Getting Ready to Attack: 2006 and 2018
THE IRAN DILEMMA:
GOING BEYOND MILITARISM AND NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION
For Athens’ People for Peace and Justice
May 8, 2006
I am sending out as the first of a two-part post the following presentation notes, though I compiled them 12 years ago, because they have relevance and provide some background for understanding and opposing the current saber-rabbling of Trump and his war-mongering advisers as they look for an opportunity to justify a military attack on Iran. George Bush II was then in the White House and he and his neoconservative advisers were also looking for an excuse back in 2006 to launch a military attack on Iran. This is exactly what Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, and others close to the president want now. They are contending that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by the unprecedented multilateral agreement signed on July 14, 2015 by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, France, Russia, China and the US) plus Germany, because, they claim, it has too many loopholes. And, following in the steps of Bush, the present Trumpian White House crew raises other issues designed to demonize Iran’s regime, arguing that the country’ leaders support terrorist groups in Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen, that it supports the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, that the Iran government represses its people, and that it is a threat to Israel and the stability of the region. This is all part of the neocon narrative, which represents the right-wing segment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The record of Iran’s government is open to criticism that is factually accurate and in context, but don’t expect that from an administration that creates its own facts as part of a self-serving rationale for war. While Trump’s lackeys claim that Iran has not lived up to its side of the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified in 11 reports since January 2016 that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. The IAEA has the responsibility under the 2015 agreement for conducting intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy facilities. Just one last point. Trump seems closer in 2018 to launching a war with Iran than Bush did in 2006.
I refer in parentheses in a few places to pages from a larger document that identifies the sources and evidentiary support for these notes. If you would like a copy, let me know.
My 2006 PRESENTATION NOTES
While I am not an expert, I read and try to keep informed about our international policies in those parts of the world where the US government is intervening militarily or threatening to do so. I am also concerned about nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon proliferation, and the cataclysmic specter of nuclear war.
The military intervention and nuclear issues come together in a bellicose response by the Bush administration over what the administration is defining as a major crisis involving Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
I am opposed to any US military intervention against Iran. My reading has led me to believe that it would be foolhardy and very costly to the US economically and militarily, would provide momentum for the further consolidation of an imperial presidency and the stifling of democracy here in the US, would have devastating consequences for Iran, would likely generate more conflict across the Middle East, and would likely strengthen the position of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and across the Middle East.
I think that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop the capability to generate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Personally, though, I don’t like the idea of nuclear power to generate electricity, because of the dangers of accidents at nuclear plants, the accumulation of highly radioactive waste at these plants, the lack of effective means to dispose of nuclear waste, the contamination of soil and water sources around nuclear plants, the lack of options for what to do with highly contaminated nuclear plants when they are too old to go on operating, the vulnerability of nuclear facilities to terrorist attacks, and the increased chance that terrorists will be able to obtain materials for the construction of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, the NPT is the foundational document internationally for stopping nuclear weapons’ proliferation and for phasing out the nuclear weapons stockpiles that exist.
As I’ve tried to understand this Iranian crisis, I’ve done what I usually do, that is, I try to identify the main issues, understand how they are logically interrelated, and assemble information on these issues. In the process, I formulate a personal position, one that I feel comfortable in defending, at least until there is persuasive evidence to the contrary.
There are three main sections of the larger outline and notes that I have assembled. At this point, the work is still in need of a careful editorial scrutiny and continual updating. Nonetheless, I think there is some value in its present form. It identifies many key issues in a logical format and thus provides some background for making decisions about what stance and action from peace groups may be appropriate. Here I present a short outline with highlights from the larger work.
The first section of my presentation focuses on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and some related issues. I think that we have to have some understanding of this treaty, since, whatever its limitations, it provides the basic legal framework for limiting, reducing, and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, while at the same time allowing for the development of peaceful nuclear power. (pp. 1-8) [Distribute copies of the treaty.]
• 188 countries have signed it (p. 1)
• The International Atomic Energy Agency is given the authority to monitor the nuclear facilities of signatories
• The NPT has no enforcement provision, although violations may be referred to the UN Security Council for action if there is concern that there is an imminent threat to other countries
• Article IV of the NPT allows signatories to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
• Article VI – the disarmament provision – requires countries with nuclear weapons to eliminate these weapons (p. 2). It can be argued that the US is in violation of this provision.
• There are at least four nuclear powers that have not signed the NPT – Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The US has diplomatic relations and other relations with three of the four illegal nuclear powers. Even though India is a nuclear renegade, the Bush administration has recently entered into an agreement with India to provide it with nuclear components for its nuclear power plants. India has the capacity to enrich uranium for both peaceful and military purposes. There is no way to keep India using nuclear components for military purposes, even when an agreement prohibits this. And the Bush administration could care less in India’s case.
• The Associated Press reported on Sunday (May 7, 2006) that Iran has threatened to quit the NPT, which it has a right to do under Article X of this treaty.
What stands stand out for me about the NPT and the controversy over Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
• 1) Iran is entitled to develop nuclear energy for peaceful ends, although “it did not declare its uranium enrichment activities and heavy water production, discovered in 2002, to the IAEA” (Thierry de Montbrial, “Bush’s Failure in the Middle East,” http://www.truthout.org May 3, 2006).
• 2) The Bush administration contends that Iran cannot be trusted for various reasons, and therefore Article IV of the NPT should not apply to Iran and the country should be kept from developing a nuclear power capability. In identifying Iran as an untrustworthy rogue state, the Bush administration seeks to divert attention from its hypocritical, double-standard approach to countries that have nuclear weapons.
• 3) The US has been hoping to legitimate its belligerent stance toward Iran within the framework of the NPT and through the UN. Administration officials claim that Iran is hiding its nuclear developments from the IAEA.
• 4) From what we read about the administration’s approach to Iran, it does not matter to Bush and his advisors whether Iran is in compliance with the NPT (Article IV) or not, and, in the final analysis, it does not matter what the Security Council decides. The administration appears determined to use whatever means it can to prevent Iran from having any nuclear capability.
The second, and largest, section of the presentation focuses on the Iran crisis. It begins on page 8 and goes to page 64. There are two parts. The first part (pp. 8-24) provides in a chronology of key developments that have produced the Iran “crisis.” The second part (pp. 24-64), addresses nine questions/issues, some of which I have already touched on.
The chronology – I’ll leave it up to those who have an interest in this to check it out themselves. There are several points about the chronology, especially very recent developments, which are worth quickly referring to. The recent developments include:
• The IAEA has not found any evidence of an Iranian capacity to build nuclear weapons after lengthy and extended inspections.
• Nonetheless, the US is trying to persuade the UN Security Council to invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter and impose sanctions, while keeping open the possible use of military force later. Chapter VII would make compliance by Iran mandatory and punishable by sanctions if violated.
• The Russian and Chinese delegates at the Security Council oppose sanctions or military options.
• The Iranians have improved slightly their ability to enrich uranium for its nuclear power program, but they are still far from having the capability to enrich uranium that would be for nuclear weapons.
• In anticipation of a stalemated Security Council, the US, with Britain, and France are developing an agreement independently of the Security Council to support a resolution to impose economic sanctions on Iran, and to keep the door open to military intervention. In this case, the US would mobilize another “coalition of the willing” to toe the line of US belligerency.
The basic analysis: Nine questions and tentative answers for why we should oppose any US military action against Iran as well as economic sanctions.
1) What is the status of Iran’s nuclear program? Many experts believe that Iran is five to ten years away from being able to build nuclear weapons. Some Israelis think Iran could have nuclear bombs in less than five years. The Iranians are obviously making technological progress and are now able, for the first time, to enrich small quantities of uranium, which moves them closer to the point of being able to produce energy for peaceful purposes. They are still a long way from being able to enrich weapons grade uranium. (pp. 24-25)
2) Within the present NPT framework, does Iran have the right to develop a nuclear power capacity? Yes. Article IV of the NPT is the operative provision.
3) Iran has consistently claimed that it will not divert materials from its non-military nuclear facilities for the development of nuclear weapons. Can we believe them? (pp. 25-26)
• Diversion is possible at some point in 5-10 years to come.
• The US says, if Iran has the opportunity, it will divert. The IAEA say it doesn’t know. How do US officials know? They don’t.
• There is no hard evidence at present that Iran is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty itself. All of its known activities with respect to nuclear research conform to what is permitted under the treaty.
4) Whatever Iran’s goals for the future, there are understandable reasons why Iran would want to develop a nuclear-weapons capacity at some future point. What are they? (pp. 27-29) Here are just four examples:
• “It is surrounded by countries with weapons of mass destruction: including Russia, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which have nuclear weapons (as well as chemical and probably biological weapons capabilities), Syria and Egypt, both of which have chemical weapons, and Turkey, with its NATO-based nuclear weapons and massive military capacities.”
• “There are now  200,000 US and allied troops in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. The US has military bases almost completely ringing Iran in Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgzstan.”
• “…US nuclear weapons deployment in and around the Persian Gulf, especially through the presence of the US Fifth Fleet in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, represent a constant threat to Iran.”
• “The US declared Iran a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ in 2002 and claimed it has a right to ‘preventive war’ against such ‘evil’ states. This threat was subsequently carried out in the case of Iran’s neighbor Iraq.”
5) Why do the US and the others insist that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear capabilities? (pp. 29-37). I refer here to a series of contentions being made by officials from the Bush administration and neo-conservatives and refer to commentary and/or evidence that challenge these arguments. Let me refer to just one of them. The contention says that Iran is especially dangerous – a rogue state – “and will use nuclear weapons against Israel once it has them” and/or give them to terrorists to use against the US itself. Randal Mark disagrees with this view and offers the following reasons (source: Randal Mark, “Nonproliferation: From Noble Lie to Pretext for War,” http://www.antiwar.com March 21, 2006) and offers the following rebuttals:
• “…the modern Iranian regime has never invaded any other country”
• “Such support as it has given to Hezbollah and other resistance groups fighting Israel should be compared with US support for the Contras in Nicaragua” – such activities have been very focused and will be evaluated variously depending on one’s perspective.
• [Iran has never transferred any of its more potent weapons to its fighting friends….Hezbollah has received more than 10,000 Katyusha rockets…as well as long-range mortars that can hit Haifa, and even an unmanned aerial drone. These weapons can and have drawn Israeli blood. But the blister, choking and nerve agents in Iran’s arsenal have been withheld, as have longer range, more accurate missiles” (Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, “Cautious Iran,” The Christian Science Monitor, www,csmonitor.com/2006/0503/p09s02-coop.htm, May 5, 2006).]
• [MSNBC headlines a May 3 report, “Iranian military rejects statement that Israel would be first target if US attacks,” May 4, 2006.]
• “It is a very unpleasantly authoritarian, but moderately democratic and reasonably stable, regime.”
On pages 34-37, I ask the question of what effect the administration’s position has had on public opinion. The most recent poll I have is from CNN (April) found that “Nearly two thirds (63 percent) urged that only economic and diplomatic efforts be undertaken; 21 percent recommended taking no action at all and 3 percent said they had not opinion.” Only 13% of those polled recommended military action now. (p. 37)
6) Does the US have a “hidden agenda”? (pp. 37-40). There is no definitive answer to this question. Nonetheless, I refer to sources that examine plausible reasons for why the Bush administration has not given up the option of military intervention in Iran.
• Divert the public’s attention away from Iraq.
• Control the region’s oil.
• Protect the dollar as the currency for trading in oil
• Ideological zealotry – there is an example on pp. 39-40 from Gareth Porter of how an attempt to develop a formal Iran policy was thwarted in 2002-2003
• [Attempt to eliminate a potential rival to Israel.]
• [Eliminate a state that is defined as unfriendly and prevent it from consolidating its control of a major source of oil and limit its agreements with China to develop some of the Iranian oil fields]
7) What are the near-term options open to the US and others who don’t want Iran to have any nuclear capability? (pp. 40-52). The Bush administration has seemingly already rejected #1, #2, and #3.
• 1) continue diplomatic efforts in hopes of persuading Iran from acquiring any nuclear capability;
• 2) continue diplomatic efforts, combined with inspections and monitoring by the IAEA, with the goal of limiting Iran’s nuclear capability;
• 3) let Iran develop its nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes.
The Bush administration has pretty much given up on diplomatic solutions to the crisis and would like now to have the UN Security Council impose economic sanctions on Iran. However, the Bush administration has not been willing to become directly involved in negotiations with Iran, so it hasn’t put the diplomatic option to a real test. But there are many sources that believe that diplomacy is a viable option. For example, The Nation editors advance this position in the May 22, 2006, issue of the magazine, and “Carnegie Endowment President Jessica Tuchman Matthews laid out in a march 21 New York Times editorial what the US has to do to get negotiations going on the nuclear question; most importantly, dropping preconditions on negotiations and dropping regime change ambitions” (cited in Elizabeth Spiro Clark, “Slouching Toward Tehran,” http://www.tompaine.com/print/slouching_towards_tehran.php).
At the same time, the administration has never given up the military option, which the President believes is a decision he can make independently of the US Congress. This raises serious constitutional questions. With diplomacy all but dismissed, the options of “regime change,” sanctions, and/or some sort of military intervention remain on the table as far as the Bush administration is concerned.
• 4) have the Security Council impose sanctions at some point if Iran fails to convince the IAEA that it has any uranium enrichment capabilities;
• 5) provide support to opposition groups within Iran with the goal of regime change;
• 6) intervene militarily in Iran with selective air strikes;
• 7) intervene militarily with a full-scale attack;
On pp. 42-52, I discuss the evidence that the Bush administration is seriously considering the use of the military option.
• The Bush administration keeps saying the military option for Iran remains under consideration.
• Some evidence that the US military is already making incursions into Iran.
• The Bush administration has not ruled out a preventive-strike against Iran.
• The US is prepared to launch an air attack against selected targets in Iran.
• Some think the US might even use nuclear bombs in an invasion of Iran. There is contingency planning in the DOD regarding the use of nuclear weapons in an attack on Iraq.
• The US military is going ahead with testing of large bombs that are related to the development of tactical nuclear weapons. According to a report by Robert Gehrke for The Sale Lake Tribune, “A powerful blast scheduled at the Nevada Test Site in June is designed to help war planners figure out the smallest nuclear weapon able to destroy underground targets.” The planned detonation is called Devine Strike, and has the goal of generating data to allow military authorities to select “’the smallest possible nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage,’ according to Defense Department budget documents.”
• [The human costs of dropping a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran are “astronomical”: “The National Academy of Sciences studied these earth-penetrating nuclear weapons last year. They could ‘kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas,’ concluded the report, which was sponsored by the US Department of Defense.” See the article for further studies. (Matthew Rothschild, “The Human Costs of Bombing Iran,” http://progressive.org.node/3268 April 11, 2006 – Original source: The Progressive magazine.)
8) What are the potential costs to the US of a military assault on Iran? (pp. 52-60)
• Further loss of US credibility. The Editors of Monthly Review point out “There is every reason to believe that opposition to a US ‘preventive war’ against the people of Iran is almost universal outside the US, while tens of millions of people inside the US itself oppose such an expansion of the Middle East Conflict” (April 2006).
• Threatening or attacking Iran would violate international law
• An attack on Iran would likely be unconstitutional, without the support of Congress.
• Iran is in much better position than Iraq was to respond to a US attack (consider the following two points).
• E.g., Iran has the means to launch a devastating retaliation with conventional weapons, including its Shahab-3 missiles, which can reach targets in Israel with reasonable accuracy. And Iran has other military options, including intervention on the Shiite side in Iraq, which could turn the disastrous US occupation there into a worse nightmare, with skyrocketing casualties. Iran could also vastly increase its support to Islamist resistance forces in the Palestinian territories and to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
• E.g., An Israeli or US attack on Iran would almost certainly strengthen Islamist tendencies throughout the region as well as put intense pressure on Arab governments to react much more strongly against the United States and Israel. And heightened threats against Iran would only strengthen the hard-liners there. By all accounts, Iranians–even those who detest the mullahs–overwhelmingly support their country’s nuclear ambitions.
• A US attack on Iran would be costly and destabilizing and lead to a protracted war in the region.
• A US invasion of Iran would drive oil prices soaring.
• US military is already over-stretched and is not prepared for another extended conflict.
• A US attack on Iran would strengthen China’s growing influence in the region.
9) Can we live with an Iran that has nuclear weapons? Can the world tolerate it? (pp. 60-64). It’s better to live with an Iran that seems determined to develop a nuclear capacity than to intervene militarily against Iran.
• We must bear in mind that Iran is some years away from having the capability to build nuclear bombs.
• What effect would Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons have on the proliferation of such weapons? (a) Saudi Arabia and Syria might want them but neither country has the resources – and they would likely be pressured to give up the idea; (b) Turkey might feel pressure to match Iraq and acquire its own nuclear weapons – “but EU pressure would almost certainly prevent any movement in that direction”; (c) It might make the US less reckless in its use of military force in the Middle East; (d) It might force Israel to the negotiating table for real.
• Iran’s has demonstrated moderation and pragmatism in its foreign policy of recent years, as national interests and strategic calculations have taken precedence over ideology. (See examples on pp. 61-63.)
The Third Section: Some positions worth defending and advancing.
We don’t want Iran or any other non-nuclear country to build or retain nuclear bombs. We also don’t want the US to invade or bomb Iran? What then do we want? It may be useful to clarify what we think are reasonable goals that would redirect US policy way from the sanctions and military options and that would pave the way for the reversal of nuclear proliferation.
(1) Set an Example. The US must take the lead and set an example by reducing its nuclear stockpile, ceasing development of new nuclear weapons, and opening itself up to independent international inspections. – “… non-proliferation by cooperation and consent, cannot succeed as long as the United States is insistent on retaining and improving its nuclear arsenal and allowing its allies to have these weapons. By what argument can others be persuaded to give up, or not acquire, nuclear weapons? The only hope lies in a mutual recognition that all nuclear weapons are created equally evil, and there should be no room in our world for such weapons of mass destruction.”
(2) Diplomacy. In the meantime, support initiatives for genuine diplomacy with Iran – rather than sanctions or military intervention
Michael Klare says, further, that genuine negotiations on the U.S. side “means accepting Iran as a legitimate negotiating partner and approaching the issues in a professional manner. Negotiating with Tehran doesn’t mean endorsing the clerical regime; it simply means being prepared to reach a compromise that’s in everyone’s best interest. It requires shunning all talk of “regime change” and any inclination to use force.”
Another source: The U.S. and Iran should enter direct negotiations. It is simply absurd for the U.S. and the most important nation in the Middle East not to communicate directly. The Bush administration should not be seduced by exile groups with no support in Iran. Developing democracy is an internal affair.
(3) Support legislation that forces the Bush administration to consult with the US Congress before ever launching a military attack on Iran. For example, Congressman Peter DeFazio’s H.Con.Res.391 expresses “the sense of the Congress that the President should not initiate military action against Iran with respect to its nuclear program without first obtaining authorization from Congress.”
(4) Support the idea of a nuclear bomb free Middle East – I refer selected paragraphs of a plan quoted on pages 68-71 as follows:
• There are historical precedents, going back thirty or so years, for consideration of a nuclear-free Middle East region.
• “All nuclear weapons, weapons technology, weapons-usable material, and machinery that could produce such material would be prohibited. Outside powers would be prohibited from introducing weapons into the zone, and dual-use technology would be subject to IAEA safeguards. Nuclear power would not be excluded from the region, but each plant would have a resident international inspector who also could assume responsibility for monitoring the safe operation of the plant. Custodial responsibility for fresh fuel would rest with the provider country, which would repatriate the spent nuclear fuel.”
• “The IAEA would furnish first-tier enforcement through a new nuclear contraband elimination authority. In order to build confidence in the zone, inspectors’ responsibilities would be broadened. Each country or cluster of countries would be assigned resident inspectors, who would be free to visit declared, undeclared, or suspected nuclear sites and also sites containing dual-use technology. They would be granted the right to interview a country’s nuclear scientists as well. The authority would command its own fleet of surveillance aircraft modeled after the planes dedicated to the Open Skies regime, which the former Soviet Union and NATO negotiated, or the aerial surveillance that flew over Iraq. This surveillance would supplement intelligence provided by IAEA member states. These aircraft would have sensors capable of ferreting out suspect activity, which ground inspectors could then verify. Inspectors would have the authority to destroy or export contraband to disposal sites in the United States, Europe, or Russia.”
• But why should Israel bear the burden of Iran’s violation of the NPT? The sacrifice only makes sense if it is compensated appropriately. The challenge is to fashion a strategy to supplement the NWZ with compensation that will benefit all parties.
• NATO membership would offer Israel a key to increased security. For the first time in the Jewish state’s history, it would find itself under the strategic umbrella of a family of nations formally dedicated to its survival, an ambition that goes back to the founding of the state.  This, in turn, would ease the way for Israel to make territorial concessions with the Palestinians and Syrians and end the state of war.
• ….For the Mideast NWZ to work, Israel must be reassured. Under this proposal, NATO’s commitment to Israel’s nuclear defense would precede full membership and provide a nuclear deterrent. NATO-manned aircraft and ballistic missile defenses could counter Iran’s growing capacity. Full membership would add ground forces to assist in the defense of Israel’s permanent borders, once they were established as part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The lure of full membership would encourage this achievement. Following the precedent of excluding nuclear weapons on the territory of NATO’s new central European membership, the alliance would not place nuclear weapons on Israeli soil or territorial waters, hence preserving the NWZ.
(5) A long-term goal of ridding the world of nuclear power, civilian and military: The only solution at this stage is to impose a worldwide moratorium on the production of weapons-grade fissionable materials, and those materials already produced should be placed under strict international controls in all countries including our own. This would mean revising the NPT or replacing it with a stronger treaty.
(6) Support the proposal for an International Sustainable Energy Agency.
Source: Richard Falk and David Krieger, “The Non-Proliferation Treaty is Failing: What Now?” http://www.wagingpeace.org April 10, 2006
“….an International Sustainable Energy Agency should be immediately established and generously funded to extend aid to poorer countries to develop various types of sustainable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal). Such a step would both ease the prospects of a global energy crunch, and would contribute to environmental protection.
(7) Become informed, speak out, and educate others about the recklessness of the Bush administration’s policy on Iran.
(8) Become informed, speak out, and educate others about the importance of not only stopping nuclear proliferation but also eliminating existing stocks of nuclear weapons.