The long-awaited first top level meeting in thirty years between US diplomats and their Iranian counterparts in Geneva is over but we are far from done with what promises to be a long, involved, and often quite scary drama, likely to unfold slowly-but-ominously over the next year. Odds are that, at this time in 2010, we’ll still be talking about Iran’s completely nonexistent nuclear weapons program, with rival versions of what Tehran is really up to battling it out within the administration and in the arena of public opinion. The opening shots of that war have been fired, and,while the War Party, spearheaded by the powerful Israel lobby, is bound and determined to strike at Iran, the news out of Geneva is not good for the "bomb bomb bomb Iran" crowd.
The Iranians, having preceded the negotiations with a fusillade of hard-line rhetoric and the testing of short-range missile, came out of the session touting the talks as "constructive" and sounding a lot more relaxed than when they went in. State-run Iranian television described the talks in positive terms and reiterated the desire of the Iranian government to broaden the scope of the discussions. The Americans, for their part, also characterized the talks as "constructive," yet tempered this generally optimistic tone with an oration by President Obama that reverted to lecture mode. It was a statement in which the word "must" was oft-repeated, and the imperious tone was effectively projected by a man whose bearing can surely be described as regal, as George W. Bush never was. Yet beyond the haughtiness, which seems reflexive, there was a significant concession: the President said, that Iran has the right to pursue the peaceful generation of nuclear power, "as all nations do."
This is a reference to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which accords the signatories that right: and indeed, the NPT framework loomed large in the President’s remarks, including his indirect reference to Israel’s refusal to sign that treaty. "This is not about double-standards," said Obama, "or singling Iran out," but of course that’s just what it’s about. At this very moment Israel has a great deal of its nuclear arsenal – containing at least 200 atom bombs– aimed straight at Tehran, as well as god-knows-how-many other Middle Eastern capitals. Who is threatening nuclear holocaust in the Middle East? It isn’t the Iranian mullahs, that’s for sure.
Unlike our last emperor, this one is no dummy: he knows perfectly well that Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction is the real issue that hangs over the entire region, a nuclear sword of Damocles in the hands of whatever rabid rightist holds the reins of power in Tel Aviv. Also unlike Bush, Obama is not beholden to the Israel lobby in the same way the Republicans were and are: not that Democrats are immune to the Lobby’s power. Far from it: on the eve of this apparent breakthrough in the US-Iranian stand-off, the Democratic majority in congress voted to impose sanctions on foreign companies that import gasoline into Iran.
Unlike the Bush White House (and the congressional Democratic majority), however, Obama can survive without the Lobby backing him, whereas the abandonment of a pro-Israel agenda by the GOP would decimate the ranks of their activist base (where dwell the Christian dispensationalists who have theological reasons for supporting Israel over and above the interests of their own country). The Democratic party base, on the other hand, is hostile to the idea of going to war against Iran – not that this will prevent the Lobby’s allies in the party from tamping down anti-interventionist sentiment. Witness the following extraordinary exchange between Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post web site was set up to reflect the view of the party’s liberal wing (Hollywood division), and Glenn Greenwald, the fearless civil libertarian and anti-interventionist whose enormously popular Salon.com column has earned him a reputation as the conscience of the progressive movement:
Arianna reiterates the Lobby’s talking points in a tone of bored condescension – "Iran is challenging the existential presence of Israel, they don’t accept the reality of the Holocaust," and they therefore "represent a major threat to Israel." According to the doyenne of limousine liberalism – just back from a trip to Israel — Iran must be subjected to draconian sanctions and possible invasion because they say nasty things about Israel. And she doesn’t even have her facts straight: anyone in the blogosphere who’s read Juan Cole’s translation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s infamous remarks, rather than MEMRI’s, knows that the usually over-the-top Iranian president was having one of his rare moments of calmness when he said Israel would "vanish from the page of time" — without war, as part of a natural process, just like the Soviet Union.
It was great watching Glenn Greenwald take Arianna apart with his hardheaded appeal to both realism and common sense – and his mention of the Unmentionable Israeli nuclear arsenal. Greenwald demolished her talking points, methodically and unmercifully, and he did it by simply sticking to the facts: look, he said, at what Iran and the US have actually done. It is the US that has occupied nations on Iran’s borders, in Iraq and Afghanistan, while you have to go back a thousand years to pin down the last time the Iranians (then the Persians) crossed their borders and invaded another country. It was the US that backed Saddam Hussein when he invaded Iran, in a war in which hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. So who is the real aggressor here?
Typically, Huffington framed her remarks in terms of Obama’s personal triumph in getting the Russians to go along with the fake outrage accompanying the Qom revelation: once a partisan hack always a partisan hack, and it doesn’t matter if, like Arianna, you’ve switched parties. Yes, the "international community" (i.e. the West) is "more united than ever," as she put it they all agree that Iran is the next target.
The reality, however, is quite different: the international community is very far from unified on the Iranian issue. The Russians and the Chinese are not going to go along with the "get Iran" lynch mob now lining up behind French President Sarkozy and the vehemently anti-Iranian Germans. More importantly, the Iraqis aren’t going to go along with it, either and good luck enforcing a blockade when goods can pass freely between Iraq and Iran. It can’t be done.
Our president knows this, and is by no means eager for a conflict with Iran: this is what has the Israelis furious with him, and it has the Lobby in a tizzy. The news out of Geneva – a face-to-face bilateral discussion on the margins of the conference, the surprise two-hour visit to Washington by the Iranian foreign minister, the added fillip that the Iranians will export some of their enriched uranium for medical purposes, and the good news that Qom will be open to inspectors very shortly – has the War Party in the doldrums. But don’t worry: they’ll bounce back soon enough. They always do.
We have much to look forward to in the coming months, as the propaganda war goes into full gear. First up: yet more "revelations" of supposed nuclear installations. The news out of Geneva was barely posted on the internet before stories of a top secret "parallel network" of clandestine nuclear sites began to circulate like autumn leaves in the wind. All offered without evidence – just the speculative theories of various "experts" with impressive-sounding titles, including the ubiquitous anonymous "officials" whispering sweet nothings into reporters’ ears.
The battle for public opinion is going to be decisive in the coming months, and that’s why Antiwar.com is more essential than ever. You can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be treated to more surprises – sudden "revelations" of "secret intelligence" that will somehow find its way into the spotlight – and instant debunking is going to be available right here. That’s what’s needed 24/7 in order to keep the War Party at bay.
It’s interesting to note, in this context, how Greenwald’s slap-down of Huffington ended: the "moderator," a MSNBC hack, intervened on the pretext that Greenwald had somehow impugned the "integrity" of the media by accusing them of demonizing Iran – while, at that very moment, unbeknownst to Greenwald, MSNBC was running scary captions underneath his image as he was speaking: "Iran: Defiant and Dangerous"! What hypocrites!