Coming to Terms With Iran
It only requires a little flexibility from both sides
President Barack Obama perhaps fortuitously did not shake hands with his Iranian counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly meeting last week, but his brief phone conversation with Rouhani should encourage just a ray of optimism that Washington’s most bloviated foreign policy issue of the past thirty years might somehow be resolved. The green light for Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss the Iranian nuclear program should also be seen in positive terms, even if Kerry is an unlikely Great White Hope given his ineptitude relating to the Middle East Peace talks and Syria, as hitherto Washington has eschewed any direct talks with Tehran. To his credit, Obama has made his move in the face of heavy opposition from the Israel Lobby and its friends in congress and the media, which have begun to do battle over the issue.
As many informed observers, including former senior government intelligence analystsPaul Pillar and Flynt and Hillary Leverett, have noted, closing a deal with Iran is actually quite simple and everyone in Washington and Tehran knows what must be done. The problem is that hardliners in Iran are resistant to any rapprochement with the west and, more importantly, the Israel Lobby conditions and even dictates the positions that the United States is able to take. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is entitled to develop nuclear technology, including enrichment, for peaceful purposes like the generation of electricity and creating isotopes for medical applications. The Iranian people strongly support that right and find it bizarre that they are being subjected to a barrage of Washington-inspired United Nations Security Council resolutions that condemn it for behaving like every other NPT signatory that has a nuclear energy program. The country’s nuclear facilities are inspected by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency and the inspectors have reported that there has been no significant diversion or loss of enriched uranium that might be used in a weapon. Indeed, Iran has recently de-weaponized much of its nuclear fuel by converting it into plates fit only for medical purposes .
If Washington truly wants to come to an understanding with Tehran it knows it has to accept that Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, both the Bush and Obama Administrations have on occasion conceded that to be the case though sometimes also suggesting that a secret, more insidious nuclear program might simultaneously exist. If Tehran wants a deal with Washington it too knows what is required: a transparent and inspected program that will satisfy the White House that no weapons are being planned or developed. This might well include no capability to enrich nuclear fuel at all requiring it instead to buy the fuel from others. Tehran has already indicated it might be willing to go down that road when it discussed such a possibility both with the Turks and Brazilians and also with the Russians before Washington characteristically changed its mind and rejected such an arrangement.
Tehran and Washington then have to agree to opening up the Iranian nuclear program to outside inspectors while also simultaneously easing the current international sanctions on Iran. That way there would be something that Rouhani can present to his people as a net gain in helping is devastated economy to recover while Obama can claim that a rigorous inspection regime will prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. Everyone wins, except Israel and its powerful lobby in the United States, which have constantly moved their red line but now oppose any Iranian nuclear program of any kind.
As Paul Pillar notes, “Benjamin Netanyahu will not support any agreement between the United States and Iran. Or to be more precise, he will not support any agreement that is at all reasonable…and thus has any chance of being negotiated…He is doing what he can to destroy the prospects for an agreement.” The Lobby’s attempt to derail the negotiations started almost immediately. Rouhani’s unscripted response to a question about the Holocaust, in which he said he was a politician not a historian, was immediately cited by the punditry as Holocaust denial, which it clearly was not. Not that the issue is relevant anyway, but Foreign Minister Zarif chose to address it more directly on the weekend, confirming that the Holocaust had taken place and that it was a “heinous crime” and a “genocide.” His explanation was predictably ignored by most of the mainstream media.
Typical of the level of invective unleashed against Iran was a September 27th op-ed by leading neocon Charles Krauthammer entitled “The real Rouhani” for the Washington Post which was full of false information intended to poison the waters if anyone should even attempt to negotiate with Tehran. Krauthammer claimed that there is no such thing as an Iranian moderate, that Iran has no right or need to develop nuclear energy, that it has nearly enough nuclear material on hand already to construct a bomb, and that the entire Rouhani appeal is a trick to have sanctions lifted with no concessions by Tehran in return. Oh yes, and their favorite refrain is “Death to America” while they are denying the Holocaust and plotting to “eradicate” Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) could not have said it better and might well have provided Krauthammer with this “talking points.”
Brian Williams on NBC’s Friday prime time news also did his bit to make the American viewer understand the Iran is a perfidious place given to lying about its secret weapons of mass destruction, asserting on national television that Iran’s leaders are “suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons,” adding that “Skepticism is high and there’s a good reason for it.” Williams does not write his own scripts but clearly someone with an agenda did have a hand in telling him what to say. The fact is that no Iranian leader has ever called for nuclear weapons and the only skepticism comes from people like Williams who know what they are expected to report to hew to the conventional wisdom on Iran.
On the following day the Washington Post featured the headline article on its front page “Obama, Iranian president speak by phone,” asserting in the third paragraph that Washington was seeking “…a deal over Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, which the United States, Israel and other nations believe is cover to develop nuclear weapons.” What the Israeli government actually believes can certainly be questioned and its moral high ground for condemning anyone, considering that it is a secret nuclear power, is a bit shaky, but the US intelligence community has concluded that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it. In the judgment of both the Agency and even Mossad, Tehran has not made the essentially political and economic decisions to develop a weapon, so asserting a general view among the “informed” that Iran is developing nuclear weapons is more than a bit of a stretch. According to President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, their country has no intention of doing so, and they note that the Iranian religious leadership has issued a fatwa condemning such a development.
A former intelligence officer friend of mine, reacting to the Obama-Rouhani phone call, predicted that there would be Washington Post op-eds by Senators McCain, Menendez, and Graham attacking Iran in response. A Menendez-Graham piece“Unseduced by Iran’s charm offensive” did indeed appear on Sunday, stating that the U.S. should “take whatever action necessary” to prevent Iran from acquiring a “nuclear weapons capability” that would be “threatening the very existence of our ally Israel.” It might be noted that Israel is no ally, that many in Israel admit that Iran is no existential threat, and that Iran already has a nuclear “capability.” So that leaves “take whatever action necessary” as the core message, doesn’t it? Nor is there any mention of how Iran might actually threaten the United States, possibly because Iran does not threaten the United States.
The Menendez-Graham op-ed was followed up on Monday by a blog by neocon Jennifer Rubin “On Iran, a bad call,” which describes the phone call between the two heads of state as “deeply worrisome” because the event was greeted with enthusiasm by the “chattering classes.” Rubin as usual doth protest too much as she is a poster child for everything that is wrong with the chattering classes that she denigrates. Her own newspaper the Post has repeatedly featured op-ed, editorials, and news pieces slamming Iran and opposing any attempts at rapprochement, so it is not as if there is a widespread wave of “chattering” enthusiasm greeting the news of talks between Iran and the US at least if one judges from the mainstream media.
And then there is, of course, this week’s visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UN and to Washington. It was preceded by the phony news of the arrest in Israel of an Iranian “spy” who was allegedly carrying photos of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, a crude attempt to influence American opinion by suggesting that Iran was planning to attack a US diplomatic facility. On Monday Netanyahu met with Obama and warned him that already harsh sanctions should be further tightened in light of Iran’s nuclear program, noting that a “credible military threat” must back up any negotiations. He demanded that Iran’s nuclear program be dismantled. At the United Nations on the following day he asserted that “Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes — the wool over the eyes of the international community.” He describes Rouhani as smiling “…a lot because smiling never hurts; pay lip-service to peace, democracy and tolerance; offer meaningless concessions in exchange for lifting sanctions; ensure Iran retains sufficient nuclear material and infrastructure to race to the bomb at a time that it chooses.” And a big lie unsupported by even a shred of evidence never hurts: “… in the last three years alone, Iran has ordered, planned or perpetrated terrorist attacks in 25 countries on five continents.” For Netanyahu, nothing ever changes.
For Netanyahu, Krauthammer, Rubin, Menendez, and Graham apart from complete surrender on all issues and total disarmament there is absolutely nothing that Iran could possibly do to confirm that it is actually seeking some kind of accommodation. And even then they would object that it is all a trick and that Tehran has a secret program to attack Israel. Graham and Menendez, who are senators ostensibly elected to represent the American people, should wake up because change is coming. Israel and the United States are not two parts of the same organism. The US, which is struggling economically, desperately needs peace instead of another round of Asian wars. Most Americans are beginning to understand that. If Israel is threatened by anyone it certainly has itself at least partly to blame and Tel Aviv is, at the end of the day, responsible for its own security, which it is well equipped to do thanks to the generosity of the American taxpayer.
In its own interests, Washington should be racing to talk to Iran to find an exit from the longest running unnecessarily sustained neither-war-nor-peace conflict since the cold war. American politicians and media talking heads who say otherwise are being led by the nose by the likes of Netanyahu, a charlatan who has contempt for a congress and White House that he believes he can control. Along the way one might note that the past twelve years of war have not exactly delivered anything positive for the American people, quite the contrary. An unnecessary armed conflict with Iran, which might easily be avoided, could well be the final blow that will sink the American ship of state.
Defeating AIPAC Starts with Syria
In the second century B.C., Cato the Elder, a Roman Senator, would end every speech he made with the admonition “Delenda Est Carthago,” meaning that the city of Carthage, Rome’s perennial rival, must be destroyed. Among other claims, the Romans accused the Carthaginians of engaging in human sacrifice to their god Ba’al Hammon, something that one might describe as the “red line” of that era as Greco-Roman culture abhorred the practice and condemned those who engaged in it. Even though Rome dominated the Mediterranean and Carthage was in decline, Cato believed that one day the ancient resentments would again rise to the surface and a resurgent Carthage would discover a new Hannibal and take revenge. In other words, the survival of Carthage was seen as a threat to the continued existence of the Roman Republic. Cato’s argument was convincing enough to many Romans that it resulted in the Third Punic War in which Carthage was indeed destroyed.
I mention Rome and Carthage to illustrate the fact that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to making compelling arguments about what today might be termed national security. There is in today’s world no Carthage to serve as a counterpoint to America’s new Rome, but in a nation where corruption enabled by the art of lobbying has become so refined that interest groups are able to dominate the political discourse the real enemy is internal. It is plausible to argue that the nation’s legislature is only marginally answerable to the citizens that have elected it. This has nowhere been more evident than in the still ongoing debate over America going to war against Syria, which the White House intends to initiate to establish its “credibility” in spite of the clear evidence that Damascus poses no actual threat to the United States or its interests. Even if one considers a government killing its own citizens as humanitarian grounds for outside military intervention, which I do not, the White House has failed to produce any compelling evidence that the Syrian government actually used chemical weapons against its own people. Ordinary American citizens have responded to the mess of pottage they have been served by writing and calling their congressmen and, overwhelmingly, saying “no.” Even normally bellicose evangelical Christians are surprisingly nearly two to one opposed. But still congress dithers.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has weighed into the debate big time, unleashing hundreds of its activists on Capitol Hill, buttonholing congressmen and staffers alike. This is how it works according to a congressional staffer: “First come the phone calls from constituents who are AIPAC members. They know the Congressman and are nice and friendly and just tell him, or whichever staffer the constituent knows, just how important this vote is to him and his friends back in the district. Then the donors call. The folks who have hosted fundraisers. They are usually not only from the district but from New York or LA or Chicago. They repeat the message: this vote is very important. Contrary to what you might expect, they do not mention campaign money. They don’t have to. Because these callers are people who only know the Congressman through their checks, the threat not to write any more of them is implicit. Like the constituents, the donors are using AIPAC talking points which are simple and forceful. You can argue with them but they keep going back to the script… Then there are the AIPAC lobbyists, the professional staffers. They come in, with or without appointments. If the Congressman is in, they expect to see him immediately. If not, they will see a staffer. If they don’t like what they hear, they will keep coming back. They are very aggressive, no other lobby comes close. They expect to see the Member, not mere staff. Then there are the emails driven by the AIPAC website…and then the ‘Dear Colleague’ letters from Jewish House members saying how important the vote is for Israel and America. They also will buttonhole the Members on the House floor… And, truth be told, all the senior Jewish Members of the House are tight with AIPAC. Also, the two biggest AIPAC enforcers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his Democratic counterpart, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, are fierce AIPAC partisans, and they make sure to seek out Members on the floor to tell them how they must vote. On anything related to Israel, they speak in one voice: AIPAC’s. Obviously, there is no counterpart to this on the antiwar side. No anti-AIPAC to speak of. AIPAC owns this issue. It gets what it wants.”
AIPAC carefully avoided naming Israel in its statement of support for Obama even though it prides itself on being America’s pro-Israel lobby, presumably because it wishes to avoid Syria being labeled as Israel’s war if the bombing turns out badly. Which it will. AIPAC cares nothing for the fate of Syrian civilians but it does fear that failing to attack Damascus could possibly strengthen noninterventionist sentiment when it comes time to confront Iran, which it regards as Israel’s principal enemy. Its statement asserts “America’s allies and adversaries are closely watching the outcome of this momentous vote. This critical decision comes at a time when Iran is racing toward obtaining nuclear capability. Failure to approve this resolution would weaken our country’s credibility to prevent the use and proliferation of unconventional weapons and thereby greatly endanger our country’s security and interests and those of our regional allies.” The White House, for its part, is increasingly playing the Israel card to gain support, with the Israeli media even reporting that Obama has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene directly in lobbying American Jews to support an attack.
So AIPAC and the other components of the Israel Lobby, which are marching in lock step on this issue, are basically advocating a series of wars in which the United States will do the fighting and dying to make the world safe for Israel. They have chosen to go on the offensive over the issue of Syria to head off any developing peace agenda. Alan Dershowitz, noted Israel-firster from the world of academia, makes the argumentin his usual obtuse fashion: “Congress should first authorize the president to keep his commitment with regard to Syria. Then it should authorize the president to keep his far more important commitment with regard to the red line against Iran. This dual congressional action will strengthen America’s position in the world…” Dennis Ross, who until quite recently exploited a series of top level U.S. government posts to shamelessly promote Israeli interests, spoke recently before a gathering of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), observing several times that approval of an attack on Syria would legitimize taking similar action against Iran in the future. Ross’s open advocacy for the Jewish state while in government earned him thesobriquet of “Israel’s lawyer” and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once testily interrupted him at a meeting, telling him that when the Likud position was needed they would call on him. Unfortunately, Ross was not and is not unique in US government circles when it comes to dealing with the Middle East.
If congress eventually approves the Obama program, now temporarily on hold, it will be because it fears AIPAC more than it does the voters in this country. That is not to say that there are not other constituencies that want to attack Syria for other reasons, but the critical component that will ultimately tip the scales towards war is the influence wielded by AIPAC. Which means that if Syria is actually attacked by the United States it will and should rightly be regarded as AIPAC’s war, a conflict which could also be fairly described as a victory of a foreign interest group over the American people.
AIPAC operates with a budget exceeding $50 million and has several hundred full time staff. Let there be no mistake about what the organization is and what it stands for: it wants the United States to start what almost certainly would quickly escalate into a major war on behalf of another country as a prelude to yet another war against yet another Middle Eastern country. AIPAC is a tax exempt foundation which claims to be educational, though anyone on Capitol Hill would be able to testify that it is anything but. President John F. Kennedy, recognizing the danger it posed, tried to get it listed by the Treasury Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act but was killed before he could complete the process. AIPAC does indeed have the right to organize and express any view that it sees fit but it should not be able to do so on the taxpayer’s dime as an exempt organization and it should be clearly understood that it is an organization that exists to support its own perception of Israeli interests first and foremost. Congressmen should be able to tell AIPAC lobbyists to go away without fear of reprisals.
If the United States is ever again to be free of the danger posed by well-funded special interests like AIPAC it must first recognize that it has a problem and then take steps to find a remedy. To be sure powerful interests will strike back hard, but a good first step to demonstrate seriousness would be for congress to vote against President Obama’s plan to attack Syria should it be brought to the floor in the next several weeks. It would be a major defeat for AIPAC and it could substantially shift perceptions in the United States, opening the door to a freer discussion of the interventionist foreign policy that has produced so many ills over the past twelve years. Putting the AIPAC genie back in the bottle would do just that, removing at a stroke the Israeli stranglehold on US policy in the Middle East and holding the White House accountable every time it seeks to initiate a war of choice.
Read more by Philip Giraldi
- Coming to Terms With Iran – October 2nd, 2013
- A Government Answerable to No One – September 25th, 2013
- ‘I’ Is for ‘Impeachment’ – September 18th, 2013
- Have You Heard the One About the Middle East Peace Talks? – September 4th, 2013
- Obama Flips and Flops – August 28th, 2013