“The Islamic Republic of Iran has never been and will never be a threat to the [Middle East] region and neighboring countries, but it will react with full strength against any aggression.” — Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei
Iran has not acted aggressively against its neighbors since Nader Shah invaded India in 1738. Yet US politicians, military leaders and the media persist in portraying Iran as an untrustworthy menace threatening the entire civilized world.
Given that the US military now appears to have a Zionist in charge as its new defense secretary and the relentless threatening rhetoric, we must ask, if a final nuclear deal with Iran is sealed, can the US be trusted to abide by its provisions? Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has justifiable reservations.
In a speech on April 19, 2015 before a group of Iran’s high-level military commanders, Ayatollah Khamenei correctly observed, “Today, the biggest threats to the world and to the region are the US and the Zionist regime, which intervene in any spot they deem necessary and trigger killings, without any consideration and without conforming to religious and conscientious obligations and criteria.” The veracity of the Leader’s words are demonstrated by the US support for the despotic Saudi regime’s bombing campaign against Yemen, which has targeted refugee camps, hospitals, schools, urban neighborhoods and soccer stadiums, resulting in the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people. Similarly, the Israeli entity supports its newfound Saudi ally in its latest aggression in Yemen. Of course, the occupant of the Oval Office whose middle name is Hussein has assured the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of “US full commitment to sustain Saudi Arabia’s capabilities to defend itself,” in the same way that as he has reaffirmed “Israel’s right to defend itself” while the Zionist regime was systematically slaughtering innocent, unarmed civilians in Gaza with US-supplied weapons. How could the Leader of Iran trust a nation whose president had stood in Zionist leader Netanyahu’s residence in occupied Al-Quds just a year earlier and blatantly threatening the Islamic Republic avowed, “All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.”
The incessant barrage of US threats against Iran appears to be the byproduct of a thorough Israeli penetration into the highest levels of the American government, resulting in a convergence of neocon Iranophobic dogma and Zionist security paranoia. That Congress is an “Israeli-occupied territory” has been known for years, but now Tel Aviv’s tentacles extend to the US military. For verification, one need look no further than Obama’s new war chief, Ashton Carter, who during a 2013 visit to the Israeli entity remarked, “Protecting America means protecting Israel, and that’s why we’re here in the first place.” According to the Zionist organization United with Israel, Carter “is regarded by Israel as an honest and perceptive friend in the uppermost echelons of the Pentagon.”
Apparently, Carter not only believes that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, but also appears intent on conflating the two remaining independent members of George W. Bush’s infamous Axis of Evil. “With respect to the nuclear weapons situation in Iran … those negotiations that are being conducted by us and our P5-plus-1 partners with the Iranians have the objective of arresting the North Korean — I mean, not North Korean, excuse me, the Iranian nuclear program,” averred the US defense secretary during a recent Pentagon press conference. Perhaps the mistake reflects Carter’s long standing desire to bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities, which in 2006 he viewed as “a prudent policy.”
While the slip of the tongue is somewhat amusing, Carter’s obsession with security is alarming but in perfect alignment with Zionist interests. In a 1998 paper coauthored with John Deutch and Philip Zelikow, Carter expounded his thesis that nations should be “obliged to reassure other states that are worried and to take reasonable measures to prove they are not secretly developing weapons of mass destruction. Failure to supply such proof or to prosecute the criminals living within their borders should entitle worried nations to take all necessary actions for their self-defense.” Hence Carter’s philosophy meshes perfectly with Netanyahu’s ceaseless cacophony of concerns over an imagined “Iranian nuclear threat.” Furthermore, any nuclear agreement with Iran would represent a concrete implementation of Carter’s view that the burden of proof of compliance rests on the suspect nation. From this it follows rather quickly that suspicion alone is sufficient to justify military threats. Of course that Carter would not apply his burden of proof on the suspect nation doctrine to the Israeli entity goes without saying.
During the same meeting with military commanders, Ayatollah Khamenei stated, “After a [short] period of silence by the opposite side, one of their officials recently spoke once more of options on the table.” The Leader was referring to US joint chiefs of staff chairman Martin Dempsey, who, in a press conference emphasized, “The military option that I owe the president to both encourage the diplomatic solution and, if the diplomacy fails, to ensure that Iran doesn’t achieve a nuclear weapon, is intact.” This same threat was voiced one day before the detailed nuclear outline was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland when Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, after being asked by a reporter what if the negotiations fail, emphasized, “There is, of course, a military option that’s sitting on the table.”
And the military option is on a table that has an expensive nuclear centerpiece called the B61-12. A so-called LEP (life extension program) of earlier B61 designs, the B61-12 is a nuclear smart bomb specifically designed as an earth penetrator. According to Hans M. Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, the B61-12 is a new nuclear weapon with improved military capabilities, and is “the most expensive nuclear bomb project ever.” The development of this B61-12 smart nuke places the US squarely in violation not only of its own 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, but also Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which commits the US to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
And as if the B61-12 nuclear “device” were not enough, the Pentagon has unveiled the improved Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) GBU-57A-B, a 30,000 lb. conventional-explosive bomb specifically designed to target Iran’s hardened nuclear facilities. Why spend obscene sums of money to develop bigger and better bunker buster bombs if indeed the Washington regime seeks peaceful relations? The answer seems obvious that Washington has no such peaceful intentions. By accusing Iran’s civil nuclear program of having a weapons dimension while simultaneously providing political cover for the Israeli entity’s very real nuclear weapons program, US leaders are obviously talking out of both sides of their imperial mouths.
As insane as this may sound, Andrew C. Weber, US assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, insists that “maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile is critical to deterring potential adversaries and assuring US allies and partners.” Perhaps Ayatollah Khamenei had this in mind in addition to Dempsey’s recent threat when he commented, “On the one hand, they bluff this way and on the other, they say the Islamic Republic of Iran should stop its defense progress, which is an idiotic remark.” Undeniably it is idiotic, and in view of these stark realities, Iran would be foolish not to deploy the S-300 missile air defense systems against the American aggressor. The Leader wisely instructed all of Iran’s Defense Forces to “boost their military and defense preparedness as well as their combat readiness” in his April 19 speech before Iranian military leaders.
Nevertheless, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and the Israeli entity all cling tenaciously to their nuclear weapons. Despite hopes for disarmament, counting warheads in storage and awaiting dismantlement, there are some 15,700 nuclear weapons in the world. Evidently, the goal here is not the complete elimination of nuclear weapons or else why would the US create a new nuclear weapon with new capabilities? Moreover, by ignoring the Israeli entity’s nuclear arsenal, the US has undermined its own credibility in attempting to police the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“Over the past 250 years, Iran has not waged a single war of aggression against its neighbors, nor has it initiated any hostilities,” political scientist and former advisor to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team Dr. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi reminds us. Without a single nuclear weapon and no intention of acquiring one, Iran is clearly not threatening world peace. It is the hypocritical US along with eight other nuclear-armed states, which still possess over 10,000 nuclear warheads, who are collectively threatening our planet. How can Iran trust such a nation?
On Sunday evening, CBS’s “60 Minutes” presented what was pitched as a thorough examination of the infamous sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, with anchor Scott Pelley asserting that “none of what we found will be omitted here.” But the segment – while filled with emotional scenes of dead and dying Syrians – made little effort to determine who was responsible.
Pelley’s team stuck to the conventional wisdom from the rush-to-judgment “white paper” that the White House issued on Aug. 30, 2013, just nine days after the incident, blaming the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. But Pelley ignored contrary evidence that has emerged in the 20 months since the attack, including what I’ve been told are dissenting views among U.S. intelligence analysts.
The segment also played games with the chronology of the United Nations inspectors who had been invited to Damascus by Assad to investigate what he claimed were earlier chemical attacks carried out by Syrian rebels, a force dominated by Islamic extremists, including Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the even more brutal Islamic State.
Though Pelley starts the segment by interviewing a Syrian who claimed he witnessed a sarin attack in Moadamiya, a suburb south of Damascus, Pelley leaves out the fact that Moadimiya was the first area examined by the UN inspectors and that their field tests found no evidence of sarin. Nor does Pelley note that UN laboratories also found no sarin or other chemical agents on the one missile that the inspectors recovered from Moadamiya.
The two labs did have a dispute over whether trace elements of some chemicals found in Moadamiya might have been degraded sarin. But those disputed positives made no sense because when the UN inspectors went to the eastern suburb of Zamalka two and three days later, their field equipment immediately registered positive for sarin and the two labs confirmed the presence of actual sarin.
So, if the sarin had not degraded in Zamalka, why would it have degraded sooner in Moadamiya? The logical explanation is that there was no sarin associated with the Moadamiya rocket but the UN laboratories were under intense pressure from the United States to come up with something incriminating that would bolster the initial U.S. rush to judgment.
The absence of actual sarin from the rocket that struck Moadamiya also raises questions about the credibility of Pelley’s first witness. Or possibly a conventional rocket assault on the area ruptured some kind of chemical containers that led panicked victims to believe they too were under a chemical attack.
That seemed to be a working hypothesis among some U.S. intelligence analysts even as early as the Aug. 30, 2013 “white paper,” which was called a U.S. “Government Assessment,” an unusual document that seemed to ape the form of a “National Intelligence Estimate,” which would reflect the consensus view of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and include analytical dissents.
By going with this new creation – a “Government Assessment,” which was released by the White House press office, not the Office of Director of National Intelligence – the State Department, which was then itching for war with Syria, got to exclude any dissents to the hasty conclusions. But the intelligence analysts managed to embed one dissent as a cutline to a map which was included with the “white paper.”
The cutline read: “Reports of chemical attacks originating from some locations may reflect the movement of patients exposed in one neighborhood to field hospitals and medical facilities in the surrounding area. They may also reflect confusion and panic triggered by the ongoing artillery and rocket barrage, and reports of chemical use in other neighborhoods.”
In other words, some U.S. intelligence analysts were already questioning the assumption of a widespread chemical rocket assault on the Damascus suburbs – and the strongest argument for the State Department’s finger-pointing at Assad’s military was the supposedly large number of rockets carrying sarin.
Possible ‘False Flag’
However, if there had been only one sarin-laden rocket, i.e., the one that landed in Zamalka, then the suspicion could shift to a provocation – or “false-flag” attack – carried out by Islamic extremists with the goal of tricking the U.S. military into destroying Assad’s army and essentially opening the gates of Damascus to a victory by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
That was what investigative journalist Seymour Hersh concluded in ground-breaking articles describing the alleged role of Turkish intelligence in assisting these Islamic extremists in securing the necessary materials and expertise to produce a crude form of sarin.
In December 2013, Hersh reported that he found a deep schism within the U.S. intelligence community over how the case was sold to pin the blame on Assad. Hersh wrote that he encountered “intense concern, and on occasion anger” when he interviewed American intelligence and military experts “over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence.”
According to Hersh, “One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote.
“A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.
“The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy.”
Despite Hersh’s legendary reputation dating back to the My Lai massacre story during the Vietnam War and revelations about CIA abuses in the 1970s, his first 5,500-word article — as well as a second article — appeared in the London Review of Books, a placement that suggests the American media’s “group think” blaming the Assad regime remained hostile to any serious dissent on this topic.
Much of the skepticism about the Obama administration’s case on the Syrian sarin attack has been confined to the Internet, including our own Consortiumnews.com. Indeed, Hersh’s article dovetailed with much of what we had reported in August and September of 2013 as we questioned the administration’s certainty that Assad’s regime was responsible.
Our skepticism flew in the face of a “group think” among prominent opinion leaders who joined in the stampede toward war with Syria much as they did in Iraq a decade earlier. War was averted only because President Barack Obama was informed about the intelligence doubts and because Russian President Vladimir Putin helped arrange a compromise in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while still denying any role in the sarin attack.
A Short-Range Rocket
Later, when rocket scientists — Theodore A. Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories — analyzed the one home-made, sarin-laden rocket that landed in Zamalka, they concluded that it could have traveled only about two to three kilometers, meaning that it would have been fired from an area controlled by the rebels, not the government.
That finding destroyed a conclusion reached by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, which vectored the suspected paths of the two rockets — one from Moadamiya and one from Zamalka — to where the two lines intersected at a Syrian military base about 9.5 kilometers from the points of impact. Not only did the vectoring make no sense because only the Zamalka rocket was found to contain sarin but the rocket experts concluded that it couldn’t even fly a third of the way from the military base to where it landed.
After touting its original Assad-did-it claim on the front page on Sept. 17, 2013, the Times snuck its retraction below the fold on page 8 in an article published on Dec. 29, 2013, between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
But none of these doubts were examined in any way in Pelley’s “60 Minutes” presentation. Instead, Pelley simply pointed the finger at the Syrian government, citing U.S. intelligence. Pelley said: “The rockets were types used by the Syrian army and they were launched from land held by the dictatorship. U.S. intelligence believes the Syrian army used sarin in frustration after years of shelling and hunger failed to break the rebels.”
Pelley did note one anomaly to the conventional wisdom: Why would Assad have ordered a chemical attack outside Damascus after inviting in a team of UN inspectors to examine another site? Pelley then shrugs off that contradiction while offering no alternative scenario and leaving the clear impression that the attack was carried out by the Syrian government.
When I asked the Office of Director of National Intelligence about the “60 Minutes” segment, spokesperson Kathleen C. Butler responded with this e-mailed response: “The intelligence community assess[es] with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. The intelligence community assesses that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely.”
In a subsequent e-mail, she added that there was “full consensus on the assessment.” [For more details on the sarin incident, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]
Clueless over Iraq
Pelley has built a highly successful CBS career by always parroting the official line of the U.S. government no matter how obviously false it is. For instance, in 2008, he conducted an interview with FBI interrogator George Piro who had questioned Iraq’s Saddam Hussein before his execution.
Pelley wondered why Hussein had kept pretending that he had weapons of mass destruction when a simple acknowledgement that they had been destroyed would have spared his country the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
“For a man who drew America into two wars and countless military engagements, we never knew what Saddam Hussein was thinking,” Pelley said in introducing the segment on the interrogation of Hussein about his WMD stockpiles. “Why did he choose war with the United States?”
The segment never mentioned the fact that Hussein’s government did disclose that it had eliminated its WMD, including a 12,000-page submission to the UN on Dec. 7, 2002, explaining how its WMD stockpiles had been destroyed. In fall 2002, Hussein’s government also allowed teams of UN inspectors into Iraq and gave them free rein to examine any site of their choosing.
Those inspections only ended in March 2003 when President George W. Bush decided to press ahead with war despite the UN Security Council’s refusal to authorize the invasion and its desire to give the UN inspectors time to finish their work.
But none of that reality was part of the faux history that Pelley delivered to the American public. He preferred the officially sanctioned U.S. account, as embraced by Bush in speech after speech, that Saddam Hussein “chose war” by defying the UN over the WMD issue and by misleading the world into believing that he still possessed these weapons.
In line with Bush’s made-up version of history, Pelley pressed Piro on the question of why Hussein was hiding the fact that Iraq no longer had WMD. Piro said Hussein explained to him that “most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.”
“So,” Pelley asked, “why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?”
After Piro mentioned Hussein’s lingering fear of neighboring Iran, Pelley felt he was close to an answer to the mystery: “He believed that he couldn’t survive without the perception that he had weapons of mass destruction?”
But, still, Pelley puzzled over why Hussein’s continued in his miscalculation. Pelley asked: “As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn’t he stop it then? And say, ‘Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction,’ I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?”
On Sunday, Pelley was reprising that role as the ingénue foreign correspondent trying to decipher the mysterious ways of the Orient.
Just as Pelley couldn’t figure why Hussein had “wanted his country to be invaded” — when no one at “60 Minutes” thought to mention that Hussein and his government had fully disclosed their lack of WMD to save their country from being invaded — Pelley couldn’t fully comprehend why the Assad regime would have launched a sarin gas attack with UN inspectors sitting in Damascus.
The possibility that the attack actually was a provocation by Al-Qaeda or Islamic State extremists — who have demonstrated their lack of compassion for innocents and who had a clear motive for getting the U.S. military to bomb Assad’s army — was something that Pelley couldn’t process. The calculation was too much for him even after last week’s disclosure that Syrian rebels had staged a 2013 kidnapping/rescue of NBC’s correspondent Richard Engel, whose abduction was falsely blamed on Assad’ allies.
Inviting a Massacre
Besides being an example of shallow reporting and shoddy journalism – using highly emotional scenes while failing to seriously investigate who was responsible – the “60 Minutes” episode could also be a prelude to a far worse human rights crime, which could follow the defeat of the Syrian army and a victory by Al-Qaeda or its spin-off, the Islamic State.
Right now, the only effective fighting force holding off that victory – and the very real possibility of a massacre of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other religious minorities – is the Syrian army. Some of those Syrian Christians, now allied with Assad, are ethnic Armenians whose ancestors fled the Turkish genocide a century ago.
The recent high-profile comment by Pope Francis about the Armenian genocide can be understood in the context of the impending danger to the survivors’ descendants if the head-chopping Islamic State prevails in the Syrian civil war, the possibility that these Sunni extremists backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia might finish the job that the Ottoman Empire began a century ago.
Yet, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the American neocons are still set on the overthrow of the Assad government and continue to pretend that Obama could have averted the Syrian crisis if he had only bombed or invaded Syria several years ago.
The Washington Post’s neocon editorial page editor Fred Hiatt recited that theme in an op-ed on Monday that made a major point out of the Assad government’s alleged use of something called “barrel bombs” — as if some crude explosive device is somehow less humane than the more sophisticated weapons that were used to slaughter countless innocents by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel in Gaza and Lebanon and now Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
“Obama could have destroyed Assad’s helicopters or given the resistance the weapons to do so,” Hiatt said, arguing the neocon assertion that to have intervened earlier would have somehow prevented the rise of Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. But that is another simplistic argument since there were terrorist elements in the Syrian civil war from the beginning and many of the so-called “moderates” who were trained and armed by the United States have since joined forces with the extremists. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda.”]
The key question for Syria’s future is how can a realistic political settlement be reached between Assad’s government and whatever reasonable opposition remains. But such a complex and difficult solution is not advanced by irresponsible journalism at CBS and the Washington Post.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
US Republican presidential hopefuls have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Tehran and denounced the Obama administration’s efforts to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, with Senator Marco Rubio calling on Washington to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Rubio, the first-term senator from Florida a candidate for the 2016 presidential elections, told participants at a Republican Party reception in New Hampshire on Friday that the world, particularly the Middle East, is in chaos because of President Barack Obama’s policies.
The Cuban American politician, known as an ultimate opportunist within the party, warned of a coming terrorist attack on US soil and even raised the specter of Iranian missiles striking the United States.
“We may have to decide at some point what is worse: a military strike against Iran or a nuclear-armed Iran,” the 43-year-old said during a question-and-answer session.
“I am not cheerleading for war. I don’t want there to be the need to use military force, but a nuclear Iran is an unacceptable risk for the region and the world,” he added.
He went on to say that “Iran is developing long-range rockets that will at some point, in less than a decade, be capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.”
Iran and P5+1 group of countries – the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – reached a mutual understanding on Tehran’s nuclear program on April 2 in Switzerland. The two sides are expected to start drafting a final deal which they seek to sign by the end of June.
If a final deal is reached, it would lift all international sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic in exchange for certain steps Tehran will take with regard to its nuclear program.
Rightwing elements in the Republican Party along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of their allies accuse Iran of pursuing military objectives in its civilian nuclear program.
Iran rejects the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Rubio, who has recently emerged as one the strong supporters of Israel in the Senate, said earlier this week that the United States must abandon the Obama administration’s drive to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran, and renew its commitment to Israel and strengthen the military.
“If America accepts the mantle of global leadership… then our nation will be safer, the world more stable, and our people more prosperous,” Rubio said.
As neocons are working to destroy Iran’s tentative nuclear deal, US President Obama will have to either reinvent America’s policy or give in to Israel’s lobby and Saudi Arabia’s paranoiac fear of Shia Islam.
If months of intense political wrangling were crowned earlier this April by the confirmation that Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a tentative framework agreement over one of the most contentious issue of the past three decades – Iran’s nuclear dossier – it appears such diplomatic respite could prelude to a dangerous political standoff.
If by any account Iran’s nuclear negotiations were going to be trying, especially since Tehran’s nuclear ambitions do not necessarily sit at the center of this internationally staged quarrel, Israel’s neocon war campaign against the Islamic Republic risks pushing the world toward yet another lengthy conflict- a global one at that.
With the fires of war already burning bright in the MENA region – Middle East and North Africa – the fall of another domino could prove one too many for the word to handle. From a purely geostrategic standpoint a war with Iran, however pleasing to Tel Aviv’s avid warmongers, would likely force Western powers and their Arab allies to commit more military power than they can handle. Bearing in mind that the US has already committed troops and resources to Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and of course Ukraine, how much farther can imperial America really stretch?
However grand the US might think itself to be, and however solid the US might think its alliances to be, Washington has yet to win a war. Claiming victory as George W. Bush did in Iraq on May 1, 2003 did not exactly make it so. And though America basked in the glorious light of its military supremacy over the “Iraqi enemy,” its joy was short-lived as reality soon came knocking. And though starting a war might seem an easy enough business for neocon America, it is really the art of peace this belligerent nation has failed to master so far.
But back to Iran’s nuclear deal
To the surprise of many skeptics, Iran and the P5+1 did reach a deal – and while there were a few near misses, a deal was nevertheless brokered; proof experts actually insisted that Tehran is more interested in diplomacy than its detractors gives it credit for. Iran’s concessions attest to its officials’ determination to engage with the international community and integrate back into mainstream international politics.
As Gareth Porter wrote in a report for CounterPunch this April, “The framework agreement reached on Thursday night [April 2, 2015] clearly gives the P5+1 a combination of constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that should reassure all but the most bellicose opponents of diplomacy.”
And although Iran gave every assurance its government will not seek to weaponize its nuclear program, no amount of concessions might prove sufficient enough or comprehensive enough to assuage Washington’s fears vis-a-vis its “great Satan” – especially if the Saudis and Israelis have a say in it.
With the ink of the nuclear framework agreement still left to dry, both the powerful Israeli lobby and Al Saud’s petrodollars went on overdrive, telling the world what a catastrophe Iran’s nuclear deal would be.
One trip to US Congress and a few well-chosen words against its mortal enemy later, Israel seems satisfied it forever drove a wrench into the yet to be formulated and signed nuclear agreement.
As Yuval Steinitz, Israel minister for intelligence and strategic affairs so eloquently told the world on April 6, Israel would try to persuade the P5 +1 “not to sign this bad deal or at least to dramatically change or fix it”.
Echoing his minister’s narrative, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu determined that since Iran represents a threat to Israel’s very existence, America should abandon all diplomacy and instead beat the war drums. And we don’t really need to know why, only that it is so – If Netanyahu’s drawing did not convince your idle mind of Iran’s evil in 2012 then nothing will!
Just as Israel’s lobby bullied its way through the Oval office, cornering U.S. President Barak Obama into relenting power to Congress, Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen, adding a new layer of complication to an already impossible mesh of over-lapping and over-conflicting alliances in the Middle East, thus weaving a dangerous noose around peace’s neck.
Interestingly, if war requires no US Congress oversight you can be sure that peace does!
Caught in between a rock at home and a hard place in the Middle East, US President Obama is faced with one mighty dilemma – one which will determine not his presidency but his very legacy.
If recent tensions between President Obama and the Israeli Premier are anything to go by, it would appear Israel’s lobby suit of armor is not as thick and potent as it’d like it to be, or maybe just maybe, it simply exhausted Americans’ patience. Israel’s greatest ally and supporter, the one power which has quite literally and almost single-handedly carried the Jewish State into being and helped it survive adverse winds since its very inception in 1948: vetoing UNSC resolutions when needed, propping its military and economy when needed, acting a political champion when needed, could be running out of road.
If Israel and Saudi Arabia’s foreign agenda stand now in perfect alignment – their ire directed not at one another but at Iran, changes in the region and fast-moving geostrategic interests have forced the US to re-evaluate its position vis-a-vis Iran and the so-called mythical Shia crescent the world has learnt to be wary of without quite understanding why.
In Netanyahu’s officials’ own words we are to believe that Islamic radicalism, a perverted, acetic and reactionary interpretation of Islam which has mapped itself around Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism movement would be preferable to seeing Iran gain a greater footing in the Arab world. In September 2013, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites. “The greatest danger to Israel is by the [Shiite] strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview.
“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Obviously Saudi Arabia would rather eat its own foot than allow the all so devilish Iran from reclaiming its standing in the region, especially since it would essentially mean relenting power to rising calls for democratic reforms in the Gulf monarchies – Bahrain being the flagship of such a desire for change.
Why do that when you can wage senseless wars to assert your dominion?
Iran’s nuclear deal is more than just a nuclear deal. If signed, this deal would become the cornerstone of a broad shift in alliances, the moment when the US would actually choose to put its national interests over that of Tel Aviv and over Riyadh’s billions. Where Israel has bullied the US for decades, Saudi Arabia has bought its policies for decades.
With nothing left to lose but his good name and his legacy, President Obama could be just the man to break this self-destructing cycle and reinvent America’s foreign policy.
And that’s not even wishful thinking it would actually make sense for America to make peace with Iran – economically, politically and in terms of energy security and counter-terrorism Iran could be a more helpful and potent ally than Saudi Arabia. Bearing in mind that Riyadh’s fingerprints are all over al-Qaeda, ISIS and whatever terror offshoots radicals created those days, Washington might want to consider another ally in its fight against radicalism.
Thing is, America wants change! What it needs now is mastering the courage of its desire.
America is a superpower running out of steam, and more importantly running out of standing in the world. America’s exceptionalism is on its last leg. Too many double-standards, too many incoherencies in its alliances, too many double-talks, double-entendres and double-crossings. America needs a deal.
And though the July deadline seems very far away indeed, especially since Yemen’s war came to yank at diplomacy’s already stretched out rope; not signing the nuclear deal would be far worse than ruffling Israel and Saudi Arabia’s feathers.
For the sake of argument, why not ask Israel to pay the world the courtesy of practicing what it preaches in terms of nuclear transparency. That would be the nuclear deal of the century!
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst and commentator for the Middle East with a special emphasis on Yemen and radical movements. A consultant with Anderson Consulting and leading analyst for the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies, her writings have appeared in MintPress, Foreign Policy Journal, Open-Democracy, the Guardian, the Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye and many others. In 2015 her research and analysis on Yemen was used by the UN Security Council in a situation report.
One longs for a candidate for president of the United States possessing those rare traits of statesmanship, honesty and integrity. One looks back in vain to see such an example, and the near and far horizons offer no such hope, either.
We will take no time looking at the GOP (Generally Opposed to Progress) candidates, either announced or still keeping everyone on the edge of their seats as they ‘decide’ whether or not to toss their hat into the soon-to-be-crowded ring. Most, including Florida Governor and brother of one of the nation’s worst presidents ever, Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Governor, the obnoxious blowhard Chris Christie, have already decided, but enjoy the spectacle of endless conjecture. So they wait.
But on the Democratic side, no less a worthy than Hillary Rodham Clinton, lawyer, former First Lady, former senator, former Secretary of State, has slow-balled her tattered hat into an otherwise empty ring. Her handlers claim, disingenuously, that she expects competition, and a hard-fought primary campaign. Who, one wants to know, is going to take her on? She has a war chest rumored to hold $2.5 billion, more than twice what Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama each spent on their campaigns in 2012; the total is more than their campaign expenditures combined. The only other potential candidate with anything close to her name recognition is Vice President Joe Biden, and it will be impossible for him to generate the puzzling enthusiasm that seems to follow Mrs. Clinton. And there does not appear to be anyone waiting in the wings to grab the spotlight from her, as Mr. Obama did in 2008.
So, while her various aides struggle to avoid any appearance of invincibility, let us all make the assumption that Mrs. Clinton will be the nominee, and work from there. What possible objections can anyone from the moderate to liberal political philosophy spectrum have to her nomination? Well, this writer asks: how much time do you have?
In the interest of time, let’s just look at a single area; there will be plenty of time to discuss others as the relentless torture session known as a U.S. political campaign drags on.
One of the most horrific oppressions of people currently happening in the world today is being perpetrated by Israel on the people of Palestine. Now, before anyone says that this is a complex, decades-old problem, and Mrs. Clinton can’t be blamed for not solving it, we question these statements, and at the same time object to her worsening of the situation. And, when one looks at her four years as Secretary of State, one can, indeed, blame her for not resolving the situation. Some facts:
* Clinton is beholden to AIPAC (American Israel Political Affairs Committee), and takes her disgraceful, self-appointed obligation to that lobby group more seriously than she does human rights. During her stint as Secretary of State, she blocked every effort Palestinians made at the United Nations to achieve recognition; these successful efforts to thwart the self-determination of an oppressed people win the kudos of AIPAC. She has spoken of Israel in almost romantic terms: “Protecting Israel’s future is not simply a question of policy for me, it’s personal,” she said in 2013, discussing various visits she has made to that apartheid land. She regularly worships at the AIPAC altar.
* In 2014, as Israel was using U.S.-provided weaponry, some of it illegal under international law, to carpet-bomb the beleaguered and blockaded Gaza Strip, Mrs. Clinton had nothing but praise for Israeli Prime Murderer Benjamin Netanyahu. She further echoed the tired old line about Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ from rocket fire, as if an occupied nation does not have an internationally-recognized right to fight its occupier. One must note that, during 55 days in the summer of 2014, Israel fired more rockets into the Gaza Strip than Gaza fired into Israel in the previous 14 years. Additionally, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and an outspoken critic of Israel (he is no longer allowed in that country), calls those ‘rockets’ fired from Gaza ‘enhanced fire works’. No one refers to the advanced weaponry the U.S. gives to Israel in such terms.
*During her last campaign for the presidency, she stated that, if Iran attacked her beloved Israel with nuclear weapons, the U.S., under her presidency would attack Iran and could ‘totally obliterate’ it. One must take her at her word, since she voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, a nation that in no way threatened the U.S., and in which over half the population was under the age of 15. So she would, one assumes, not hesitate to invade Iran, a nation with twice the population of Iraq, if it, too, did nothing to threaten the U.S.
So why, one wonders, is there so much enthusiasm among Democrats for a woman who, by all accounts, is a hypocritical war-monger, who is more motivated to enhance her own bottom line than to serve the cause of human rights? What is it that draws adoring crowds to her? Perhaps people are seduced by the idea of another first: they elected the first African-American president, so why not follow it up with the first woman president? Maybe it is her resume, which is, indeed, impressive. But any job-seeker will highlight notable job titles on their resume, but once at the interview, may have difficulty pointing to any real accomplishments. The voters, as interviewers, should take a close look at what achievements, if any, Mrs. Clinton has to support those remarkable job titles. They will find little.
But what is all this, when the candidate is surrounded by the magic of invincibility, the aura of newness, and represents the final shattering of the glass ceiling? Does she not deserve the presidency, for all her hard work, regardless of the lack of any real accomplishment? Don’t we, the voters, owe her this?
No, we don’t. She isn’t fit to serve in any capacity in government, due to the reasons detailed above, in addition to many others (stay tuned). In this case it is the empress, not the emperor, who has new clothes, only seen by Democrats stricken with some sudden myopia that prevents them from seeing the reality of her accomplishments which, like the new clothes, simply don’t exist.
One can generally rely on the Republicans to nominate a worse candidate than the Democrats; one hesitates to say the Democrat is usually better, since we are not operating in a ‘good, better, best’ zone here; far beneath it, unfortunately. But this time around, there may simply be no ‘lesser of two evils’ choice to make. And the U.S. will provide yet another tragedy for the country, and the world.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).
The buzz word in Washington around the Iran Nuclear Review Bill that was approved unanimously by a Senate committee is “compromise,” parroted even by the White House spokesperson who has let it known that President Obama will endorse it despite some reservations. But, in reality, “compromise” is a code word for “concession,” i.e., appeasement of the anti-Iran hawks in U.S. Congress, as well as Israel.
The big question is, of course, what is behind Obama’s flip flop, notwithstanding his repeated warnings to U.S. Congress to stay out of Iran negotiations or face his veto power? The answer to this question should search beyond the facade of executive versus legislative ‘turf war’ on the Iran nuclear issue and touch the underlying root cause — in U.S.’s geostrategic interest to keep the furnace of Iran nuclear standoff alive instead of extinguishing it.
Indeed, why let a good thing go, perhaps some Washington ‘insiders’ are asking quietly, given the multiple benefits of the nuclear crisis — in sustaining U.S.’s hegemony in Persian Gulf, containing the Iranian power, and appeasing Israel’s need to keep the limelight on Iran indefinitely.
Thus the U.S.’s perpetual self-sabotage of the Iran deal, following last November’s last minute change of heart by Obama, who refused to sign onto an agreement that his own negotiation team had reached. Obama’s excuse then was reportedly that it was premature in light of a new Congress and he had to wait to size up the situation. It now appears that Obama has done that and reached the point that signing any deal with Iran is a bad deal, just as Iran hawks and the pro-Israel lobbyists have been saying for a long time. In other words, Obama’s acceptance of the Iran bill is but a definite sign that the chicken has to roost and, indeed, the emperor has no clothes.
But, of course, without critical lenses, the Iran Nuclear Review Act appears as relatively benign and an exercise in constitutional checks and balances, which is why the polls indicate the majority of American people are in favor of a Congressional role in the Iran deal. It is only when one reads the bill’s fine prints and pays close attention to its details that the real intention of its sponsors to torpedo the nuclear talks becomes apparent.
This is basically an intrusive legislation that impacts the content of negotiations by, for example, creating an issue linkage between nuclear and non-nuclear, e.g., terrorism, issues and conditioning Congress’s approval of the deal on the executive branch’s certificate of Iran’s compliance with the demand to stop funding terrorist groups.
Essentially, this means a revised script for the nuclear talks and the imposition of brand new ‘parameters’ such as terrorism, that have not been part of the intense negotiations; the latter are solely focused on the nuclear issue and, yet, must now due to this bill, expand the requirements for compliance by Iran — to U.S.’s arbitrary demands.
Another aspect of the bill that is equally problematic is that it raises the necessity of White House’s certification that the atomic agency is satisfied with Iran’s compliance on the “possible military dimension” issues which, as we know, raise the prospect of IAEA demands to access Iran’s secret military bases, a taboo from the vantage point of Iran’s military and civilian leadership. In fact, the Supreme Leader in his recent speech drew a red line and categorically opposed any suggestion that Iran would accommodate the West on this matter.
Hence, Iran’s stern negative reaction to the latest developments in U.S. Congress and Obama’s inexcusable turn-around from a critic to an admirer of the Iran bill is a given, raising the prospect that the bill can be a show-stopper and spell doom for the nuclear negotiations. The path ahead is now made doubly more complicated and the new hurdles by U.S. Congress act as so many powerful torpedoes aiming to sink the ship of diplomacy.
Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is a former political science professor at Tehran University and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown’s Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.
Israel said it is pleased with a compromise bill being floated on the Hill, which would give US legislators oversight in the Iran nuclear deal. The White House agreed to the bill adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We are certainly happy this morning, this is an achievement for Israeli policy… [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] speech in Congress … was decisive in achieving this law, which is a very important element in preventing a bad deal, or at least, in improving the agreement and making it more reasonable,” Yuval Steinitz, Netanyahu’s intelligence, foreign relations and strategic minister, told Israel Radio.
Israel has been opposing US reengagement with Iran, claiming the result of the nuclear negotiations would be a bad deal that would compromise Israel’s national security. Netanyahu made his case in the US through pro-Israeli legislators, who are opposed to US President Barack Obama.
“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, but a historic mistake,” said Netanyahu, after a preliminary deal paving the way for negotiations was reached in 2013.
Under the 2010 “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act,” the president can waive sanctions imposed by Congress for a limited time, as a policy measure. However, Senate Bill 615 would remove that option and insist on congressional review of the final nuclear agreement with Iran before any of those sanctions could be waived.
Proposed by Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Democrat Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015” envisions a 52-day review period during which the president “may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law.” The White House can still suspend, waive or remove sanctions imposed by executive order.
If the bill is adopted, then Congress would be able to reject the nuclear agreement with Iran through a joint resolution, preventing Obama from lifting any congressional sanctions and possibly scuppering the treaty.
Iranian officials have said that the preliminary agreement reached in Geneva earlier this month would see most nuclear-related sanctions lifted immediately, while US officials maintain the sanctions would be lifted in phases, depending on Tehran’s compliance. This is one of the issues that still needs to be resolved before the June deadline for the final agreement.
“We have two and a half months more to negotiate, that’s a serious amount of time with some serious business left to do,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Monday, after meeting with the legislators behind closed doors. “We hope Congress listens carefully and asks the questions that it wants. But also give us the space and the time to be able to complete a very difficult task which has high stakes for our country.”
Under the amended text of the bill agreed in committee, Obama would also have to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran was complying with the final agreement, and submit detailed reports on Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missile program, and “support for terrorism,” all of which remain thorny issues between Washington and Tehran.
Announcing the preliminary agreement on April 2, Obama said he wanted Congress to play a “constructive oversight role” in the negotiating process. However, the White House has argued that making international agreements is a constitutional prerogative of the executive branch, and that congressional oversight of the Iran deal would set a dangerous precedent. It now appears that Corker-Menendez has enough support from the congressional Democrats to override the veto Obama has been threatening, a senior Democratic aide told the New York Times.
Amendments proposed by several Republican Senators, including presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, could erode the bipartisan support. There were several amendments that would “pull this bill sharply to the right if adopted,” Senator Chris Coons (D-Del) told reporters Tuesday.
With Republicans making up the majority of the Foreign Relations Committee, these amendments could be adopted through a party-line vote. If that happens, Coons cautioned, “I’d drop off of it in a second.”
The front page of the neocon flagship Washington Post on Tuesday warned that the Russians have decided, despite U.S. objections, “to send an advanced air-defense system to Iran … potentially altering the strategic balance in the Middle East.”
So, at least, says the lede of an article entitled “Putin lifts 5-year hold on missile sale to Iran” by Karoun Demirjian, whose editors apparently took it upon themselves to sex up the first paragraph, which was not at all supported by the rest of her story which was factual and fair – balanced, even.
Not only did Demirjian include much of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s explanation of Moscow’s decision to end its self-imposed restriction on the delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, but she mentioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s umpteenth warning on Monday about “the prospect of airstrikes to destroy or hinder Tehran’s nuclear program.”
Lavrov noted that United Nations resolutions “did not impose any restrictions on providing air defense weapons to Iran” and described the “separate Russian free-will embargo” as “irrelevant” in the light of the “meaningful progress” achieved by the negotiated framework deal of April 2 in which Iran accepted unprecedented constraints on its nuclear program to show that it was intended for peaceful purposes only.
The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that the S-300 is a “completely defensive weapon [that] will not endanger the security of any state in the region, certainly including Israel.” Pointing to “the extremely tense situation in the region around Iran, he said modern air-defense systems are vitally important for that country.” Lavrov added that by freezing the S-300 contract for five years, Russia also had lost a lot of money. (The deal is said to be worth $800 million.)
Predictably, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Fox News that the air-defense system would be a “game-changer” for Israel regarding air strikes. According to Bolton, once the system is in place, only stealth bombers would be able to penetrate Iranian space, and only the U.S. has those and was not likely to use them.
The U.S. media also highlighted comments by popular go-to retired Air Force three-star General David A. Deptula, who served as Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance until he retired in 2010 to make some real money. Deptula called delivering the S-300 system to Iran “significant, as it complicates the calculus for planning any military action involving air strikes.”
It strikes me as a bit strange that the media likes to feature retired generals like Deptula, whose reputation for integrity are not the best. Deptula has been temporarily barred from doing business with the government after what Air Force Deputy General Counsel Randy Grandon described as “particularly egregious” breaches of post-employment rules. He remains, however, a media favorite.
Adding to his woes, Deptula was also caught with 125 classified documents on his personal laptop – including 10 labeled “Secret,” 14 labeled “Top Secret” and one with the high protection of “Secret, Compartmented Information.” Deptula pleaded ignorance and was let off – further proof that different standards apply to generals like Deptula and David Petraeus.
A More Subdued Tone
The S-300 announcement hit as Secretary of State John Kerry was testifying on Capitol Hill about the framework deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Speaking later to Fox News, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, professed shock that Kerry did not seem more upset. According to Kinzinger, Kerry actually said, “You have to understand Iran’s perspective.”
And in keeping with Kerry’s tone of sang-froid, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, referring to the S-300 deal, said, “We see this as separate from the negotiations [regarding Iran’s nuclear program], and we don’t think this will have an impact on our unity.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest took the S-300 announcement with his customary, studied earnestness. Referring not only to the decision to deliver the S-300s but also to reports of a $20 billion barter deal that would involve Russia buying 500,000 barrels of oil a day in return for Russian grain, equipment and construction materials, Earnest referred to “potential sanctions concerns” and said the U.S. would “evaluate these two proposals moving forward,” adding that the U.S. has been in direct touch with Russia to make sure the Russians understand – and they do – the potential concerns that we have.”
With respect to the various sanctions against Iran, I believe this nonchalant tone can be seen largely as whistling in the dark. With the S-300 and the barter deals, Russia is putting a huge dent in the sanctions regimes. From now on, money is likely to call the shots, as competitors vie for various slices of the Iranian – and the Russian – pie. Whether or not there is a final agreement by the end of June on the Iranian nuclear issue, Washington is not likely to be able to hold the line on sanctions and will become even more isolated if it persists in trying.
Worse still for the neocons and others who favor using sanctions to punish Russia over Ukraine, the lifting of sanctions against Iran may have a cascading effect. If, for example, the Ukrainian ceasefire holds more or less over the next months, it is possible that the $1.5 billion sale of two French-built Mistral-Class helicopter carrier ships to Russia, concluded four years ago, will go through.
The contract does not expire for two months and Russia’s state arms exporter is trying to work out a compromise before taking France to court. Russian officials are expressing hope that a compromise can be reached within the time left.
And, regarding the outrage among neocons over the audacious idea that Iran should be allowed to defend itself against airstrikes, there is the “exceptional” argument that Israel, United States and their allies should have the unchallenged right to bomb Iran or any other country as they see fit – and that the targeted country should have no right to protect its people, indeed that trying to defend itself is some kind of unacceptable provocation.
There is also the hypocrisy regarding how the neocons like to differentiate between “defensive” and “offensive” weapons when the question is about giving U.S.-backed governments weapons that have dual purposes, that can be used offensively as well as defensively.
For instance, in regard to Ukraine earlier this year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland counseled U.S. officials to portray the delivery of sophisticated U.S. military hardware to the coup regime in Kiev as “defensive,” even though the weapons had an offensive capacity, such as targeting ethnic Russian rebels firing artillery or mortars at Ukrainian troops attacking eastern Ukraine.
According to the German newspaper, Bild, which published an intercepted conversation between Nuland and U.S. officials in Munich, Germany, she said, “I’d strongly urge you to use the phrase ‘defensive systems’ that we would deliver to oppose Putin’s ‘offensive systems.’”
However, NATO Commander and Air Force General Philip Breedlove left little doubt that these “defensive” weapons would help the Ukrainian government pursue its military objectives by enabling more effective concentration of fire. “Russian artillery is by far what kills most Ukrainian soldiers, so a system is needed that can localize the source of fire and repress it,” Breedlove reportedly said.
So, when “defensive” weapons help a U.S.-backed regime kill its opponents, that’s fine. However, if some truly defensive weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles to protect a country’s cities, go to a nation that Israel might want to bomb, then that is unacceptable.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his earlier, 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he led the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and prepared – and briefed – the President’s Daily Brief. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia “won’t stop us.”
As I recently reviewed a YouTube eight-minute clip of General Clark’s October 2007 speech, what leaped out at me was that the neocons had been enabled by their assessment that – after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia had become neutralized and posed no deterrent to U.S. military action in the Middle East.
While Clark’s public exposé largely escaped attention in the neocon-friendly “mainstream media” (surprise, surprise!), he recounted being told by a senior general at the Pentagon shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
This was startling enough, I grant you, since officially the United States presents itself as a nation that respects international law, frowns upon other powerful nations overthrowing the governments of weaker states, and – in the aftermath of World War II – condemned past aggressions by Nazi Germany and decried Soviet “subversion” of pro-U.S. nations.
But what caught my eye this time was the significance of Clark’s depiction of Wolfowitz in 1992 gloating over what he judged to be a major lesson learned from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991; namely, “the Soviets won’t stop us.”
That remark directly addresses a question that has troubled me since March 2003 when George W. Bush attacked Iraq. Would the neocons – widely known as “the crazies” at least among the remaining sane people of Washington – have been crazy enough to opt for war to re-arrange the Middle East if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart in 1991?
The question is not an idle one. Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington. Thus, the question now becomes whether, with Russia far more stable and much stronger, the “crazies” are prepared to risk military escalation with Russia over Ukraine, what retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk deemed a potentially dangerous nuclear confrontation, a “Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.”
The geopolitical vacuum that enabled the neocons to try out their “regime change” scheme in the Middle East may have been what Russian President Vladimir Putin was referring to in his state-of-the-nation address on April 25, 2005, when he called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [past] century.” Putin’s comment has been a favorite meme of those who seek to demonize Putin by portraying him as lusting to re-establish a powerful USSR through aggression in Europe.
But, commenting two years after the Iraq invasion, Putin seemed correct at least in how the neocons exploited the absence of the Russian counterweight to over-extend American power in ways that were harmful to the world, devastating to the people at the receiving end of the neocon interventions, and even detrimental to the United States.
If one takes a step back and attempts an unbiased look at the spread of violence in the Middle East over the past quarter-century, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin’s comment was on the mark. With Russia a much-weakened military power in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was nothing to deter U.S. policymakers from the kind of adventurism at Russia’s soft underbelly that, in earlier years, would have carried considerable risk of armed U.S.-USSR confrontation.
I lived in the USSR during the 1970s and would not wish that kind of restrictive regime on anyone. Until it fell apart, though, it was militarily strong enough to deter Wolfowitz-style adventurism. And I will say that – for the millions of people now dead, injured or displaced by U.S. military action in the Middle East over the past dozen years – the collapse of the Soviet Union as a deterrent to U.S. war-making was not only a “geopolitical catastrophe” but an unmitigated disaster.
In his 2007 speech, General Clark related how in early 1991 he dropped in on Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and later, from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense). It was just after a major Shia uprising in Iraq in March 1991. President George H.W. Bush’s administration had provoked it, but then did nothing to rescue the Shia from brutal retaliation by Saddam Hussein, who had just survived his Persian Gulf defeat.
According to Clark, Wolfowitz said: “We should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. The truth is, one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us. We’ve got about five or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes – Syria, Iran (sic), Iraq – before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us.”
It’s now been more than 10 years, of course. But do not be deceived into thinking Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues believe they have failed in any major way. The unrest they initiated keeps mounting – in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon – not to mention fresh violence now in full swing in Yemen and the crisis in Ukraine. Yet, the Teflon coating painted on the neocons continues to cover and protect them in the “mainstream media.”
True, one neocon disappointment is Iran. It is more stable and less isolated than before; it is playing a sophisticated role in Iraq; and it is on the verge of concluding a major nuclear agreement with the West – barring the throwing of a neocon/Israeli monkey wrench into the works to thwart it, as has been done in the past.
An earlier setback for the neocons came at the end of August 2013 when President Barack Obama decided not to let himself be mouse-trapped by the neocons into ordering U.S. forces to attack Syria. Wolfowitz et al. were on the threshold of having the U.S. formally join the war against Bashar al-Assad’s government of Syria when there was the proverbial slip between cup and lip. With the aid of the neocons’ new devil-incarnate Vladimir Putin, Obama faced them down and avoided war.
A week after it became clear that the neocons were not going to get their war in Syria, I found myself at the main CNN studio in Washington together with Paul Wolfowitz and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, another important neocon. As I reported in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way,” the scene was surreal – funereal, even, with both Wolfowitz and Lieberman very much down-in-the-mouth, behaving as though they had just watched their favorite team lose the Super Bowl.
But the neocons are nothing if not resilient. Despite their grotesque disasters, like the Iraq War, and their disappointments, like not getting their war on Syria, they neither learn lessons nor change goals. They just readjust their aim, shooting now at Putin over Ukraine as a way to clear the path again for “regime change” in Syria and Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Neocons Seek to Destabilize Russia.”]
The neocons also can take some solace from their “success” at enflaming the Middle East with Shia and Sunni now at each other’s throats — a bad thing for many people of the world and certainly for the many innocent victims in the region, but not so bad for the neocons. After all, it is the view of Israeli leaders and their neocon bedfellows (and women) that the internecine wars among Muslims provide at least some short-term advantages for Israel as it consolidates control over the Palestinian West Bank.
In a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity memorandum for President Obama on Sept. 6, 2013, we called attention to an uncommonly candid report about Israeli/neocon motivation, written by none other than the Israel-friendly New York Times Bureau Chief in Jerusalem Jodi Rudoren on Sept. 2, 2013, just two days after Obama took advantage of Putin’s success in persuading the Syrians to allow their chemical weapons to be destroyed and called off the planned attack on Syria, causing consternation among neocons in Washington.
Rudoren can perhaps be excused for her naïve lack of “political correctness.” She had been barely a year on the job, had very little prior experience with reporting on the Middle East, and – in the excitement about the almost-attack on Syria – she apparently forgot the strictures normally imposed on the Times’ reporting from Jerusalem. In any case, Israel’s priorities became crystal clear in what Rudoren wrote.
In her article, entitled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” Rudoren noted that the Israelis were arguing, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s (then) 2 ½-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, was no outcome:
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”
Clear enough? If this is the way Israel’s leaders continue to regard the situation in Syria, then they look on deeper U.S. involvement – overt or covert – as likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict there. The longer Sunni and Shia are killing each other, not only in Syria but also across the region as a whole, the safer Tel Aviv’s leaders calculate Israel is.
But Israeli leaders have also made clear that if one side must win, they would prefer the Sunni side, despite its bloody extremists from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In September 2013, shortly after Rudoren’s article, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, Oren – then speaking as a former ambassador – said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
Netanyahu sounded a similar theme in his March 3, 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he trivialized the threat from the Islamic State with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” when compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.
That Syria’s main ally is Iran with which it has a mutual defense treaty plays a role in Israeli calculations. Accordingly, while some Western leaders would like to achieve a realistic if imperfect settlement of the Syrian civil war, others who enjoy considerable influence in Washington would just as soon see the Assad government and the entire region bleed out.
As cynical and cruel as this strategy is, it isn’t all that hard to understand. Yet, it seems to be one of those complicated, politically charged situations well above the pay-grade of the sophomores advising President Obama – who, sad to say, are no match for the neocons in the Washington Establishment. Not to mention the Netanyahu-mesmerized Congress.
Speaking of Congress, a year after Rudoren’s report, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, divulged some details about the military attack that had been planned against Syria, while lamenting that it was canceled.
In doing so, Corker called Obama’s abrupt change on Aug. 31, 2013, in opting for negotiations over open war on Syria, “the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here.” Following the neocon script, Corker blasted the deal (since fully implemented) with Putin and the Syrians to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.
Corker complained, “In essence – I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical – we jumped into Putin’s lap.” A big No-No, of course – especially in Congress – to “jump into Putin’s lap” even though Obama was able to achieve the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons without the United States jumping into another Middle East war.
It would have been nice, of course, if General Clark had thought to share his inside-Pentagon information earlier with the rest of us. In no way should he be seen as a whistleblower.
At the time of his September 2007 speech, he was deep into his quixotic attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. In other words, Clark broke the omerta code of silence observed by virtually all U.S. generals, even post-retirement, merely to put some distance between himself and the debacle in Iraq – and win some favor among anti-war Democrats. It didn’t work, so he endorsed Hillary Clinton; that didn’t work, so he endorsed Barack Obama.
Wolfowitz, typically, has landed on his feet. He is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser, no doubt outlining his preferred approach to the Middle East chessboard to his new boss. Does anyone know the plural of “bedlam?”
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served for a total of 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and CIA analyst and is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Iran will always be the enemy
For more than twenty years the world has been hearing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his friends in the United States that Iran is a global threat because it is developing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu’s warning has been framed around his repeated prediction that if nothing were done to intercede in the process the Mullahs would have a weapon of mass destruction in their hands within six months or a year. Since that time numerous time spans of six months or a year have passed and no weapon has appeared, even though Israel did its best to provide forged intelligence to muddy the waters about what was actually occurring. In a notable scam, a lap top prepared by Mossad and delivered by an Iranian dissident group half convinced the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was up to something. Israel has also been adept at floating false “intelligence based” allegations that the Iranians were carrying out uranium enrichment in hidden, secret facilities.
But alas, the accepted narrative proved to be a bit creaky. In 2007 the United States intelligence community issued a joint assessment based on reliable information indicating that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, so the threat that was being described as imminent suddenly became purely speculative and speculative threats are a dime a dozen, paling before the reality of actual North Korean nuclear weapons and fifty or more nukes in the hands of an unstable Pakistan.
When the threat of Iran actually building a bomb in the near term became less credible, the narrative perforce shifted its focus. It became no longer a question of Iran actually constructing a nuclear weapon. The central bone of contention became their having the capability to do so at some future point. This became known as “breakout capability,” which was defined as the ability to use stockpiled low enriched uranium, enrich it to weapons grade, and engineer it into a weapon. Inevitably, the breakout time for Iran was again often described as six months to a year, demonstrating that no good phony narrative detail element should ever go to waste.
Netanyahu and a number of American congressmen then continued to tinker with their warning, still complaining about breakout but emphasizing that it was actually the capability part that was most troubling. Iran, though a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which nuclear armed Israel is not, should have no right to enrich any uranium at all and ought to be forced to get rid of any uranium in its stockpile. It would also have to dispose of the centrifuges and other equipment used for enrichment and shut down the Fordo facility which, it was alleged, might be able to secretly produce weapons grade enriched uranium.
Ironically, the demands of both Israel and Congress made no sense as Iran and at least fifty other countries already possessed “capability” to make a nuclear weapon as there are many trained engineers able to understand the technical information that is already publicly available to those who know where to look. And the narrative became even more suspect when, in 2010, U.S. intelligence reexamined its previous finding and stated again that Tehran was not developing a weapon at all, an assertion that was actually confirmed by Israel’s Mossad, making it even more difficult to maintain the fiction that Iran was a danger to world peace.
Other intelligence assessments suggested that even if Tehran were able to obtain one or two crude nuclear weapons the threat could easily be contained, all of which produced yet another reset among the anti-Iran claque. The new focus was on delivery systems. Reports that Iran was developing or possibly buying from North Korea a new longer range missile for its arsenal became a key issue and the Obama administration wasted considerable time and energy in first correctly asserting that the missiles were not part of the discussion before folding and including mentioning them in talks as a sop to Israel. The new missiles, per Netanyahu, could allegedly hit parts of Europe and might be improved to the point where they could become intercontinental. And if Iran could acquire a bomb from somebody or develop its own through breakout it would threaten the entire world. The fact that Iran had neither the missile nor the weapon was seemingly irrelevant.
So now we arrive at 2015 and a former Israeli intelligence chief has openly said what most of the rest of the world has long known: Netanyahu is a liar when he talks about Iran. Concurrently, the P5+1 group of negotiators have concluded a marathon 18 months negotiation by achieving a framework agreement with Iran which will substantially diminish its ability to enrich uranium at all, will greatly reduce its stockpile and will also subject all of its research facilities to intrusive inspections. In return sanctions on Iran will slowly be lifted, but it should be observed that most of the major concessions were made by the Islamic Republic, where there is considerable pressure from the public to make Iran again a normal member of the international community.
It is a good agreement for all parties, guaranteeing that Iran will not go nuclear in a bad way and offering a substantive reward for cooperation to the country’s people and government. Unfortunately, details of how an agreement will actually be implemented have yet to be worked out, meaning that a final document is not anticipated until the end of June. That means the troublemakers still have time to create mischief.
Of course Netanyahu and a large number of American Congressmen might be singled out as the aforementioned troublemakers and it has to be reported that they are clearly not happy with the Obama framework. As an agreement will basically eliminate the short term threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, the initial kibitzing from the usual critics focused on what might happen after the ten years covered by the agreement. Netanyahu has averred that it would virtually guarantee an Iranian bomb after that point, but as his prescience is questionable and he has been wrong about everything else that argument did not obtain much traction, not even in the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal.
Sensing defeat, Netanyahu and his tame congressmen clearly decided a sharp change in direction would be necessary and, presumably guided by the warm and friendly hand of AIPAC, a new approach was concocted combining two essential elements. First, it was claimed that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement because, as Chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman put it “deception” is in the Iranian leadership DNA. That would mean that Iran might appear to be going along with the agreement but it would secretly be manufacturing a weapon. Just exactly how that would take place under an intrusive inspections regime is not clear, but the idea is to plant the seed that Iranians are intrinsically deceitful and dangerous.
The second argument, which began to evolve before the framework agreement was announced and which not surprisingly has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, is that Iran is threatening and dangerous by virtue of its behavior beyond its nuclear program. Congressmen and pundits have begun to bleat that Iran “now dominates four Arab capitals” and it also “supports terrorism.” One op-ed writer who should know better has described the development of a new Persian Empire.
The first argument is sheer fantasy and racist to boot but the second argument, intended to shift the narrative in a new direction, is actually the more ridiculous. Iran has a struggling economy, a relatively weak military, and much of its outreach to Shi’a communities in neighboring states is in response to the hostility surrounding it engineered by the U.S., Israel and the Sunni ruled regimes in the Persian Gulf. Creating and exploiting a limited sphere of influence as a defensive measure is far from uniquely Iranian.
And the assertion that Iran is controlling four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa – is breathtaking in its audacity. Iran has friends and allies in all four states but it does not determine what the government does or does not do in any one of them. The close relationship of Iran with Syria and Iraq is largely defensive and can indeed be described as derived from the instability in the region that came about because of reckless American intervention against Saddam Hussein followed by Washington’s support of a roadmap to remove Bashir al-Assad.
As for the terrorism issue, one might reasonably argue that Iran has been on the receiving end more often than not. It has been subjected to bombing and shooting attacks carried out by armed separatists supported by Tel Aviv and Washington, its scientists and technicians have been assassinated by Israel and its computer systems have been attacked with Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame viruses. According to the annual State Department Countries Report on Terrorism, Tehran’s actual support of what the U.S. and Israel claim are terrorists consists of continuing “… support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and for Hizballah. It has also increased its presence in Africa and attempted to smuggle arms to Houthi separatists in Yemen and Shia oppositionists in Bahrain. Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its regional proxy groups to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad. Iran views Syria as a crucial causeway in its weapons supply route to Hizballah, its primary beneficiary.”
The meddling by the Revolutionary Guards would appear to be small potatoes, largely defensive in nature and focused on specific regional interests and concerns, relatively minor in comparison with what the United States does globally. The two Palestinian groups cited by name later in the report, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), plus Hizballah in Lebanon, would be considered resistance organizations against Israeli occupation and aggression by many. None of them threatens the United States.
The sad reality is that the pro-Israel crowd wants a war with Iran to be fought exclusively by the United States no matter what Iran does to avoid an armed conflict and they will twist the narrative so that Tehran always represents a serious threat. Remember the lies that were concocted to justify invading Iraq? Iraq allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, it threatened the entire region, it supported terrorism… does that sound familiar? Even complete surrender by Tehran might not be enough to satisfy the hawks in Congress and in Israel because the fact that Iran is in terms of geography, resources and population a regional power is what disturbs psychopaths like Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Hopefully the American public has finally developed enough savvy to see through the barrage of war talk and lies that it will be subjected to over the next two months. Hopefully Israel and its Lobby and its friends will go down in defeat one more time, perhaps a defeat decisive enough to convince them that their narrative shifting is not any longer working. Hopefully.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has issued a decree rendering the digging or using of illegal border tunnels punishable by life term.
“Anyone who digs or prepares or uses a road, a passage, or an underground tunnel in the country’s border areas with the purpose of connecting with a foreign entity or state, its citizens or residents… will face life in prison,” said the presidential decree published in the official gazette on Sunday.
According to the decree, those who are aware of such tunnels and refrain from informing authorities also face life in prison, which in Egypt amounts to 25 years behind bars.
The Egyptian government claims that it has destroyed vast numbers of such routes and has recently intensified efforts to demolish such underground passages which connect the restive Sinai Peninsula to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
Palestinians use the underground tunnels to transfer essential supplies, including food and fuel into Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel since 2007, a situation which has caused a decline in the standard of living, unprecedented levels of unemployment, and unrelenting poverty.
Israel not only defies international calls to lift the brutal siege, but also refuses to allow medication or construction materials into coastal enclave.
In 2011, the Center for American Progress published “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” in order to identify and expose the organizations, scholars, pundits, and activists comprising a tightly linked network that spread misinformation and hateful propaganda about American Muslims and Islam. The report found that seven charitable foundations spent $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 to support the spread of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
… Islamophobia in the United States takes many shapes and forms. It takes the form of a general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims, as seen in the “civilization jihad” narrative, the religious right’s rhetoric, and the biased media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. It comes out in cynical political efforts to capitalize on this climate of fear, as seen in state-level anti-Sharia bills introduced across the country and in far-right politicians’ grandstanding. And perhaps most dangerously, it manifests itself in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, as seen in the FBI training manuals that profile Islam as a religion of violence. …
The Demographics Unit of the New York Police Department, later known as the Zone Assessment Unit, was created with the help of the CIA following the 9/11 attacks to conduct surveillance and monitor Muslims in New York City and the Tri-State Area. However, the Demographics Unit never led to a single terrorism investigation.
In 2011, Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman won the Pulitzer Prize for revealing that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the New York City Police Department had consistently spied on the Muslim community in New York City and the Tri-State Area.
In April 2014 under the leadership of its new commissioner, William J. Bratton, the New York City Police Department announced that it would end its controversial Muslim spying program by ending the Demographics Unit.
In its own public statement on the closing of its Muslim spying program, the NYPD conceded that “it has been determined that much of the same information previously gathered by the [Muslim spying program over the years] may be obtained through direct outreach by the NYPD to the communities concerned” instead of spying on them.
However, less than one month after announcing the end of the NYPD spying program, The New York Times reported that the NYPD has not backed away from other counterterrorism initiatives that it created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, including recruiting Arab and Muslim men charged with various crimes and trying to convince them to serve as informants on their mosques and local communities.