Our reactionary attitude towards Iran is embedded in the DNA of our foreign policy apparatus

Posted on December 1st, 2011 in Government,History,Politics,War by Robert Miller

Iran Hostage Crisis U.S. Embassy Nov 4, 1979

It is the DNA of our foreign policy apparatus that forces us, perhaps in sync with some kind of diplomatic circadian rhythm, to periodically promote the idea that Iran is secretly building a nuclear bomb, in addition to the fact that they are the greatest satanic threat to world peace since the rise of fascism in Europe. Though we don’t officially use the term anymore, GW Bush’s characterization of Iran as part of the axis-of-evil is still emblematic of how we view and diplomatically treat Iran today. We can’t say enough bad things about the country and we are always looking for ways to tighten the sanctions against them we have already imposed (we are going to strengthen our sanctions since the British closed their embassy in Tehran terminated Iran’s foreign office in London). Yes the Iranian regime is a brutal dictatorship and no we don’t want them to develop a nuclear weapon. In fact, we want to eliminate all nuclear weapons. But ever since radicals overthrew the Shah and took our embassy members as hostages (we installed the Shah by overthrowing their democratically elected leader Mossadegh in 1953, as a favor to British oil interests and what eventually became BP (British Petroleum) and is now bp (beyond petroleum)), we cannot shake the fact that we once had the Middle East oil situation fairly well worked out, with rulers who generally did our bidding, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait until Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah and established an Islamic Republic in 1979. We just can’t accept the humiliation we suffered in that episode and we want and need the current regime to topple. It’s obvious that the United States will not be happy until Iran goes through a change in leadership and we would obviously prefer someone more compliant with our own interests compared with the today’s intolerable situation: we demand regime change. But the reactionary posture we unavoidably display towards Iran, and refresh with predictable synchrony, is aided by our partner in sinister delusions, Likudian Israel, who shares in this paranoia and regularly feeds us information reinforcing our satanic interpretation of the country. But a definite pause was recently injected into the conversation about Iran: a recent report by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the watchdog of non-weapons nuclear technology transfer, claimed “the possible existence of undeclared nuclear facilities and material in Iran.” This was new because the same agency had reported in 2007 that there was no evidence for a nuclear weapons program in Iran (see below). But, that’s all it took. A lead story in the New York Times the day after the IAEA report came out advanced the idea that “United Nations weapons inspectors [IAEA] have amassed a trove of new evidence that they say makes a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” You know that when the New York Times comes out with a forceful article like that, the story has legs and war chants begin, typically originating on Faux News (I didn’t check). Yet, later on the same day, the Times came out with a second, more cautionary report admitting “It is true that the basic allegations in the report are not substantially new, and have been discussed by experts for years. Many of them appear to be those first uncovered in the laptop stolen in 2004, said Muhammad Sahimi, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California who has written extensively on Iran’s nuclear program.

But still we are led to believe for the umteenth time that Iran has embarked on a program to develop a nuclear weapon and this time there is an IAEA report that claimed this might be a possibility. But, this general story has been going on for more than a decade. The IAEA is an international agency, charged with transferring nuclear technology from those that have it to those that don’t, making sure that the transfer is for peaceful purposes and not for building bombs. The agency has considerable expertise among its members, and has had broad access to nuclear facilities in Iran; an IAEA report written in 2007 exonerated Iran by stating that the agency had access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and that there was no evidence for an ongoing program to develop a nuclear weapon. So what has changed?

I do not remember how many stories I have chased down, trying to discover the facts about these reports as they surface, but one always winds up debunking them as one fictional account after another, each fabricated or over-hyped to bring more sanctions against Iran and rally public opinion about the possibility of war, or at least initiating an air strike against their supposed nuclear facility–of course that would mean we knew where it was, which we don’t. The first story goes back to at least 2004 (I think I said it was 2001), when a “stolen laptop” was obtained that outlined Iran’s nuclear operations at the time, claiming they were developing a bomb. But that laptop was suspect from the time it first surfaced. For one thing it was in English and for another the government refused to have an independent agency check the dates and history of the computer to learn more about its past. After chasing that story down and a few other misfires, I got very tired of the misinformation campaign that our own government had developed, with the able assistance of Israel, such that I stopped looking into each and every threat. I believe that Iran is a suppressive, ruthless dictatorship that does not tolerate dissent, as we witnessed a few years ago in the streets of Tehran. I do not believe that a theocracy can ever achieve democracy. And, while I don’t put Israel in the same class as Iran, I believe that any government nurtured by a religious doctrine will always be in conflict with democracy. Our government has so inculcated us with misinformation about Iran that we are incapable of having a rational discussion on the subject of their intentions.

On many fronts, Iran has cooperated with us. For example we were allowed to land planes and fly over Iran territory when we first went to war in Afghanistan after 9/11.  During the Bush administration, Iran offered to put everything on the table for negotiation with us and Bush refused, presumably because he got more mileage out of Iran as part of the axis-of-evil rather than choosing to have Iran as a negotiating partner. For GW Bush, America needed enemies in many places, but most of all in the Middle East. Why turn an enemy into a friend, when it’s proven that you get more national mobilization ratings out of enemies compared to what you can expect from your partners. But, with the new threat that Iran might be developing a nuclear bomb, based on the most recent IAEA report, and given the election year hype that is bound to come out of this charge (it was a topic in the most recent Republican Presidential debates), I looked into this issue, beginning with my traditional sources of information, including Gordon Prather, a former nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. In December 2007, I wrote a piece about the Bush administration and their false claims about the nuclear bomb plans of Iran, based on Prather’s reports and his inside information. I have not found anything by him on this most recent issue, at least not at the www.antiwar.com site where he usually posts his comments. However, the recent IAEA report, because of its departure from previous claims about Iran, requires another round of investigative effort and here is what I think is the likely explanation: To begin with, Syemour Hersh has reported on this issue in his New Yorker blog and reminds us that the two most recent reports from our own people, the National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.)–a summary of all of our intelligence agencies–concluded that, since 2003, Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program. From Hersh’s November 18 article in the New Yorker:

  • I’ve been reporting on Iran and the bomb for The New Yorker for the past decade, with a focus on the repeated inability of the best and the brightest of the Joint Special Operations Command to find definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons production program in Iran. The goal of the high-risk American covert operations was to find something physical—a “smoking calutron [mass spectrometer],” as a knowledgeable official once told me—to show the world that Iran was working on warheads at an undisclosed site, to make the evidence public, and then to attack and destroy the site.

To better understand the recent IAEA report, it is perhaps worth noting that the agency has had a relatively recent change of leadership. Until his retirement two years ago Mohammed ElBaradei was the I.A.E.A.’s Director General; he was so popular that he was asked to stay on for three consecutive terms (he is currently running for the Presidency of Egypt in their ongoing elections). Although disliked by Washington, his international reputation was one of objectivity and fairness and for his work, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, perhaps as a direct slam against the GW Bush administration who was constantly beating the war drums against Iran at that time. ElBaradei’s replacement is Yukiya Amano of Japan. The evidence points to the idea that Amano is more to the liking of Washington and that he resonates far better with the DNA of our foreign policy urges than ElBaradei ever did. What points us in this new direction–a change of leadership in the IAEA as the source of the problem, has come from an indispensable source of information: Wikileaks published a classified U.S. Embassy cable from Vienna, site of the IAEA headquarters, which revealed the following (taken from Hersh’s article):

  • According to the cable, which was obtained by WikiLeaks, in a meeting in September, 2009, with Glyn Davies, the American permanent representative to the I.A.E.A., said, “Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the group of developing countries], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision, from high-level personnel. appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

In other words, the new leadership of the IAEA is far more favorably persuaded by the Washington point of view on the possibility that Iran has embarked on a nuclear weapons program. But there are many other problems with the recent IAEA report, including some uncertainty about an explosion chamber that Iran built which might be used for nuclear device testing and and thus provide additional evidence that Iran is actively pursuing development of a bomb. Gareth Porter, an investigative historian reported at antiwar.com on this matter and concludes that it is complete hogwash (from his report):

  • A former inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repudiated its major new claim that Iran built an explosives chamber to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear explosion. The IAEA claim that a foreign scientist – identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko – had been involved in building the alleged containment chamber has now been denied firmly by Danilenko himself in an interview with Radio Free Europe published Friday.”
Porter’s report quotes another expert, a former member of the IAEA, who says that no one in their right mind would build such a testing chamber for indoors testing, as those tests are always carried out in an outdoor environment and they are highly dangerous. When other experts are consulted who have experience with the Iranian nuclear program, they have remarked that the recent controversial IAEA report is merely repackaging the information obtained from the stolen computer and that nothing new was added. Seymour Hersh interviewed several knowledgeable individuals who repeated this claim. From his New Yorker piece:
  • Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshare Fund, a disarmament group, who serves on Hillary Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board, said, “I was briefed on most of this stuff several years ago at the I.A.E.A. headquarters in Vienna. There’s little new in the report. Most of this information is well known to experts who follow the issue.” Cirincione noted that “post-2003, the report only cites computer modelling and a few other experiments.” (A senior I.A.E.A. official similarly told me, “I was underwhelmed by the information.”)
Even within the IAEA report, one finds statements that contradict the overall tone of the report (from Hersh’s article):
  • The report did note that its on-site camera inspection process of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities—mandated under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory—“continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material.” In other words, all of the low enriched uranium now known to be produced inside Iran is accounted for; if highly enriched uranium is being used for the manufacture of a bomb, it would have to have another, unknown source.
All of the known sites where nuclear material is handled in Iran are under the surveillance authority of the IAEA and by their own reporting, the nuclear material that is known to them is accounted for and being properly developed under their supervision. Yes, they are enriching uranium, but they have the authority to do so and the plan is to provide isotopes for nuclear medicine. Furthermore, the experts are telling us that this new report has not provided anything fundamentally new, but is in fact presenting the same evidence we have known about in a different shade of grey, possibly from a gray scale level of 8 bits, to a 16 bit scale, with a shade level of one or two towards the gray end of the scale.  This is not to say that Iran is absolved from suspicions about developing a bomb, but they are carrying out such a massive scale project, they must be doing it through the acquisition of nuclear material that we know nothing about. In other words, the IAEA did not find anything new or anything we didn’t know before. It looks as though the transition from ElBaradei to Amano may account for the more alarming interpretation of the same old data. It would appear that the population of Mudville can sleep better tonight.

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