August 6, 2010

The Drumbeats of War with Iran are Getting Louder

The Drumbeats of War with Iran are Getting Louder

Dire signs in ramping up of rhetoric, military preparations

By Muhammad Sahimi,Tehran Bureau
July 31, 2010

Back in September 2002, Andrew H. Card, George W. Bush's chief of staff, was asked why the Bush administration had not yet begun a propaganda campaign to prepare the American public for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Practically anyone who had been following political developments, particularly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, knew that Bush was bent on attacking Iraq, yet there was still no major propaganda program in place. Card responded, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," meaning that much of the public is then on summer vacation and does not pay much attention to what is going on in or coming out of Washington.

It is the end of July now, but the propaganda campaign to prepare the public for possible military attacks on Iran is already in high gear. The drumbeats of war are getting louder by the day and, unless the public is fully informed of the potentially catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world, we may soon see another illegal war waged by the United States and Israel against a Muslim country -- in addition to all the secret and not-so-secret attacks against nations such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Some are even saying that the situation is eerily similar to the one right before the 1967 war between the Arab countries and Israel, when the entire Middle East was seething. This time, too, Israel is making sure that the drumbeats of war are as loud as possible.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Israel have been shuttling between Washington and Tel Aviv, pushing for crippling economic sanctions that even they concede will not change Iran's nuclear policy. These sanctions are being put in place, both by the United States and its allies. The open prediction that they will fail is meant to indicate just one thing -- military attacks are inevitable.

While visiting Washington this week, Barak told the Washington Post,
"It's still time for sanctions." But he continued, "Probably, at a certain point, we should realize that sanctions cannot work."
Never mind that Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister, stated in 2007 that even if Iran did develop a nuclear arsenal, it would pose little threat to Israel. She even criticized Ehud Olmert, her predecessor, for exaggerating the Iranian nuclear issue for political gain.

When Netanyahu recently visited Washington, President Barack Obama did not demand accountability for Israel's recent acts of violence involving the Freedom Flotilla and other humanitarian aid efforts to Gaza. What he did instead was to greet Netanyahu with his signature smile and warm words -- as all U.S. presidents are obligated to do when meeting with any Israeli leader. But the president did not stop there. He gave Netanyahu carte blanche regarding Iran, to the extent that the meeting was dubbed "Netanyahu 1, Obama 0." The President said,
Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it's in, and the threats that are leveled against us -- against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It's got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that's why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.
Note how at one point the President used "us," not "it," in reference to Israel -- although he quickly corrected himself -- as if the interests of Israel and the United States were identical. Note also how he states that Israel has "unique security requirements." Well, every nation has unique security requirements. Why can Iran not say the same? Its national security requirements are also unique. This was recognized by both the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Islamic Republic. When the Shah was in power, Iraq, backed by the Soviet Union -- with which Iran shares a long border -- was involved in a series of confrontations with Iran. In the post-Revolution era, Iran has continually been threatened and attacked, first by Iraq, then by the United States and its NATO allies during the "tankers war" of 1987-88, then by U.S.-backed terrorist groups, ranging from Jundallah to PJAK.

The rhetorical rationale for attacking Iran keeps coming out of Washington. Most astonishingly, there is a resolution before the U.S. Congress, signed by one-third of the Republican caucus, that urges support for Israeli military attacks on Iran.

The resolution, H. Res. 1553, represents a green light for a bombing campaign. It provides explicit support for military strikes, stating that Congress backs Israel's use of "all means necessary" against Iran "including the use of military force." This is while many top U.S. military leaders have warned that strikes could be catastrophic to national security interests and engulf the Middle East in a "calamitous" regional war. The hubris of the warmongering supporters of Israel in Congress knows no limit, however. If the bill were actually to pass, it would probably be the first time in history that the parliament of one nation urged a second nation to attack a third, and promised support for such an action.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a recent TV interview,
I think the sanctions will have some impact.... Will it deter [Iran] from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.
And Michael Hayden, CIA director under George W. Bush, said recently that during his tenure "a strike was way down the list of options," but that such action now "seems inexorable." He continued,
"In my personal thinking, I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes."
He said that the likelihood of a U.S. strike on Iran has risen in the face of Tehran's refusal to halt its contentious nuclear program.
"We engage," he stated. "They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward."
Senator Joseph "bomb-Iran-for-Israel's-sake" Lieberman (I-Connecticut) said in April,
I think it's deeply important that the fanatical leadership in Iran understands that we are very serious about their nuclear weapons program, and when we say it's unacceptable for Iran to go nuclear, we mean it -- that we can and will do everything to stop Iran from going nuclear. The next step is tough sanctions, economic sanctions. Frankly it's a last chance for Iran to avoid giving the rest of the world, including the United States, a hard choice between allowing Iran to go nuclear and using military power to stop them from doing that.

I cannot stress enough that this is a turning point in history. If we allow Iran to become a nuclear power, the world becomes terribly more unsafe for everybody. It's the end of the global nuclear nonproliferation attempts. All the work that President Obama's doing on the START treaty, trying to keep nukes from terrorists -- if Iran goes nuclear, that's over.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has declared time and again that there is no evidence that there is a nuclear weapons program in Iran, and has certified time and again that there has been no diversion of Iran's nuclear materials to nonpeaceful purposes. The National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 states that Iran stopped its work on a nuclear weapon in 2003, even though it actually did not present any evidence that Iran had such a program prior to that point. Lieberman thus brazenly lies when he talks about Iran's "nuclear weapons program."

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) recently stated,
"I believe Hashem [Orthodox for God] actually gave me that name [Schumer]. One of my roles, very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer [guardian] -- to be a, or the shomer Yisrael [guardian of Israel]. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body...."
To thunderous applause at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he declared,
Diplomacy has failed. Iran is on the verge of becoming nuclear and we cannot afford that.
Now, if a U.S. senator can invoke God to justify what he is doing when he urges war on another nation, why can the clerics and hardliners in Tehran not justify their crimes by invoking God? If the clerics are exposed as fanatics when they suggest God embraces violence, how is it that Schumer is not?

Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) declared,
We have to contemplate the final option, the use of force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Does the "final option" of Senator Bayh not remind us of the Nazis' "final solution," the murder of six million innocent Jews? Would a military attack on Iran not kill a devastating number of innocent people, both there and in the rest of the Middle East?

And then we have the rants of Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), who told the AIPAC conference,
War is a terrible thing, but sometimes it is better to go to war than to allow the Holocaust to develop a second time.
As if a war with Iran would not result in a Holocaust for Iranians and the rest of the Middle East. And the imbecilic senator, who has difficulty pronouncing the word "nuclear" correctly, wants not just war, but total destruction:
If military force is ever employed, it should be done in a decisive fashion. The Iran government's ability to wage conventional war against its neighbors and our troops in the region should not exist. They should not have one plane that can fly or one ship that can float.
In a Washington Post op-ed piece, former senator Charles S. Robb and retired general Charles Wald opined,
The administration needs to expand its approach and make clear to the Iranian regime and the American people: If diplomatic and economic pressures do not compel Iran to terminate its nuclear program, the U.S. military has the capability and is prepared to launch an effective, targeted strike on Tehran's nuclear and supporting military facilities.
Both are members of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a hawkish group established in 2008. Led by neoconservative Michael Makovsky, it was formed specifically to advocate tough sanctions and military attacks on Iran. The center released a document with the provocative title, "Meeting the Challenge, When Time Runs Out."
To demonstrate U.S. resolve and readiness to go to war, it urges the Obama administration to augment the Fifth Fleet presence in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman [whose headquarters are in Bahrain], including the deployment of an additional [aircraft] carrier battle group and minesweepers to the waters off Iran; conduct broad exercises with its allies in the Persian Gulf [and] initiate a "strategic partnership" with Azerbaijan to enhance regional access....

The report continues, If such pressure fails to persuade Iran's leadership, the United States and its allies would have no choice but to consider blockading refined petroleum imports into Iran, which the report conceded would "effectively be an act of war and the U.S. and its allies would have to prepare for its consequences" -- meaning outright war. Makovsky was formerly a consultant to a controversial Pentagon office created in the run-up to the Iraq war to find evidence of operational ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. When such evidence proved nonexistent, it was cooked up anyway and used to justify the invasion.
In urging war with Iran, the neoconservative allies of Israel even shed crocodile tears for Iranians. Writing in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Jamie M. Fly and William Kristol -- dubbed the little Lenin of the neocons -- stated,
Unfortunately, President Obama waffled while innocent Iranians were killed by their own government. It's now increasingly clear that the credible threat of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program is the only action that could convince the regime to curtail its ambition.
And who are these two "humanitarians?" Beginning in 1996, Kristol, with his neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), was the leading advocate of the invasion of Iraq, which killed up to one million innocent Iraqis. He has applauded the president's policy on war in Afghanistan that is rapidly piling up casualties, both among the innocent Afghan people and U.S. soldiers. He has campaigned for every war ever realized or imagined with a Muslim nation. Yet Kristol wants us to believe that he really feels the pain of the Iranian people. Fly is a Bush-era hawk, who worked at the Pentagon and the National Security Council. These two men now direct the Foreign Policy Initiative, which succeeded the PNAC, after that organization was totally discredited.

Other discredited leftovers from the Bush regime are making similar pronouncements. Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security advisor, and Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog stated in a position paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of AIPAC,that:
By the first quarter of 2011, we will know whether sanctions are proving effective.

The administration should begin to plan now for a course of action should sanctions be deemed ineffective by the first or second quarter of next year. The military option must be kept on the table both as a means of strengthening diplomacy and as a worst-case scenario.
Elliot Abrams, who was senior director responsible for Near East and North African affairs in the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration -- and who was convicted for his key role in the infamous Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s -- told the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) on April 25,
I believe Israel will act [attack Iran], and I hope the U.S. will. We keep saying it's unacceptable for Iran to have a bomb, but we don't mean it. We mean it's terrible, we don't want it. But when Israel says it's unacceptable, they mean it.
Then there is Steven Rosen, long a highly influential figure within AIPAC and now an aide to Daniel Pipes -- an Islamophobe who runs an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim website - who told ZOA,
The majority of Americans support force on Iran, yet there's a taboo against saying we must force them now.... The U.S. would be more efficient than Israel at suppressing Iran. We have to have the ability to stare directly into the light bulb.
Does the light bulb not remind you of the infamous nuclear mushroom cloud invoked by Condoleezza Rice to justify the invasion of Iraq?

And let us see what so-called scholar Danielle Pletka has to say. Pletka, a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq, is the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, where some of the "brains" behind the invasion, such as Richard N. Perle -- the "Prince of Darkness" -- reside. She has been constantly hyping the nonexistent threat from Iran. In July 2009 testimony to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, she shed crocodile tears for the Iranian people, declaring that:
It is only by applying the toughest possible sanctions that we stand any chance of persuading Iran's leaders to consider serious negotiations with the international community.
Her opinion has, shall we say, evolved since then. In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal this March, Pletka declared,
The only questions remaining, one Washington politico tells me, are who starts it, and how it ends.
Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht, now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has advocated bombing Iran as the "better safe than sorry" option. He downplays the backlash throughout the Middle East that many experts, including those in the U.S. military, anticipate would result from such a preemptive strike. Gerecht was at the American Enterprise Institute and involved with Kristol's PNAC; he once infamously said, "The Iranians have terrorism in their DNA."

A few years ago, Gerecht, who used to write under the pseudonym Edward Shirley and is supposedly an Iran pundit, participated in a symposium on Iran at the University of Southern California, where I teach. He did not know the simplest information about Iran's internal political structure, the various factions, or their positions. When I confronted him with the most basic facts, he became upset.

The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf have also gotten into the act of advocating war with Iran. Yousef al-Otaiba, ambassador to the United States from the United Arab Emirates, recently told neoconservative Washington Times reporter Eli Lake,
I think it's a cost-benefit analysis [when it comes to attacking Iran]. I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion ... there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what. If you are asking me, "Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?" my answer is still the same: "We cannot live with a nuclear Iran." I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E.
Now, why a country that is benefiting immensely from Iran, that has absorbed thousands of educated Iranians, and that has purchased billions of dollars worth of the most modern weapons, feels threatened by a nation that is surrounded on three sides by U.S. forces is beyond my comprehension.

That is not all. On June 5, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reportedly told French Defense Minister Hervé Morin,
"There are two countries in the world that do not deserve to exist: Iran and Israel."
This statement was reported by Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro, who said that it was confirmed by two sources from diplomatic and military circles.

Almost simultaneously, the Times of London reported that Saudi Arabia has practiced standing down its air defense systems to allow Israel to use its air space for an attack on Iran.

I believe that King Abdullah probably did not even mention Israel at all (Israel never raised a protest in response to the reported statement). The Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, which rely on the United States and France for everything, have no issue with Israel, despite their rhetoric. It is Iran with which they have a problem. This is, of course, not new. It goes back decades, even centuries. These nations also resented the military power of Iran during the Shah, and provided $50 billion to Iraq to continue its war with Iran in the 1980s.

The danger in such reckless statements, however, is that they provide ammunition for those in Washington who want war. They can claim that it is not just Israel that feels threatened by Iran and its (nonexistent) nuclear weapon program -- "The Arabs feel the same way."

One might think that this is nothing more than rhetoric and psychological warfare. Yet persistent reports for the past two months indicate that the United States has stepped up covert operations and preparations for action against Iran. There have been credible reports that American forces have been concentrating around the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus, most remarkably in Azerbaijan. There have also been reports of Israeli activities in Azerbaijan, and of the U.S. and Israeli air forces practicing joint bombing drills. Add the fact that the United States recently increased the number of its carrier strike groups opposite Iran to three, and one gets a terrifying picture of what might happen.

If war with Iran does come, it will be to a large extent Washington's fault. When he was running for president, candidate Obama offered to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions. But the offer, without any fundamental change in the way the United States views Iran, was meaningless. Yes, the Obama administration did not demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program before negotiating to swap its low-enriched uranium (LEU) with fuel for the Tehran research reactor that provides medical isotopes for 850,000 ill Iranians. Yes, as always, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said one thing last October -- yes to the swap -- but did something else -- backtracked. Eventually, however, he and the hardliners were forced to accept the original October 2009 deal, in the process making concessions that amounted to capitulation.

So why did Washington reject the pact brokered by Turkey and Brazil, and effectively chastise them -- "How dare you make a deal with Tehran?"

At the same time, Obama's goal has always been the same as that of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, namely, to dismantle Iran's uranium enrichment facilities and program. There is a negligible difference between demanding suspension of the uranium enrichment program before entering the negotiation room, and demanding the same just as soon as one enters the room. The president also set a superficial deadline, December 2009, for significant progress on the issue. Why is it that Washington politicians -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- oppose deadlines when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, but enthusiastically support one when dealing with Iran? Because when it comes to Iran, their bellicose fantasies have yet to be realized.

In fact, it is becoming abundantly clear that the president's promise to pursue diplomacy with Iran has always been similar to many other promises that he made during his campaign: bogus. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly made it clear that the "diplomatic effort" is not directed at reaching a solution but about convincing the Europeans that diplomacy will not work.

So, it is now crystal clear -- if it had not long been already -- that the administration's plan has been to go through the diplomatic motions, as Israel's man in the White House, Dennis Ross, wanted, in order to set the stage for crippling sanctions and possible war against Iran.

What should be the position of those of us who oppose Tehran's hardliners and their repressive rule? There is no fundamental contradiction between, on the one hand, opposing the hardliners and advocating a democratic political system, and on the other, opposing sanctions and war against Iran. The last thing that Iran's democratic Green Movement needs at this point is military attacks, or sanctions that will hurt only ordinary people, further empower the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and provide the hardliners with the excuse of an overt threat to national security to crack down even harder on the movement. The invasion of Iraq did wonders for the Guards for precisely the same reason, helping it to consolidate its grip on power in Tehran. Any attack on Iran now will completely decimate the democratic movement.

Make no mistake. The hardliners' reckless foreign policy -- if it can even be called a "policy" -- has contributed significantly to the creation of the atmosphere of threats, sanctions, and potential war. The Islamic Republic's current position regarding its nuclear program is the same as that during 2003-2005 when Mohammad Khatami was president, namely, that having the complete cycle for producing nuclear fuel -- including uranium enrichment -- is Iran's fundamental right, with which I agree completely. But Khatami was willing to work with the Europeans to clarify the scope of the program -- he even suspended it for nearly two years, though without receiving the benefits for Iran that had been promised by the European Union in turn. Ahmadinejad and his team have simply committed one blunder after another. His reckless policy, adventurism, and rhetoric regarding Israel have provided the perfect excuse for the warmongers to advocate tough sanctions and even war on Iran.

I am not inveterately opposed to all sanctions. If some measures can be identified that target only the hardline clerics and their cronies, as well as ways that can help break their hold on the means of mass communications and free flow of information, they can be supported. Given that the Guards control a large part of Iran's economy -- both official and black-market -- it would be difficult to identify sanctions that hurt only the hardliners. However, if such sanctions can be identified, each time new ones are instituted, others that the United States has imposed for decades that hurt only the common people, such as those on selling civilian aircraft, must be lifted. This has not happened because the United States has single-mindedly made Iran's nuclear program the only issue. In fact, the nuclear program is not even among Iranians' top priorities Establishing a democratic political system and the rule of law is. If that happens, it will automatically solve the nuclear problem, as well.

Moreover, the United States and its allies have no right to demand Iran suspend its nuclear program, so long as Iran has abided by its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement. Every report by the IAEA has confirmed that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. I believe that Iran should suspend its uranium enrichment program for a mutually agreed upon period and ratify the Additional Protocol of the Safeguards Agreement to allow intrusive inspections by the IAEA, making the program more transparent. But demanding that Iran give up its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not acceptable.

Thus, all those who do not want to see a new war in the Middle East -- which, if it comes to pass, will make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like child's play -- must oppose military threats and preemptive strikes, as well as any sanctions that hurt ordinary people.

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