The announcement by the White House that a preliminary agreement with Iran has been reached on limiting their nuclear program – stopping enrichment of uranium beyond 3 percent, dismantling enrichment facilities, and increasing the pace and intrusiveness of IAEA inspections – sets the stage for a six-month-long drama, the end of which is impossible to predict. What we can say with certainty, however, is that failure is not an option – because, in that case, war would be almost inevitable.
The collapse of the negotiations would give Iranian hardliners a new lease on life – after their humiliating defeat in the recent presidential elections, which elevated reformer Hassan Rouhani to the presidency – and rule out any opening to America for a long time to come. It would also mean a huge victory for the War Party, and its powerful ally, the Israel lobby, in their longstanding efforts to pivot the US military from Iraq and Afghanistan to Iran, thus consolidating American hegemony in the very epicenter of the Middle East.
In short, the domestic political reverberations of such a failure would conspire to create the conditions for a military conflict, one that would have grave consequences not only for Iran but for the West as well. Economically, the results would be a horrendous increase in the price of oil – a hike that would send shockwaves through an already-fragile world economy and create little short of havoc in the US and Western Europe. Politically, the failure of the Geneva talks would empower the very forces in the US and Iran determined to halt any moves toward rapprochement: in America, this means the neoconservative wing of the GOP, the pro-Israel "national security progressives" in the Democratic Congress (of which there are all-too-many), and the constellation of pro-Israel lobbying groups whose longstanding veto power over the conduct of US foreign policy – which has only recently been successfully challenged – would be effectively restored.
What happens in the next six months is going to determine the trajectory of American power for the next sixty years: will it be a course of imperial decline, or one that takes a new road?
The odds are against any final agreement: one can make this calculation in light of the history of US-Iranian relations since the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, during which there have been no formal diplomatic relations between the two nations and the discourse followed a familiar pattern of denunciation, denial, and disincentives to rational discussion. The habit of confrontation, once established, is hard to break. In addition, there is the little matter of a high-powered Washington lobby with huge influence inside the Beltway dedicated to destroying any chances of a peaceful resolution of this ginned-up phony "crisis."
I say the alleged "crisis" is phony because our own intelligence community has authored a National Intelligence Estimate which concludes "with high confidence" that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and hasn’t resumed it. The War Party’s cries of panic are due to their substitution of Israeli estimates of Iranian nuclear progress for the American version – a vivid dramatization of just where their true loyalties lie. Do they trust their own CIA? Of course not! But they’ll take the Israelis’ word for anything, provided AIPAC and its affiliated political action committees keep sending those checks.
The main obstacle to a peace agreement with Iran is the existence and power of a lobby in the US that owes its allegiance to a foreign government, one whose interests in this case are diametrically opposed to America’s. This lobby wields its power not only in Congress, but also in the media and indeed in every key opinion-making sector of America life, including academia. While there are laws regulating this kind of activity carried out on behalf of foreign governments, an exception has been made for partisans of Israel, who are not compelled to register as foreign agents and who therefore have no limits placed on their activities.
This is part of the price we pay for our Empire. In a normal country, no foreign lobbyist would be permitted to accumulate as much clout as the Israelis have been allowed to stockpile in Washington: but an empire isn’t a normal country, and certainly America, the bloated world-spanning hegemon, is very far from normality. Think of it this way: it’s only natural for parasitic creatures to attach themselves to larger animals, and hitch a ride, so to speak, marrying their lives and ambitions to the greater mobility and protective coloration of a more powerful being. A problem arises, however, when this symbiosis threatens the health and safety of the host – and that is precisely what has happened in the case of the US-Israeli "special relationship."
Like most of our problems in the foreign policy realm, this one is inherited from the cold war era, when Israel and the US were arrayed against the Soviet Union and its allies in the Arab world. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, and the end of the cold war, America’s relationship with Israel had to change – except it didn’t. The reason it didn’t was the pervasive power and influence of the Israel lobby, which kept the subsidies coming, and, if anything, drew the US closer to Tel Aviv’s suffocating embrace.
The stage is now set for a titanic political battle in the US between the Israel lobby and an American President – and if you want to know what’s wrong with our foreign policy, and has been wrong with it for the past 25 years or so, then contemplate the odds of the latter winning. Because they aren’t all that great.
As news of progress toward an agreement leaked out, the War Party rallied its troops in Congress and prepared the "Iran Nuclear Free Weapon Act of 2013," which Jim Lobe rightly calls the "Wag the Dog Act." Quite aside from torpedoing the Geneva negotiations by insisting on a "no enrichment" line, the Act calls for the US to hand over its decision-making to Tel Aviv in the event Netanyahu carries out his threat to attack Iran unilaterally:
"…[I]f the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence."
Has it ever occurred in the history of the world that a nation has handed over the most jealously guarded aspect of its sovereignty – its capacity to go to war – to a foreign capital? Of the examples the informed student of history could point to, all are doubtless cases of powerless protectorates, the client states of dominant empires, which have in effect surrendered their sovereignty. Yet here we are speaking of the United States of America, militarily the strongest nation on earth – kowtowing before a tiny sliver of land that wouldn’t even exist but for our generosity.
It would be funny if the consequences weren’t so tragic – and bloody.
Anyone who votes for the Schumer-Menendez bill is a traitor to this country in the same way, and for the same reasons, as is Jonathan Pollard: they are undermining US national security in order to serve what they imagine are Israel’s interests. In a rational world, they and their collaborators would be subject to legal sanctions. Remember those two FBI raids on AIPAC’s Washington headquarters? A third visit to the premises would no doubt do wonders to clear out the nest of saboteurs and foreign agents who have found shelter there, but unfortunately this administration has a history that makes this highly unlikely.
In their efforts to undermine the Geneva pact and spark a war with Iran, the War Party is going to pull out all the stops: I wouldn’t put anything past them, including engineering a Gulf of Tonkin-style "incident." And remember: the pro-Israel lobby consists not just of Netanyahu’s American amen corner but also the Israeli government, which has the means and the methods to abet or create just such an incident, whether on Iranian soil, in the Persian Gulf – or quite possibly in the US itself, along these lines.
The stakes have never been higher. In the context of the present brouhaha over the revelations of Edward Snowden, a conflict with Iran would buttress the failing rationale for the Surveillance State – after all, we’re at war and we’ve got to keep a close watch on those Iranians. As Randolph Bourne – the namesake of our sponsoring organization – put it: "War is the health of the State." And you can bet your bottom dollar the Surveillance State will remain entrenched and grow in scope if the War Party succeeds in sabotaging Geneva, and getting the US to sign on to Israel’s holy war against Iran.
Yes, most Americans support the Geneva talks: the overwhelming majority are repulsed by the prospect of going to war with Iran. Yet this majority is largely silent, until it’s almost too late. The War Party may be in a minority, these days, but they’re vocal, they’re well-funded, and – most importantly – they’re well-organized. As for the peace camp, on the other hand – not so much.
For libertarians, and for all those fighting to save our old republic from the depredations of Power gone wild, there is no more important task in the months ahead than supporting the negotiations and stymieing the War Party’s efforts to derail them. What is needed is a repeat of the Great American Grassroots Uprising that took place when the President announced we were going to bomb Syria: the congressional switchboard lit up and the sounds of outraged constituents demanding a "No" vote were heard from coast to coast.
In the meantime, stay tuned to this space and Antiwar.com to keep up with the latest from Geneva – and the floor of the US Congress. The President has vowed to veto the Schumer-Menendez bill if it passes – but the number of endorsers is nearing the veto-proof mark of 67 votes, with only two Republican holdouts – Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Sen. Rand Paul, who nevertheless shows signs of wavering. Libertarian supporters of Sen. Paul’s emerging presidential campaign might want to remind him that their support is conditional on his efforts to keep us out of war (his Washington office would love to hear from you: 202-224-4343). Flake is a member of the quasi-libertarian Republican Liberty Caucus, and he may need a reminder as well (Here’s the number to call: 202-224-4521). And your own representatives no doubt would like to hear from you, too, so please don’t disappoint them.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.