I’m glad that the United States and Iran reached an agreement in Vienna after nearly two years of negotiations and 35 years of enmity. A failure to do so under present political conditions would certainly have left a festering conflict with unpredictably bad consequences. And the successful negotiation of such a far-reaching agreement in which both sides made significant concessions should help to moderate the extreme hostility that has been building up in the United States over the years.
But my enthusiasm for the agreement is tempered by the fact that the US political process surrounding the Congressional consideration of the agreement is going to have the opposite effect. And a big part of the problem is that the Obama administration is not going to do anything to refute the extremist view of Iran as determined to get nuclear weapons. Instead the administration is integrating the idea of Iran as rogue nuclear state into its messaging on the agreement.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday makes the administration’s political strategy very clear. In two sentences, Kerry managed to combine the images of Iranian-supported terrorism and sectarian violence across the entire region and Iranian determination to get nuclear weapons. He told the Committee about the administrations plans to “push back against Iran’s other activities – against terrorism support, its contribution to sectarian violence in the Middle East,” which he called “unacceptable”. Then he added: “But pushing back against an Iran with nuclear weapons is very different from pushing back against Iran without one.”
The administration’s determination to be just as alarmist about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions as its opponents creates a US political discourse on the Iran nuclear issue built around two dueling narratives that disagree about the effect of the agreement but have one politically crucial common denominator: they both hold it as beyond debate that Iran cannot be trusted because it wants nuclear weapons; and the only question is whether and for how long that Iranian quest for nuclear weapons can be held off without war.
The Israeli line is that the agreement is merely a temporary lull, and that it will simply embolden Iran to plan for a bomb once the agreement expires ten years hence. But for the administration’s tough-minded diplomatic efforts, Iran would have continued advancing towards getting a nuclear weapon, and that the only alternative to the agreement is war with Iran. (more…)
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s announcement of a deal between world powers and Iran, drivers of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are expressing certainty that Iran’s alleged “nuclear weapons program” and “malign activities” pose a grave threat—issuing warnings that analysts say sound eerily similar to their now-discredited claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” more than a decade ago.
But despite the fact that George W. Bush and top aides are known to have told nearly 1,000 lies about WMDs, many of the people who created and repeated this narrative still hold offices and prominent platforms.
On Tuesday, these individuals were busy using their positions to raise the alarm about the accord, which has been championed by civil society groups around the world, including from within Iran, as an important step towards relief from devastating sanctions and away from military escalation and potentially war.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday night: “What Obama has done, has in effect sanctioned, the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability. And it can be a few years down the road. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s a matter of months until we’re going to see a situation where other people feel they have to defend themselves by acquiring their own capability. And that will, in fact, I think put us to closer to use—actual use—of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.”
This statement echoed apocalyptic predictions Cheney made in the lead up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, like these remarks to the August 2002 Veterans for Foreign Wars convention: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
Cheney is not alone in spinning this narrative. GOP presidential candidate and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg on Tuesday that the Iran deal is “incredibly dangerous for our national security, and it’s akin to declaring war on Sunni Arabs and Israel by the P5+1 because it ensures their primary antagonist Iran will become a nuclear power and allows them to rearm conventionally.”
This is the same man who, on March 2, 2003, told Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein is “lying, Tim, when he says he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. For 12 years now, we’ve been playing this game, trying to get this man to part with his weapons of mass destruction.”
Graham’s close colleague Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement Tuesday which denounced the deal as “delusional and dangerous,” declaring it “will strengthen Iran’s ability to acquire conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, while retaining an industrial scale nuclear program, without any basic change to its malign activities in the Middle East.”
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist organization,” McCain told Face the Nation on February 16, 2003. “They have common cause in trying to destroy the United States of America.”
While the people behind the 2003 Iraq War are not running the White House today, their spin is influencing media discourse and the political positions of the mainstream Republican Party and some Democrats. In fact, claims about Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” are central to arguments against the deal, including from lobbyists and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is despite the fact that there is no public evidence supporting their claims that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
“There is a parallel between claims about the certainty that Saddam Hussein had WMDs—claims that have long been debunked by United Nations inspections—and claims about Iran, where you have a scenario in which you have a debate on how dangerous Iran’s nuclear weapons program is, as if Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. “In fact all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies from 2007 to 2012 have agreed that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons programs and has not even made a decision whether or not it wants nuclear weapons.”
“Every time anyone gets on Fox News or NBC or NPR and references Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they are pretty much never challenged,” Bennis continued. “It goes into the normal discourse that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it is dangerous, and we have to stop it. It becomes normalized, when it is such a clear fallacy.”
These lies are important, because Congress could still sink the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. Thanks to recently-passed legislation, the U.S. House and Senate will have 60 days to review the final agreement. If lawmakers were to vote against the agreement, and amass the votes to override a presidential veto, Obama’s hands would be tied on sanctions relief and the deal would fail.
“These people want a war with Iran, but they cannot say so because of the fiasco with Iraq,” Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California and editor of the online Iran News & Middle East Reports, told Common Dreams. “So what happens is they oppose negotiations, which means more sanctions and eventually war. This is just as it happened in Iraq: massive sanctions that harmed ordinary people, and then war.
“The same talking points used against Iraq are being more-or-less used against Iran,” added Sahimi. “In Iran’s case they have already turned out to be false.”
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