Nuclear Fundamentalism & Iran




Y

ears
from now, when historians look back at agenda-building for a missile
attack on Iran, they should examine closely a story that took up
the U.S.’s most coveted space for media spin—the upper
right corner of the


New
York Times

front page—May 1, 2005. 


Under
the headline “Threats Shadow New Conference on Nuclear Arms,”
the article in the Sunday edition set a tone that was to echo in
U.S. media during the next several days. The conference for the
Non-Proliferation Treaty “was meant to offer hope of closing
huge loopholes in the treaty, which the United States says Iran
and North Korea have exploited to pursue nuclear weapons,”
the

Times

reported. “Instead, the session appears deadlocked
even before it begins, according to senior American officials and
diplomats.” 


But
the

Times

could have led off by pointing out,


“huge
loopholes in the treaty” have been exploited by the United
States and a few other countries to maintain their nuclear arms
dominance. Instead of resorting to fuzzy euphemisms, the story could
have reported that the U.S., Japanese, and French governments are
so committed to the commercial nuclear power industry that they
still insist on promoting it—and further boosting nuclear arms
proliferation in the process. 


For
more than five decades, U.S. government leaders—along with
countless reporters and pundits—have insisted that the split
atom can be wondrous rather than just ominous. In a speech to the
United Nations in December 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed
a commitment to “atoms for peace.” He portrayed nuclear
power as redemptive: “The United States pledges before you—and
therefore before the world—its determination to help solve
the fearful atomic dilemma—to devote its entire heart and mind
to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall
not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.” 


One-third
of a century later, the

New York Times

was in the midst of
a protracted crusade on behalf of the Shoreham nuclear power project
on Long Island. In July 1986, Jack Newfield wrote in the

Village
Voice

that he had counted 22 different times when the

New
York Times

had editorialized in favor of the Shoreham nuclear
plants during the previous 40 months. As it happened, members of
the

Times

board of directors also sat on the boards of nuclear-invested
utilities and banks. 


Grassroots
activism was often successful when it challenged the utilities seeking
to generate more electricity with atomic power. Along the way, activists
pointed out that nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons share
the same basic fuel cycle. The anti-nuclear movement warned that
fervent efforts to export nuclear power technology all over the
globe would lead to the development of atomic weapons in more and
more countries. But enormous media campaigns on behalf of the nuclear
power industry are still with us. 


On
May 4—despite the dangers of catastrophic reactor accidents,
the horrendous folly of creating massive amounts of atomic waste,
and the proven role of nuclear power technology in nuclear weapons
proliferation—a

New York Times

editorial contended,
“There is mounting evidence that damage from global warming
may dwarf any environmental risk posed by nuclear power. It is therefore
critical to keep nuclear power as part of the nation’s energy
mix.” Such commentaries encourage us to believe that widespread
conservation and renewable resources aren’t viable, as if the
only real choices are a radioactive future or an overheated globe. 




This
kind of nuclear fundamentalism is exactly what has smoothed the
way for countries to acquire nuclear weapons technologies—and
in some cases nuclear bombs—in recent decades. Like an institution
run by religious fanatics, the

New York Times

still cannot
let go of its corporate faith in the great god nuclear power. 


These
days, there is ugly irony in the emergence of Jimmy Carter as an
advocate for nuclear sanity. In 1979, when the Three Mile Island
nuclear power disaster occurred in Pennsylvania, President Carter
went out of his way to flack for the atomic-energy industry. Like
his predecessors and successors in the Oval Office, he pushed nuclear
power on people in many other countries. Now Carter is singing a
somewhat different tune. In an op-ed piece that appeared in the

International Herald Tribune

on May 2, he warned: “Iran
has repeatedly hidden its intentions to enrich uranium while claiming
that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. This explanation
has been given before, by India, Pakistan and North Korea, and has
led to weapons programs in all three states.” 


Meanwhile,
Carter is suitably adamant about the importance of not allowing
nuclear test explosions. “The comprehensive test ban treaty
should be honored,” he wrote in the same article, “but
the United States is moving in the opposite direction.” You
wouldn’t know it from Carter, or from the U.S. media, but his
Administration chose to jettison the appreciable prospects that
a comprehensive test ban could have been locked into place a quarter-century
ago. 


When
I visited the State Department early in the fourth year of the Carter
presidency, an arms-control specialist asked me to turn off my tape
recorder before he talked about ways that top officials at the government’s
nuclear weapons labs were successfully sinking the test-ban efforts.
Several months later, in October 1980, I summed up the situation
in a

Nation

magazine article: “While proclaiming a desire
to halt the nuclear arms race, the U.S. government has been quietly
undermining chances for the most far-reaching disarmament treaty
on the horizon—a comprehensive international ban on atomic
bomb tests. The latest round of talks in Geneva ended in failure—
with the United States’ tactics of delay drawing criticism
from other delegations. No wonder: The Carter administration has
caved in to the nuclear-weapons laboratories, which want to continue
to test bombs and are opposed to a meaningful agreement that will
stop the spread of nuclear weapons.” 


In
2005, it’s bad enough that such history is scarcely on the
U.S. media radar screen, while propaganda looms larger for an attack
on Iran either by the Pentagon or by the U.S.-backed Israeli government.
But in the present day, the hypocrisy of Washington’s righteous
finger-pointing toward Iran is extremely dangerous. Carter has it
right when he now calls the United States “the major culprit”
in the erosion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty: “While claiming
to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya,
Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing
treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop
new weapons, including antiballistic missiles, the earth-penetrating
‘bunker buster’ and perhaps some new ‘small’
bombs. They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first
use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.” 


The
odds are good that if the Pentagon doesn’t launch a major missile
attack on Iranian facilities in the next year or so, the Israeli
government will—with a wink and nod from President Bush. Yet,
unlike Iran’s government, Israel is not even a signer of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty. With a nuclear bomb stockpile now estimated
at more than 200 warheads, Israel is fueling the nuclear arms race
in the Middle East. But, from the White House to Capitol Hill to
newsrooms across the United States, the Israeli nuclear arsenal
draws scant mention let alone criticism. 


A
former UN weapons inspector in Iraq who previously served as Australia’s
ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Butler, astutely wrote
on May 1 in the

Sydney Morning Herald

that the U.S. government
“can be expected to seek to draw attention away from its policies
and actions by attempting to insist that the most significant issue
at the review conference should be the potential breakout by Iran
and North Korea.” Butler added: “In this context, it was
remarkable to see the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, during
his recent visit to President George Bush’s Texas ranch, call
on the U.S. to take urgent steps against Iran’s nuclear weapons
program—the intelligence on which is quite divided. Neither
side made any reference to the world’s largest clandestine
nuclear weapons program —Israel’s.” 


The
person who has done more than anyone else to inform the world about
that nuclear weapons program, Mordechai Vanunu, left his job as
a technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility before spilling
the beans to the

Sunday Times

of London in 1986. The Israeli
government promptly sent agents to kidnap Vanunu from Rome and take
him back to Israel. As a result, Vanunu spent 18 years behind bars,
mostly in solitary confinement. Since his release in April 2004,
the Israeli authorities have imposed a travel ban along with other
restrictions on Vanunu—and they’re threatening to put
him back in prison if he keeps talking to journalists.





If
Vanunu were Iranian instead of Israeli, the U.S. press would be
hailing him as a hero instead of giving him short shrift. 


Like
almost every other mainstream U.S. media outlet, the

New York
Times

has provided little coverage of Vanunu, so the U.S. public
has scant knowledge of his real-life experience with truth and consequences.
Likewise, the

Times

has little to say about Washington’s
extreme hypocrisies while the newspaper and the government denounce
certain other countries for their nuclear programs. 


But
the

New York Times

has not skimped on coverage that adds
to momentum for a military attack on Iran. And evidently the newspaper
of record is just getting started.





Norman Solomon’s
latest book,



War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits
Keep Spinning Us to Death



, will be published in early summer
2005.