- What President George W. Bush, FOX news,
and the Washington Times were saying about Iraq three years ago they are
now saying about Iran. After Saturday's vote by the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) to report Iran's suspicious nuclear activities to
the UN Security Council, the president wasted no time in warning, "The
world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons."
- The next IAEA milestone will be reached
on March 6, when its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, makes a formal report
to the Security Council regarding what steps Iran needs to take to allay
growing suspicions. The Bush administration, however, has already mounted
a full-court press to indict and convict the Iranian leaders, and the key
question is why.
- Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty
and insists (correctly) that the treaty assures signatories the right to
pursue nuclear programs for peaceful use. And when Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice claims, as she did last month, "There is simply no peaceful rationale
for the Iranian regime to resume uranium enrichment," she is being,
well, disingenuous again.
- If Dr. Rice has done her homework, she
is aware that in 1975 President Gerald Ford's chief of staff Dick Cheney
and his defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld bought Iran's argument that it
needed a nuclear program to meet future energy requirements. This is what
Iranian officials are saying today, and they are supported by energy experts
who point out that oil extraction in Iran is already at or near peak and
that the country will need alternatives to oil in coming decades.
- Ironically, Cheney and Rumsfeld were
among those persuading the reluctant Ford in 1976 to approve offering Iran
a deal for nuclear reprocessing facilities that would have brought at least
$6.4 billion for US corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric.
The project fell through when the Shah was ousted three years later.
- It is altogether reasonable to expect
that Iran's leaders want to have a nuclear weapons capability as well,
and that they plan to use their nuclear program to acquire one. From their
perspective, they would be fools not to. Iran is one of three countries
earning the "axis-of-evil" sobriquet from President Bush and
it has watched what happened to Iraq, which had no nuclear weapons, as
well as what did not happen to North Korea, which does have them. And Iran's
rival Israel, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty but somehow
escapes widespread opprobrium, has a formidable nuclear arsenal cum delivery
- Israeli threats to destroy Iranian nuclear
facilities simply provide additional incentive to Tehran to bury and harden
them against the kind of Israeli air attack that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear
facility at Osirak in 1981. Although the US (together with every other
UN Security Council member) condemned that attack, Dick Cheney and other
senior officials do not disguise their view that it was just what the doctor
ordered at the time ... and that the same prescription might take care
- Who Is Threatened by Iranian Nukes?
- The same country that felt threatened
by putative nuclear weapons in the hands of Iraq. With at least 200 nuclear
weapons and various modes of delivery at their disposal, the Israelis have
a powerful deterrent. They appear determined to put that deterrent into
play early to pre-empt any nuclear weapons capability in Iran, rather than
have to deal with one after it has been put in place. Israeli leaders seem
allergic to the thought that other countries in the region might be able
to break its nuclear monopoly and they react neuralgically to proposals
for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
- Bending over backwards to such sensitivities,
the US delegation to the IAEA delayed the proceedings for a day in a futile
attempt to delete from Sunday's report language calling for such a zone.
The final report called for a "Middle East free of weapons of mass
destruction." This is the first time a link has been made, however
implicitly, between the Iranian and Israeli nuclear programs.
- The argument that the US is also threatened
directly by nuclear weapons in Iranian hands is as far-fetched as was the
case before the war in Iraq, when co-opted intelligence analysts were strongly
encouraged to stretch their imaginations - to include, for example the
specter that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could be delivered by unpiloted
aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched from ships off the US coast. No, I'm not
kidding. They even included this in the infamous National Intelligence
Estimate (NIE) of October 1, 2002.
- That canard was held up to ridicule by
the US Air Force, which was permitted to take a footnote in the NIE. The
scare story nonetheless provided grist for the president's key speech in
Cincinnati on October 7, 2002 - three days before Congress voted to authorize
war. That was also the speech in which he also warned, "Facing clear
evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun
- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
- While Congress was voting for war on
October 10, more candid observations came in highly unusual remarks from
a source with excellent access to high-level thinking at the White House.
Philip Zelikow, at the time a member of the prestigious President's Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board and confidant of then-national security adviser
Condoleezza Rice (and later Executive Director of the 9/11 commission),
said this to a crowd at the University of Virginia: Why would Iraq attack
America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the
real threat is and actually has been since 1990 - it's the threat against
Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name ... the American
government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it
is not a popular sell.
- More recently, in the case of Iran, President
Bush has been unabashed in naming Israel as the most probable target of
any Iranian nuclear weapons. He has also created a rhetorical lash-up of
the US and Israel, referring three times in the past two weeks to Israel
as an "ally" of the US, as if to condition Americans to the notion
that the US is required to join Israel in any confrontation with Iran.
For example, on February 1 the president told the press, "Israel is
a solid ally of the United States; we will rise to Israel's defense if
need be." Asked if he meant the US would rise to Israel's defense
militarily, Bush replied with a startlingly open-ended commitment, "You
bet, we'll defend Israel."
- In repeatedly labeling Israel our "ally,"
Bush is following his own corollary to the dictum of Nazi propaganda minister
Joseph Goebbels that if you repeat something often enough, most people
will believe it. In an unusual moment of candor in a discussion of domestic
affairs last May, Bush noted: That's the third time I've said that. I'll
probably say it three more times. See, in my line of work you got to keep
repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind
of catapult the propaganda.
- Why No Treaty?
- The trouble is that, strictly speaking,
allies are not picked by presidential whim - or by smart staffers like
the top Bush aide who bragged that he and his colleagues are "history's
actors ... creating new realities." Bush's speech writers are acting
as though the "new realities" they create can include defense
treaties. But unless they've changed the Constitution, in our system nations
become allies via treaty; and treaties have to be approved by a two-thirds
vote of the Senate.
- There is no treaty of alliance with Israel.
- But why? Earlier, I had had the impression
that it must be because of US reluctance - despite widespread sympathy
for Israel - to get entangled in the complexities of the Middle East and
gratuitously antagonize Arab countries. Comparing notes with Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) colleagues with more experience in the
Middle East, however, I learned that the Israelis themselves have shown
strong resistance to a US-Israel defense treaty - for reasons quite sound
from their perspective, and quite instructive from ours.
- The possibility of a bilateral treaty
was broached after the 1973 Yom Kippur war as a way to reduce chances of
armed conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. But before the US
could commit to defending Israel, its boundaries would have had to be defined,
and the Israelis wanted no part of that. Moreover, the Israelis feared
that a defense pact would curb their freedom of action - as would signing
the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They were aware that in a crisis situation,
the US would almost certainly discourage them from resorting to their familiar
policy of massive - often disproportionate - retaliation against the Arabs.
It became quite clear that the Israelis did not want the US to have any
say over when they would use force, against whom, and what (US or non-US)
equipment might be employed.
- Aside from all that, the Israelis were,
and are, confident that their influence in Washington is such as to ensure
US support, no matter what. And, as President Bush's rhetoric demonstrates,
they are correct in thinking they can, in effect, have their cake and eat
it too - a commitment equivalent to a defense treaty, with no binding undertakings
on Israel's part.
- That is a very volatile admixture. Congress
would do well to wake up to its Constitutional prerogatives and responsibilities
in this key area - particularly now that the juggernaut to war has begun
- Preparing the Public
- One major task is to convince the public
and, as far as possible, our allies that the Iran-nuclear problem is critical.
This would be an uphill task, were it not for the success of our domesticated
media in suppressing the considered judgment of the US intelligence community
that Iran is nowhere near a nuclear weapon.
- Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer,
to her credit, drew on several inside sources to report on August 2, 2005,
that the latest NIE concludes Iran will not be able to produce enough highly
enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon until "early to mid-next decade,"
with general consensus among intelligence analysts that 2015 would actually
be the earliest. That important information was ignored in other media
and quickly dropped off the radar screen.
- In the Washington of today there is no
need to bother with unwelcome intelligence that does not support the case
you wish to make. Polls show that hyped-up public statements on the threat
from Iran are having some effect, and indiscriminately hawkish pronouncements
by usual suspects like senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain are icing
on the cake. Ahmed Chalabi-type Iranian "dissidents" have surfaced
to tell us of secret tunnels for nuclear weapons research, and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld keeps reminding the world that Iran is the "world's
leading state sponsor of terrorism." Administration spokespeople keep
warning of Iranian interference on the Iraqi side of their long mutual
border - themes readily replayed in FOX channel news and the Washington
Times. This morning's Chicago Tribune editorial put it this way: There
will likely be an economic confrontation with Iran, or a military confrontation,
or both. Though diplomatic efforts have succeeded in convincing most of
the world that this matter is grave, diplomatic efforts are highly unlikely
to sway Iran.
- On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist insisted that Congress has the political will to use military force
against Iran, if necessary, repeating the mantra " We cannot allow
Iran to become a nuclear nation." Even Richard Perle has come out
of the woodwork to add a convoluted new wrinkle regarding the lessons of
the attack on Iraq. Since one cannot depend on good intelligence, says
Perle, it is a matter of "take action now or lose the option of taking
- One of the most influential intellectual
authors of the war on Iraq, Perle and his "neo-conservative"
colleagues see themselves as men of biblical stature. Just before the attack
on Iraq, Perle prophesized: If we just let our vision of the world go forth,
and we embrace it entirely and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy,
but just wage a total war ... our children will sing great songs about
us years from now.
- Those songs have turned out to be funeral
dirges for over 2,250 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
- Ray McGovern works with Tell the
Word, the publishing arm of the
- ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He
was a CIA analyst for 27 years and
- is now on the Steering Group of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for
- Sanity (VIPS).