The Iran Crisis: Rhetoric vs. Reality
by heathlander, Wed Nov 22, 2006 at 02:32:10 PM EST
Reading about the Iranian nuclear "crisis", one gets the impression of two entirely separate and completely different "Iran crises" being described as if they were one and the same thing.
The first "Iran crisis" exists (only) in the rhetoric of political leaders. You've got President Bush declaring that "Iran's nuclear ambitions are not in the world's interests", describing an Iranian nuclear weapon as "unacceptable" and warning that, in the event of continued Iranian enrichment of uranium, "all options are on the table".
Then you've got Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu branding Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions as "much more dangerous" than Hitler, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert predicting that Iran would supply Hizbullah with a nuclear weapon should it acquire one, proclaiming that Israel "will not tolerate" a nuclear-armed Iran and calling on the "whole world" to prevent such a situation from arising.Lastly, of course, we have Iran's President Ahmadinejad who provides a lunatic statement (an `Ahmadinejadism') once or twice a month to get all the Western journalists typing like crazy and to squeeze as much political popularity as he can from insulting Israel and the U.S.
A world view based on the rhetoric reported, usually uncritically, by the mainstream media would hold that Iran is a defiant, rogue state possessed by a fanatical desire to destroy Israel, kill all the Jews and launch a campaign of world domination starting with a nuclear attack on Washington and Jerusalem.
Then we have the second "Iran crisis". This is the version based on facts. This version points out that Iran has not attacked anyone outside its borders for 250 years. It recognises that, unlike Israel, Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has granted weapons inspectors access to its declared enrichment facilities (like those at Natanz). Iran has, in fact, undergone more extensive nuclear weapons inspections than any other Member state. The factual version suffers not from the amnesia of the rhetorical "Iran crisis" and recalls that in the 1970s Washington actually encouraged an Iranian nuclear programme, to the extent that in 1976 President Gerald Ford offered Iran a full nuclear cycle.
The factual version recalls International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports on Iran's nuclear programme, like the one published in February 2006 which states (.pdf),
"all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for. Although the Agency has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the Agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran",
"All the nuclear material declared by Iran to the Agency is accounted for. Apart from the small quantities previously reported to the Board, the Agency has found no other undeclared nuclear material in Iran."
Then, of course, there's the alleged CIA intelligence report concluding that it has found no evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme. I say `alleged' but, since the White House has refused even to deny it, we can be pretty sure Seymour Hersh's article is accurate.
The reality-based "Iran crisis" reaches very different conclusions to those of the rhetorical version. Whereas President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and Co. assume as self-evident that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, we can see from the facts that there is no real evidence of this at all. All we know for certain is that Iran has signed the NPT and, to the best of our knowledge, is abiding by it.
The fact that the Bush and Olmert administrations are so radically misrepresenting the situation is a clear indication that they are placing political objectives above military intelligence (sound familiar?). Israel's objective appears to be to prevent Iran not just from acquiring nuclear weapons, but from acquiring the "infrastructural capability" which would allow them to develop nuclear weapons relatively quickly should they at some point choose to.
Israel, for reasons of power and influence, wants to retain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. In contrast to the political rhetoric, however, neither Israel nor the U.S. is afraid of Iran actually using nuclear weapons to attack anyone. To do so would be suicidal and Iran knows it. That's why no nuclear state in history has attacked another nuclear state with nuclear weapons. The real reason why the U.S. and Israel are so keen to avoid a nuclear-armed Iran is because a nuclear Iran would be far harder to control. As historian Martin van Crevald writes, "as one country after another joined the nuclear club, Washington's ability to threaten them or coerce them declined."
That's why the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran is such an anathema to the U.S. and Israel: it would be far harder to control and would be less restrained in its dealings with other nations. Joseph Cirincione, senior analyst at Washington think-tank Centre for American Progress, agrees, stating that the "deeper agenda" for a U.S. attack on Iran is "this belief that American military power can be used to fundamentally transform the regimes in the Middle East".
He says that the Bush administration's current policy "is going to inevitably lead us to a military conflict" and that an attack on Iran is "very possible". The policy he is referring to is Bush's demand that Iran completely cease uranium enrichment (allowed under the NPT) before he will deign to hold negotiations with Iran on, well, its suspension of uranium enrichment. As Seymour Hersh says, it's an absolute "nonstarter". Iran will not give up its right to enrich uranium and, unless they are bluffing, the Americans are going to keep pushing for harder and harder measures against Iran until finally, they get to the one option that is not `off the table' - military action.
There are, however, factors that would appear to count against U.S. military action against Iran. First and foremost there is Iraq - U.S. troops are bogged down there and the electorate have had enough of wars in the Middle East. After the Mid-Term elections, Bush doesn't have the mandate to start another war without the support of the Democrats (although, according to Seymour Hersh's article, Dick Cheney thinks the Bush gang will be able to bypass Congressional blocks on military action). Furthermore, it looks increasingly likely that the U.S. is going to have to ask Iran for help in Iraq.
Israel, on the other hand, has no such worries. All it needs is the "green light" from the U.S. to attack Iran by itself. According to Michael Oren writing in the Wall Street Journal, that was the purpose of Olmert's recent trip to Washington. If so, he got what he wanted: Bush recently stated that he would `understand' if Israel attacked Iran.
Olmert recently declared, "We have reached the pivotal moment of truth regarding Iran... Our integrity will remain intact only if we prevent Iran's devious goals, not if we try our best but fail." At a recent AIPAC conference U.S. ambassador John Bolton promised"painful and tangible consequences" for Iran if it refused to stop its enrichment whilst in Israel, Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh warned that Iran nuclear programme must be stopped "at all costs" and publicly advocated "preemptive military action". If it is true that Olmert felt `reassured' by his meeting with Bush because he was given permission to attack Iran, it looks increasingly likely that, for once, the worlds of rhetoric and reality will collide, to devastating effect.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander