I tell my students that the best way to figure out what’s really going on in the political world is to take the rhetoric of U.S. political officials and automatically assume the exact opposite. More times than not, one will end up with a relatively coherent, accurate view of the world. Such is the case with regard to the latest round of “talks” between the U.S., its allies, and Iran.
Little outside of fear mongering and hysteria is spoken about Iran in the United States. Critics of the drive for sanctions and war can be forgiven for thinking this is Iraq all over again. Americans are being driven to fear a country in which literally no evidence has been presented of a nuclear weapons threat; sanctions are being implemented that devastate the country economically; and war addicts are pushing for immediate escalation despite the fabricated threat. It’s the height of criminality, and like the Iraq war, media pundits and reporters are all pretending not to notice any of it is happening.
Enter the latest stages of the “crisis” with Iran. President Barack Obama is now pushing strongly for “negotiations” with Iran over its nuclear energy program, in the name of ending the nuclear “threat.” The entire situation reeks of hypocrisy and manipulation, and is yet another example of how the Obama administration has continued the politics of deceit that were pioneered under the Bush administration. Take, for example, an April 7th story in the New York Times, which reports that “the Obama administration and its European allies plan to open new negotiations with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling [the] recently completed [Fordo] nuclear facility [located] deep under a mountain…they are also calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country.” These demands, the Times reported, are to be included as part of a “hard line approach” in an “opening move in what President Obama has called Iran’s ‘last chance’ to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the United Nations and the West diplomatically.”
Much of the “negotiations” narrative of Obama and the Times smacks of propaganda. One has to forget the meaning of basic words (if one was ever aware of them) in order to accept the claims put forward. For example, look up the meaning of the word “negotiation” and you will find that it means the exact opposite of what Obama and the Times call “negotiation.” Common definitions include: to confer with one another in order to come to terms to reach an agreement”; and “to arrange or settle through mutual agreement.” Neither of these definitions is even remotely satisfied under what farcically passes for “negotiations” in this instance.
If a negotiation requires two parties to confer “in order to come to terms to reach an agreement,” this is the opposite of what Obama has demanded. Unilateral demands that Iran dismantle nuclear facilities have to be one of many outstanding issues to be negotiated during talks; such demands cannot realistically be met prior to negotiations, as Iran would no longer have any bargaining position if it conceded to U.S. demands in advance. This point gets to the very heart of what negotiations really are: efforts “to arrange or settle [a dispute] through mutual agreement” of details to be reached at the time of negotiations – not before. This basic meaning of negotiations has been neglected for years by the Obama administration. For example, go back to the 2009 “talks” between Obama and Iranian officials, and one sees the same pattern. As investigative historian Gareth Porter reported in 2009, the U.S.-allied “negotiation” proposal required that Iran send the overwhelming majority (80 percent) of its low enriched uranium to Russia to be converted to nuclear fuel rods, thereby depriving Iran of any opportunity to possibly further enrich the fuel and use it for an eventual nuclear weapon. This position, as Porter described it, smacked of contempt for negotiations: “the real point from the U.S. viewpoint was that Iran would divest itself immediately of the bulk of its low enriched uranium; allowing the United States to claim a diplomatic victory.” Of course, such a concession, inevitably opposed by Iran, would have “deprive[d] Iran of the bargaining leverage they have so painfully accumulated in the form of its low enriched uranium stocks.” Conceding on this issue in advance of concessions from the United States would essentially ensure that Iran receive nothing in return. Rather than give up its crown bargaining chip, Iranian leaders insisted that any agreement to send fuel abroad be matched by an agreement to end the sanctions and belligerent rhetoric against the country. These conditions were predictably ignored by an Obama administration that wanted to retain maximum power to order a military strike, while conceding nothing in 2009’s fake negotiations. “Negotiations” could then be dismissed by U.S. leaders as having “failed,” even though the U.S. ensured that negotiations would never work to begin with by imposing unrealistic demands that could never be met by the other party.
Enter the U.S.-Iranian “negotiations” of 2012. Much of the strategy of 2009 has been revived. The Obama administration’s approach is as follows: criminally threaten a major war against Iran, while further instating economically crippling sanctions. Pretend to be interested in talks, the whole time calling for concessions that no serious negotiator would demand in advance of negotiations. This plan was acknowledged in the New York Times, which reported that “Mr. Obama and his allies are gambling that crushing sanctions and the treat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and more financial hardship.”
The result of the United States’ and Israel’s reckless contempt for negotiations is predictable. As the New York Times reported on April 9th, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi indicated that “Iran would not accept preconditions [for negotiations].” As Salehi explained, “setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless, and none of the parties will accept conditions set before the talks.” This is a reasonable point indeed, but one that is entirely lost on people who realistically have no interest in a negotiated settlement. Obama’s dismissal of negotiations has also been obscured in the U.S., particularly by the New York Times, whose reporters seem content to manipulate the meaning of basic words. This manipulation was blatant in a recent piece in the paper, titled “U.S. Defines its Demands for New Round of Talks with Iran,” in which journalists David Sanger and Steven Erlanger reported on “doubts among Obama administration officials and their European partners about Iran’s readiness to negotiate seriously and to finally answer questions from international nuclear inspectors about its programs ‘possible military dimensions.’”
The above framing represents a tremendous victory for manipulation and propaganda. U.S. officials know full well that American intelligence agencies came to a consensus conclusion in 2007, judging with high confidence that Iran ended its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. That conclusion was largely reinforced in an updated conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies in 2010, as Reuters reported that “U.S. spy agencies…see growing evidence that Tehran has pushed forward with nuclear research, but has yet to re-launch its atomic bomb program in full.” As the New York Times similarly reported this month, “American intelligence agencies have stuck to a 2007 intelligence assessment, which found that Iran suspended research on nuclear weapons technology in 2003, and has not decided to take the final steps needed to build a bomb.” This conclusion stands, at a time when the U.S. has openly announced that it is reconstituting its own nuclear weapons, in direct contravention to its legal obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which requires the U.S. to take steps to dismantle its weapons, rather than redevelop them).
Of course, no American can know for certain whether Iran will eventually develop nuclear weapons or not, nor should we try to make authoritative statements about such “inevitability” in the name of having another war fought on false pretenses. The point is that, as of today, no evidence exists that either 1. Iran has produced any of the highly enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear weapon, or 2. That Iran even has any interest at this point in producing such a weapon. To push for war under such circumstances, as Israeli and American (Republican and Democratic) leaders have in recent years, is the height of criminality and aggression. Have we learned nothing from what happened in Iraq?
U.S. aggression and criminality are being encouraged by spineless reporters, who are content to misrepresent basic facts. For example, the New York Times sought to muddy the waters related to U.S. intelligence conclusions on Iran, reporting (in line with the hard line agenda of Obama and congressional Republicans) that “Britain and Israel in particular, looking at essentially the same evidence [as U.S. intelligence agencies] say that they believe a decision has been made to move to a nuclear-weapons capability, if not to a weapon itself…If Iran rejects American and European demands to immediately halt the most dangerous elements of its program, Mr. Obama could face a crisis in the Persian Gulf by early summer in the midst of his re-election bid.” The Times should have added that the U.S. will face a “crisis” of its own making, in light of its own conclusions that Iran is not producing nuclear weapons. The Times should have also added that its portrayal of Israeli intelligence is deceptive at best, considering that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Israel has not, in fact, concluded that Iran may be moving toward nuclear weapons. As a January 2012 report found, “Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to the intelligence assessment Israeli officials… 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.”
No one is suggesting that Iran deserves a pass when it comes to enforcing its international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to refrain from developing nuclear weapons. Iran has provided obstacles of its own in terms of refusing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to some nuclear scientists, refusing full access to inspectors for all Iranian nuclear sites, and in terms of unrealistically and cynically demanding in 2011 talks with western “negotiators” that the sanctions be ended as a pre-condition to future talks.” Acknowledging the problems associated with such intransigence, however, does not let the U.S. off the hook for its saber rattling, deceptive rhetoric, and stubborn refusal to openly negotiate.
The U.S. stands at the precipice of a major escalation of violence against Iran.
Sadly, as the old adage goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Such is the case with Iran, as we are moving toward a repeat of the entire Iraq fiasco, replete with a manufactured WMD threat driving us toward war. As of March 2012, an ABC-Washington Post poll finds that 84 percent of Americans believe – in line with U.S. political propaganda – that Iran “is trying to develop nuclear weapons.” A disturbing 56 percent – according to a March 2012 Reuters poll, “support taking military action against Iran if there is evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons,” compared to just 39 percent who oppose such action. According to the same poll, 62 percent support Israel taking military action with the backing of the United States. Another act of U.S. aggression in the Middle East will threaten to throw an already volatile and unstable region into further turmoil. In light of such danger, a sane discussion of the Iranian “threat” is desperately needed.
Anthony DiMaggio holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently The Rise of the Tea Party (2011), and other works such as Crashing the Tea Party (2011); When Media Goes to War (2010); and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He has taught American politics and International Relations in Political Science at a number of colleges and universities, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org