air Force develop its long-range strike capacity. We take for granted that Israel, a state of 6.4 million people with a GDP of $140 billion, could successfully attack nuclear sites located 1,200 miles away. Yet we ignore the possibility that the GCC states, with a combined population of 39 million and a GDP of $522 billion, could do at least as good of a job, operating from bases located in some cases less than 100 miles from Iran. (Iran’s population is 65 million; its GDP $193 billion.)

This is largely because the GCC states, for all their economic might, have gotten used to thinking of themselves as political and military weaklings. As much as they may resent and criticize us, they feel utterly dependent on us for their defense.

The U.S. has a major stake in defending states with so much oil, and they do provide valuable cooperation in basing and logistics. But these states can and should do more. For a start, they should take steps to integrate their armed forces, so that they can turn the GCC into a NATO-like fighting force. And if President Bush or (more likely) his successor decides to pre-empt Iran, it will be important, as in the 1991 Gulf War, to have participation, if only symbolic, from Arab states, so that the conflict cannot be cast as one pitting “Zionists” and “crusaders” against innocent Muslims.

We need to tell the Gulf Arabs that if they expect the U.S. to stand with them in the future, they need to stand with us publicly, not just privately. At the very least they need to stop kicking us in the shins, as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did earlier this year by condemning as “illegitimate” the “foreign occupation” of Iraq (even though he doesn’t want us to leave).

The Saudi decision to attend the Annapolis meeting is a nice gesture in favor of the Bush administration’s newfound priorities, but it does little to address the most pressing issue confronting the Middle East. A Gulf-wide policy of getting tougher with Iran — diplomatically and economically and, if need be, militarily — would do a lot more good.

Mr. Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World” (Gotham Books, 2006).

Intelligence Report Reveals Bush and Cheney’s Iran Warnings as Fraudulent

Consortium News, December 4, 2007

Intelligence Report Reveals Bush and Cheney’s Iran Warnings as Fraudulent

By Ray McGovern,

A new intelligence assessment that Iran’s nuclear weapons program halted in 2003 utterly contradicts the dire claims made by the war-mongering White House.

For those who have doubts about miracles, a double one occurred today. An honest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program has been issued and its Key Judgments were made public.

With redraft after redraft, it was what the Germans call “eine schwere Geburt” — a difficult birth, ten months in gestation.

I do not know how often Vice President Dick Cheney visited CIA Headquarters during the gestation period, but I am told he voiced his displeasure as soon as he saw the first sonogram/draft very early this year, and is so displeased with what issued that he has refused to be the godfather.

This time Cheney and his neo-con colleagues were unable to abort the process. And after delivery to the press, this child is going to be very hard to explain — the more so since it is legitimate.

The main points of the NIE:

“We judge that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…

“We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.

“We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely…

“We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.

“We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015.”

Having reached these conclusions, it is not surprising that the NIE’s authors make a point of saying up front (in bold type) “This NIE does not (italics in original) assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons.”

This, of course, pulls out the rug from under Cheney’s claim of a “fairly robust new nuclear program” in Iran, and President Bush’s inaccurate assertion that Iranian leaders have even admitted they are developing nuclear weapons.

Apparently, intelligence community analysts are no longer required to produce the faith-based intelligence that brought us the Oct. 1, 2002, NIE “Iraq’s Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction” — the worst in the history of U.S. intelligence.

Truth be told, one of the Iran NIE’s findings was written into its first draft, from which Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell drew in telling the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 27 that Iran could possibly develop a nuclear weapon by early-to-mid-next decade.

McConnell said not a word, though, about Iran’s having halted its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. And in February, he was still adhering to the faith-based approach, saying, “We assess that Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon.”

At which point, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, tried to sum up the proceedings with the disingenuous comment, “We all agree, then, that the Iranians are trying to get nuclear weapons.”

Curiously, McConnell indicated recently that the key findings of NIEs would no longer be made public.

My guess is that the Pentagon, and especially Adm. William Fallon, commander of our forces in the Middle East, succeeded in persuading McConnell to go public. Several months ago, Fallon was reliably reported to have said, “We are not going to do Iran on my watch.”

And it is an open secret that he and other senior military officers, except those of the Air Force, are strongly opposed to getting into a war with Iran for which the U.S. is so ill prepared.

Will President George W. Bush and our domesticated media succeed in dismissing this latest NIE as “guesswork,” as he has in the past? It is going to be highly interesting to see how the White House will try to spin this one.

See more stories tagged with: white house, cheney, bush, nuclear program, 2003, iran

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he chaired National Intelligence Estimates and produced/briefed the President’s Daily Brief. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

t’s time to talk about Israel’s nukes, and ours, too

San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2007

t’s time to talk about Israel’s nukes, and ours, too

Lew Butler

Many months ago Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, let slip a reference to Israel’s nuclear weapons. While it embarrassed him, it was no surprise to the rest of the world. It has been known for decades that Israel has nukes. Estimates are that there are probably as many as 200 in the Israeli arsenal, including thermonuclear (hydrogen) ones.

What is surprising is that there is almost never any public discussion in the United States, and certainly none in the White House or the Congress, about these weapons. Is there any understanding between Israel and the United States, its principal source of military aid, about their use? If so, does the understanding cover “no first use,” similar to the policy advocated in the United States at the height of the Cold War? What would the United States do if Israel were ever under an attack that might lead it to a nuclear response? Has the United States ever talked with Israel about its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? For Israel, are the weapons more of a danger to its security than a defense?

These have always been critical issues but are doubly important now that the United Nations, with strong U.S. support, is putting intense pressure on Iran not to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran is responding that under the nonproliferation treaty, to which it is a party, it has the right to develop nuclear power, and that is all that it is doing. But, as was the case with India and Pakistan, eventually Iran will probably justify having nuclear weapons on the grounds that its sworn enemy, Israel, has them. Now an already tense situation has become worse with Israel’s unacknowledged Sept. 6 air attack on a supposed Syria nuclear installation, and the call by some hawks in this country for U.S. raids on Iranian nuclear facilities.

There is, of course, a long history of nuclear tensions in the Middle East. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactors to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After the Persian Gulf War, in the 1990s, U.N. inspectors spent nearly seven years in Iraq inspecting its nuclear facilities. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s decision to expel those inspectors began the series of events that led to the United States invading Iraq on the premise that it had weapons of mass destruction. Now, if Iran continues to develop its nuclear capacity, a whole new crisis would develop if Israel tried to destroy Iran’s reactors as it did the Iraqi ones and, presumably, the Syrian installation.

The unspoken basis for U.S. policy about Israel’s nukes seems to be that we don’t want our enemies to have such weapons but we don’t worry as much if our friends, like Israel, Pakistan and India, have them. As for our enemies, the negotiations in North Korea and Libya show that even a “hard line” U.S. administration is willing to offer significant financial and other benefits to persuade them to give up their nuclear ambitions. When, as in the case of Iran, such bribes are not apt to work, then we are willing, more so than our European allies, to exert pressure and even contemplate military action.

Moreover, the U.S. stance toward the nuclear ambitions of others is inconsistent with and discredited by our own refusal to live up to our obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. Under that treaty, signatory nations with nuclear weapons agreed to reduce their arsenals to a minimum, and ultimately eliminate them entirely, in exchange for other signatory nations not acquiring such weapons. Even that strangest of nations, North Korea, had enough respect for the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to announce publicly it was withdrawing from the treaty in order to develop its nuclear capacity. But the United States has never come close to getting down to the minimum level contemplated when we signed the treaty. The U.S. arsenal is estimated at some 5,700 active nuclear weapons with nearly 4,000 in “reserve.”

Clearly, the Bush administration is not going to talk publicly about our understanding, if any, with Israel about its nuclear weapons. And no member of Congress is rushing to get into a subject as politically delicate as this one. That leaves it to those of us in private life to begin the debate, for the sake of the United States and Israel.

We can start with the danger posed by nuclear weapons in an increasingly destabilized Middle East. We can acknowledge that any nuclear arsenal might be the target of terrorists. We can look back to how close we came to a catastrophic nuclear exchange at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. And we can remind ourselves that no subject is too sensitive for public debate when the risk is the horror that use of even one nuclear weapon would trigger.

Lew Butler is chairman emeritus of the Ploughshares Fund.

Annapolis Peace Conference: Shoring up Arab States’ support for the US war on Iran and Iraq

Democracy Now, Monday, November 26th, 2007

Leaders Gather in Annapolis for U.S.-Sponsored Middle East Summit, Hamas Not Invited

Delegates from over 40 countries, including Syria, are expected to gather in Annapolis, Maryland, Tuesday to participate in a US-sponsored Middle East summit.. President Bush called for the international meeting in July 2007 to advance stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A final agenda has not yet been drawn up, but a draft of a joint document was leaked to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It makes no mention of the situation in Gaza, nor of core issues like settlements, borders, the separation wall, Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian officials arrived in Washington, D.C. over the weekend and said Sunday that the meeting would be an important starting point in strengthening dialogue and isolating “extremists” like Hamas. US officials also asserted that the meeting was a chance to launch dialogue and not a negotiating session on key issues.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, where she focuses on US Middle East policy. Her most recent book is Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. She joins us now from Washington, D.C.

Phyllis Bennis, what do you expect to happen at this summit?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Very little, Amy. I think there has been a great successful effort at tamping down expectations. But what has not been clarified is that the real goal of these meetings also have very little to do with actually reaching a just and comprehensive and lasting peace, which of course requires ending Israeli occupation and ending Israel’s policies of apartheid and discrimination.

There are two real goals for this meeting; neither of them have really anything to do with Palestinian rights, a Palestinian state, Israeli security or anything else. They are, number one, to shore up Arab States’ support for the US crusades against Iran and Iraq in the region, and, two, to rebuild Condoleezza Rice’s legacy, which right now is grounded in her being the person who stood before the world in the summer of 2006, as Israeli bombs were devastating Lebanon, and said, “We don’t need a ceasefire yet.” She wants to change that. That’s a huge part of why this meeting is going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the countries who are coming and who are not coming? We surprised, for example, by Syria?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, the question of whether Syria would participate has been an on-again/off-again question for some time, and it remains, frankly, uncertain what role they will actually play. Syria is not sending their foreign minister, as the other Arab regimes are. They’re sending a deputy foreign minister, a deliberate statement that this is not quite full participation.

The Syrians had said that they would not participate unless the issue of Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967 at the same time that it occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; as long as that was on the agenda, they would agree to participate. They now say that is on the agenda. US officials don’t say that. US officials say that any country who comes is welcome to raise whatever they want and, quote, “We won’t turn off the microphone.” That’s very different than saying that it is on the agenda. So, we don’t actually know whether or not there is going to be any opportunity for discussion of the Golan Heights beyond whatever speech, whatever formal speech, the Syrian deputy foreign minister might give.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the exclusion of Hamas?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, this has been known from the very beginning. The basis of this conference is grounded in the division within the Palestinian polity, the divide between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

The fiction that exists at this point is that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is not representing the Palestinian Authority, but rather representing the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella organization, which does in fact represent all Palestinians. This is the same double role or double position that Mahmoud Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, played. He was both the head of the PLO and the president of the Palestinian Authority. The difference, of course, is that Yasser Arafat, despite widespread dissatisfaction with many of his policies, was massively recognized as the representative, the legitimate symbol and political representative, of the entire Palestinian nation. That is not true of Mahmoud Abbas. There is enormous opposition to him. The PLO has not been functioning as an independent organization.

So, this sort of claim that Mahmoud Abbas is there not as the head of the PA, but rather as the head of the PLO, isn’t convincing Palestinians. And as a result, we see in the latest Palestinian poll concluded just yesterday 62% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories expect failure from the talks in Annapolis. 47% believe that nothing will change as a result of these talks, despite the fact that 70% agree with holding peace talks. They just want peace talks that are really aimed at dealing with the serious core issues, not peace talks that are designed to be a photo op.

AMY GOODMAN: And how much territory does Mahmoud Abbas control?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: In fact, he doesn’t control any territory. He is the elected president in the West Bank, but the Israeli military is still very completely in control of that territory, as well as that of East Jerusalem and Gaza. So, in fact, he doesn’t control the territory at all. He is the Authority’s elected leader. But the Authority is governing crumbs, if you will, while the Israelis maintain control of the whole loaf.

The question that remains is how far is Mahmoud Abbas and his team prepared to go to make additional concessions in the name of the Palestinians, whether on issues of territory, particularly the question of settlements and most importantly, I think for many Palestinians, the question of the right of return. There have been claims from the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he would not negotiate with anyone, including Mahmoud Abbas, who did not agree as a precondition to accept, in Israel’s words, “Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and as a state of all the Jewish people,” meaning, Amy, that Jews like you and I, who have no ties in Israel, would have more rights permanently as quasi-citizens of Israel than the Palestinians who were expelled from the territory that is now Israel back in 1947 and ’48, that there would be no right of return, except to a putative Palestinian state that might be assembled out of some disconnected Bantustans in parts of the West Bank. That’s the proposal of the Israelis.

The US has agreed to that territorial approach, that the right of return would not apply, that Palestinians would be allowed to return, quote, “only to the new Palestinian state,” even if that was not their former homeland. Whether Mahmoud Abbas will, in fact, say those words, endorse that position, remains uncertain. Most Palestinians have said, he could not do that and survive as a political leader. Saeb Erekat, who we just heard from a moment ago, has said that the Palestinians will not accept the Israeli definition of Israel as a Jewish state and the state of the entire Jewish people, as opposed to being the state of all its citizens, including of course the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian. Whether that will, in fact, prevail as the official Palestinian position, we simply don’t know yet.

AMY GOODMAN: And two other questions about Lebanon and Iran. Lebanon, the fact that it doesn’t have a president right now, how will this play? And, of course, Iran — here you have this gathering, mainly of Middle East leaders; what is the US pushing around Iran?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, on the question of Lebanon, the political crisis is very strong. There is no agreement yet on — between the two almost-equal factions in the government about how to choose the successor to President Lahoud, who just resigned at the end of his term. There are new negotiations scheduled for this coming weekend. But it does mean that Lebanon, even if other parties are discussing it — for example, the Syrians or the Israelis — the Lebanese are not in a position to play much of a role at this conference. I assume they will send an official delegation, but it will be understood that it will not be a delegation that is authorized to speak in any definitive way.

The question of Iran, of course, is very central. Even European diplomats, even the Israeli Meretz Party and many others around the world, are acknowledging that this summit has more to do with Iran than it does with the Palestinians. This is a summit designed to shore up Arab States’ support for the US escalations against Iran. This is a situation in which most Arab regimes would be only too happy to jump into the US — to jump into bed with the US in attacking Iran. The problem is that the Arab people in all those Arab countries are not so keen on that, do not see Iran as a major enemy. So, in order to gain political credibility at home and avoid being overthrown, in some cases, those governments need to be able to give their people something. The US is essentially throwing them a bone, saying, “Here, give your people this, so that you can come onboard our anti-Iran crusade and stay onboard our war in Iraq.” The bone they are throwing to the Arab regimes is this photo op in Annapolis.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, I want to thank you for being with us, fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. Her latest book is called Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We will certainly follow what takes place tomorrow in Annapolis.

Iran, War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy

Middle East Report Online, November 23, 2007

War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy

Carah Ong

(Carah Ong is Iran policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, DC.)

The White House is pressing ahead with its stated goal of persuading the UN Security Council to pass far-reaching sanctions to punish Iran for refusing to suspend its nuclear research program. Sanctions are what President George W. Bush is referring to when he pledges to nervous US allies that he intends to “continue to work together to solve this problem diplomatically.” The non-diplomatic solution in this framing of the “problem,” presumably, would be airstrikes on nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic.

With its portrayal of UN and unilateral US sanctions as part of a diplomatic effort, the Bush administration has successfully confused much media coverage of the Iranian-Western confrontation over Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Sanctions are punitive measures, not serious diplomacy, and the Bush administration has never undertaken a sustained diplomatic initiative aimed either at inducing Iran to cease enriching uranium or at soothing broader US-Iranian tensions. Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s persistent refusal to take military options “off the table,” combined with its intensified rhetoric against Iran, has made sanctions palatable to allies, as well as to some of the most dovish members of Congress and the American public — but without addressing the political disputes that keep the US and Iran on a collision course. Congress, by and large, has merely greased the skids.

EXECUTIVE ORDERS

On September 28, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — issued a joint statement, along with Germany and the European Union, agreeing to wait to discuss a potential third round of sanctions on Iran until International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana delivered progress reports on negotiations with Iran in November. No sooner had the IAEA released its November 15 report than the Bush administration renewed its push for stiffer penalties on the Islamic Republic.

US spokespersons seized upon the IAEA’s statement that Iranian cooperation with its investigators, while “sufficient” and “timely,” has been “reactive rather than proactive.” This “reactive” posture, along with Iran’s blockage of spot inspections of nuclear sites (as required by the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), made it impossible for the IAEA to assert that Iran’s program is geared exclusively toward peaceful generation of nuclear power, as Iran claims. The US dismissed the positive aspects of the Agency’s report. As State Department briefer Sean McCormack put it, “Partial credit doesn’t cut it when you’re talking about issues of whether or not Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.” While the report did not give Iran a clean bill of health, its overall content suggests that there is room for real diplomacy to resolve outstanding issues.

The Bush administration, however, had tipped its hand, long before the IAEA report’s release, that only additional coercive measures would be forthcoming. In August, it was leaked to the press that the State Department was considering designating the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 to protect the Islamic Revolution from domestic and foreign foes — as a terrorist organization. European allies expressed strong opposition to the idea, warning that such a unilateral initiative could alienate Security Council member China, thus forestalling another round of UN sanctions. The end result was Bush’s executive order on October 25, imposing new unilateral sanctions and designating the Revolutionary Guards as a “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction” and the Guards’ elite Quds Force as a “supporter of terrorism.”

The basis for the latter designation was Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks. That order authorizes the US government to block the assets of organizations or individuals listed as sponsors of terrorism, as well as their subsidiaries, front organizations, agents and associates. It is unprecedented for the United States to use this measure against the armed forces of another nation.

Several other entities were listed in the executive order, including the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics; two major banks and their subsidiaries; and construction, engineering and other firms owned or controlled by the Revolutionary Guards. Individuals affiliated with the Guards and with Iran’s ballistic missile program were also named as “proliferators” to be sanctioned. Most notably, and inexplicably, absent from this list was Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, appointed as commander of the Revolutionary Guards by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on September 1.

If Bush’s executive orders exacerbated the divisions among Security Council members over Iran, there is even more dissension following the release of the IAEA judgments. European allies have lined up behind the US position, with France and Britain saying that Europe could impose its own unilateral sanctions on Iranian oil and financial industries if the Security Council does not act. China and Russia, meanwhile, prefer to emphasize the progress that has been made in securing Iranian cooperation and have vowed to veto a third round of multilateral sanctions slated to come up for a vote in December. The parallels to the international deliberations over Iraq — wherein US failure to achieve consensus on sanctions was marketed by hawks as justification for ever more aggressive US-British actions — are hard to ignore.

CONGRESSIONAL PRELUDE

Throughout 2007, in fact, hawks in Congress have been intensifying their own pressure on the Bush administration to get tough on Iran. Section 2, Paragraph 14 of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, said “the United States should designate the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which purveys terrorism throughout the Middle East and plays an important role in the Iranian economy, as a foreign terrorist organization…and place the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters.” The measure had 325 co-sponsors and passed the House of Representatives by a margin of 397-16 on September 25.

Though the bill nods to the view that “the United States should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem,” it is focused on the necessity of broader unilateral sanctions. During floor debate, not a single representative spoke in opposition. The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), contains similar language, but has been held up in the Banking Committee. It is not clear when or if the measure will come up for a vote.

In any case, the far more important political cover for the executive order targeting the Revolutionary Guards was provided during debate of the 2008 defense authorization bill. Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced Amendment 3017, a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution that expressed the view that the Guards should be labeled a terrorist organization, citing as justification the alleged role of the Guards and the Quds Force in supplying Shi‘i militias in Iraq with money and materiel.

The Kyl-Lieberman amendment initially contained even more provocative language, calling on the US to use all means available, including “military instruments,” to “combat, contain and roll back” Iran and its surrogates in Iraq. The two paragraphs containing this language were eventually dropped after several senators and the Democratic leadership expressed concern that it might be construed as an authorization for the use of military force against Iran.

Freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) was particularly outspoken in opposition to the amendment, noting that even after the modifications, Kyl-Lieberman could still be interpreted as an authorization for the use of force. Nevertheless, on September 26, the amendment passed 76-22, with the Democratic presidential frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, voting in favor, her opponent Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois not voting and only two Republicans, Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, voting against. The amendment helped to press the Bush administration into action.

HYPING THE THREAT

Behind both the White House and Congressional moves is the conviction that Iran, its protestations of peaceful intent notwithstanding, is trying to build an atomic bomb. On October 17, the president told reporters: “If you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In a speech at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy retreat four days later, Vice President Dick Cheney worded it more strongly: “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Is the US conviction about Iran justified? The IAEA does not think so. Its November 15 report concluded: “The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.” The concern, as the UN watchdog acknowledged, is that Iran may be diverting undeclared material to a clandestine bomb-making effort, but there is no proof that such an effort exists. As Mohamed Elbaradei told CNN on October 28, there are “a lot of question marks. But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used in a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No.”

As in the leadup to the Iraq war, hawks are fond of portraying the IAEA as hapless — “the UN’s nuclear watchpuppy,” scoffs ex-Ambassador to the UN John Bolton — and implying that the US knows more about Iran’s capacities than is public. Yet the US has long delayed releasing an updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, requested by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization, which became law after it was signed by the president on October 17, 2006, reportedly because its conclusions are not alarming enough for the White House’s taste. The most recent administration estimate of Iran’s capability, delivered by then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte in February 2006, stated that if Iran continues on its current path, it could “produce a nuclear weapon within the next decade.” The findings of the special Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction further highlight issues of credibility, revealing that US intelligence on Iran is as bad or worse than it was on Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.[1]

The primary justification for the designation of the Revolutionary Guards as a “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction” actually had less to do with nuclear materials, and more to do with ballistic missiles. According to the State Department fact sheet released to justify the designation, the Guards Corps has been “outspoken about its willingness to proliferate ballistic missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction.” Ballistic missiles themselves certainly are not weapons of mass destruction, but the relevant executive order covers both “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.” Iran’s ballistic missile program remains largely in its nascent stages, however. The US intelligence community has consistently estimated since 1999 that Iran will not have mastered the science of intercontinental ballistic missiles until 2015. At that point, Iran would still have to manufacture an arsenal of missiles and weapons to fit the missiles, putting the actual deployment date even further into the future. (Also, though the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and the Missile Technology Control Regime are voluntary mechanisms intended to discourage states from proliferating missile technology, there is no binding international treaty that prohibits Iran from developing its ballistic missile capability.)

Since Iran lacks the ability to reach the United States, the Bush administration has tried to focus attention on the “threat” of its shorter-range missiles. Just two days before the sanctions rollout, Bush delivered a speech at the National Defense University in which he spoke of Iranian “ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey, as well as American troops based in the Persian Gulf.” He further cited the Iranian ballistic missile program as a justification for a heavier US military presence in Eastern Europe: “Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can.”

Congress has been complicit in bolstering the perception of peril emanating from Iran’s missile program. On July 12, the Senate passed, by a vote of 95-0, an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to the defense authorization bill. The amendment states that it should be the policy of the United States to develop and deploy, as soon as technologically possible, an effective defense against “the threat from Iran.” Congress has cut the entire $85 million in requested construction funding for the new missile defense sites in Europe, however, perhaps heeding Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comment (made the same day of Bush’s speech) that such sites need not be operational until Iran actually tests missiles capable of flying overhead.

DISABLING ENGAGEMENT

The unilateral US steps were clearly intended to stoke the fears of Security Council members that, in the absence of stronger UN sanctions on Iran, the Bush administration might take additional measures on its own. In the short and medium term, however, the more important question is their effect on the behavior of the Iranian regime, and there they appear to be a mixture of the toothless and the counterproductive. The direct effect of the designations is to freeze assets of the named Iranian entities on deposit in US financial institutions, but it is unlikely that such assets exist.

As for indirect effects, the Bush administration’s prophecy of Iranian belligerence may be self-fulfilling: The Revolutionary Guards are deeply embedded in the country’s political and economic structure. They operate a vast and nebulous network that usually does not act in unison or take a single position. Both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and one of his stronger political opponents, 2005 presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf, hail from the Guards’ ranks, for instance. Differences of opinion among the Guards very much reflect the broader disputes in Iran today: There are those who want greater openness and increased engagement with the outside world and those who do not.

Some members of the Revolutionary Guards have expanded their role in the formal economic arena, especially the oil and gas sector. These members have been badly affected by economic isolation and sanctions because of their need for external expertise to maximize their enterprises’ productivity. On the other hand, Guards who are involved in black-market activities, including oil and weapons smuggling, have no interest in increased engagement. For them isolation is a boon, as it is for the middlemen and brokers in Iran and Dubai who launder money and otherwise help businessmen in Tehran to skirt trade restrictions. US policies that pressure allies doing business in Iran play directly into the hands of enemies of engagement.

On the political level, of course, US sanctions allow hardliners to argue that moderates are deceiving themselves about the possibility of a rapprochement with the West. In the wake of the designations, many former Guards commanders who had been disillusioned with Ahmadinejad’s defiant stance have closed ranks behind him. Others have been silenced, the most prominent example being former Guards commander Mohsen Rezaei, whose Baztab website was shut down by the authorities for its criticism of the government.

Though it is unclear whether the Security Council will be able to reach agreement on a third round of sanctions, side effects of US unilateral sanctions are already visible. In November, the World Bank suspended $5.4 million of aid scheduled for projects in Iran until it can find financial institutions other than the blacklisted Bank Melli to handle the transactions. The aid package was intended to assist Iran with recovery from the deadly Bam earthquake in 2003, as well as with water treatment, environmental management and urban renewal. Also in November, corporate giants Yahoo! and Microsoft removed Iran from the country lists of their webmail services. Sanctions may not alter the behavior of the Iranian government, but they certainly hurt the people of Iran.

SILVER LINING

One positive outcome of the October 25 designations is that they have reinvigorated efforts in Congress to put the brakes on the White House’s Iran policy. Following the administration’s announcements, Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Ron Paul (R-TX) and Bill Delahunt (D-MA) held a press conference to introduce a bill designed to restore Congress’ role in declaring war. Along with two co-sponsors, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) also introduced a resolution stipulating that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly approved by Congress before such action may be initiated.”

Sen. Webb, who had broached a similar resolution in March, bolstered efforts to find co-sponsors for Durbin’s bill. After being attacked for her vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Sen. Clinton signed up as a co-sponsor. Webb also initiated and sent a letter to Bush signed by 30 senators emphasizing “that no offensive military action would be justified against Iran without the express consent of Congress.”

While he did not sign Webb’s letter, presidential candidate Obama introduced his own resolution on November 2. It seeks to clarify that the use of force against Iran is “not authorized by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, any resolution previously adopted, or any other provision of law.” Meanwhile, Sen. Hagel sent a personal letter to Bush on October 17 urging the president to “offer direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran.”

DIPLOMATIC OPTIONS

These pending resolutions and letters have not exactly tied the White House’s hands, but they do inject a vitally important point into the political discourse: Just as the notion that sanctions and economic pressure are diplomatic tools is flawed, so too is the notion that the only strategic choices before the US are war or capitulation. Such was the false choice posed by the Bush administration with regard to Iraq. There is in fact a wide array of alternatives available to the US for resolving tensions with Iran, but the political will to get to the negotiating table has been lacking on both sides.

To break the impasse, the US should determine which elements of the offer made by Iran in 2003 to settle outstanding disputes might remain a feasible basis for talks. Washington should also drop its insistence that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium before such talks can begin. In effect, this insistence transforms the outcome of negotiations into a precondition for starting them. Dropping the precondition would signal to both Iran and European allies that the US is sincere in its repeated expressions of preference for real diplomacy.

In the near term, the US could offer confidence-building measures to help bridge the enormous gap in trust between the two countries. At a minimum, the US should pledge non-interference in Iran’s domestic affairs, which is, in any case, its legal obligation under the terms of the Algiers accord signed in 1981 to end the hostage crisis. The Bush administration could repeal Office of Foreign Assets Control restrictions that prohibit US non-governmental organizations from obtaining licenses to work inside Iran, or offer to replace engine parts in the aging fleet of Iranian civilian aircraft. The US could also lift restrictions on visas, allowing for an increase in citizen exchanges, which would in turn foster the growth of constituencies in Iran calling for a government that is fully integrated into the international community.

For its part, Congress can divert to other programs the funding for “democracy promotion” in Iran in the foreign operations bill. The secrecy surrounding the distribution of these funds has created immense problems for Iranian reformers and human rights activists. Aware of their own deep unpopularity, the hardliners in Iran are terrified by the prospect of a “velvet revolution” and have become obsessed with preventing contacts between Iranian scholars, artists, journalists and political activists and their American counterparts. Such gestures may not be successful, but they are a risk worth taking in order to create the conditions necessary for advancing diplomatic engagement.

The Bush administration has insisted that the international community place the Iranian nuclear issue on the front burner. Yet the US itself has not directly engaged Iran in negotiations, preferring to farm out direct contacts to the European Union. Since Iran does not pose an imminent threat to either the US or its allies, it is unlikely that Iran would evoke so much international concern minus US pressure. There is time, albeit limited, for the US to desist from its punitive measures and its threats of more to come, and to pursue bold and tough-minded direct diplomacy instead.
Note

[1] Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, Report to the President of the United States, March 31, 2005, ch. 7, available online at http://www.ise.gov/docs/wmd%20report.pdf.

Carah Ong tracks developments on the UN and US policy front at her blog, Iran Nuclear Watch.

For background on the Iranian nuclear issue, see Asli Bali, “The US and the Iranian Nuclear Impasse,” Middle East Report 241 (Winter 2006).

See also Farideh Farhi, “Iran’s Nuclear File: The Uncertain Endgame,” Middle East Report Online, October 24, 2005.


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