Many Washington pundits understand that the conclusion of a tale very much depends on where one starts. The starting point is how the argument is framed, and if the reader accepts the initial premises, then the rest of the case being made falls into place. Many of the all-too-familiar voices in the foreign policy community are appalled by the prospect that talks with Iran might actually succeed and prevent a possible major war in the Middle East. Since such a war would certainly expand regionally and might well go nuclear, one would expect that its avoidance would be welcomed by all, but that is not necessarily so, particularly if one makes a good living promoting the view that Iran is an existential threat that must be dealt with sooner or later.
Last Wednesday’s Washington Post included an op-ed by two regularly featured advocates of the get-tough-with-Iran school of thought. They are Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, both of whom are on the payroll of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). For those who are unfamiliar with FDD, it is a neocon-dominated organization that nevertheless claims to be nonpartisan. It focuses on foreign policy and security issues by “fighting terrorism and promoting freedom,” as it informs us on its website masthead. It works to “defend free nations against their enemies,” which frequently means in practice anyone whom Israel considers to be hostile. FDD’s Leadership Council features former CIA Director James Woolsey, Sen. Joe Lieberman, and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.
Gerecht and Dubowitz’s piece, titled “In Iran Talks, One Side Looks Ready to Bend” in the print edition, poses a number of questions in the first paragraph, including “Who is sufficiently terrified of an atom bomb in Iranian hands to credibly threaten military action?” which is followed by reference to “the menace of a nuclear-armed state that supports terrorism.” The argument is then expanded in paragraph two with Iran’s leadership reportedly spending “billions to develop what appears to be every component of a nuclear-armed missile” followed by paragraph four’s “given how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is” and the assertion that Iran is developing “increasingly proficient centrifuges [that] will allow for much smaller, hard to detect facilities.” And if the reader wonders why Iran is doing this, the answer is also provided in paragraph five: “Tehran’s entire military strategy for a quarter century has been to develop atomic weapons to compensate for an irreversible lack of conventional power.”
There is more in the piece about enrichment levels and how Israel will be forced to attack if nothing is done, all very speculative and dependent on policy decisions that have yet to be made, but the objective is clearly to provide reasons for stepping back from direct negotiations leading to any compromise in order to facilitate truly draconian sanctions (or military action) that will force the Iranian economy to virtually shut down. But the real argument is contained in the first paragraph, which tells the reader that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and supporting terrorists. That Iran must be developing secret capabilities that will morph into weapons plants would appear to have a certain inevitably for the authors, and it is all happening because Iran has made it clear that it wants to go nuclear.
One can argue about whether Iran actually supports terrorism or not; the groups that The Washington Post is no doubt referring to would prefer to think of themselves as resistance movements against Israel, while Iran has itself been on the receiving end of terrorist attacks from Israel and the United States. None of Iran’s regional allies that Washington and Tel Aviv describe as terrorists plausibly threaten the United States. But even conceding that point, there is much else that is questionable in the op-ed.
Gerecht and Dubowitz are suggesting that they know far more than the U.S. government does about Iran’s capabilities and intentions. According to the intelligence community, Iran abandoned plans for a nuclear weapon in 2003 and does not currently have a program to develop one. Even Israeli intelligence agrees that is so. Nor has the U.S. government confirmed the improved performance and apparently concealability of the new centrifuges referred to by Gerecht and Dubowitz.To the contrary, Tehran is reportedly having problems with its existing centrifuges due to sabotage by Israeli and Western intelligence agencies, including the Stuxnet virus, which affects operating systems for the nuclear energy program. The creation of the hard-to-detect-and-destroy weapons facilities is therefore based on speculation regarding what might happen sometime down the road if all the pieces fall into place and Iran makes the policy decision to proceed in a weapons direction. Likewise with the claim that Iran has a 25-year plan to develop a nuke, an assertion that no reputable intelligence agency has ever made. Israel’s government has been sounding the alarm for many years that Iran is six months away from having a weapon, but it hasn’t happened yet. If this were truly an Iranian government top priority, why the delay?
And even Gerecht and Dubowitz must know that a “nuclear-armed missile” is a far more technologically demanding prospect than a crude nuclear bomb. Where’s the evidence for that apart from some allegations and reported schematics on a laptop computer that surfaced a while back and turned out to be a Mossad fabrication?
Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt must have breathed a sigh of relief when talks with Iran appeared to break down because of non-negotiable demands by Israel after the Gerecht and Dubowitz piece, but he returned to the theme in a Saturday lead editorial titled “Iran’s Intransigence” with the subheading “The West should not bargain away sanctions for faux concessions.” It repeated the arguments made in the op-ed and included such gems as “extended negotiations will only benefit Iran.” The perfidious mullahs will receive no break from the Post, it appears.
I don’t know if The Washington Post employs fact checkers on its op-eds or editorials, but it would probably be a waste of time to ask. Featuring op-eds by folks who have long advocated harsh measures up to and including preemptive war against Iran and pretending that it is some kind of reliable analysis based on solid evidence when it is anything but and then following up with an editorial making the same points is a typical pattern for Fred Hiatt and his neocon editorial cronies. I would like to see Hiatt come up with a solid, fact-based case explaining why a war with Iran would produce a good result for the United States, because that is really the only argument justifying American involvement in such an enterprise. And let’s leave “Israel’s security concerns” out of it. When last I checked, it was not part of the United States, and it can take care of itself.