What Iran (and Obama) Are Really Up To

by Mike Hogan

President Obama’s State of the Union address, set for tonight, will touch on his usual assortment of subjects: “green energy,” hope (or change), getting Americans back to work, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and a full assortment of platitudes designed to placate what is commonly referred to as his base: young voters, women, working class people, and the usual subjects that have reflexively supported the Democratic party even as it has abandoned them. Their continued support for the Democratic party can be explained by a lack of a better alternative, as most liberals will tell you (whether they realize the implications or not) when they utter an often heard phrase: “well, he’s better than a Republican.”

Still, Obama is somewhat different than the Yale educated cowboy: he prefers to assassinate, rather than indefinitely detain, and he has stretched Executive power to bounds Bush could have never reached. He also “ended” the war in Iraq, much to his chagrin, as the United States was forced out after attempts at extending the withdrawal deadline were rebuked by Iraqi elites. Fortunately, Obama has found his own war in Afghanistan, where half of all American deaths have been in the last three years and countless innocent Afghanistan civilians have died. It’s not often you hear about the Afghani’s, however; their safety is brushed aside unless it is invoked to demonize Bradley Manning and the grave danger Wikileaks poses to the world. Otherwise, they are ignored. Their lives are of no interest to cable networks and their advertisers, campaign speechwriters or American citizens, as long as the concerned citizens are told that the United States Government is fighting “terrorists.” Obama, like Bush, has found his war, though it is a largely forgotten exercise. It seems they are more similar than they are different.

And so, as we near the State of the Union address, one can’t help but be reminded of Bush’s 2002 address, where he first used the term “Axis of Evil” to describe North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Iran, Bush said, “aggressively pursues [nuclear weapons] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.” He accused the Iranian, Iraqi and North Korean regimes of “arming to threaten the peace of the world.” It is worth noting that this speech alienated the Iranian’s who, seeing an opportunity for increased cooperation with Washington in a common enemy, offered their services in fighting the Taliban. Regardless, it seems that today, these ideas persist, most notably in the Neoconservative world, where members of think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute are renewing calls for some kind of overt military aggression against Iran. Typical ideas call for some kind of “strategic bombing campaign,” which will raise tensions and solve nothing.

Solving nothing, however, seems to be the modus operandi of the Western powers and their friend Israel as it relates to Iran, “exporter of terror” and, if you read any major news outlet published in the United States, existential threat that is currently developing their military nuclear weapon program. This dogma is almost unchallengeable in American media and, as a result, among the “informed” citizenry. The idea that Iran is currently engaged in diverting nuclear capabilities from its civilian projects to a military one is, of course, false. The November IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report essentially concludes the same thing–that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003, and has not resumed since. As a signatory to the NPT (Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty), it is the Iranian’s inalienable right to enrich uranium–currently at 20%, designed for cancer treatment. It will take about 90 percent to produce a nuclear weapon. These facts are ignored amongst those who choose to ignore them, for their own political reasons. One example would be Hillary Clinton who, after publicly condemning Iran, was contradicted by another member of Obama’s cabinet, Defense Secretary (and former director of the CIA) Leon Panetta.

In fact, the intelligence agencies of both the United States and Israel admit the same thing. Hearetz, an Israeli newspaper, had this to say about the upcoming Mossad intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities:

“The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.”

United States intelligence estimates reported the same thing in both 2007 and 2010:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Taken from the 2007 report, that excerpt essentially summarizes the IAEA report, the Israeli report and the 2010 US intelligence estimate. Of course, the caveat always included is that Iran may decide, at some point, to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s true–no one can predict the future. And, with Iran’s history, specifically with Western powers, it would be hard to blame them for keeping the option open. After all, they’ve had their democratically elected leaders assassinated by Western powers, a tyrannical ruler supported and funded by Western powers, and an Iraqi army using illegal chemical weapons invade their territory with Washington’s support. They’ve also seen the United States and Israel unilaterally attack countries in acts of aggression (Iraq, Lebanon.) What is rarely mentioned, however, is that there are plenty of countries enriching uranium at the same or higher levels who are also signatories to the NPT–Brazil and Japan, to name two US allies. Furthermore, Israel is the holder of some 200 or so nuclear warheads, while US allies Pakistan and India sit on the IAEA board with their own nuclear stockpiles. Those three countries are not signatories to the NPT. Their nuclear programs were accomplished in secret, never inspected by the IAEA.

And, so, we arrive back at the theme: solving nothing. The first question to ask: what would “solving the problem” entail? Presumably, it would involve peace between Iran and the United States and Israel, something that both citizens of Iran and the United States would support. Therefore, the question becomes: how do we get there? How do we “solve” the problem?

Well, the first step would be to stop state sponsored terrorist attacks on Iran. Although unproven, the assassination of Iranian scientists is widely speculated to be at the hands of Israeli officials–officials who, at the mention of the covert assassinations, “smile” while denying the allegations. Furthermore, crippling sanctions have caused sincere pain on everyday Iraqi’s and have significantly devalued Iran’s currency. These actions are unlikely to ease the fears of everyday Iranians, nor is it likely to convince Iranian elites that the US means well. If Iranian elites do not believe the US is sincere in its intentions, they are unlikely to negotiate a political settlement. The new European oil embargo is likely to increase hostility and back Iran further into a corner.

Then again, is a corner a terrible place for Iran to be, in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-right wing government and the United States? The answer relies on whether or not you view the United States government’s public claim as sincere, and whether or not they view regime change in Iran as the ultimate goal. After all, if they were serious about stopping the Iranian nuclear program, they should know sanctions do not really help. They only strengthen the current regime and inflame public support in Iran. Neither do strategic strikes, as the Iraq experience in the 1980s illustrates. This question is crucial to understanding the issue. It seems that the administration knows that too, as it pressured the Washington Post to redact a quote from a US official that regime change was part of the goal of the sanctions.

It seems, then, that we may be reaching a precipice in the typically hostile relationship. Even though Israeli and American officials called off a joint military exercise last week, the renewed pressure on Iran through central bank sanctions and the oil embargo (which comes into effect on July 1st), combined with Iranian elections that will be heavily scrutinized, will back the Iranian regime into a corner. Obama’s plan relies on the Iranian regime to crumble under the international pressure, inflation and internal discontent. Unfortunately, things are never that easy, and a desperate Iran could do something drastic in order to defend itself. The regime, which gains a large percentage of its legitimacy from its civilian nuclear program (wildly popular amongst Iranian citizens) and their ability to stand up to the West, may recognize its inability to close down the program under pressure from the very West they are supposed to oppose. A move like that may ensure their eventual downfall, and we’ve seen how desperate leaders fearing the end of their reign are willing to fight. Let’s hope it doesn’t reach that point.

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