On Sunday, President Barack Obama made a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The last part of the speech was a lengthy discussion of Iran. And a large part of that large part could not have been made without the Whitehouse’s willingness to engage in serious and substantial historical revisionism. Obama made at least three comments that made history do a double take.
First, Obama referred to “Iran’s nuclear program – a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons” and added the “basic truth that . . . no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that . . . threatens to wipe Israel off the map”.
There are two parts to Obama’s assertion. And both are false. Despite the persistent reportage by the media, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never threatened “to wipe Israel off the map”. The mistranslation has been stubbornly repeated despite the authoritative corrections. Amongst the translation errors, Iranian expert Trita Parsi states that “Ahmadinejad’s statement has generally been mistranslated to read, ‘Wipe Israel off the map.’ Ahmadinejad never used the word ‘Israel’ but rather the ‘occupying regime of Jerusalem,’ which is a reference to the Israeli regime and not necessarily to the country”. Jonathan Steele adds that, not only is the “Israel” part mistranslated, but so is the “wiped off the map” part. The line is properly translated as something like, “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time”: a reference to a wish for a future time when the Israeli government no longer occupies Palestinian territory. This wish is not for the end of the state of Israel or her people, but for the end of the occupation, and is not, therefore, a threat of aggression, but a wish no different from the official wish of the United States and others. Steele adds that Ahmadinejad went on to make an analogy between the elimination of the regime occupying Jerusalem and the fall of the Shah of Iran, clearly showing that he is wishing for a regime change and not the elimination of a nation and her people, unless he is wishing for the elimination of himself and his own country. The corrections to the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech are well known in scholarly circles, and the Whitehouse is surely aware of them.
But it is not only the first part of Obama’s two part claim that misrepresents the facts. And though the second may not be an example of historical revisionism, it is no less deceptive. Obama’s subtle elision of “Iran’s nuclear program” with “the world’s most dangerous weapons” ignores that it is the universal opinion of Obama’s military and intelligence community that Iran has not made the decision to metamorphosize Iran’s “nuclear program” into “weapons”. The intelligence community is Obama’s access to the world: he knows of the world what it tells him. If it has not told him that Iran is converting its peaceful nuclear program into a military nuclear program, then he does not know that. And it has not told him that. Former CIA director and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta publically asked himself the question in January, “Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon?” and succinctly and pointedly answered: “No”. His Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Martin Dempsey, and the current CIA director, David Petreus, agree. In his January 31 senate testimony, James R. Clapper Jr., the Director of National Intelligence, said that there was no evidence that Iran had made a decision on a making a concerted push to build a weapon. And the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, the view of all sixteen of America’s intelligence agencies, which was provided in 2011, expressed with high confidence the same opinion. So Obama’s claim that the Iranian regime marries the existential threat to Israel with nuclear weapons is misleading and irresponsible at both ends.
Obama’s second mocking of history is his boast that “A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build”. America has never built a non-proliferation regime: she has demolished and defied it. She has defied it by maintaining her own nuclear weapons in violation of her promise under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
But worse than defying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation regime, America has destroyed it. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits America “not to in any way assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons”. But of the four countries who have already illegally acquired nuclear weapons since the treaty’s signing, America has defaulted on her commitment “not to in any way assist” in every case; thus, building a proliferation, and not a non-proliferation, regime.
Noam Chomsky says that the Bush administration made a nuclear agreement with India “that tears to shreds the central part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty”. Stephen Zunes says that Bush gave India access to sensitive nuclear technology and nuclear-capable weapons systems without requiring her to give up her nuclear weapons program or to stop enriching weapons grade plutonium. Even though India is in defiance of Security Council Resolution 1172, which calls on her to eliminate her nuclear weapons, the Obama administration continues to provide India with nuclear-capable aircrafts and to directly facilitate India’s nuclear program. Just last year, the States agreed to build two nuclear power stations in India and to sell India military equipment despite her continued refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Crossing the border, the world has known about Pakistan’s nuclear program since the late 1970’s. But despite the overwhelming evidence, the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations formally denied Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons and continued to supply her with the very F-16 aircrafts that nuclear analysts said Pakistan would use to deliver her nuclear bombs. It was not until 1998, when Pakistan transparently became a nuclear weapons state by carrying out nuclear weapons tests, that Clinton finally imposed sanctions on Pakistan. The same year, the UN passed a resolution calling on Pakistan to eliminate her nuclear weapons, but, according to Zunes, the US has blocked any sanctions or other means of enforcing that resolution. In 2001, Bush repealed Clinton’s sanctions and the restriction on military aid to new nuclear states and recommenced the suspended sale of nuclear-capable F-16’s. Stephen Kinzer has also pointed out that Pakistan gained a decade to work on its nuclear weapons program without having to worry about the United States by partnering with the States during the Afghan-Soviet war. In order to ally with Pakistan, the States had to cozy up to her dictator, General Zia al-Huq, and his goal of acquiring illegal nuclear weapons. Pakistan emerged from the war substantially further ahead in her nuclear weapons program while the States lied and covered for her.
US knowledge of and complicity in Israel’s nuclear weapons program goes back even earlier. National Security Archive papers reveal that, in 1968, the US went ahead with the sale of jets despite knowledge that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. George Monbiot says in an article in The Guardian that in 1969 US officials were sent to inspect Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant, but that State Department memos make it clear that the Americans were covering for Israel and that the inspection was not to be a real inspection. Soon after, these US inspections would stop altogether. It was also in 1969, according to Zunes, that Nixon privately endorsed Israel’s nuclear weapons program. American violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty would continue under each subsequent president. According to the General Accounting Office, George H.W. Bush sold at least 1,500 duel use items to Israel despite the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s order “not to in any way assist . . . any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons”. Stephen Zunes says that Clinton assured Netanyahu that he would continue to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons program. And Obama? Israel’s Army Radio reported in July of this year that the US had secretly committed to nuclear cooperation with Israel and promised to sell Israel nuclear technology and supplies, despite Israel’s not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
North Korea is a more modern story. It begins in 1994 when Jimmy Carter’s intervention opened the door to the Framework Agreement. In accordance with the agreement, North Korea had stopped testing long range missiles and was not making any more bombs. But then Bush threatened North Korea, in violation of the agreement, by naming it a member of the Axis of Evil and by listing it in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review as a country the US should be prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on. The States also only came through on 15% of the fuel she promised in the agreement. The US then cancelled the agreement, and North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 2005, North Korea again agreed to completely eliminate its nuclear weapons program and allow inspectors in exchange for American assurance that she would stop threatening attacks and begin planning for a light water reactor—which can’t be used for weapons—and fuel. But Chomsky says that Bush promptly cancelled the light water reactor, took up the threats again, and froze North Korean funds in foreign banks. With the agreement killed once more, the North Koreans returned to their weapons program and tested a weapon.
So how, as Obama claims, has America “done so much to build” “the non-proliferation regime”?
Obama’s third utter rewriting of history is his claim that “. . . from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t” and that this “policy of engagement” was “quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime . . .”.
But now let’s listen to history. The U.S. offered Iran a deal that would have Iran send its 3.5% enriched uranium out of the country to be enriched into fuel rods for medical reactors and then sent back to Iran. Far from “rebuffing” the U.S. offer, the Iranians agreed to it in principle. The problem only occurred when the States demanded that Iran send away all its 3.5% uranium immediately . . . even though it would take a year, or even several years, to receive the 19.5% enriched uranium needed for its medical reactor. Iran was being tricked. That would not only achieve the American goal of emptying Iran of all enriched uranium, it would also defy the point of the whole plan and leave Iran without medical isotopes, forcing its cancer facilities to shut down. So Iran made a counterproposal. She would send out her 3.5% uranium in batches, and when the enriched uranium for medical isotopes was returned, she would send out the next batch. Fair enough: but America ignored the offer.
When Brazil and Turkey then took up the “policy of engagement”–but this time in earnest–and brokered a very similar uranium swap deal, minus the American sleight of hand, the Iranians, to America’s dismay, agreed to it. The US and her allies, for the second time, ignored it, reprimanded meddlesome Brazil and Turkey, and pushed ahead, instead, with more sanctions on Iran.
So Iran did not rebuff Obama’s deceptive engagement: Obama rebuffed Iran’s acceptance of genuine engagement.
And, though not historical revisionism, there is a final piece of irony to Obama’s AIPAC speech. Though the final part of his speech is dedicated to enmity with Iran, the first part is dedicated to honouring the efforts toward peace and security of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Ironically, though, in the early 1990’s, it was then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, along with Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who, to the shock and dismay of the Iranians, gave birth to the policy shift that would, for the first time, transform Iran from an ally in the view of the Israelis, into an enemy.