Deconstructing Neoconservatives’ Manifesto for War With Iran

Ever since Donald Trump entered the presidential campaign of 2016, he has been attacking the July 2015 agreement that Iran signed with P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Calling it "a horrible agreement;" "the stupidest deal of all time," and "the worst deal ever," the President has been trying to find an excuse to take the United States out of the agreement. Finding such an excuse has not, however, been easy because the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has continuously certified that Iran has abided by its obligations under the JCPOA, the most recent of which was announced on 31 August.

In search of an excuse for leaving the JCPOA, the Trump administration dispatched Nikki R. Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, Austria, in order to convince the IAEA to demand inspecting Iran’s military sites. But, Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the IAEA, vigorously defended his agency’s work in Iran, declaring that, "The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under [the JCPOA] are being implemented. The verification regime in Iran is the most robust regime which currently exists. We have increased the inspection days in Iran, we have increased inspector numbers … and the number of images [taken from Iran’s nuclear sites] has increased. From a verification point of view, it is a clear and significant gain." Haley then delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the same "think thank" that played a leading role in deceiving the American people to support the illegal invasion of Iraq, in which she laid out the Administration’s "arguments" for leaving the nuclear agreement. The speech, which was reminiscent of the arguments before invasion of Iraq in 2003, was replete with lies, exaggerations and innuendoes and outside the neoconservatives and Israel lobby convinced no one. Then, on 19 September the President went on ranting at the UN, calling the JCPOA "embarrassing" to the United States, and threatening to scuttle it.

But, the most comprehensive plan of action for leaving the JCPOA and eventually going to war with Iran was proposed by John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN and Assistant Secretary of State during the first term of President George W. Bush. For years Bolton has been advocating bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, either by Israel, the US, or both. He is also a lobbyist for Mujahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MEK, also known as MOK), an Iranian opposition group that for years was listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, and is universally despised by the Iranian people for its collaboration with the regime of Saddam Hussein during Iran-Iraq war, and working with Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Bolton also has very cozy relations with anti-Muslim hate groups, which only goes to show the depth of the man’s mental state.

Bolton’s comprehensive plan of aggression (BCPOA) against Iran is built upon lies, exaggeration, warmongering, and twisting the truth. Let us consider the essence of his "arguments" one by one:

BCPOA: we must explain the grave threat to the US and our allies, particularly Israel.

What is the threat? Iran’s path to making nuclear bomb – if it ever wanted to, for which there was no evidence – has been blocked. Iran gave up over 13,000 of its centrifuges that were enriching uranium; it stopped enriching uranium at 19.75 percent altogether; it demolished its under-construction heavy water nuclear reactor in Arak; it put its heavy water plant under the IAEA supervision and inspection (even though it did not have to); it converted its uranium enrichment facility in Fordo, which had been built under a mountain and could not be bombed, to a research facility; it shipped out its 10 tons of enriched uranium, and it signed and implemented the Additional Protocol that has granted the IAEA access to any site in Iran that it deems necessary to inspect. Iran’s air force belongs to museums. Iran’s army is equipped with the 1970s and 1980s armaments, and this is while the US and its allies have sold hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf.

BCPOA: The JCPOA’s vague and ambiguous wording; its manifest imbalance in Iran’s direction; Iran’s significant violations and its continued, indeed, increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally….. We can bolster the case for abrogation by providing new, declassified information on Iran’s unacceptable behavior around the world.

What is the imbalance? What has Iran gained in return for all of its aforementioned practical concessions? Congress has imposed new sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration has been actively discouraging the European Union from doing business with Iran, and the Treasury Department has been dragging its feet for issuing new license for US corporations to enter Iran market. All of these represent actual violations of US obligations toward the JCPOA. Major European banks are still reluctant to get involved with Iranian banks, and over two years after signing of the agreement, Iran has attracted only a small amount of foreign investment, much less than what the Rouhani administration had hoped for.

What are the ambiguous wordings of the JCPOA? The 159 page document covers every aspect of Iran’s nuclear program. Every word, every letter, and every comma in it was negotiated with much intensity. It is Bolton’s own claim that is vague and imprecise.

What are Iran’s "significant violations"? The IAEA has certified continuously Iran has abided by its obligations. Iran twice exceeded its limit on heavy water, but after the IAEA pointed them out, it quickly rectified the problem. Note also that, in the absence of a heavy water nuclear reactor, heavy water has no use. Once again, Bolton has resorted to exaggeration, at best, and outright lie, at worst.

And, what are Iran’s "increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally"? Bolton is silent, but he is presumably referring to Iran’s intervention in Iraq and Syria, and its alleged support of the Houthis in Yemen. It was the Iraqi government that asked Iran for help after Daesh (also known as the ISIS and ISIL) suddenly took over large part of its territory in June 2014. Moreover, the Shiite-led government in Baghdad came to power after US invasion of that nation. If it were not for Iran’s help, Baghdad would have fallen to Daesh in 2014. Iran (and Russia) should not have intervened in Syria, but after Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, not to mention the United States, first intervened in Syria, as acknowledged by Joe Biden in his speech at Harvard University, and by Hillary Clinton in her 17 August 2014 e-mail to her confidante John Podesta, who could blame Iran? Never mind that Iran and Syria have a mutual defense treaty. As for Yemen, all objective experts and analysts believe that Iran has not given any large-scale aid to the Houthis (it could not, anyway, given that Yemen has been blockaded by Saudi Arabia, the US, and their allies); that before Saudi Arabia began its war crimes in Yemen, Iran was not really interested in their small and poor nation, and that the Houthis are not Iran’s "puppets."

BCPOA: unlike the JCPOA, the provisions of which shield Iran’s ongoing efforts to develop deliverable nuclear weapons.

What "ongoing efforts to develop deliverable nuclear weapons?" This is an outrageous lie, given the aforementioned concessions by Iran, and the fact that even hardliners, such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, support JCPOA. Bolton is willing to fabricate any lie in order to make his point.

BCPOA: The Administration’s explanation in a "white paper" should stress the many dangerous concessions made to reach this deal, such as allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium; allowing Iran to operate a heavy-water reactor; and allowing Iran to operate and develop advanced centrifuges while the JCPOA is in effect.

These are, once again, lies. Iran only had one heavy-water reactor under construction, but after signing JCPOA, it destroyed it. Iran can enrich uranium only at very low levels, 3-5 percent, which cannot be used for any bomb making activities. Iran is not allowed to operate its advanced centrifuges, but can only carry out limited research on their further developments.

BCPOA: Utterly inadequate verification and enforcement mechanisms and Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of military sites also provide important reasons for the Administration’s decision.

It is not clear what type of inspection regime Bolton considers as "adequate." Apparently, he wants to prove a negative, which means that every inch of Iran’s territory must be inspected. I suppose Bolton, who has no expertise or experience with inspecting a nuclear program, and is simply a lying propagandist for the US neocons, believes that he knows better than the IAEA to inspect Iran’s nuclear program.

Bolton’s reference to military sites is pure nonsense and hyperbole. The Additional Protocol stipulates that the IAEA can request access to such sites in order to resolve questions about undeclared nuclear materials and activities. However, the IAEA can only do so if it has credible evidence, which is currently nonexistent, and even then it is allowed only to carry out "location-specific environmental sampling" at or near the suspected sites. What Bolton wants is scrapping all international agreements, so that his thirst for war can be satisfied.

The JCPOA also has provisions regarding this issue. Section Q of Annex 1 of the JCPOA stipulates that if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or "activities inconsistent with the JCPOA" at undeclared sites, it can request access to such a site. Section T of the same Annex contains commitments regarding various activities relevant to developing a nuclear warhead. Thus, the IAEA can, in principle, demand access to any site where it suspects such activities may be going on. But, the demand for access must be based on credible evidence. The Trump administration has no such evidence, but Bolton and the Administration want to push for visits to military sites, not because there is any evidence justifying the demand, but rather to have Iran rightfully reject it, so that they can claim that Iran has "violated" its obligation, or that it has something to hide. The goal is to justify creating a new "reality," as Bolton puts it, akin to what George W. Bush administration tried to do by creating its own nonexistent "reality."

In his demand for inspecting Iran’s military sites, Bolton is supported by the usual suspects; the so-called experts, such as David Albright and his non-jihadi ISIS that has, nevertheless, been waging a jihad against Iran and its peaceful nuclear program. Albright, the expert of "last resort" for the neocons such as Bolton, together with his usual gang, issued a statement demanding the revival of an old issue that was resolved with the JCPOA, namely, visiting the Parchin site 35 km southeast of Tehran that has been producing conventional ammunition for Iran since 1930s.

After all of his lies, exaggerations, and fabricated stories, Bolton begins his BCPOA for abrogating the JCPOA. This part of his proposal is sheer fantasy. It is as if the world has forgotten about his lies and those of other neocons about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. It is as if the world does not know that Bolton and his neocon comrades are ultimately responsible for the bloodshed and destruction in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan that have been going on for over 16 years. His suggestions include explaining "why the deal is harmful to US national interests." Never mind the interest of the rest of the world, the JCPOA is in true national interests of the US

In his fantasy world Bolton also believes that the US can fool the rest of the world. He states that if the US abrogates the JCPOA, "Iran is not likely to seek further negotiations once the JCPOA is abrogated, but the Administration may wish to consider rhetorically leaving that possibility open in order to demonstrate Iran’s actual underlying intention to develop deliverable nuclear weapons, an intention that has never flagged." So, not only does Bolton, in his utter imbecility, believe that "rhetoric" alone would do the "trick;" he also wants to use it to demonstrate Iran’s intention to develop "deliverable nuclear weapons." How the two are connected is beyond my comprehension.

As usual, Bolton also demonstrates his hatred of the UN and international treaties that has always been part of his thinking in fantasy land. As part of his fantasy proposal Bolton demands that "unilateral US sanctions should be imposed outside the framework of Security Council Resolution 2231 so that Iran’s defenders cannot water them down." So, surprisingly, Bolton actually recognizes that Iran does have its own defenders, which goes against all of his rhetoric regarding building an international coalition against Iran. Over the past several days, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, made it clear to President Trump that they vigorously support the JCPOA.

Bolton’s plan is also crude and cruel. He demands ending "all visas for Iranians, including so called "scholarly," student, sports, or other exchanges." As Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden admitted, it is Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni Arab states of the Middle East that supported Daesh and other terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia citizens make up the second largest group among the Daesh terrorists; they constituted 40-45 percent of all foreign fighters that went to Iraq to fight with the U.S. forces after Iraq was occupied, and they are more likely than citizens of any other Muslim country to join the terrorist groups. 15 out of 19 terrorists that were responsible for the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were Saudi citizens, and yet it is the Iranian people that should be punished.

Why do Bolton and the neoconservatives hate Iran so unabashedly? They have made it clear that they believe the US should rule the world. They disguise this wish under the term "US leadership." To them, international treaties and organizations are useful only to the extent that they protect and advance what they consider as the US interests, which are almost never the true national interests of the United States. Bolton and the neoconservative have never seen a war that they have not liked it. They see Iran not as a threat to the national security of the United States – which Iran is not – but as an impediment to US imperial ambitions for completely dominating the Middle East and its natural resources. This, and only this, is the reason for the neoconservatives constantly trying to provoke a war with Iran.

Muhammad Sahimi is a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. For the past two decades he has published extensively on Iran’s political developments and its nuclear program. He was a founding lead political analyst for the website PBS/Frontline: Tehran Bureau, and has also published extensively in major websites and print media. He is also the editor and publisher of Iran News and Middle East Reports and produces a weekly commentary for broadcasting that can be watched at http://www.ifttv.com/muhammad-sahimi.

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Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.