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Behind Washington’s Iran policy: Myths and reality

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By Stephen Gowans

While Washington’s Iran policy is often described as oriented toward containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the aims are much broader, and the assumption that Iran has nuclear weapons ambitions is without foundation. US policy is directed at eclipsing the rise of Iran as an independent economic, military and political power, and seeks as an ultimate objective the subordination of Iran to Washington, economically, militarily and politically. Washington’s short-term goal is to prevent Tehran from developing an independent nuclear power industry that is sufficiently advanced to establish a breakout capability — the potential to rapidly manufacture nuclear arms in response to a crisis. An Iran able to rapidly add a nuclear deterrent to its defensive capabilities threatens Washington’s containment policy by taking away the option of low US and ally casualty level military aggression. Since the Vietnam War the United States has avoided engagements or combat modes that would imperil the lives of large numbers of US soldiers. A war waged against a non-nuclear Iran could be long and drawn out, but is unlikely to produce US casualties of such magnitude as to touch off major resistance within the United States. A war waged against a nuclear-armed Iran, however, would be an altogether more dangerous affair.

The US containment policy is built on four planks: sanctions, sabotage of Iran’s nuclear industry, destabilization, and the threat of military aggression. The threat of military aggression has dual, competing, possibilities. It has the potential to encourage Tehran to develop a breakout capability as a deterrent against the possibility of US or Israeli military aggression or both. On the other hand, it could encourage moderate elements within the country to acquiesce to demands that Iran accept dependence on the West as its source for enriched uranium. Destabilization, that is, the funding and training of opposition groups, especially those engaged in democracy promotion (what a Bush administration official once called a rubric to get people to support regime change that cannot be accomplished through military means [1]) aims at replacing the current government with one that is amenable to subordination to US corporate, banking and military interests. Sanctions and threats of military aggression can have either positive or negative effects; they may demoralize the government and increase the likelihood of its capitulation, or strengthen the resolve of the government and people to resist. In this, a key question is whether the population attributes the painful consequences of sanctions and the terror of threatened war to failures of their own government or to the rapacity of the outside powers that have imposed the sanctions and issued the threats. This in turn depends on the success of the government in putting forward its case, and the success of the intervening powers in putting forward theirs. This is the battle of propaganda. To make their case, the intervening powers fund misnamed ‘independent’ media, broadcast anti-government programming across international borders, and rely on nationals trained and educated in the West to return to their country of origin as promoters of pro-imperialist values and champions of regime-change. The government counters with its own media and public relations, locked in competition with outside powers for the hearts and minds of its citizens.

To justify its program of sanctions, sabotage, destabilization and the possibility of future war against Iran, Washington has built a charge sheet against Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is accused of Holocaust-denial, Jew-hating, and seeking to acquire nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map. Israel-booster Elie Wiesel summarizes the case.

“Ahmadinejad is a danger to the world and pathologically sick. He is dangerous because he openly wants to destroy Israel, meaning, to destroy another six million Jews. We all know that Ahmadinejad – an open anti-Semite and the world’s biggest Holocaust denier – intends to destroy Israel and bring disaster to the entire world. Governments must stop Ahmadinejad and put him on trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on charges of open incitement for genocide.” [2]

These themes are amplified in pot-boiler writer Stephen Coonts’ latest novel, The Disciple. Here’s how The Ottawa Citizen of February 28, 2010 described the plot:

“Is Iran building nuclear weapons and if so, what do its fanatical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his equally fanatical clerical backers intend to do with them?

Coonts is in little doubt of Ahmadinejad’s jihadist intentions: Turn Iran into a ‘Martyr Nation’ by reducing Israel -’the Zionist problem’ — to nuclear dust, firing a couple of warheads at the forces of Satan (i.e., American bases) in Iraq and…vaporizing the Iranian capital Tehran and blaming it on the Americans, thereby inspiring a massive jihad that the United States could not possibly hope to survive.”

A recent addition to the charge sheet is the claim that Ahmadinejad won re-election as president last year through fraudulent means and no longer enjoys popular support among Iranians. He is, then, in the view of Western politicians, a mimetic media, and top-selling novelists, a vicious and fanatical anti-Semite, who rules illegitimately on behalf of a backward theocracy, and is bent on laying his hands on nuclear weapons to incinerate Israel. As is now common practice in the demonization programs that routinely precede Western campaigns of military and economic warfare, the leader of the targeted country is made to resemble no less a demon than Adolph Hitler.

Briefly, on the charge that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust-denier who wants to wipe Israel off the map: Much of what Ahmadinejad has said about the Holocaust concerns its illegitimacy as a justification for Israel and the Zionist project. If the Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust, why are Palestinians paying the price? he asks. [3] And while there is no doubt that Ahmadinejad would like to see the destruction of Israel, he desires the country’s destruction as a Zionist state, in the same way many sought the destruction of South Africa as an apartheid state. There is no implication in Ahmadinejad’s prediction that Israel will disappear (be wiped off the map) that the country, as a physical entity, and the people within it, will be turned to dust, much less that Israel’s collapse will come about as a result of a nuclear strike by Iran. Explaining what he meant when he said Israel will be destroyed, Ahmadinejad asked, “What befell the Soviet Union? It disappeared, but was it done through war? No. It was through the voice of the people.” [4] Ahmadinejad challenges Israel’s legitimacy, and Zionists, like Wiesel, don’t like it. To deflect attention from the legitimate issues the Iranian president raises about how Zionists exploit the Holocaust to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he is portrayed as a warmonger who seeks the destruction of the Jews. Screaming “Holocaust” every time Israel’s legitimacy is challenged is a hoary Zionist tactic. [5]

In any event, the idea of Iran launching a nuclear first-strike on Israel is ridiculous in the extreme. First, a nuclear attack on Israel, indeed any attack on Israel by Iran, would be met by a devastating counter-strike by Israel and the United States. Israel is stronger militarily than Iran, the happy consequence (for Israel, though hardly for Palestinians) of the $3 billion in military aid it receives annually from the United States. Israel also possesses an arsenal of some 200 nuclear weapons (the basis for which was provided by France in return for Israeli participation in the war on Nasser’s Egypt that would become the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. [6]) What’s more, Israel has the backing of the largest military power on the planet, the United States. During the last Democratic primaries, then candidate Hilary Clinton warned that if Iran attacked Israel, the United States would “totally obliterate” Iran [7], a warning not to be taken lightly, even if Clinton isn’t president. Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, reminds us that Iran “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational. They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” [8] Moreover, since Ahmadinejad’s opposition to Israel has much to do with the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Zionism, incinerating Israel makes no sense. This would obliterate the larger part of the Palestinian population, which lives within and on the edge of Israel.

Indeed, contrary to the nonsense of pro-war bamboozlers, the destruction of Israel qua Zionist state is a matter to be achieved, in Ahmadinejad’s view, by democratic, not military, means.

“We have no problem with people and nations. Of course, we do not recognize a government or a nation for the Zionist regime…We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt. We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government.” [9]

Is Iran working toward an atomic bomb?

Last September, the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, issued a “statement cautioning that it ‘has no concrete proof’ that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms, much less to perfect a warhead.” According to the then top inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency had,

“not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program … But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world … In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and the international community … But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.” [10]

Dennis Blair, the United States Director of National Intelligence, told the US Senate in February that “Tehran was following a ‘cost-benefit approach’ to its nuclear decision-making and that it remained unclear whether Iran’s leadership would make a political calculation to begin producing weapons-grade uranium.” [11] In other words, Iran has not begun to produce weapons-grade uranium and it is unclear it ever will.

The US National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007, a summary of the views of the US intelligence community, concluded that Iran no longer has a nuclear weapons program (but once did.) [12] Every now and then the Obama administration points to ‘new evidence’ that supposedly contests the conclusion, but the US intelligence community has yet to revise its 2007 findings, despite the administration’s frequent claims of having unearthed fresh indications of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

However, the fact that Washington’s own intelligence community won’t say Iran has a nuclear weapons program hasn’t stopped the administration’s warmongers from talking to the media as if the question is beyond dispute. US war secretary Robert Gates remarked that the “reality is that they have done nothing to…stop their progress toward a nuclear weapon,” [13] as if it is clear that progress is being made. At the same time, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton “referred to Iran’s ‘pursuit of nuclear weapons’ and said …’we don’t want to be engaging while they’re building their bomb.’” [14]

In recent days, more ‘new evidence’ has come forward, brought to public attention by The New York Times, always eager to turn an evidentiary sow’s ear into a silk purse if it means giving further impetus to the drive to war. According to the newspaper, an IAEA report “cited new evidence, much of it collected in recent weeks that appeared to paint a picture of a concerted drive in Iran toward a weapons capability.” The new evidence is “an escalating series of steps by Iran: the enrichment to 20 percent, its acknowledgment of a secret enrichment plant in Qum, its efforts to metalize uranium and its rejection of a deal to enrich its uranium outside the country.” [15] There’s a lot of straw-clutching going on here.

First, Iran is enriching uranium to 20 percent (not the 93 percent needed for a weapon.) It is doing so to produce medical isotopes. Iran’s supply is running short and is expected to be exhausted by the end of the year. Iranians could import the isotopes but sanctions bar the way. Tehran, then, has few options but to produce the isotopes itself – and that means enriching uranium beyond levels needed for use in civilian power plants. Washington proposed that Iran ship its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing into fuel rods, which would then be returned once the processing was complete. This would take a year or so. Afraid Washington could renege on the deal once it got its hands on its stockpile, Tehran issued a counterproposal. Fuel rods would be exchanged for enriched uranium simultaneously, on Iranian soil, and in installments. This would prevent the United States from using the uranium-for-fuel-rods swap as a ruse to cheat Iran out of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Paranoia or prudence? Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States built a small research reactor in Iran, and supplied it with weapons-grade uranium (yes, weapons-grade uranium. When Iran was ruled by the dictator, the Shah, Washington was happy to equip Iran with bomb fuel.) After the revolution, Washington refused to provide more fuel, and still owes Iran millions of dollars for fuel that wasn’t delivered. [16] Significantly, Washington has rejected Iran’s counterproposal, but puts the blame for the breakdown on Tehran.

Second, the Obama administration has made much of the so-called secret enrichment facility at Qum, a plant whose ‘secret’ existence Obama first revealed to the world, days after Iran had already acknowledged its existence to the IAEA. How can a plant be secret, if it has already been acknowledged? [17]

Third, while Iran’s efforts to metalize uranium could be aimed at making the core of an atom bomb, turning uranium into a metallic form is also a step in civilian applications. [18] The claim, then, that metalizing uranium is evidence of an intention to make a bomb is no more compelling than the claim that importing chlorine signals an intention to make chlorine gas for military use. Chlorine can also be used for water purification. In the same vein, it could be pointed out that a head can be bashed in with a hammer, but buying one from a hardware store doesn’t necessarily or even often make the purchaser a would-be murderer. Nevertheless, in conformity with the requirements of pre-war demonization campaigns, all Iranian actions are now automatically assigned a sinister interpretation. For example, in a February 25 meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Ahmadinejad vowed that the countries of southwest Asia would create a future “without Zionists and without colonialists.” “We tell [the United States] that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave,” he said. While an expression of a desire for an end to Zionist domination of Palestine and freedom from outside interference, The Washington Post’s report on the meeting led with this headline: “Iran, Syria mock U.S. policy; Ahmadinejad speaks of Israel’s ‘annihilation’.” [19] The equivalent in the 1990s would have been a headline declaring that the anti-apartheid movement sought South Africa’s annihilation. Worse, contradictory evidence is interpreted as confirming evidence. An egregious example of this is provided by The New York Times interpretation of the following statement from Ahmadinejad.

“Please pay attention and understand that the people of Iran are brave enough that if it wants to build a bomb it will clearly announce it and build it and not be afraid of you. When we say we won’t build it that means we won’t.” [20]

Iran has repeatedly said it has no intention of building a bomb. Despite this, the writer of one version of the newspaper’s story wondered whether Ahmadinejad’s words were a possible acknowledgement of a nuclear weapons program!

In any event, Iran told international inspectors about its metallization efforts; they’re hardly secret. [21]

Still, it remains unclear whether Iran is secretly building a bomb, is seeking a breakout capability, or is doing neither. No compelling evidence of a secret nuclear weapons program has been brought forward, though there has been much innuendo and unsubstantiated and sometimes ridiculous claims of the sort the Bush administration plied the media with during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the Clinton administration foisted on a compliant press prior to the terror bombing of Yugoslavia. That Tehran seeks a breakout capability is a possibility. The US goal of eclipsing the continued rise of Iran as a southwest Asian power necessitates the threat of military aggression. The US containment policy may have motivated the Iranian leadership to begin building a civilian nuclear energy industry in order to acquire a breakout capability, but whether Iran’s nuclear program has this as an ultimate end, or whether Tehran simply wants a cost-efficient way of producing electricity using its own abundant reserves of uranium, is unclear.

In any event, if Iran is building a bomb, or if its civilian program is motivated by the goal of developing a breakout capability, we should ask:

o What kind of a threat would this pose — a threat to us, or what Edward Herman calls the threat of self-defense [22], that is, a threat to overt US and Israeli military aggression against Iran?

o Is an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability more dangerous than an Israel [23], an India, a Pakistan or, indeed, a United States with nuclear weapons?

RT News recently ran billboard advertising in US airports which superimposed an image of Obama upon Ahmadinejad. Next to the images ran this question: “Who poses the greater nuclear threat?” The ads were banned [24] (in a country that frequently condemns other countries for repressing political free speech), and perhaps so because the answer is clear. Given a choice between a country that has numberless nuclear weapons, has used them twice, and threatened their use many more times, and another that doesn’t have any, and if it did, doesn’t have the means to deliver them, and if it could deliver them, would commit suicide in doing so, the clear choice is the former…Obama, not Ahmadinejad.

Against this backdrop it’s easy to see that the energies of those who are truly interested in a nuclear free world are least effectively channelled into campaigns against Iran and more effectively channeled into campaigns against the United States and its fellow nuclear powers. Campaigns ought to be aimed at eliminating the root causes of nuclear proliferation. Immediately, these are the refusal of existing nuclear weapons powers to work toward the elimination of their nuclear arsenals, as they committed to do in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was to be the quid-pro-quo that removed incentives for non-nuclear powers to develop their own nuclear weapons. Another proliferation incentive is the US practice of threatening non-nuclear states militarily. US threats make the development of nuclear weapons a strategic necessity for targeted countries.

Does Ahmadinejad lack popular support?

Three weeks prior to Iran’s disputed presidential election, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty conducted a poll for the international arm of the US Republican Party, the International Republican Institute, hardly a booster of Ahmadinejad. The poll showed that “Ahmadinejad led by a more than 2 to 1 margin – greater than his actual apparent margin of victory”. Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want, they concluded. [25]

Subsequently, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, a program of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, published a study titled “Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate.” [26] The study was based on an analysis of multiple polls from three different sources, some from within Iran and others from outside: a series of 10 polls conducted by the University of Tehran; eight based on telephone interviews conducted by the North American firm GlobeScan; and a poll by the University of Maryland.

The polls found that:

o In the week prior to and weeks after the election, a majority said it planned to, or did, vote for Ahmadinejad.

o “In several post-election polls, more than seven in ten said they saw Ahmadinejad as the legitimate president.”

o “About eight in ten said the election was free and fair.”

o None of the polls found any indication of anything close to majority support for regime change.

o “Large majorities, including majorities of (opposition) supporters, continue to endorse the Islamist character of the government.”

There may have been fraud, but if there was, it’s clear the outcome didn’t misrepresent the popular will. The idea, then, that Ahmadinejad has no popular support and that the Green Movement represents a majority of Iranians, or even close to one, is a myth.

Destabilization

Many people have become so entranced by the apparent ‘people power’ character of the mass demonstrations and protests that followed last year’s disputed election, that they’ve turned a blind eye to the very real possibility that the unrest – and the fact that the election was disputed at all – may owe much to behind-the-scenes machinations of the US government.

“According to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence there was a series of clandestine meetings in Rome and Paris between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents in 2001 and 2003. The meetings included discussions about possible covert actions to destabilize the government in Tehran…” [28]

On May 23, 2007, ABC News reported: ‘The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert ‘black’ operation to destabilise the Iranian government.’

On May 16, 2007, the London Daily Telegraph reported that Bush administration operative John Bolton said that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed”. (My emphasis.)

On May 27, 2007, the same newspaper reported that: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”

On July 7, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that, “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran…These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars…are designed to destabilise the country’s religious leadership.” [27]

Individuals and organizations involved in fomenting regime change uprisings in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and attempts to do so in Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Belarus, are involved in these destabilization campaigns as advisers to and trainers of Green Movement activists. One of the principal figures is Gene Sharp, head of the Albert Einstein Institution, who advised right-wing Venezuelans on how to use civil disobedience to overthrow Hugo Chavez. [29] More than two years ago, in a March, 2007 interview in The Progressive, Sharp acknowledged that he has been working since 2004 with Iranian dissidents on how to bring down the government in Tehran. [30] One of the hallmarks of democracy promotion is to create the myth that an election is stolen, to justify an attempted overthrow through civil disobedience.

Is war imminent?

It may come next year. Here’s Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and formerly director of policy planning for the US State Department, where he was a principal adviser to then secretary of state Colin Powell: “I think we can get through 2010 without a military strike. But 2011 could be more dicey.” [31] The Council on Foreign Relations is the premier US ruling class think-tank. It brings together CEOs, corporate lawyers, scholars, and military and government officials, to write policy papers, which are then sent to the State Department. CFR statements should never be taken lightly. [32]

Another indication that war could come by next year is the steps Washington has begun to take to build a defensive shield around its clients in southwest Asia. Missile defense systems are being deployed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, additions to US-supplied systems that already exist in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Aegis cruisers are now permanently on patrol in the Persian Gulf. [33]

The purpose of these new deployments isn’t to protect US allies from first-strike attacks from Iran, but from retaliatory strikes that would follow a US (or Israeli) attack. The United States and Israel have threatened a first strike attack on Iran repeatedly. Iran has not threatened to attack any country (except if attacked first.)

The real case against Ahmadinejad

Washington, dominated by CEOs, corporate lawyers, investment bankers, and their toadies, despises Ahmadinejad because corporate America despises him. And corporate America despises him because he is bad for US business.

He is opposed politically because he asserts Iran’s right to a self-reliant civilian nuclear power industry. The United States and Europe are willing to allow Iran to have nuclear energy for civilian use, so long as they control Iran’s access to the enriched uranium needed to power it. This would put the West in the position of being able to extract concessions from Iran by threatening to turn off the tap, on top of providing Western capital with a lucrative investment opportunity.

Ahmadinejad is also opposed politically because he backs Hamas and Hezbollah, opponents of Washington’s attack dog in southwest Asia, Israel. Both organizations are portrayed as terrorist groups that threaten Israel’s existence, but neither are anywhere near large or strong enough or have sufficient backing to pose even the faintest existential military threat to Israel. They do, however, pose the threat of self-defense, which is to say they are capable of inflicting some retaliatory harm on Israel and are therefore seen as impediments to Israel’s free movement in asserting US interests in the Middle East on Washington’s behalf.

Economically, Ahmadinejad earns Wall Street’s disapproval for maintaining Iran’s “high tariff rates and non-tariff barriers,” failing to dismantle “import bans” and leaving regulations in place. Neither does his “weak enforcement of intellectual property rights,” “resistance to privatization,” and insistence on keeping the oil sector entirely within state hands, earn him friends among Wall Street investors and bankers. [34]

In Wall Street’s view, Ahmadinejad’s sins against the profit-making interests of foreign banks and corporations are legion. He “halted tentative efforts to reform the state-dominated economy” — begun by Rafsanjani and favored by Mousavi — “and has greatly expanded government spending.” He maintains an income tax rate that, in Wall Street’s opinion, is too high, and controls “the prices of petroleum products, electricity, water and wheat for the production of bread,” provides “economic subsidies,” and influences “prices through regulation of Iran’s many state-owned enterprises.” [35]

Equally troubling is that on Ahmadinejad’s watch, foreign investment faces “considerable hostility.” “The state remains the dominant factor in the economy.” That means US capital is denied profitable investment opportunities. “Foreign investment is restricted or banned in many activities, including banking, telecommunications, transport, oil and gas.” And when foreign investors are allowed in, ceilings are placed on their share of market. [36]

Banking is another sore spot for Wall Street’s deal-makers. The government keeps banks under tight rein and the insurance sector is dominated by five state-owned companies. Plus, Iranian workers have enjoyed considerable rights within their jobs. The state imposes strict limits on the number of hours an employee can work in a single week, and firing a worker isn’t left to the discretion of capital, to meet its profit-making needs. It “requires approval of the Islamic Labor Council.” [37]

This doesn’t mean that Iran is socialist; far from it. But you don’t have to be socialist to earn Wall Street’s, and therefore, Washington’s, enmity. Imposing tariffs, restricting foreign investment, providing subsidies to domestic firms, and placing performance requirements on foreign investment, are often enough to place a foreign government on Washington’s regime change hit list. Refusing to integrate into the US military machine doesn’t help either. Forcing change on independent governments is easier when they are small, feeble and mostly defenseless, which is why, from Washington’s point of view, it is imperative to eclipse the rise of potential regional competitors before they become too large to deal with readily.

Conclusion

The two major justifications for aggressive action against Iran — that the country is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was illegitimate – are baseless. There is no compelling evidence to support either accusation. Even if true, these matters would not be justifiable grounds for war, sanctions or destabilization. US and Israeli hostility to Iran and the threat both countries’ nuclear arsenals pose to Iran establish conditions that make Iran’s acquisition of its own nuclear arms as a means of self-defense a virtual necessity. (That doesn’t mean Tehran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, but the incentive conditions are certainly in place.) And were there indeed evidence that Ahmadinejad had stolen the last election and is governing without popular support, we could hardly expect US interference, in the form of government and corporate foundation-backed democracy promotion, to have anything other than the interests of Washington and its corporate patrons in mind.

The real reasons for US sanctions, destabilization, sabotage and threats of war are ultimately rooted in economics. The Iranian economy offers too few profit-making opportunities to US corporations, banks and investors and could offer more. Moreover, Iran maintains a military, political and economic independence that Washington – keen to preserve its hegemonic status – cannot abide. Accordingly, Washington has implemented a program aimed at denying Iran an independent source of civilian nuclear energy and breakout nuclear weapons capability – a source both of economic growth and a potential means of self-defense – while at the same time attempting to bring down the government in Tehran, to replace it with one amenable to a role subordinate to US military, corporate and banking interests. To justify these actions, Washington has created a distorted image of Ahmadinejad as a Persian Hitler, keen on carrying out the Final Solution by nuclear means. This is utter nonsense. It is war propaganda of no solidity, on par with deceptions of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and genocide in Kosovo used to justify earlier US-led wars of aggression.

1. Guy Dinmore, “US and UK develop democracy strategy for Iran,” Financial Times (UK), April 21, 2006.

2. “Wiesel: If Ahmadinejad were assassinated, I wouldn’t shed a tear,” Haaretz, February 9, 2010.

3. Ahmadinejad: “Iran condemns fabricating such a pretext (the Holocaust) for the Zionist regime to commit genocide against the Palestinian nation and occupy Palestine. Europeans cannot tolerate the Zionist regime’s presence in their own region but want to impose it on the Middle East. Give (the Zionists) the vast land of Canada and Alaska to build themselves a home and resettle there.” Financial Times (UK), October 5, 2007.

According to the New York Times of September 19, 2008, Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a “fake.” Exactly one year later, September 19, 2009, the following headline appeared on The New York Times website: “Amid protests, Iran leader calls Holocaust a myth.” The accompanying story, however, was short on details. While the article extended to 18 paragraphs, this is all that was said about Ahmadinejad’s reputed Holocaust denial: Ahmadinejad “called the Holocaust a myth as his country marked an annual pro-Palestinian demonstration… […] Several reports quoted him as saying the Holocaust was a false pretext for the establishment of Israel in 1948. ‘It is a lie’ based on unprovable and ‘mythical claim,’ he was quoted as saying in the speech.” (Alan Cowell, “Amid protests, Iran leader calls Holocaust a myth,” The New York Times, September 19, 2009.)

The Iranian government’s English-language PressTV had another version. It said that after Ahmadinejad denounced Israel as a “symbol of lies and deception” which was founded on ‘colonialist’ attitudes,” he “question[ed] the story behind the Holocaust and urged a probe into it. If the Holocaust, as you claim, is true, why don’t you allow a probe into the issue?’” (“Ahmadinejad wants global front against Israel,” PressTV, September 18, 2009.)

4. The New York Times, September 26, 2007.

5. See Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2006 on how the founders of Israel often invoked the danger of a second Holocaust to justify their fight against opponents who had no interest in wiping out the Jews, only protecting their homes and land from expropriation by a Jewish state, and who Jewish forces outnumbered.

6. Richard Becker, “1956 Suez War: Turning point in Middle East balance of forces,” PSLWeb.org, October 3, 2006, http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5839

7. Mark Landler, “Iran policy now more in sync with Clinton’s views,” The New York Times, February 17, 2010.

8. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.

9. The New York Times, September 19, 2008.

10. William J. Cole, “UN nuclear watchdog says Iran threat ‘hyped’,” Associated Press, September 2, 2009. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=8469192

11. “Gates disputes Iran nuclear deal,” Reuters, February 6, 2010.

12. “Intelligence on Iran: The new U.S. assessment has some good news — but the reaction to it could be bad,” The Washington Post, December 5, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/04/AR2007120401772.html .

13. “Gates disputes Iran nuclear deal,” Reuters, February 6, 2010.

14. Mark Landler, “Clinton pleads for patience at U.S.-Islamic world forum,” The New York Times, February 15, 2010.

15. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “Inspectors say Iran worked on warhead,” The New York Times, February 19, 2010.

16. Glenn Kessler, “Iran seeks a deal for reactor,” The Washington Post, October 11, 2009.

17. Stephen Gowans, “Iran’s acknowledged nuclear fuel plant and Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant,” what’s left, September 28, 2009, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/iran%E2%80%99s-acknowledged-nuclear-fuel-plant-and-israel%E2%80%99s-secret-nuclear-weapons-plant/

18. Sanger and Broad, February 19, 2010.

19. Howard Schneider, “Iran, Syria mock U.S. policy, Ahmadinejad speaks of Israel’s ‘annihilation’”, The Washington Post, February 26, 2010.

20. Michael Slackman, “Iran boasts of capacity to make bomb fuel,” The New York Times, February 11, 2010.

21. Sanger and Broad, February 19, 2010.

22. Edward S. Herman, “Iran’s Dire Threat (It might be able to defend itself),” Z Magazine, October, 2004.

23. It is instructive to note the absence in the West of hysteria over Israel possessing an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. By contrast, Iran, a signatory to the treaty, and free from nuclear weapons, is greeted with hysteria for seeking to exercise its treaty rights to harness the atom for peaceful, civilian purposes. Iran’s nuclear sites are open to international inspectors. On the other hand, “Israel has rejected the call by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and open up its atomic sites to international inspection.” (Mark Weiss, ‘Israel spurns nuclear watchdog’s call to open atomic sites to inspection,’ Irish Times, September 19, 2009; http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/0919/1224254860406.html)

The United States and the European Union, which profess to be opposed to nuclear proliferation, initially tried to block the vote, and then voted against it. (http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/09/2009918173136830771.html It seems the United States and European Union aren’t opposed to nuclear proliferation; they’re opposed to Iran exercising its NPT rights.

24. Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon described the advertising this way: “The head is a jumble of brown skin, greying hair and oddly incongruous features. You have to stop and stare for a second to understand that two men’s faces are blurred together in the picture. One belongs to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the other to U.S. President Barack Obama. […] Its tagline upset many who saw it, and got the poster banned from airports across the United States: “Who poses the greater nuclear threat?” […] It’s part of an advertising campaign for RT News, an English-language television station headquartered in Moscow and newly arrived in Canada. The idea that the U.S. may be more dangerous than Iran doesn’t come up often on Western networks such as CBC, CNN or BBC World. And that is exactly the station’s point.”
(Mark MacKinnon, “Big Brother 2.0?” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 8, 2010.)

25. Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want,” The Guardian (UK), June 15, 2009.

26. “Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate,” worldpublicopinion.org, February 3, 2010, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/652.php

27. The New York Times, June 6, 2008.

28. Seymour M. Hersh, “Annals of National Security: Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran,” The New Yorker, July 7, 2008, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh

29. Michael Barker, “Sharp Reflection Warranted Nonviolence in the Service of Imperialism,” June 30, 2008, http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html; Eva Golinger, Making Excuses for Empire:
A Reply to the Self-Appointed Defenders of the AEI , MRZIne, August 5, 2008.

The Albert Einstein Institution revealed the extent of its involvement with anti-Chavez groups, as well as its distaste for the Venezuelan president, in its Annual Report, 2000-2004, pp. 20-21.

“After his failed coup attempt in 1992, Hugo Chávez emerged victorious from the presidential elections in December 1998. Since then the regime has become increasingly authoritarian despite having been democratically elected. Soon after coming into office, Chávez drafted a new constitution, which significantly increased the powers of the presidency. Chávez’s popularity began to wane in December 2001 when he announced by decree a set of 49 new laws affecting industries including banking, agriculture and oil. People reacted by taking to the streets for a one day nationwide civil strike. The government responded with violent repression against the protesters. In this climate, the opposition has had difficulty mobilizing. Venezuelan society is extremely polarized as a result, and poised for the potential outbreak of violence. Venezuelans opposed to Chávez met with Gene Sharp and other AEI staff to talk about the deteriorating political situation in their country. They also discussed options for opposition groups to further their cause effectively without violence. These visits led to an in-country consultation in April 2003. The nine-day consultation was held by consultants Robert Helvey and Chris Miller in Caracas for members of the Venezuelan democratic opposition. The objective of the consultation was to provide them with the capacity to develop a nonviolent strategy to restore democracy to Venezuela. Participants included members of political parties and unions, nongovernmental organization leaders, and unaffiliated activists. Helvey presented a course of instruction on the theory, applications and planning for a strategic nonviolent struggle. Through this, the participants realized the importance of strategic planning to overcome existing shortcomings in the opposition’s campaign against Chávez. Ofensiva Ciudadana, a pro-democracy group in Venezuela, requested and organized the workshop. This workshop has led to continued contact with Venezuelans and renewed requests for additional consultations.” http://aeinstein.org/organizations/org/2000-04rpt.pdf

30. Amitabh Pal, “Gene Sharp Interview,” The Progressive Magazine, March, 2007, http://www.progressive.org/mag/intv0307.

Sharp said, “Our work is available in Iran and has been since 2004. People from different political positions are saying that that’s the way we need to go. And that kind of struggle broadly has important precedence in Iranian/Persian history, both in the 1906 democratic revolution and in the 1979 struggle against the Shah—all predominantly nonviolent forms of struggle. If somebody doesn’t decide to use military means, then it is very likely that there will be a peaceful national struggle there.”

For more on the role of democracy promoters in Iran see Stephen Gowans, “The Role and Aims of US Democracy Promotion in the Attempted Color Revolution in Iran,” what’s left, July 4, 2009, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/the-role-and-aims-of-us-democracy-promotion-in-the-attempted-color-revolution-in-iran/

31. David E. Sanger, “Obama takes several gambles in bid to defend nuclear standoff with Iran,” The New York Times, February, 11, 2010.

32. For more on the Council on Foreign Relations see G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? Power & Politics, McGraw Hill, Fourth Edition, 2002, pp. 85-88.

33. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. speeding up missile defenses in Persian Gulf,” The New York Times, January 31, 2010.

34. 2009 Index of Economic Freedom. http://www.heritage.org/Index/Country/Iran

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

Written by what's left

February 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Iran

Iran Myths

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In an Unusual Sources radio program, Brendan Stone and Stephen Gowans discuss three myths about Iran: (1) That there’s compelling evidence that Iran is building nuclear arms; (2) that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad governs without popular support; and (3) that the Green movement represents a majority of Iranians. Click here to listen.

Written by what's left

February 19, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sophists for sanctions

with 5 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Tony Hawkins, a professor of economics at the University of Zimbabwe, thinks that Western sanctions on Zimbabwe should be maintained but that their effects “are minimal” and that “their continued existence really plays into the hands of some people in Zanu-PF.”

You would think, then, that Hawkins would favor the lifting of sanctions. After all, why continue to play into the hands of Zanu-PF, if, like Hawkins, you’re opposed to the party, its direction and its program, and the sanctions’ effects are minimal anyway?

For decades, supporters of the U.S. economic war on Cuba have lied that a near total U.S. blockade of the island has had little effect on the Cuban economy. On the contrary, they say, the blockade has actually worked against the U.S., by handing Fidel Castro, and now his brother, Raul, a way of diverting attention from their “failed” economic policies. The Castros, they say, blame Cuba’s problems on the blockade and thus evade responsibility for their much larger role in crippling the island’s economy.

Yet none of these people has recommended that the blockade be lifted, a measure you would think Cuba-opponents would immediately latch onto for its supposed benefits in making clear to Cubans that socialism, not the U.S. blockade, is the source of their poverty, something that might impel them to fulfill U.S. foreign policy goals by overturning socialism. So, why aren’t these people, if they truly believe what they’re saying, pressing for the blockade to be lifted?

The answer is simple: they don’t really believe the blockade has minimal effects, but have to say it does, so they can blame Cuba’s poverty on the Castros.

Likewise, people like Hawkins don’t really believe sanctions on Zimbabwe have minimal effects, but have to say they do, so they can blame Zimbabwe’s economic troubles on Zanu-PF policies, particularly land reform.

Hawkins acknowledges his position is “a bit of a contradiction” (a bit?) but that he opposes the lifting of sanctions because ending them “would convince Zanu-PF that they are winning and make them even more intransigent than they are already.”

But you would think that if the effects of the sanctions were truly minimal, that Hawkins could scarcely care if lifting them allowed Zanu-PF something so insignificant as to think it was winning, when, by being denied the sanctions issue, it would really be losing. For how could Zanu-PF blame Zimbabwe’s troubles on sanctions if sanctions no longer existed? Surely, Hawkins can see that ending the sanctions has little downside (the effects are minimal anyway, he says) and a huge upside (Mugabe would no longer be able to blame the country’s difficulties on sanctions.)

To be effective, a sanctions regime requires more than sanctions alone. It also requires an understanding of the sanctions’ effects: are they devastating the economy or only creating inconvenience for a few highly placed political operatives? And what is the cause of the country’s economic woes: sanctions or failed policies?

The purpose of sanctions is to force a change of government. It’s critical that the people the sanctions are imposed on attribute the effects of the sanctions to their government’s policies, not to the sanctions themselves, otherwise, they won’t act to change their government, as the imposers of the sanctions intend.

This is where Hawkins comes in. Washington, London and the E.U. impose sanctions to wreck the economy. Hawkins’ task is to persuade Zimbabweans that sanctions aren’t devastating, and that the problems Zimbabweans face, come from within the country (Zanu-PF’s policies), not outside (sanctions). But in trying to make his case, he ties himself into knots – just as proponents of the U.S. blockade on Cuba do.

Hawkins wants Zanu-PF gone for the same reason the U.S. State Department, Whitehall and other supporters of the U.S. blockade on Cuba want the Castros gone: to create political jurisdictions congenial to Western investors, where the interests of the domestic population don’t matter. Hawkins says Zimbabweans “need a return to conditions that will attract investment that will foster confidence and so on.”

A return? Does he mean to go backward, to a time when the land and resources were in the hands of the British and their descendants, when indigenous Zimbabweans were relegated to roles as farm-workers, miners and employees, never owners?

It should be recalled that the British government, in the person of Clare Short, refused to back Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform program because returning the land to the people British settlers stole it from would, she said, damage “prospects for attracting investment.”

Returning to conditions that will attract investment is code for undoing Zimbabwe’s land reform program, and giving the country back to the British. Making the case for so regressive a program could only rest on the kind of sophistry Hawkins, and other promoters of neo-colonialism, are prepared to try to bamboozle the Zimbabwe population with. Pity for them they keep tripping over their own contradictions.

Written by what's left

February 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm

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