Chris Hedges, Truthdig, Feb. 23:
There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross...we will be in deep trouble....
The New York Times, Feb. 24:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday appointed Dennis B. Ross, a seasoned Middle East negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents, as her special adviser for the [Persian Gulf] and Southwest Asia, a portfolio that will include Iran....Mr. Ross had advocated a tough approach toward Iran that included persuading Europe to increase economic pressure on the government in Tehran. He is a co-founder of United Against Nuclear Iran, a group dedicated to stopping the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The drumbeat for an attack on Iran -- pounded by American and Israeli militarists, and their multitude of sycophants -- never ceases. At times it blends into the background noise of other events that surface to dominate the howling cacaphony of the corporate media bubble, but it never goes away. Very weighty factions in the American power structure, and their Israeli allies, are strongly committed to making such an attack happen, and they continue to press their agenda -- patiently, relentlessly -- no matter who is temporarily managing the empire.
In recent days, they have upped the volume, bringing the issue back to the fore. As many others have pointed out (most notably Arthur Silber, in this powerful piece), the warmongers have seized on an unremarkable report by the International Atomic Energy Agency noting that it had underestimated the amount of enriched uranium at Iran's nuclear facilities. The IAEA said this kind of undercounting was not uncommon in dealing with nascent nuclear programs. And in any case, the undercounted uranium was not missing or "hidden;" it was there, in plain sight, open to international inspectors -- who, in the due course of a thorough inspection, found it and added it to the total.
The IAEA also reported the fact that Iran has deliberately slowed the pace of its nuclear enrichment program, leaving it even further away from developing a nuclear weapon -- if, in fact, it were developing a nuclear weapon, which both the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence appartus says it is not. In short, the IAEA report was good news that could have provided a clear and fruitful opening to any administration seeking a "new approach" to Iran.
But none of this mattered to the warmongers, who immediately seized upon the drums that are always at their command in the higher reaches of the national media. As Kaveh L Afrasiabi reports in the Asia Times:
From the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and London's Mirror, the Guardian and the Financial Times, among other leading international newspapers, the reaction has been a steady stream of alarmist commentaries. Many reports regard this an Iranian "milestone" in reaching "nuclear break-out capability".
....A Los Angeles Times report was headlined "Iran has enriched enough to make a bomb, report says" while the New York Times went out of its way to convey the impression that Iran had deliberately "understated" the magnitude of its enriched uranium. The New York Times added serious fuel to this raw information by citing an "anonymous" IAEA official who claimed that "theoretically" Iran is capable of making a nuclear bomb...
The US government spokesperson, Gordon Duguid, was quick to denounce Iran and parrot the line that Iran must suspend all its "uranium-enrichment related reprocessing". This despite the fact that all the IAEA reports - including this most recent one - state categorically that "there are no indications of ongoing reprocessing activities" at Iran's nuclear facilities.
Wouldn't it be nice if the US officials first bothered to read - or read carefully - the reports that they rely on to sledgehammer Iran?
Oh, they read them, all right. They read them very carefully -- then cherry-pick phrases and factoids to twist as they see fit. Silber nails it thusly:
If our rulers are determined to go to war, they will go to war. It may take them years or even a decade, but if the war is important enough to them, they'll get to the war eventually. As needed to prevent significant protest from a docile, easily manipulated public, they will lie about every significant aspect of the alleged threat we face and about what we "must" do. And what we "must" do is always to kill lots and lots of people, most of whom have never even thought of harming us.
And let's be clear about one thing: the United States is already at war with Iran. Washington is already sponsoring terrorist attacks inside Iranian territory by extremist groups, including Jundullah, America's own little al Qaeda. As Hedges notes:
Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions.
As you can see, bombings and beheadings and deathporn videos are not inherently evil; they can also be a force for good -- as long as they put to the service of America's ever-noble, ever-lofty foreign policy ideals.
With the appointment of Dennis Ross, the Obama Administration has given its response to Iran's gesture of slowing down the enrichment of uranium for its nuclear energy program. As Hedges wrote:
“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”
...Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.
Well, he has "blown it" -- although the use of that phrase assumes that Obama ever intended to "radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East." He gave zero evidence of such an intention throughout the campaign -- rather the opposite -- and so his appointment of Ross, and his reaction to the non-story about the IAEA inspection, do not constitute a "mistake" on his part, at least not on his own terms.
For example, the Obama administration has now fully embraced the subtle shift made by the Bush Administration regarding Iran's atomic ambition, from declaring that Iran will not be allowed to build a nuclear weapon to declaring that it will not be allowed to develop any nuclear program at all. This allowed the Bushists, and now the Obamaniks, to elide the uncomfortable fact that there is no evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iran. As we noted here back in December 2007:
Anyone hoping that the "no nukes in Iran" NIE report might hobble the Administration's armed march toward Persia should take note of how George W. Bush moved the goal posts in his warmongering game during a press conference on Tuesday.
As the New York Times reports, Bush declared that Iran will not be "allowed" to acquire even the "scientific knowledge" required to build a nuclear weapon. Previous "red lines" which could trigger an attack had been based on Iran actually building a weapon; now even nibbling at the forbidden fruit of nuclear knowledge could serve as "justification" for a "pre-emptive strike" to quell the "danger." After all, as Bush rather illiterately told reporters, "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?" Better safe than sorry, right?
And at the very least, moving the goalposts in this manner will allow the Bush Regime to portray Iran as a dangerous, defiant menace for merely carrying on with its fully legal nuclear power program, as authorized by international treaty and monitored by the IAEA. Thus no matter what Iran actually does – or doesn't do – the Bushists will continue to use the "Persian menace" as fodder for the imperial war machine.
Now here is Obama's envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, speaking in February 2009:
The US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, meanwhile said in a radio interview that the IAEA report "confirms what we all have feared and anticipated, which is that Iran ... remains in pursuit of its nuclear program."
"There's no ambiguity about that, and our aim is to combine enhanced pressures, and indeed the potential for direct engagement to try to prevent Iran from taking its program to fruition," Rice said in remarks to be aired later Friday on National Public Radio's All Things Considered program.
Note what is being said here. The United States is declaring its intent to prevent Iran from taking its "nuclear program" to fruition. Rice, following Bush, is careful not to say "nuclear weapons program," because Washington's own intelligence agencies affirm there is no evidence for such a thing. But, as Arthur Silber noted, this doesn't matter. The very notion of Iran having a nuclear program of any kind is now the issue -- an issue justifying "enhanced pressures." And considering that the United States is already maintaining a near-complete economic and diplomatic blockade of Iran -- and killing Iranians with terrorist attacks -- what could those "enhanced pressures" be, other than overt military action? As the saying goes, there is not a sliver of daylight between the Bush and Obama position on this point.
The Bush Administration said it was willing to contemplate and if need be countenance war if Iran continued to pursue its treaty-sanctioned, internationally inspected nuclear energy program. The Obama Administration has just said the same thing -- even after Iran had slowed its nuclear energy program as a gesture toward the "new approach" that Obama mentioned in the campaign. Obama has appointed a secretary of state who publicly vowed to "obliterate" Iran -- and its 70 million human beings -- if Tehran launched an attack on Israel. He has now given this secretary of state a special envoy who is one of the fiercest anti-Iran hawks in Washington.
As Stephen Kinzer notes, Obama has just made the task of shaping a peaceful relationship with Iran well-nigh impossible. A cynic might suspect that this was his intention all along.
But let us not be cynical in the still-blazing dawn of our new era. Let us give the new president every benefit of the doubt, and say that he is indeed committed to a peaceful relationship with Iran -- as long as Iran capitulates to all of America's demands, gratefully accepts American hegemony and cheerfully countenances America's blowing up and beheading of its citizens.
Still hard to see that sliver though, ain't it?