The Iran Negotiations have been a Circus and a Charade (July 2015)
Are you celebrating Barack Obama’s deal with Iran? It is certainly a good thing, but have you had the same experience that I’ve had over several years? Has it occurred to you that this business has seemed particularly loony – even for the madhouse of American politics?
The system is broken. We can see this in countless examples, from corrupted voting machines to mass apathy to exclusion of alternative parties to Donald Trump and a presidential primary campaign that has already raised $400 million. We laugh about it while watching Stephen Colbert and John Stewart capturing each day’s latest crazy statement by the crazy candidate of the day…laughing, as they used to say, to keep from crying.
And we can see it in the diplomatic sphere, especially in the Iran nuclear negotiations, which have been characterized by the stench of mendacious bloviating, grandstanding, preaching to the choir and absurd political theater from the very start.
I will grant you that we can never know the true intentions of the Obama administration, nor can we have any idea of the subtleties of the diplomatic arts. We do know, however, that this administration, like all before it, has one primary strategy in all affairs: to dominate world markets in service of the American empire. We know that its practical intentions differ only slightly from those of its most right-wing critics, and for 65 years that has certainly included the threat of unilateral nuclear attack.
This whole project has relied on fundamental aspects of American mythology: our national insistence on willful ignorance and innocence, with a subset of manipulated fear that has enriched generations of arms merchants.
The charade had been going on for quite a while (see below), when our basic moral intelligence (I’ll be forced to use this word “intelligence” quite a bit) was insulted by a pair of bizarre events. In February Benjamin Netanyahu preached to a compliant choir of Republican Senators, warning them to reject the negotiations – knowing full well that his own intelligence agency, the Mossad, had contradicted him.
Shortly afterwards, 47 Senators, in a media circus that some in an alternative universe might label as treason, attempted to undercut Obama’s ability to negotiate by actually writing to the Iranians and warning that they would do everything they could to wreck any agreement. In effect, the Republicans took the same position as the worst reactionaries among the Iranians.
This was only the most recent craziness. Do you remember John McCain years ago imitating the Beach Boys with “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?” A presidential candidate received hardy applause when he joked about bombing another country. Of course no one thought he was serious – and isn’t that part of the madness?
Netanyahu was not the only politician who knew quite well that Iran posed no nuclear threat, and here we come to the fundamental lie behind this entire project.
The United States has 16 separate intelligence agencies, and all of them agree that Iran gave up any intention of building a nuclear capability over ten years ago. You won’t find this fact easily in either government statements or the media, which naturally prefers to amplify the “threat” of a Nuclear Iran. But you can find it in the conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 (NIE), issued unanimously by all those intelligence agencies:
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.
Actually, you can find this information even in the “reputable” media, if you look hard enough.
Of course politicians obfuscate. Of course diplomats veil reality in the pursuit of their goals. But stop and get serious: for its entire existence this administration (and the media, and every single politician in Washington, including the most extreme of the hawks), have known perfectly well that Iran posed absolutely no threat to the American people. Still, the U.S. made crude attempts to plant fake “intelligence” about an Iranian bomb just as it had about Iraqi weapons.
Ray McGovern is a former long-time CIA analyst who had top security clearance and briefed several American presidents. After quitting in disgust, he formed the ironically and aptly named organization, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee (never known for its dovishness) itself reported in 2008 that
In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent.
In sum, writes McGovern, the “intelligence” was not mistaken; it was fraudulent.
The only question we should ask about any administration’s intelligence reports going all the way back to Eisenhower – and we can ask this question about any public statement they have ever made about foreign policy – is was it outright fraud, or was it “mistaken?”
[December 2017: The recent Ken Burns documentary on the Viet Nam War begins and concludes with the narrative of “mistake.” Others, including every veteran I’ve ever known, lean toward “fraud.”]
Do you really think that the fraud ended when Obama took office? McGovern adds: “An equally important fact ignored by the mainstream media is that the key judgments of that NIE have been re-validated by the intelligence community every year since” – that is, including every year of the Obama administration.
Even the shameless warmonger George W. Bush wrote (in his memoir):
But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?
Think about that statement. A former president actually admitted his disappointment (or that of his generals) that his spies could find no justification for attacking another nation! Perhaps Obama will be that candid once he retires. The truth, of course, did not prevent Bush or Obama from continuing the sanctions.
Professor Yakov Rabkin notes that the U.S. and Israel invented the Iranian threat, which became a staple in Western media. Do you remember Netanyahu brandishing crude drawings of the bomb at the United Nations in the winter? That was nothing new. His business is paranoia. He has been predicting this massive, immediate danger for at least eight years. As far back as March 2007,
…the Israel Project, a Washington-based constituent of the Israel Lobby, distributed an “Iran Press Kit” to over 17,000 media professionals and 40,000 pro-Israel activists in the United States. It claimed that Iran is about to acquire nuclear weapons: “The Nuclear Clock is TICKING … and time is running out.”
Back to our story. Imagine for a moment an American President who tells the truth. A president who, all along, could have called a press conference and responded to the war mongers with, “Bullshit. We know and they know that the Iranians are not a threat.”
Not one progressive Democrat, not Bernie Sanders, not Elizabeth Warren, not Barbara Lee has called out the President on this glaring lie that underlies the entire concept of “Iran” in the American paranoid imagination.
All through the years of the Iran negotiations, Obama, like Netanyahu, had knowingly based the charade on our old mythic assumptions of exceptionalism that few Americans (if they pay any attention at all) ever question – that we have the right to enforce our interests in regions thousands of miles away because we have a divine mandate to spread freedom across the planet and play the role of world policeman.
All media, from Fox to Pacifica, repeated the tale without ever questioning the basic assumption that the U.S. had nothing but the most noble of intentions, that America was heroically – once again – only attempting to do “good.” Only in America can pundits and elected leaders regularly, openly, with straight faces, discuss our assumed right to engage in “regime change” – a euphemism for violently overthrowing the leadership (and, in countless examples, the democratically elected leadership) of a sovereign nation.
One corollary of the myth, deeply embedded in our Puritan psyches (and seen most clearly in the conquest of Hawaii) was that those who act from the noblest of intentions – those who come to do good – also often end up doing quite well, thank you very much. Do you remember that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was originally titled “Operation Iraqi Liberation” before someone in the State Department noticed the embarrassing acronym and changed the war’s name to “Operation Iraqi Freedom?” Imagine having the power to “name” a war…
Part Two of this essay is here.