Iran: Why Won’t We Take Yes For An Answer?

by , December 08, 2007

Israel’s lobby in the US is "scrambling," as Ron Kampeas puts it in the Jewish Exponent, to defend the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran for its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. With a war-weary America unlikely to respond favorably to the news that President Bush has ordered an attack on Iran, the War Party has had to content itself with preparing the ground for a future conflict, including a campaign to isolate Tehran economically, diplomatically, and politically. Now, however, as Kampeas reports,

"The NIE is being held up by Congress, the presidential candidates and the media as an argument for tamping down isolation of the Islamic Republic rather than a vindication of earlier warnings that Iran indeed was pursuing a bomb. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations organized an emergency conference call of members on Tuesday to address how the news could threaten its recent campaign to isolate Iran."

Red alert! Red alert! It looks like peace is about to break out! All hands on deck!

The Lobby is frantically calling in all its chips in a desperate effort to repair the damage and get their war-wagon rolling again. Congress recently passed a "package" of sanctions on Iran proffered by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Tel Aviv), who phrases his advocacy of isolating us from the Iranian people in terms of "talking" to Tehran in the language of "carrots and sticks." Which means: first the stick, and then – maybe – a skinny shriveled up little carrot.

This is the same Tom Lantos, you’ll recall, who gleefully told Colette Avital, a Labor party member of the Israeli Knesset, "My dear Colette, don’t worry. You won’t have any problem with Saddam. We’ll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you." (Lantos denied saying that, but Ms. Avital confirmed it: the man’s a liar as well as a hypocrite.)

Well, I don’t know who Lantos is referring to when he says "us" – because it sure didn’t turn out that way for the real "us," that is the American people, although one could make a good argument that Israel’s interests have been more than served by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. We haven’t installed a proper dictator, as yet, but that’s just a matter of time, now isn’t it?

Perhaps we just can’t find a suitable candidate. In the case of Iran, the logical choice to play that role is one of the Pahlavi clan’s royal pretenders. Yet the NIE on Iran has knocked over a major pillar of that dream, the mad-mullahs-with-nukes meme that worked so well in its Iraqi version. Not that there aren’t plenty of other tripwires capable of triggering a war, as I pointed out the other day, and yet a major setback for the War Party is that the ticking time-bomb aspect of their propaganda has got to be abandoned.

Now we have time for diplomacy, for examining the real facts about Iran, including the historical context, and maybe we even will take the opportunity to ask questions such as "who wants war with Iran, and why?" This time, there’s to be no rush to war: we can face the alleged "crisis" in light of genuinely American interests.

As for the Israelis, they have a clear enough concept of their own interests. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s carefully worded I-beg-to-differ showed just a hint of bared fangs:

"It is our responsibility to ensure that the right steps are taken against the Iranian regime. As is well known, words don’t stop missiles. It is apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a certain period of time. But in our estimation, since then it is apparently continuing with its program."

"We cannot allow ourselves to rest," avers Senor Barak, "just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the Earth, even if it is from our greatest friend."

The other side of the earth – but not really so far away. Not when the Lobby is hard at work, pressuring US legislators, relentlessly churning out propaganda, and going on the offensive to ensure that the sanctions not only stay in place but are actually tightened – until the Iranian people really begin to hurt. It’s just one more way to provoke some sort of internal convulsion that will give the Western powers a pretext for intervention.

I have to add that the New York Times report identifying the sources of the NIE as intercepted conversations between hardliners in the military complaining that the Iranian nuclear program had been scotched in 2003 – which may or may not be true – was not something the authors and shapers of the report would want leaked, and was no doubt part of the pushback. The Times report undermines the position of Iranian moderates, and feeds the suspicions of Iranian nationalists – who will naturally sympathize with the officers’ bitter protests.

Seymour Hersh is telling us that the President gave the Israelis a heads up on the NIE two days before he was supposed to have first learned of it, and yet the "gotcha" aspect of this story – "Bush lied, or his brain is fried!" – is its least interesting aspect. What I want to know is why the chief executive of a foreign country gets the facts before the American people – and what, exactly, was said. I suspect the following:

"Hey, Ehud, that damned CIA is telling me you guys are wrong about those Iranian nukes – can you give me something to get them off my back?"

"Yeah, my own guys are no better: they’re telling me the same thing. But, hey, that didn’t stop us the last time, now did it?"

Appreciative laughter all ‘round. "

"Yeah, but, Ehud ol’ buddy, do me a favor, willya?"

"Sure, Mr. President. After all, what are friends for?"

"Don’t stick me with anything like those Niger uranium forgeries again – I think they’re getting wise to us."

"Oh, don’t worry, Mr. President. A word to the wise is sufficient."

I’m kidding, of course, so spare me the letters of outrage. What I’m not kidding about, unfortunately, is how careless the President of the United States has been when the actual interests of this country are at stake, and how willing he is – in spite of his administration’s reputation for "unilateralism" – to subordinate those interests in order to preserve our "special relationship" with Israel. Now, however, it looks like the national security bureaucracy has done an end run around him, and confronted him with a blunt declaration of independence.

What we are witnessing is a serious rebellion within key military, diplomatic, and intelligence circles against our Israel-centric policy in the Middle East. Critics of the status quo such as Michael Scheuer and professors Mearsheimer and Walt prefigured this realist "surge" by daring to break the taboo against stating the obvious: that our unconditional support for Israel has crippled our efforts to combat Islamist terrorism, threatened our security on account of our required access to oil, and cost us far more in moral and political capital than the "special relationship" was ever worth.

Here we have a real divergence between American and Israeli interests, and those who shaped the NIE report were determined that, for once, the US government was going to go to bat on behalf of the former. Israel cannot afford to cut the Iranians any slack: we, on the other hand, are able to put the issue in perspective. In this case, geography is destiny.

Yes, Israel has much to fear from an Iranian nuke – almost as much as the Iranians have to fear an Israeli first strike, which is all too imaginable. That’s why a comprehensive approach to nuclear disarmament is the only one that will work: a regional solution, or nothing.

Why, after all, should the Iranians give up for good the idea of developing a nuclear deterrent to Israel’s atomic arsenal? Tel Aviv hasn’t even signed the Nonproliferation Treaty, while Iran has: yet we continue to send billions to bolster Israel’s "defenses."

The pushback against the NIE’s "high confidence" verdict is already well underway, and you can bet it will be attacked from every possible angle: it’s not a sure thing, here’s the parts they left out, it was written by Bush-hating axe-grinding bureaucrats who are anti-Semites to boot – expect the works. When that barrage fails to make much of a dent in the growing realization that their entire scare campaign was purest hooey, the Lobby will switch tactics and assert that this just proves we need to impose harsher sanctions. After all, the sanctions worked, didn’t they? The NIE says the Iranians were pressured into abandoning their program because of the high costs imposed from outsiders, including the sanctions: yet what will be the effect of punishing them for compliance? If they get the same results from not complying, then it’s all sticks, and no carrots.

Those who want to isolate Iran – let’s call them "isolationists," just for the sheer fun of turning the War Party’s favorite epithet on its head – have one thing in mind, and that is in ginning up a war. Isolation is just what the Iranian militarist faction wants: it feeds into their narrative of humiliation and injured pride. Our own War Party benefits from this isolationist policy, too, because Iran is singled out as a pariah among nations, and thus fair game.

It’s time to lift the economic and diplomatic sanctions on Iran, and, not only that, but we must begin to establish normal relations. That means more than negotiations: it means unilaterally dropping the campaign to demonize the Iranian regime, publicly renouncing the goal of "regime change," and beginning the process that will end with the return of American diplomats to Tehran. For as long as the cold war lasted, we maintained an embassy in Moscow, and in all the Eastern bloc countries: in this context, twenty-eight years after the Iranian hostage crisis, our absence from Tehran is inexplicable.

That’s for starters. An opening of relations, both diplomatic and economic, would pave the way for a comprehensive settlement of the outstanding issues between the US and Iran, including not only the nuclear question but Tehran’s relations with Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon. None of this can happen, however, until and unless there is resistance to the power of the Lobby, which has thus far successfully superimposed Israeli interests on US policy initiatives, effectively making us Israel’s instrument in the region.

The resistance is on the rise, that’s the real meaning of the NIE, and that is cause for celebration – and yet much more remains to be done. The national security community has done its part, and now it is time for the politicians to step up to the plate and show their own independence from the most powerful lobby in the foreign policy realm. As a species, politicians are hardly known for their courage – and yet, now more than ever, we need patriots to come forward and make their views known. HR 1400, introduced by Rep. Lantos and passed by the House in late September, bars all Iranian products in the US and greatly narrows the range of allowable exports. This must be rescinded, at the very least, in response to this new information: or are we saying that the Iranian people must be punished no matter what their government does?

Where are the presidential candidates on this? Only two have said all along that Iran poses no threat to us, and that we must trade goods, not threats, with a nation of some 50 million souls. Only two have spoken out and said the Iranian people are not our enemies, and denounced the rush to war: Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. Will at least some of the other Democrats now step up to the plate and give us their unvarnished assessment in light of this new evidence from our own government? I’m afraid they must be talking in awfully low voices, because I can hardly hear a peep out of any of them.…

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