The Iran "Crisis" – A prelude to aggression

It is a bit frightening to
see how, even in the midst of the catastrophic aggression and occupation
of Iraq, the United States, having engaged once again in the “supreme
crime,” is still able to mobilize the UN and its NATO
allies to focus on, browbeat, and threaten Iran to abandon its nuclear
activities or face some kind of retaliation. This collaboration
occurs despite the fact that the case the United States once made
about the Iraqi government’s “weapons of mass destruction”
threat, perhaps the single most discredited series of official lies
in U.S. history, and while the United States is still killing Iraqis,
having destroyed the sizable city of Fallujah and now giving the
Fallujah treatment to a succession of cities that it deems
insurgent-friendly, recently Tal Afar, with no end in sight. 

True, the UN and NATO allies did give retrospective sanction to
the aggression-occupation and have given it substantive support—UN
Security Council Resolution 1546 of June 2004 amounted to a complete
reversal of their earlier refusal to sanction the invasion-occupation.
But by analogy, if Germany and Italy had been sufficiently powerful,
the League of Nations might have belatedly approved the Nazi
occupation of Czechoslovakia and Poland, or Mussolini’s invasion-pacification
of Abyssinia, in the pre-World War II era. This is a form of Kafkaesque
progress—toward recognition of the rights of those with the
biggest teeth and sharpest claws to rule the jungle, sanctioned
by the “international community” (i.e., the governments,
international institutions, and some NGOs, often far removed from
the people who they purportedly represent). 

The United States claims that Iran’s moves toward nuclear power
would be “incredibly destabilizing” (Bush) and threaten
“international peace” as well as stability, whereas presumably
the United States really knows all about peace and stability, which
it has so successfully brought to Iraq and which it and its number
one client Israel has brought to Palestine. “Stability”
in this Kafkaesque world means an arrangement approved by the Godfather,
so that any real world instability is merely transitional, although
it may last a long time and involve mass killing and vast destruction.

Another remarkable feature of the new “crisis” is that
Iran is successfully portrayed as a villain and threat based on
a distant prospect of its acquiring nuclear weapons, even as the
United States and Israel brandish those weapons and threaten Iran
with attack. If Iran did acquire nuclear weapons it could never
use them against Israel or the United States without committing
national suicide, whereas the United States has used them in the
past and could do so now without threat of nuclear retaliation.
However, if Iran built a small stock of such weapons it could pose
a low probability threat of a nuclear response to a direct attack.
So Iran’s real “threat” is the threat of being able
to defend itself (see Herman, “Iran’s Dire Threat,”
Z Magazine, October 2004). In the present political environment,
despite its recent setbacks, the United States can still get the
“international community” to go along with its pretense
that Iran poses some kind of genuine threat and to cooperate with
it in containing that mythical threat—whereas in reality the
international community is helping the United States and Israel
contain Iran’s “threat” to acquire an improved capacity
for self-defense, and helping set the stage for another invasion-occupation. 

The United States gets away with this despite the fact that it is
unique in having used nuclear weapons—and against civilian
populations—continues to improve them, and, more recently,
has tried to make them smaller and more “practical,” and
openly threatens to use them once again. It has abandoned the commitment
it made in signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons (NPT) in 1970 that it would not use them against non-nuclear
powers. It has also egregiously failed to implement the promise
in that treaty to strive to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.
(In 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled unanimously that,
“There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring
to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all
its aspects under strict and effective international control.”)
The United States has also cooperated with its client Israel in
allowing and positively supporting Israel’s long-standing nuclear
weapons program that has made it the only nuclear power in the Middle
East. Thus, by cooperating with the United States in its Iran-containment
and prelude-to-aggression program, the international community accepts
the blatant double standard: that only the United States and its
allies and clients have a right to acquire nuclear weapons and only
their targets are properly subject to international law and must
be held to promises made in international agreements.

Of course, the argument is made or implied that the United States
and Israel are good, need these weapons for legitimate defense,
and are not likely to use them irresponsibly, whereas Iran is not
good, supports terrorists, and doesn’t need these weapons for
legitimate defense. This is pure ideology and utter nonsense,
confuted by even a cursory glance at reality (for a fuller picture,
see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions
Since World War II
; Blum, Rogue State; and Noam Chomsky,
Hegemony or Survival). As noted, the good United States is
the only country to have used nuclear weapons and it did so against
civilian targets. On irresponsibility, the United States has violated
the UN Charter prohibition of cross-border armed attack, carrying
out the “supreme crime” that the UN was designed to prevent
no less than three times in the past seven years, and it and its
Israeli client have systematically violated the Geneva Conventions
on the treatment of prisoners and behavior in occupied territories,
while Israel has ignored dozens of UN Security Council rulings,
with U.S. support. 

As regards the support of terrorism, Iran is not in the same league
with the United States and Israel, both of which have often directly
engaged in terrorism—i.e., wholesale terrorism—as well
as sponsoring and supporting retail terrorists. The U.S. nuclear
club and threat is itself a form of terrorism and the United States
has repeatedly threatened nuclear bombing. Its “shock and awe”
strategies are openly designed to terrorize, and in Iraq (as in
Vietnam, etc.) it pacifies by the use of massive firepower that
terrifies as well as kills. The United States eventually turned
to civilian targets in Serbia in 1999 with the open objective of
forcing a quicker target surrender via terror attacks on civilians.
Israel has also done the same, its pacification process during its
long occupation and “redeeming the land” on the West Bank
involving the steady and brutal use of force and terror. Years ago
Abba Eban admitted that civilians in Lebanon had been bombed because
“there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that
afflicted populations would exert pressure for the cessation of
hostilities.” That is, Israel had followed a policy of terrorism,
on Benjamin Netanyahu’s own definition of the word: “the
deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent
to inspire fear for political ends.” 

This wholesale terrorism, directly employed, is supplemented by
the sponsorship and support of local terrorists and terrorist armies.
The Israelis sponsored a proxy army in Lebanon for years, just
as the United States supported the Nicaraguan contras, the Mujahadeen
and Taliban in Afghanistan (in the 1980s), and Savimbi’s UNITA
in Angola. This is just scratching the surface of wholesale and
sponsored terrorisms that Iran can never match. It is one of the
great accomplishments of the Western propaganda system that these
real and massive terrorisms are normalized, cannot be referred to
by an invidious word like terrorism, the perpetrators allowed to
be only “retaliating” and engaging in “counter-terrorism.” 

Parallels Between Iraq and Iran 

One similarity between the
Iraq and Iran run-ups to military attack is threat inflation and
a steady focus on the alleged threat. Even if Iran had a nuclear
weapon or even a dozen nuclear weapons, would that threaten world
peace and produce instability or would it merely lessen the threat
to Iran itself by the power that proclaims a right to preventive
warfare and its Israeli client? The mainstream media absolutely
refuse to discuss this substantive issue, taking it for granted
that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be very bad
and as good propaganda agents focusing only on daily claims of the
threat and Iran’s alleged illicit and menacing moves toward
acquiring such weapons. If their government says Iran’s actions
pose a dire threat, that is enough for the media. The media
were badly burned in the Iraq run-up and a few of them belatedly
expressed regret at their gullibility, the New York Times
most famously, but it took them no time at all to move into the
same gullibility and propaganda role as regards the terrible Iran

Does the United States have clean hands in dealing with this issue?
That is, has it abided by its NPT obligation to not threaten or
use nuclear weapons against countries agreeing to forego nuclear
weapons, and also 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
complete and general disarmament under strict and effective international
control” (Article VI)? The answer is no on both counts: it
has now openly threatened to use such weapons against any target
and it has not only refused to work toward the elimination of nuclear
weapons, it has made them explicitly a part of its fighting arsenal
and is spending large sums to make them more practicable. The media
never discuss this issue, which would make the U.S. stance on Iran’s
nuclear weapons policies seem less credible. 

These U.S. failures also suggest that a reasonable case could be
made for U.S. “non-compliance” with the NPT and that a
“timeline” of its non-compliance might be constructed
that would be far richer and vastly more relevant to global security
than that fixed in regard to Iran’s conduct. After all, Iran
doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon, and has a right under
the NPT to develop a nuclear capability for peaceful purposes (Article
IV); the United States has thousands of such weapons, poses a real
threat to use them, and is in blatant violation of its agreement
to work toward the reduction in existing stocks of weapons. (According
to the estimate of the National Resources Defense Council, the United
States possessed 10,600 nuclear warheads as of 2002—slightly
more than one-half the world’s total.) 

Do the United States and Israel pose a military threat to Iran,
possibly greater than the threat Iran poses to those countries?
Does Iran have a right to defend itself against such threats? These
matters are off the agenda for the propaganda system, but implicitly
Iran has no such right. This double standard is clearly something
that would be awkward to discuss openly. 

Israel has developed and produced nuclear weapons and threatened
to use them and to attack Iran if it shows signs of working toward
the development of such weapons. Is it reasonable that Israel should
be free to do this and create and maintain a huge imbalance of power
in the Middle East and refuse to sign the NPT, whereas Iran, which
signed the treaty and allows frequent and intrusive inspections,
should be the focus of attention and be deemed villainous for any
inspection problems? Again, this is not discussible because it reflects
a huge bias and double standard better kept implicit.  

in the Iraq case, the UN and NATO allies have again chosen to accommodate
the Godfather, so that instead of rejecting the crude double standard
being imposed by a government with notoriously unclean hands, they
have been struggling to push Iran to agree to forego nuclear independence
altogether, even for work on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
that the United States had encouraged for Iran when its dictatorial
client the Shah was in power.  

The mechanism of the Iran pre-attack process is in many ways similar
to that employed in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Throughout
roughly the same period that the United States has occupied Iraq,
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been pressuring
Iran to live up to “safeguards” as well as sign onto the
Additional Protocol of the NPT (which it did in 2003). The focus
is on what the IAEA inspections regime regards as the “remaining
outstanding issues,” as the IAEA director general expressed
the matter in his September 24 news conference. The result has been
a never-ending series of IAEA assessments of Iran’s “compliance”
with its NPT obligations, combined with a relentless re-definition
of the “outstanding issues” before the IAEA. This process
works through an institutional machinery, which, once activated,
as in the case of Iraq, makes it impossible for the accused state
to satisfy the suspicions raised about its weapons program. Crucially,
this institutional machinery only gets activated to focus on a target
of the Godfather’s choice and never the Godfather or his Israeli
client—though the Godfather is in open violation of the NPT,
and its client refuses to make itself subject to that agreement. 

The major “outstanding issue” before the IAEA at present,
and the one that both Washington and the EU-3 (Britain, France,
and Germany) managed to make the bête noire of the special
IAEA resolution of September 24—the first resolution to date
to raise the possibility that the Iranian nuclear program could
fall “within the competence of the Security Council, as the
organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international
peace and security”—turns on Iran’s unwillingness
to surrender its right under the NPT to engage in the nuclear-fuel
cycle. In the November 2004 Paris Agreement with the EU-3, Iran
had agreed to “extend its suspension to include all enrichment
related and reprocessing activities,” while gaining the EU-3’s
recognition that “this suspension is a voluntary confidence
building measure and not a legal obligation”(INFCIRC/637).
In early August of this year, Iran notified the IAEA that it was
restarting its Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, thereby ending
its voluntary suspension of this facility’s uranium-enrichment
activities. So the “international community” is upset
with Iran because Iran is no longer voluntarily declining to engage
in the nuclear-fuel cycle, having chosen instead to remove the IAEA’s
seals on its centrifuges and start running them again. To be perfectly
clear about this; no one at the IAEA has found Iran to be in violation
of its NPT obligations. Rather, Iran stands accused of having failed
to surrender its right to engage in activities in which Iran has
every right to engage under the NPT. The appearance of a “crisis”
has been fabricated out of nothing more than this. 

The Resolution adopted by the IAEA’s Board of Governors on
September 24 by a vote of 22 to 1 (with 12 abstentions) makes no
claims about Iranian violations of any obligations whatsoever. Instead
it simply purported anger at Iran’s unwillingness to maintain
the voluntary suspension of its Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan;
that is, Iran’s decision to do what it has every right to do
under the NPT. This Resolution even uses the phrase “resulting
absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively
for peace purposes…”—an unmistakable echo of the
U.S. secretary of defense’s assertion with respect to alleged
Iraqi weapons capabilities that the “absence of evidence is
not evidence of absence” (“Implementation of the NPT Safeguards
Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Board of Governors,
IAEA, September 24, 2005). With the Godfather threatening renewed
aggression, and the UN and international community once again leaning
over very far backwards to appease it, as in the Iraq case, it will
be hard for Iran to reestablish “confidence” in its objectives
and to prevent a new round of supreme criminality.  

As in the Iraq case, it is very rare for the mainstream media to
suggest any U.S. motives beyond those proclaimed by the Bush administration
itself—concern over violations of the NPT, Iran’s deceptive
actions, and possible instability and nuclear support of terrorists.
Could the U.S. focus be based on worry over a still-independent
oil power in the Middle East that has even proposed organizing an
alternative oil contracting market with business done in euros?
 Could it be a simple continuation of that projection of power
by an openly aggressive imperialist state that is out of control
and threatening perpetual war and perpetual aggression? 

The U.S. nuclear stockpile contains roughly one-out-of-every-two
warheads of the global stock and the United States possesses by
far the most sophisticated and diversified systems for delivering
its weapons to any place, at any time. Even granting the current
regime’s pledge to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile to 6,000
warheads by 2012 (and we are not sanguine about the actual prospects),
in sheer operational terms, the United States is the world’s
nuclear-weapon power without peer. For its part, Israel is believed
to possess on the order of 200 nuclear warheads (though estimates
vary), having completed its first operational nuke as early as 1967
(if not earlier). But, crucially, although the only nuclear weapons
power in the greater Middle East, Israel also is the only state
in the region never to have acceded to the NPT or any of the multiple
“safeguard”-type agreements in which Iran has been ensnared.
It has never submitted to so much as a single weapons inspection.

It has never been made a theme, much less a recurring one, of the
international community’s non-proliferation concerns, with
the attendant media focus, threat-inflation, and political demonization
that invariably accompanies it. Clearly, U.S. and Israeli policy
with regard to nuclear weapons, these states’ obsession with
maintaining their military superiority by further armament and aggressive
warfare and diplomacy, their policies of power projection and “redemption
of the land,” are themselves hugely destabilizing and distorting
factors within the Middle East, and promise steady violent conflict
in the years ahead. 

The U.S. exploitation and abuse of Iran’s signatory status
with the NPT, and therefore NPT-related “safeguards” and
the IAEA’s inspections process, to harass Iran over its nuclear
program these past three years, and the ongoing U.S., Israeli, and
other cross-border threats directed against Iran, are all clearly
part of this broader power-projection effort. Given these realities,
it is ludicrous to depict Iran’s nuclear-related policies as
threats to “international peace and security,” as the
U.S. and the EU-axis of Britain, France, and Germany have done.
Iran is the prospective next victim and it is being threatened only
in part to prevent it from taking steps that would enhance its power
to defend itself. Under the NPT, Iran cannot legally develop nuclear
weapons for this purpose, and any small number that it might somehow
acquire would threaten nobody over the next decade or more. However,
Iran is another center of power in the Middle East, as was Iraq,
and allowing it to grow and prosper outside of U.S.-Israeli control
is contrary to power-projection plans. Its nuclear-weapons threat
is the parallel of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction threat—a
cover and rationale for aggression and conquest. 

If the UN and the international community were ruled by a sense
of justice rather than power, and capable of adopting measures to
defend against all threats to peace and security, they would
not be threatening Iran with referral to the Security Council over
a nuclear program that is neither illegal nor demonstrably serving
any other than a peaceful purpose. Instead, they would be assailing
the United States and Israel and pressing them to abandon their
threatening posture toward Iran and to begin to live up to the letter
and spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty—the U.S. by working
toward nuclear disarmament and the Israelis by acceding to the NPT
while doing likewise. Whether we are talking about pre-invasion
Iraq or Iran today, the priorities of the UN and the international
community are not only badly misdirected—they are fundamentally
at odds with the cause of peace and security. What is more, they
have reached this dangerous stage for one reason above all: the
hijacking of the decisive multilateral institutions by great powers
committed to exploiting them for unilateral ends. 

Where nuclear weapons are concerned, the only reasonable goal over
the long term is their elimination and each state’s surrender
of that part of its sovereignty that covers nuclear energy to the
administration of a genuine international agency capable of ensuring
that nuclear energy contributes to “peace, health and prosperity
throughout the world,” and is “not used in such a way
as to further any military purpose” (here quoting the IAEA’s
founding statute, drafted in 1956—the “atoms for peace”
idea). Within any reasonable hierarchy of concerns, the risk of
the development of nuclear weapons by the have-not states is at
most a second-order concern; rather, it is the possession of nuclear
weapons by the haves that remains a concern of the gravest order.
For the IAEA or any other multilateral organization to conduct its
affairs according to a different hierarchy of concerns shows how
misguided and politicized it is. Where news reports and commentary
about the nuclear-weapon haves and have-nots are concerned, our
newspapers and cable television channels betray this inversion of
priorities on a daily basis. But there is no good reason to expect
the nuclear-weapon have-nots not to pursue nuclear weapons, given
an international context within which the haves at one and
the same time threatened them while adamantly refusing to disarm.
It is the conduct of the nuclear-weapon haves that destabilizes
and threatens international peace and security, and even survival.
From the standpoint of a more peaceful world, liberated from the
rule of violence, it is above all the nuclear-weapon haves
that need to be deterred and contained.

S. Herman is an economist, media critic, and author of numerous articles
and books. David Peterson is a freelance writer and researcher.