The famous letter sent by Cheney and others to the White House late in Clinton’s presidency advocating a global “take charge” foreign policy made quite clear the kind of America the neo-cons wanted and for a decade they got it: violence amazingly profitable for a handful of CEOs, vast losses of U.S. blood and treasure, and a string of Muslim societies trashed and radicalized. What kind of Americaequivocating Obama wants still remains a mystery, and his Iranpolicy does little to solve that mystery.

If Obama wants to shine an American beacon of hope to all aspiring to peace and democracy, his careful avoidance of a positive-sum outcome in relations with Iranis likely to be the death knell of such aspirations. Whether Iran is even half as significant as Washington lackeys of the Israeli right wing make it out to be, the wild-eyed rhetoric of this faction and its hypnotic hold over Washington have made (relatively) little Iran the symbol of defiance to the American superpower. Bloodying Iran’s nose has become the measure of manhood on the Potomac. These are not the men who defeated Japanand met the victorious Soviets in Berlinor remotely the men who succeeded in sailing between the Scylla of Soviet expansion and the Charybdis of World War III. Men on the Potomac stand short in the 21stcentury.
Nevertheless, the fact is that Tel Aviv and Washington have handed Tehran an image it did not have the remotest chance of obtaining by itself: any country capable of inspiring such fear on the part of the world’s only superpower and the Mideast region’s nuclear monopolist must be a giant! If little (by all standard measures of state power) Irancan defy the U.S., then who will ever again be impressed by its image?
By essentially doing nothing, just following a classic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of nuclear ambiguity, little Iranhas tied the world’s last superpower in knots. If, in the end, the humiliated superpower destroys Iran, it will prove exactly nothing…except that the superpower cannot even control itself, much less its pushy allies or little, irritating regimes that demand recognition. Giants gain no credit for smashing mosquitoes.
Conversely, if Obama wants to turn the neo-con aberration into America’s course for the future, creating a permanent violence-addicted Imperial America, his Iranpolicy seems likely to puncture that balloon as well. If it was the “greatest generation” that won WWII and laid the foundation via self-restraint for a half century of peace, historians will see those who ran the U.S. during the first 15 years of the 21st century as the “dwarf generation:” a pathetic, unimaginative bunch of toadies for out-of-control capitalist greed destroying everything Americans have labored for two centuries to construct. If this generation manages to turn Iran into a large Iraq or Somaliaor Palestine or Yemenor Afghanistan, exactly who will sigh with admiration? Will Turks and Indians and Brazilians strive to emulate America? Will the politicians of Moscow and Beijingtremble with fear at a global superpower that finally, after 30 years, succeeds in punishing Iranand once again forcing it into submission? On the other hand, if Washingtonfails to curb Tehran’s penchant for independence even after all this sturm und drang, then what? The whole world will be laughing.
To be fair, Washingtonpolicymakers may well be putting great effort into seeking a solution that avoids both Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology and open war. Maybe. But even if so, effort by itself does not suffice at their pay grade. Policymakers, to deserve the power they wield, must also have vision, and none is detectable on the Potomac today.
Precisely, policymakers need a vision of the kind of world they hope to create. Iranis not Hitler or the USSRor Genghis Khan or the 7th century Arab expansion or any of the greats of yore (Alexander, Cyrus). Iranis a political mirage, a puffed up image in the eye of the beholder of a much smaller and more distant reality. Irandoes pose a small potential military challenge, but a host of options are available to Washington were Washingtonto decide that persuading Iranto forego nukes was really the objective. More important, Iranposes a political challenge, but so do Russia, China, Pakistan, Israel, and many others. Yet Washington has chosen to replace the “10-foot-tall” Soviets with Ahmadinejad as the “main enemy.” Like a man crawling across the desert desperate for water, Washington politicians are desperate for a “mission,” which they sadly interpret to mean an “enemy” and absurdly identify as the Islamic Republic. A far better mission for a superpower would be the positive articulation of the kind of world one wants to create. Were that done, it would immediately be apparent that the road to glory does not go through Tehran.
If Ahmadinejad really wants to tie Washingtonin knots, he should snap his fingers and move Iranto a different dimension. Without poor Iranto hate, what would all the little men on the Potomacdo? Not one of them would have a clue what the goal should be, and no two of them would agree on anything whatsoever, not even on what to argue about first. The last figment of unity gone, they would be running in circles, tripping all over each other, until each and every one of them was stuck in the mud that lines the Potomac’s banks. Then everyone on earth would see that there really was no superpower at all, and Ahmadinejad could safely come back to our dimension again. 

Three Stooges Diplomacy

Washington has deployed even more military forces against Iranand intensified its economic war against Iran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard generals have launched a rhetorical broadside against Washington, and Israel has again threatened to commit aggression against Iran. 

Iran’s egregious insult of pointing out the obvious—that it can threaten the massive array of U.S. military bases that have come to surround it since the neo-con push for an Imperial America—sounds like the last gasp of a very insecure country under a very real threat. The ability of Iran to respond to attack by hitting the bases comes as no surprise and while its articulation of the threat may play well in Tehran, it is otherwise is likely only to empower the Israeli-American war party.
The egregious nature of Washington’s behavior—ratcheting up both military and economic pressure against a Tehran that is doing nothing new—is of a totally different order. Imperial Americaunder Democrats is proving hard to distinguish from Imperial America under neo-cons: be sure you have a new war ready (Iranfor both Obama and Bush) before you end the old war you are currently fighting (Afghanistanfor Obama; Iraqfor Bush). Keep tensions at a fever pitch. Distract voters from the mess at home.
One can only wonder at the idea of distracting voters. Does a man whose bank has cheated him out of his home really not care as long as he can cheer U.S./Israeli aggression against yet another Muslim society? Not only does such a strategy on Washington’s part make the assumption that the American voter is extremely ignorant, it plays right into the hands of the Republicans and the even more dangerous expansionist faction in Israel – the greater the tensions, the easier it is to argue that “nothing less than the immediate destruction of XXX can save the world!”
Iran, meanwhile, is trapped: Washingtonwill not offer a deal because, egged on by a sneering Netanyahu, Washington does not want a “deal;” Washingtonwants Iran to surrender. Perhaps the New York Times finds it appropriate to interpret rising U.S. military pressure as primarily designed to persuade Israel not to start a war, but the timing immediately following yet another round of talks in which Washington apparently chose again not to offer Iran a balanced, compromise deal suggests that the main message Iran should hear—and certainly the message it will hear—is a demand that it play by Washington rules. The talks concluded this week in Istanbulwere technical-level talks; following them with renewed military threats makes little sense if Washingtongenuinely wants a solution. Washington’s behavior suggests a more ominous interpretation: Iranmust confirm without qualification that Israelis and will forever remain Nuclear Master of the Mideast Universe. Recognition of Israel’s right to a regional nuclear monopoly backed up by its already overwhelming conventional military superiority and its blank check authorization to tell other countries what arms they are allowed to possess and to attack any who break its rules means that no country in the region but Israelshall be permitted independence.
But independence, for Iran, is the whole ball game. Iranhas been struggling mightily for a century to reemerge from its recent obscurity and define for itself in its own terms a path forward. Its immediate enemy, Saddam’s Iraq, has vanished only to be replaced by a new string of U.S.bases and an armada of U.S.ships that serve no purpose except to threaten it with nuclear annihilation. Meanwhile, Israelcontinues to swallow those pieces of Palestineit did not digest in 1949, and has now defined Iranas its main enemy. Washington is not offering a rational deal–a trade of terminating its economic war against Iranin return for nuclear transparency—because nuclear transparency is not Washington’s goal. Washington’s goal is formal Iranian acceptance of permanent Number 2 status in the region and that indeed constitutes, for Iran, a surrender.
U.S. voters may be somewhat distracted, but meanwhile the Three Stooges pie-throwing contest is generating dangerous momentum. How is Obama to extract himself after the election from a situation in which he has acted as though the world were in a crisis as the result of Iran’s insistence on being held to the same standards as everyone else? Will he have the guts to tangle directly with a Netanyahu facing humiliation? Will he have the creativity to defeat Netanyahu? If Obama continues to allow tensions with Iran to build and ends up giving Iran what it quite reasonably demands (to be allowed to play by the same nuclear rules as others) only to be forced to sacrifice U.S. national interests to please Netanyahu, then the end result (whatever happens to Iran) will constitute an historic humiliation of the U.S. Some may think Americans will deserve it, but a triumphant semi-fascist and militant Israel humiliating the U.S. will make the world a very unpleasant place for everyone.

Mutual Transparency Needed to End the U.S.-Iran Dispute

The Western-Iranian nuclear road-show, for it hardly seems to merit the term “negotiations,” continues in Iran’s backyard. Tehran and Washington may insist on slapping each other in the face at every opportunity, but the region has changed greatly with the demise of Iran’s bitter enemy Saddam and the rise of Shi’i rule in Iraq.

Judging from public reports, Iran is absolutely correct to complain of a lack of balance in the Western negotiating stance. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the West’s treaty, its rules for managing nuclear technology, yet the West is violating its own treaty by demanding that Iran sign unique terms not provided for by that treaty. Worse, the West is doing so without recognizing the rogue status of Israel, which has a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons by all accounts yet refuses to sign the treaty. Finally, Iran will need very clear guarantees of what it will receive if it accepts the special constraints the U.S. is trying to impose. At what point will the U.S. stop trying regime change? At what point will the U.S. stop publicly condemning it? At what point will the U.S. grant it diplomatic recognition? At what point will all economic warfare against Iran be terminated? And those are just the negative issues on which the U.S. must concede completely. Beyond that come positive moves – security guarantees, trade, coordination on Afghanistan and Iraq, anti-drug cooperation, negotiation over rules for sharing the Persian Gulf.

Western apologists for the West’s hardline stance are, judging from public reports, correct that Iran is not making a sincere effort in the talks either. According to Tehran Times[5/23/12], Iran “offered a five-point package of proposals verbally on nuclear and non-nuclear issues during the negotiations.” The issue is far too serious to be approached with such unprofessionalism. Both sides have clear grievances. Iran’s behavior gives the impression that it is playing for time and hiding plans for a nuclear breakout, while the West is demanding discriminatory concessions while evidently pretending to ignore Iran’s many legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction. Any number of miscalculations could lead to consequences harmful to the world as a whole. This is no time for casual verbal offers that cannot be pinned down for serious discussion in a context of hypocritical public propaganda campaigns.

Such tactics merely empower extremists on both sides. Washington should realize that Iran has thus far behaved with moderation; if the West continues to provoke it, Iran could do much more to make life unpleasant. Iran’s foreign policy is markedly moderate in comparison to that of the U.S. or Israel: it invades no one, it has no nuclear weapons and thus is certainly not threatening to use them, it has no foreign bases. Iran should realize that the extremists on the Western side that it so likes to sneer at have their fingers on nuclear triggers. The two sides are playing a fool’s game. Neither side seems to have any confidence in the willingness of the other to negotiate seriously, setting up a negative-sum dynamic in which both sides are losing. 

It is bad enough when politicians play a zero-sum game in which they reject compromises that allow each side to benefit and instead demand solutions that leave the adversary punished, humiliated, and vowing revenge. But when politicians play a negative-sum game, in which both sides are harmed, one has a perfect picture of unprofessionalism. The politicians of course have their reasons. Obama fears Republican electoral exploitation of any demonstration that he is thinking rather than flexing his muscles like a true cowboy. Given the even more vicious nature of Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad, already on the defensive for numerous domestic reasons, may fear for his life if he makes too many concessions. So both societies risk proxy wars, economic sabotage, terrorism (by Mossad, by the MEK, or perhaps by Iran), and even nuclear attack (by Israel) that would float a cloud of fallout (literally and figuratively) across the globe. The two sides are indeed playing a fool’s game.

No one expects the West to make all its concessions on day one, but it must offer some recognition of 1) Iran‘s legal rights, 2) Israel‘s nuclear rogue status, 3) and exactly what Iran would get for accepting any part of the highly discriminatory rules the U.S. wishes to impose on Iran. So far, the West gives no appearance of intending to negotiate anything other than Iran‘s surrender. That ain’t happening; it is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, if it somehow did occur, it would only set the stage for a more serious subsequent crisis: Israeli extremists would be emboldened and all Iranians would be infuriated. 

As for negotiating a genuine solution, the Western position is still not even close to the starting gate. If the Obama Administration has any clear idea at all of what would constitute a “solution” to the U.S.-Iranian dispute, it is keeping that idea very, very close to its chest, and that is a tragedy, because what the world needs now is transparency: Iranian nuclear transparency and American transparency on a vision of how a genuine U.S.-Iranian détente might be made to work.

Nuclear Hysteria

Trust but verify. To verify your “friends,” listen to them. You may be surprised.

We Americans like to put countries in neat categories, simplify issues, take a stand, and get on with life. Those are very dangerous habits in our messy little world. A perfect example of the American tendency to oversimplify is “Israel.” Almost all Americans seem to assume that the term “Israel” means something. Do all Israelis have identical opinions, attitudes, and intentions? OK, obviously not. So…do all socially conscious Israelis? Again, five minutes’ reading of any Israeli newspaper makes it clear they do not. So…how about all national security officers in the current Israeli administration?

Pick the most critical national security issue of the day and listen to the public remarks in the last week about Iran of key members of the regime in Tel Aviv:

Prime Minister Netanyahu: To fear telling the truth, which is that there are those today who also seek to destroy millions of Jews, is to disrespect the Holocaust and insult its victims. The Prime Minister of Israel is not only allowed to conjure the memory of a third of our people when speaking of existential threats, it is his duty. [Haaretz 4/25/12.]

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gantz:We are a temperate state. The State of Israel is the strongest in the region and will remain so. Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria….Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily ‘go, no-go.’ The problem doesn’t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle….[WM: Iran] is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile. [Haaretz 4/25/12.]

Those not sufficiently impressed with the level of hysteria in the above Netanyahu quote should read the whole speech; Netanyahu’s grossly overblown historical allusions that implicitly accuse all who dissent from his viewpoint of being either idiots or traitors are explained in the Israeli media.

Hysterical people with their fingers on nuclear buttons are not friends; they are enemies…and very dangerous ones.

An  Israeli review of the Israeli military-intelligence revolt against Netanyahu.

Winning Coalition for the U.S.-Iranian Nuclear Dispute

As Tehran, Washington, and Tel Aviv maneuver, the world is trying to figure out what the three sides really want, but there are no “three sides.” The conflict pits zero-sum militarists against positive-sum moderates.

All three sides are constantly in flux internally and in relation to each other, so even if the world knew all the secrets of each, where they are headed would still be unknowable for they do not know themselves. Yet logic can carry us rather far once we abandon the hopelessly simplistic image of “good” and “bad” regimes.
Starting with Tehran, it seems fairly safe to assume that at least three distinct perspectives are well represented within the factionalized and bitterly competitive ruling elite: 1) nuclear arms are “haram;” 2) nuclear arms per se may be risky but nuclear ambiguity is a great bargaining chip; 3) neither national security nor the realization of national goals is possible in a nuclear world without nuclear arms (i.e., this third faction may in turn be composed of a faction that feels the bomb is the only way to defend Iran and another faction that is committed to the high risk road of international adventure). It is illogical to assume that a fundamentalist religious regime claiming its right to rule is derived from God would repeatedly and publicly insist that nuclear arms are evil if it were committed to building them, so it is only logical to assume that some measure of genuine regime antipathy for owning nuclear arms truly exists. To the degree that nuclear ambiguity serves as a catalyst for persuading adversaries to negotiate in good faith, i.e., to offer something Tehran really wants, the Tehran faction that consider nuclear arms haramand the faction that is open to a pragmatic, positive-sum bargain will be thrown together, and Iranian media are replete with indications that the latter faction should not be discounted.

Hossein Mousavian–former Iranian nuclear negotiator with ties to Ali Larijani, a background of cooperating with the U.S. as an Iranian official, and now living in the U.S.–published a well-balanced and moderate op-ed in the Boston Globe that is rumored to present the position Jalili was advocating in Istanbul. Mousavian’s recommendations for Washington were surprisingly low-cost:

the United States should credibly demonstrate that the ultimate goal is “engagement’’ and not regime change. The P5+1 should offer a package that includes three major elements: 1) recognition of Iran’s inalienable rights for enrichment; 2) removal of the sanctions; and 3) normalization of Iran’s nuclear file. 

Although a neutral observer of the U.S.-Iran conflict might well imagine that Washington would at a minimum need to recognize Iran and address its legitimate national security concerns, Mousavian evidently considers neither of these concessions essential to making progress on the initial nuclear phase of the bilateral discord. For any Washington officials who may wish to avoid war, that is good news: tough U.S. moves toward peace can be postponed for later…presumably after the election.

The degree to which Mousavian represents the views of major Tehran power-holders of course remains unclear, but he has presented a low-cost set of U.S. moves that could put U.S.-Iranian discourse on a more professional foundation and his background suggests it is logical to assume his views will resonate with at least some portions of the Iranian national security establishment.
It should, in brief, be obvious to serious national security decision-makers in Washingtonthat it is in the national security interest of the grease the wheels for an Iranian factional realignment by presenting compromise offers that promote cooperation rather than making hardline demands that equate to an Iranian surrender.

Factionalism is of course not limited to Iran. Tel Aviv is firmly under the control of the “Greater Israel” faction that is committed both to maximizing Israeli power and permanently subjugating the Palestinian people. But even this faction is fundamentally split between those represented by risk-seeking Netanyahu who seem eager to fight to the last American to shove Iran back into client status and those, represented by recently retired and risk-averse Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who worry about provoking a disaster for Israel. Neither moderate nor liberal factions appear to play any significant role in the current Israeli power structure, but many representatives of such views speak out bluntly and regularly in the Israeli media, cautioning about not only a self-provoked disaster for Israel but the immorality of Israel’s repression of Palestinians and the harm that the Israeli garrison state is doing to Israeli democracy. These out-of-power thinkers represent a potentially revolutionary force for Israel’s future that was far more influential traditionally in Israeli politics than it is today.
The extraordinarily bitter and irresponsible factionalism in Washington separates two sides of the old superpower coin: the neo-con, zero-sum militarist faction vs. the empire-light conservative Democrats. But progressive, moderate perspectives remain among Washington officials, even if marginalized, and the argument that Washington could, by skillful diplomacy, elicit more cooperation from a factionalized Iran can be turned around: a less awkward, short-sighted, and egregiously uncooperative Tehran could also elicit a more balanced, more positive-sum attitude on Washington’s part. The more Tehran removes ambiguity from its nuclear policy, the easier it will be for those forces in Washingtontrying to prevent war to prevail. To put it differently, the more Tehranhardliners hide what they are doing in Fordo, the more Iranian representatives at nuclear talks make speeches that lack detailed substantive compromise offers, the more they empower American neo-cons and Israeli “Greater Israel” advocates.
The current situation, then, is three sets of internally competitive factions, one in each country. As illustrated in “The Current U.S.-Iranian-Israeli Political Impass,” this unfortunate reality prevents resolution of the nuclear dispute by confusing common interest in national security with domestic political infighting, separating and weakening the forces in each country that could, if interacting, find a solution. This situation greatly empowers extremists because they do not need close coordination: it only takes one actor to start a war.
The road to a positive-sum solution that could potentially end the nuclear dispute with mutual acceptance of the independence and national security of all lies in the joint realization of those in each regime favoring cooperation that cooperation needs to begin at the factional rather than national level. Once coordination between the cooperative factions of the U.S. and Iran begins, the tone of the debate changes from “how can we defeat the enemy” to “how can we solve the problem.” Redefining the terms of debate is critical to finding a real solution. Once that happens, it becomes vastly easier to persuade members of the flexible faction to joint in, thus building momentum to marginalize extremists.

Two recent indications of apparent Iranian interest in cooperation are Larijani’s offer of eventual “permanent human monitors” and Jalili’s weekend reference to Khamenei’s fatwah as an opening to “disarmament.” While perhaps indicative of an Iranian interest in compromise, these rhetorical initiatives fall far short of the type of major substantive concession that Iran, with its huge nuclear infrastructure, could afford to make. Without harming its stance of nuclear ambiguity, Tehran could, for example, open the Fordo underground refinement facility or the Arak heavy water plant to full public inspection or announce temporary termination of construction and/or operation pending the removal of sanctions. Closing one while keeping the other open would demonstrate flexibility while making the statement that Iran has multiple options in the face of continued Western intransigence while weakening protests from Netanyahu that Obama’s willingness to negotiate was only giving Iran more time. A temporary concession made on the requirement of a Western response within a specified time would empower U.S. advocates of compromise now fatally weakened by Iranian refusal to go beyond rhetorical steps that can easily and not unreasonably be dismissed by Western cynics.

In sum, the simplest picture of what is happening that everyone needs to keep in their heads is not “Iran, the U.S., and Israel,” but three sets of factions vying for influence. To prevent war and resolve the nuclear dispute, the Tehran, Washington, and Tel Aviv factions willing to define a deal centered on the concepts of mutual security and a willingness to do business together must figure out a way to coordinate and shift the debate from zero-sum barbarism to positive-sum rationality.

Opportunity for Obama to Resolve His Iran Dilemma

Tehran has just placed a great opportunity in the hands of Western nuclear negotiators by stressing that Khamenei’s anti-bomb fatwa creates an opportunity for non-proliferation. Obama will be evaluated by historians in great measure by how he responds.

In reaction to the just completed round of nuclear talks between Iran and the West, Iran’s chief negotiator Jalili has described Khamenei’s fatwa calling nuclear arms “haram” (morally forbidden) as having “created an opportunity for concrete steps toward disarmament and non-proliferation.” 

Jalili’s statement prepares the way in Tehran for nuclear compromise as the morally correct and politically correct way forward, if only the West will make some effort to present attractive offers couched respectfully. Tehran has clearly stated, in American language, that compromise is “on the table.” This is a hugely significant statement for an extremely hostile and surely somewhat nervous regime that has been struggling since its inception for independence from Western domination.

It is always easier for politicians to announce how tough they are and to portray compromise as “treachery,” as every American who has been awake for the past 15 years well knows. In a weak state under threat of attack, such tactics are all the easier. In that context, Jalili’s remark should be treated as a major signal of Tehran’s willingness to meet the West half way. Of course, it may not be such a signal, but in any case, it is a statement that powerful factions of the Iranian political leadership will have great difficulty disowning and which serves the national interests of all Western societies.

Washington should applaud this statement and find a way to respond positively with substantive offers that are presented as building on this foundation laid by Iran’s Supreme Leader. Great diplomacy seizes opportunities.

Mossad & CIA: No Iranian Bomb Program

Both Mossad and the U.S. Intelligence Community agree that Iran not only has no nuclear bomb but does not even have a program to develop a bomb.

If you read it carefully all the way to the end—where the meat of the article is hidden, the NYThas just totally blown the cover off the warmongering campaign of politicians in Israel and the U.S. advocating a war against Iran. In a word, the official intelligence assessment in both countries is that Iran does not even have a nuclear weapons program, much less actual bombs. No wonder former Mossad chief Meir Dagan felt he had to go on 60 Minutes to warn against attacking Iran, despite his obvious desire to see Iranian emergence onto the regional stage deflected.

Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, agrees with the American intelligence assessments, even while Israeli political leaders have been pushing for quick, aggressive action to block Iran from becoming what they describe as an existential threat to the Jewish state….
Just as in 2010, new evidence about the Iranian nuclear program delayed the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the last previous assessment. Current and former American officials say that a draft version of the assessment had been completed when the United States began to collect surprising intelligence suggesting that Iran had suspended its weapons program and disbanded its weapons team four years earlier.
The draft version had concluded that the Iranians were still trying to build a bomb, the same finding of a 2005 assessment. But as they scrutinized the new intelligence from several sources, including intercepted communications in which Iranian officials were heard complaining to one another about stopping the program, the American intelligence officials decided they had to change course, officials said. While enrichment activities continued, the evidence that Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003 at the direction of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was too strong to ignore, they said.
One former senior official characterized the information as very persuasive. “I had high confidence in it,” he said. “There was tremendous evidence that the program had been halted.”And today, despite criticism of that assessment from some outside observers and hawkish politicians, American intelligence analysts still believe that the Iranians have not gotten the go-ahead from Ayatollah Khamenei to revive the program.“That assessment,” said one American official, “holds up really well.” 

So, there is no threat, though of course if we threaten them enough, someday they might try to mount a threat. Now why would Israeli and U.S. politicians want to do that?

Yelling ‘Fire!’ in the Nuclear Theater

The issue of Iranian nukes is far too important to be treated with glib soundbites.Those who cannot bring themselves to speak responsibly about such critical issues only reveal their lack of qualifications for national leadership and provoke one to wonder what their real game is. 

The mainstream American media is full of undefended assertions that the Iranian nuclear program “can” or even “must” be stopped. Even otherwise thoughtful articles that attempt careful analysis of U.S. foreign policy toss out such thoughtless remarks without detail as though the authors had been required to “praise Allah/Lenin/Mao” in order to get published. Glib and thoughtless reiteration of politically correct soundbites may just be comical if not serious but in reference to nuclear weapons constitutes something close to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Can Iran’s nuclear program be stopped? Numerous thoughtful Israeli and U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned that it is not likely to be stopped by war. History has something to offer as well: several countries aspiring to have nuclear arms have accepted a negotiated end to their military programs, while several with such arms have–through negotiations–agreed to give them up. If we don’t like the idea of a nuclear Iran, the history of Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Ukraine, and other countries provide much food for thought. I believe it is fair to say that not one did so under threat of attack and that all did so in return for some benefits to substitute for the lost weapons and that they did so with the understanding that they could have security without those weapons. History also tells us something else: no weak country has ever used nuclear arms to enable it to launch a war of aggression that it could otherwise not have been able to win.

Those points suggest that it may indeed be possible to stop whatever nuclear militarization program or appetite Iran may have. Hysterical knee-jerk rhetorical jabs from Tel Aviv and Washington every time an Iranian neo-con general mouths off probably are not the way to achieve such an historic compromise, however. Let’s face it: Iran is under threat; it desperately needs either the appearance (if not the reality) of a nuclear defense option or an alternative means of ensuring its national security.

The other glib assertion is that Iran “must” be stopped. Why? Israel has not been stopped even though it has a far more aggressive, violence-prone foreign policy than Iran. Pakistan has not been stopped even though it implemented a massive proliferation business. India hasn’t been stopped–indeed, has been greatly aided–despite the near nuclear war with Pakistan. It would surely be wonderful if all non-nuclear countries could be persuaded that nuclear arms would not enhance their security, as it would be wonderful if all nuclear countries could be persuaded to scale back. But “must” is a word that does not apply to Iran any more than it applies to India, Israel, Pakistan, or North Korea…or perhaps even to that one country that actually has used these infernal devices in anger.

It is time to start writing about life-threatening issues with a bit more responsibility. Now, if someone wants to discuss how to design a nuclear “just say no” offer that a national security official, regardless of citizenship, could not afford to refuse, that would be something worth discussing.

Thinking About an Israeli War on Iran

“All options” in U.S.-Iranian relations have in fact never really been on the table. Compromise has not been an option. That would entail the end of the regional nuclear double standard as well as the recognition of Iran as a coming regional power. So Iranian-Israeli war continues to threaten. Does the Tel Aviv war party have a logical case? What, from that perspective, is the “best” that could happen?

Almost anything could happen were Israel to start an unprovoked war against Iran. Let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that it all goes just as the Israeli war party dreams. [Israel’s high-tech war of choice.]With Defense Minister Barak, let us assume that almost no Israelis will die. Let us assume that Israeli planes and missiles hit their targets and that those targets are perfectly selected from among the possible 300 or more Iranian nuclear sites. Let us assume that the bombing sets the Iranian nuclear research program back by an optimistic five years, more than former Mossad chief Meir Dagan  and U.S. intelligence circles seem to think likely. OK, Netanyahu becomes the West’s Cowboy #1 and remains in office. The Palestinians realize they have no hope of justice in our time. Now what?

All Iranians, indeed all Muslims, will have all the justification in the world for using violence anywhere, anytime, in any way they may choose against Israel, and some will. After all, if Israel can start a war and slaughter civilians in the thousands just because it prefers that its adversaries not develop weapons that it has itself possessed for decades in abundance, then exactly what moral constraints can be said to exist on the anti-Israeli actions of others?

More to the point, what political constraints can then be said to exist? What Muslim leader could justify cooperating with or trusting Israel after an Israeli attack on an Iran that has conducted rhetorical war but, in comparison with Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanese, behaved cautiously? Will Ankara submissively shelve its effort to occupy a moderate middle position in regional affairs or start looking for military allies to protect itself from the now unrestrained regional superpower? Would such an attack tip Egypt into an actively anti-Israeli position for the first time in decades? Is Israel prepared to deal with the implications of the termination of Egyptian support for the continued imprisonment of Gazans in their ghetto?

What would be the implications for the U.S. of a collapse of Iraqi government cooperation? Renewed anti-American violence in Iraq, attacks on the Green Zone, Baghdad breaking diplomatic relations on the eve of the U.S. presidential campaign: has Israel considered the degree to which Americans might begin to take seriously the question of whether or not the U.S. can continue to pay the national security price of an alliance with such a violence-prone state?

Will the Iranian quest for national security become such an obsession that all domestic factions unite in the search for a solution, transforming Iran into a far more determined, effective adversary? Israeli politicians seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the Osirak precedent; perhaps they should stop. When Israel bombed Iraq in 1981, no Islamic bomb existed. How many Pakistanis, in today’s vastly different atmosphere, will have sympathy for an Iran under attack for something it does not even yet possess? What bargaining chips might the concentrated thought of Iranian national security thinkers manage to identify for cutting a nuclear deal with Pakistan? Has Tel Aviv thought through the various bilateral Iranian-Pakistani issues (refugees, terrorism, Baluchi independence movement, joint resentment at American treatment, oil pipeline, strategic security advantages of cooperation) that Tehran, its attention focused by the horror and humiliation of an Israeli attack, might use to entice Pakistani cooperation?

In return for all those uncertainties, Israel will have managed to put the Iranian nuclear program back where it was in…2007?!? In 2007, it was believed by some that an Iranian nuclear bomb “could be possible” as soon as 2009. The war scare was so extreme in Israel that Israeli media sources were calling an Israeli attack “inevitable” and predicting that it would occur “in 2007.” Or maybe the Israeli attack will be so successful that, against expectations, it knocks the Iranian program all the way back to 2004, a time of such tension that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was threatening Iran with “all options,” codeword for a nuclear strike. Or maybe the Israelis would be so lucky as to knock the Iranian program a full 15 years back – to 1997, when Netanyahu was accusing Russia of “endangering the very future of Israel” by providing Iran with missile technology. Setting back the Iranian program by a few years may be crucial to a politician’s career but is of little significance for the long-term security of a state.

Now recall that all these potential pitfalls flowing from an attack offering such modest achievements are premised on the assumption that Netanyahu’s dreams of a quick, easy, 100% successful military strike are realized and, somehow, realized without Israeli recourse to nuclear arms–which would truly establish it as an international criminal enterprise of the first order–and that massive global fallout from exploded Iranian nuclear infrastructure does not result and that Iran does not in response sink a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, etc., etc.. The set of post-attack dangers enumerated in the preceding paragraphs is the situation after the best possible outcome for the Israeli war party.

Protecting the World From Nuclear Disaster

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Imagine a religious state that aspires to have nuclear arms, vigorously exports extremist religious ideology, supports its religious crusade with violence or at least looks the other way when its religious partners use violence internationally, and is vigorously contesting leadership of the Mideast by employing not just political and economic means but also military means. (Readers may wish to see how many Mideast states meet the above criteria.) My question is this:
Should the U.S. be providing privileged* nuclear assistance to such a state?
*By privileged I mean nuclear assistance (aid, technology, knowledge, or defense guarantees) not available to all other states in the region.
When developing your answer, consider whether or not such privileged nuclear assistance damps down regional nuclear rivalry or provokes it. Consider whether such nuclear assistance might be replaced by some sort of regional guarantees against any possession or use of weapons of mass destruction.
the possibility of initiating formal negotiations, potentially without demanding that Riyadh accept key nonproliferation pledges embraced by one of its neighbors, the United Arab Emirates, in its own 2009 trade arrangement with Washington [Global Security Newswire, 7/28/11.]
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday she was “astonished” the administration would even consider the move. She called Saudi Arabia an unstable country in an unstable region. [CBS News, 7/29/11.]