Pennsylvania State University's School of International Affairs and Law School are holding a seminar on Feb 18th (this coming Monday) on the subject of US-Iran relations (with Continuing Legal Ed credits, for you lawyers who need to get some CLE credits. Attendance is free everyone else.)
There will be a live webcast. (link below)
I wish I could attend but too short notice for me. However you can imagine how happy I am that we're hearing something other than the usual false conventional wisdom becoming mainstream. It has been a long time coming.
Symposium to consider potential outcomes of U.S.-Iran relationship
Thought leaders Flynt Leverett, professor at Penn State Law and School of International Affairs, and Hillary Mann Leverett, authors of the new book Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, will headline a symposium, “The U.S.-Iranian Relationship and the Future of International Order.” The event will assess how the course of U.S.-Iranian relations will affect the rules-based regimes and legal frameworks that shape international order in the 21st century. The Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs (JLIA) will sponsor the event, to be held in the Greg Sutliff Auditorium of the Lewis Katz Building in University Park, PA, with simulcast to Lewis Katz Hall in Carlisle, PA, on February 15, 2013, beginning at 9 a.m. A live webcast will also be available.
“Hillary and I wrote Going to Tehran out of a conviction that how Washington deals with Iran over the next few years will largely determine America’s standing as a great power, in the Middle East and globally, for at least the next quarter century," Leverett said. "We also recognized that the course of U.S.-Iranian relations will have enormous implications for the future of international order," he said.
Program highlights include:
The proceedings and related essays will be published in JLIA’s symposium issue slated for release in Fall 2013. Information on registering for the symposium can be found online.
Professor Leverett describes Going to Tehran as challenging much of the prevailing orthodoxy in Washington about Iran and how the United States should deal with it, offering a provocative but uniquely informed depiction of the Islamic Republic as a rational and fundamentally defensive political order that retains the support of most Iranians. The book also argues that the United States needs to come to terms with the Islamic Republic to avert strategic catastrophe in the Middle East. Before its publication, Going to Tehran was excerpted in Harper's, highlighted as a “New and Noteworthy” book by Politico, and featured in Foreign Policy’s “What to Read in 2013” list. Since then, the authors have given presentations at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, the East-West Institute (to be rebroadcast on C-Span), and Politics & Prose and have discussed Going to Tehran on CNN’s Newsroom, Andrew Sullivan’s “Ask Anything” video series, and HuffPost Live.
The Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs is a digital, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal, jointly published by Penn State's School of Law and School of International Affairs. The journal promotes academic and public discourse at the intersection of law and international affairs, featuring contributions in the areas of public and private international law, international relations, comparative law and politics, geography, economics, history, and policy issues in the various sciences.
The media are full of reports about how Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khamenei has 'rejected talks' with the US, trying to portray Iran as the unreasonably intransigent party in this standoff. But if you check the events just prior to this bit of news, you get a better sense of what actually happened:
JAN 31st 2013: Iran informs IAEA of plans to add 3,000 faster centrifuges to its main uranium enrichment facility
Feb 2: VP Joe Biden: “We have made it clear at the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership”
Feb 3: Iranian FM Salehi: “No red lines for talks”, “But we have to make sure … that the other side comes with authentic intentions with a fair and real intention to resolve the issue.”
Feb 6: Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen announces new sanctions on Iran to take effect.
Feb 7th: Iranian Supreme Leader: “You (US) should know that pressure and negotiations are not compatible and our nation will not be intimidated by these actions”
(Chronology by BibiJon)
The Guardian has an article that sets straight the mix-up over the Iranian "space monkey" photograph that caused a great deal of uproar lately, with accusations that Iran was hiding something by showing a different monkey, and so the entire space flight was just a hoax.
But, let's get the facts straight. The initial picture was merely an archive photo, taken of a monkey during a failed attempt in 2011. The Iranian student news agency (ISNA) had published the photo of the monkey with the red spot back two years ago. It is not unusual of Iranian agencies to publish archive pictures for current news and not provide a caption, leading to confusion among readers.
These things usually start by a bit of shoddy journalism, which is grabbed by the more anti-Iran news sources in the West that proceed to exaggerate the issue and combine it with screaming headlines about Iranian duplicity, turning what should have been a positive news story into yet more Iran-bashing.
Then there was the whole "Mysterious explosion at Fordo" report to consider. The report did not originate from Iranian media (it originated from a claim in a far-right conspiracy website, in an article written by a self-proclaimed former CIA spy in Iran's revolutionary guard named "Reza Khalili" who has made a career of making wild claims about Iran) in contrast to the space monkey story, but again there reason why the story got any traction was because it wasn't handled properly, so the conspiracy theorizing was allowed to run rampant until the IAEA and US govt denied the claims ... but by then the news cycle had turned over, and public opinion had already formed on the issue and had moved onto other things.
All of these things could be avoided with a bit of better basic journalistic practices. It is unnecessary to give opportunities, through negligence, to the opportunists.
The sad spectacle of Hagel's confirmation hearing once again shows that the Obama administration is not in any position to reach any sort of compromise with Iran, being totally restricted by Congress and the Pro-Israeli lobby. Iran simply has no negotiating partner under Obama, which is hampered by a Congress that fundamentally opposes Iran's "right to exist" as a sovereign, independent nation.
I just got home and had a chance to review Hagel's nomination hearing video. I needed a good chuckle. Especially when they were grilling him about his views about the excess influence of the proIsrael lobby, when at the same time, Israel was the most mentioned country at the hearing (more so than Afghanistan, where the US is still fighting an actual, you know, war.)
There has been a lot of talk about how Hagel's nomination signals a policy by Obama to negotiate with Iran. It was expected of course that Senate would grill Hagel over Israel, and it was even expected that Hagel would roll over and play nice for now in order to get past this hurdle. The question is whether he retains any credibility afterwards. And this bring us to a much more fundamental question is: considering that the level of pro-Israel sentiment is so high and so strongly enforced as was seen during Hagel's nomination process, then does Iran have a negotiating partner in the US? It seems not, since US officials seem themselves to be hampered in their ability to pursue US interest, and are answerable not to the US as much as to Israel.
It was a craven display that fundamentally discredits the US Senate, the Obama administration, the nomination process, and US foreign policy - all at the same time, and now visible to the entire world thanks to the coverage. And the irony of it, of course, is that it proved what had been vehemently denied: the malign influence of Israel.
Any nominee who emerges from this process is tainted too - afterall, the world saw Chuck lie and flipflop, albeit rather innadroitly, but nonetheless how can any US official be taken seriously after he grovels and lays supine before Israel in such a manner? Chalking up the performance as as simply political expediency, makes it even more reprehensible, frankly. In what other part of the world, in what other part of history, has a nominee to head a country's military power had to first swear neverending fealty to a foreign country? And how is any other country supposed to take such a nominee seriously after they emerge from such a process?
To quote the Guardian:
In fact, after a while, it was hard to figure out if Hagel was the nominee for secretary of defense or "Israel's new bestie", so obsessed were Republican Senators with how Hagel views the US-Israel relationship. It was a demoralizing spectacle.
As we saw during the GOP primaries last year, the new apparent litmus test for being a foreign policy-maker in the US government appears to be the extent to which you offer unconditional support for basically everything that Israel does (even when it goes against stated US policy). ...
That a hearing on the fitness of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense was dominated by a discussion of a country that is not even a military ally of the United States – and which, in the just the last three months, has take actions on settlement construction that run precisely counter to US policy – offered compelling evidence of the disproportionate and unhealthy role that Israel plays in US foreign policy debates.
People have been emailing me recently about my review of the Leveretts' new book, "Going to Tehran", which I mentioned in an earlier post. I thought it was a great book then, and still do so, even though people have complained about a variety of issues, for example the suggestion that Iran had an active role in the US Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. I consider these to be a matter of dispute over emphasis rather than factual accuracy. In any case, disputes over these minor issues do not really distract from the main point of their argument in favor of a "Nixon goes to China" resolution to the current US-Iran standoff.
However, I do have a complaint that does related to their broader argument. Nixon's decision to recognize China, in retrospect of course, was inevitable. It was simply a logical move in any 3-person game: the two who can most quickly combine against the remaining one, win a temporary advantage. It is a matter of creating an "odd man out". In the case of the US and China, Nixon's move was within the context of a conflict with the Soviets, which served as its motive. With one fell swoop, Nixon brought one-quarter of humanity closer to the US, and farther away from the Soviets. But even though it was such an obvious and logical move, it was also quite brilliant the way Nixon simply decided to turn the ship of state on a dime, and dismantle almost overnight an entire aparatus of policy and substitute an entirely new and contrary one in its stead.
But in the case of the US-Iran standoff, there is no third party to play a role comparable to the Soviets. It IS a three-party game -- the US, Iran, and Israel -- but the relations between the parties are different. In Nixon's days, the Soviets and Chinese were in a basically antagonistic relationship, which created a wedge that Nixon exploited to make the Soviets the odd man out. Today, the Israelies and the US are in a cooperative (if not co-opted) relationship, and Iran is the odd-man out.
So, under such conditions, how realistic is the argument in favor of a "Nixon going to China" approach when it comes to Iran? Not very, I'm afraid. So while I agree with the argument posited by the Leveretts regarding a policy choice that would benefit the US in the long run, I don't see the sufficient commitment nor the willingness to take political risk that would be required for such a gambit to ever actually occur.
UPDATE: Highly recommended: "It's blame Iran week" over at MoonofAlabama
These four stories, all in the same week, blame Iran for this or that without any proof. All these stories base their claims on this or that anonymous U.S. official or secret intelligence. All these stories are pretty likely to have no Iran involvement at all.
Nicole Perlroth and Quentin Hardy published a story in the NY Times with the title "Bank Hacking Was the Work of Iranians, Officials Say".
Now, nevermind for the moment that no actual officials are cited as saying anything of the sort. The closest we get is a former official expressing his own view. In fact the article itself states, "American officials have not offered any technical evidence to back up their claims" -- though apart from that one sentence, the entire rest of the article tries to make the opposite case that Iran must have been behind the attack.
So, setting all that aside, we next are presented with a series of computer and international security experts making all sorts of claims that are used to justify the thrust of the article, including quite a bit of "officials say" or "experts say" statements -- mostly unidentifed experts and officials, mind you, contrary to the New York Times' own policy against using such anonymous sources. As Sean Lawson wrote in Forbes way back in October 2012: "Anonymous Sources Provide No Evidence of Iran Cyber Attacks" but I guess the editors at NY Times didn't care.
Then we are presented with list of rather shabby arguments for why the attack must have been state sponsored, and furthermore that state must have been Iran: first, because of the scope and professionalism of the attack, and second because no money was stolen. Even assuming these claims are true, the NY Times never explains how that implicates Iran. And note that there's no effort at any sort of balance. For example, there are no computer experts cited who have differing opinions on the matter. Why?
I mean, it is not as if such experts don't exist. Information Week was certainly able to find them and carried an article by Matthew J Schwarts entitled "Bank Attacker Iran Ties Questioned By Security Pros" which quotes a computer security expert:
You can tell that it was planned and executed pretty well," said Carl Herberger, VP of security solutions at Radware, which has been investigating the attacks on behalf of its customers.
But Herberger noted that project management skills aren't evidence of Iranian backing. "The best way I can probably say this is we've seen no irrefutable evidence that it's a single nation state or single actor that's participating in the attacks," he said. "There's nothing we've seen that can't be perpetrated by a small amount of knowledgeable individuals, whether they be associated with a nation state or otherwise."
So, here's a named expert directly contradicting the first argument proferred by the NY Times for why this must have been an Iranian attack. Turns out, while the attacks were professionally-done, that doesn't exclude "a small amout of knowledgeable individuals" from carrying out the attack without state-sponsorship after all. Even non-state sponsored actors can show professionalism and expertise, after all.
Gee, was this fella somehow not available to the NY Times when Perloth and Hardy wrote their article? Or did they simply not bother to seek out any viewpoints that contradicted the official "Iran did it" spin as Information Week did?
The NY Times' second claim implicating Iran is: "experts said" that the "hackers chose to pursue disruption, not money" and that was "another earmark of state-sponsored attacks," but the authors didn't bother mentioning any other possible explanations for why money wasn't taken -- for example, because the hackers simply were ideologically-motivated rather than state-sponsored or financially-motivated. In fact, back in November 2012, Schwartz wrote an article in Information Week about an interview that the self-described hacktivists had given in which they specifically denied any connection to Iran. They also explained that their motives were primarily ideological -- to mete out "punishment" for an Islamophobic movie -- and not financial, which is why they didn't try to steal any money in the attacks. That discredits the second argument that the NY Times put forth to implicate Iran.
But the NY Times never bothered to seek out any of this information which discredited their claim that Iran was behind the attacks. Just a quick listing of the lapse of journalistic ethics: unnecessary use of anonymous sources making wild claims without justification and failure to balance viewpoints. Perlroth and Hardy never posed any sort of hard or critical questions about the claims of Iranian involvement, they included no criticism of the claim, and in fact apparently went out of their way totally disregarded information that went against the spin.
The NY Times is still demonizing Iran and pushing an agenda. They are doing what they did in the build-up to the Iraq war, even though the NY Times had supposedly promised not to make the same mistake again, and for example one of the reforms they were supposed to implement was limiting the excessive reliance on anonymous sources -- however when it came to Iran coverage that promise disappeared rather quickly. (Remember the Michael Gordon/Clark Hoyte fiasco after Gordon had written an article claiming Iran was sending IEDs into Iraq, using nothing but a series of entirely anonymous govt sources? Digby at Tiny Revolution caused a minor riot with his satire of the whole affair when he declared that "Michael Gordon is actually a voice-activated tape-recorder.")
The funny thing is that editors at the NY Times themselves admit that they're violating their own rules about anonymous sources but haven't been able to do anything about it. Steve Rendall of FAIR pointed this tendency by the NY Times to rely on anonymous sources way back in 2007. Later in 2008, Sherry Ricchiardi wrote in the American Journalism Review:
The New York Times and Washington Post published mea culpas about their deficient coverage, admitting mistakes were made. The media community entered a period of introspection. Some of the most glaring failures – the lack of skepticism, failure to verify information, lack of tough questions – were right out of Newsgathering 101.
And then she asks:
Is history repeating itself with Iran?Well, obviously, yes.
So on the heels of the curiously-timed release of the Levinson photos, suddenly now we're also told that Iranian hackers must have been behind a wave of "unprecedented" attacks on the computer systems of US banks:
Since September, intruders have caused major disruptions to the online banking sites of Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, PNC, Capital One, Fifth Third Bank, BB&T and HSBC.
Yeah, strange how no one had heard of this even though it was going on "since September"...and we're now told of it, just in time for the Hagel nomination.
So immediately after it was announced the Chuck Hagel would be nominated to serve as Obama's Secretary of Defense, the New York Times reports that photos of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was kidnapped while conducting a private investigation into cigarette smuggling ring, have been released by the family.
Sorry but it strains credulity to think that the timing of the photo release was coincidental, and wasn't calculated to hurt the Hagel nomination.
Oh and just FYI, those who accuse the Iranian government of being behind Levinson's kidnapping -- using nothing more than innuendo from anonymous sources -- have to yet explain what possible benefit Iran could obtain from this act, and why all the other Americans who travel to Iran aren't getting kidnapped by the same regime that issued Levinson his visa to come to Iran in the first place.
So lets see what's the evidence that the Iranian government had something to do with this:
U.S. operatives in Afghanistan managed to trace the cellphone used...
So probably Iran
It was sent from a cyber cafe in Pakistan..
All signs point to Iran
Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan..
just across Iran’s eastern border.
Fucking knew it: Iran
(hattip to anonymouse reddit commenter)
The Associated Press is reporting that a small American airplane which had conducted an emergency landing in Iran with three people onboard (two pilots and 1 passenger) flew out of Iran after being repaired there.
The article states:
Iran is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, which requires it to come to the aid of civilian aircraft when requested.
However, what the AP doesn't report is that the US is also a signatory to the ICAO treaty, and yet has violated that treaty by imposing sanctions which have prevented Iran from obtaining spare parts for its Boeing and Airbus airplanes, thus needlessly placing the lives of thousands of Iranian air passengers at risk everyday.
But aside from that, funny how there's a conspiracy theory going around that Hillary Clinton's brain bloodcot had something to do with this event.
"The American public is not being fed the true story about what's going on this region and it's very dangerous that the public is constantly being fed messages that are potentially leading us into a war that may not be necessary... The truth isn't being told here; what's being told is the way that these networks want to spin the truth and that's leading us into another potential conflict with Iran...You start to see all of this anti-Iran propaganda floating through American mainstream American media, and it is symbolic of exactly what was going on before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is of course not limited to CNN. Remember how CBS' Mike Wallace edited the interview with Ahmadinejad in order to portray him as a warmonger (the bold text below was edited out)
MR. WALLACE: You are very good at filibustering. You still have not answered the question. You still have not answered the question. Israel must be wiped off the map. Why?
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Well, don't be hasty, sir. I'm going to get to that.
MR. WALLACE: I'm not hasty.
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: I think that the Israeli government is a fabricated government and I have talked about the solution. The solution is democracy. We have said allow Palestinian people to participate in a free and fair referendum to express their views. What we are saying only serves the cause of durable peace. We want durable peace in that part of the world. A durable peace will only come about with once the views of the people are met.
So we said that allow the people of Palestine to participate in a referendum to choose their desired government, and of course, for the war to come an end as well. Why are they refusing to allow this to go ahead? Even the Palestinian administration and government which has been elected by the people is being attacked on a daily basis, and its high-ranking officials are assassinated and arrested. Yesterday, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament was arrested, elected by the people, mind you. So how long can this go on?
We believe that this problem has to be dealt with fundamentally. I believe that the American government is blindly supporting this government of occupation. It should lift its support, allow the people to participate in free and fair elections. Whatever happens let it be. We will accept and go along. The result will be as you said earlier, sir.
MR. WALLACE: Look, I mean no disrespect. Let's make a deal. I will listen to your complete answers if you'll stay for all of my questions. My concern is that we might run out of time.
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Well, you're free to ask me any questions you please, and I am hoping that I'm free to be able to say whatever is on my mind. You are free to put any question you want to me, and of course, please give me the right to respond fully to your questions to say what is on my mind.
Do you perhaps want me to say what you want me to say? Am I to understand –
MR. WALLACE: No.
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: So if that is the case, then I ask you to please be patient.
MR. WALLACE: I said I'll be very patient.
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Maybe these are words that you don't like to hear, Mr. Wallace.
MR. WALLACE: Why? What words do I not like to hear? [the words edited out of the interview]
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Because I think that you're getting angry.
MR. WALLACE: No, I couldn't be happier for the privilege of sitting down with the president of Iran.
Sanger and Risen over at the New York Times say that Iran's conversion of some of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to reactor fuel rods, thus precluding its use for weapons, may be some sort of calculated message to the West that Iran is willing to make a deal.
Nevermind that Iran has been saying, quite overtly and as loudly as it can, that it is willing to cease 20% enrichment. Ahmadinejad himself went before the UN General Assembly and made this offer. In fact Iran had announced its intentions to make the fuel too.
“We have announced that if they give us the fuel, we will stop production. No one is ready so far, and no one has announced they are ready to give us the fuel. If they give us the fuel, we will not need to continue this expensive production.”
The problem -- which the New York Times fails to mention -- is that thus far the US has refused to recognize Iran's repeated compromise offers, and instead has been making demands that even the US negotiators themselves say they would not accept if they were in Iran's positon.
Of course Takyeh proclaims this as a victory for the sanctions policy that he's been pushing. He will no doubt take credit for the rising of the sun next. In fact the Iran offer comes despite the sanctions, not because of them. Iran was forced to enrich to 20% in the first place and repeatedly offered to cease that.
Anyway, interesting how the NY Times has decided to call Iran's 20% enriched fuel as "medium-enriched".
News accounts about the firing of Health Minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi by President Ahmadinejad have emphasized her gender, because it plays well with the stereotype of Iran as a country of rampant misogyny.
Naturally, and as anyone who has followed the news should by now come to expect, the New York Times had to misrepresent even that news by claiming that Mrs. Vahid-Dastjerdi was "the only woman to serve in the cabinet since the 1979 Islamic Revolution."
In fact, the first female cabinet member in post-Revolutionary Iran was Masoumeh Ebtekar, who had also served as the spokesperson for the US Embassy hostage-takers.
I recommended reading Prof. Dan Joyner's book on "Interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty" in the past, but it has now been published in paperback form, bringing the cost down from about $89 to about $33. The book is significant because in addition to explaining many of the legalities of the NPT which are not mentioned by the mainstream press, he takes pains to debunk some of the legal falsehoods that apply directly to the current debate about Iran's nuclear program.
Right now, I am finishing off Amb. Mousavian's memoir entitled The Iranian Nuclear Crisis. I'm making my reading list for 2013 too. I have pre-ordered the Leveretts' book, "Going to Tehran" and I am also looking forward to Gareth Porter's book on Iran's nuclear program entitled "Manufactured Crisis."
The Ottowa Citizen newspaper is reporting that the government of Canada has quitely attempted to remove a government and a UN report on Israel's deliberate targetting of a UN peacekeeping compound that resulted in the death of a Canadian soldier.
The Defence Department has quietly removed from the Internet a report into the killing of a Canadian military officer by Israeli forces, a move the soldier’s widow says is linked to the Conservative government’s reluctance to criticize Israel for any wrongdoing.
Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three other United Nations observers were killed in 2006 when the Israeli military targeted their small outpost with repeated artillery barrages as well as an attack by a fighter aircraft.
The Canadian peacekeeper had been writing home about Israeli war crimes before he was killed by the Israelis.
Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone, and in addition to good health, I wish everyone this: empathy. THe capacity to understand the feelings of other sentinent beings.
People think I am some sort of Iranian ultra-nationalist or even a paid agent of the Iranian regime when in fact this blog and my activism, such as it is, is not some sort of agenda I am being compensated for in any way. No. In fact quite the reverse this has caused me all sorts of grief. I just don't want to see anyone suffer or die for bullshit reasons, or any reason at all, to the extent that I can do anything about it, and this blog is all I have to offer.
So here's my wish to you all: to love your enemies, and try to find a place in your heart for them, no matter what, because ultimately countries and politics and everything else is just artificial; we're all just visitors to this state of being, and everything that seems so important and imminent today will pass and will be nothing more than a footnote in history (if that.)
One of my favorite writers is Douglas Adams. He passed away a few years ago. Amongst his writing, my favorite was his idea of an Empathy Weapon: a gun that didn't shoot bullets, but instead it caused the shooter to experience life from the point of view of the target. He called it the Point of View Gun (except that it was useless in the hands of women -- since they were already women.)
What a marvelous invention! But in fact I think we're all born with this "weapon", men or women. We just need to learn to use it more often.
So allow me this bit of nationalism by quoting a Persian poet named Saadi and his poem from 800 years ago, which also is engraved at the entrance of the United Nations building:
Bani aadam aazaye yek digarandke dar aafarinesh ze yek gooharand
cho ozvi be dard aavarad roozegaar
degar ozvhaa raa namaanad gharaar
to kaz mehnate digaraan bi ghami
nashaayad ke naamat nahand aadami
The Descendants of Adam are limbs of each other, created of one Essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb, the other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.
And that is what I wish everyone, including myself, to aspire to in the coming year.
Or to quote another Persian poet Attar: This too shall pass.
This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Rashideh Naraghi, who passed away at the age of 97 in Tehran, Iran.
UPDATE: Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor writes:
On the P5+1 side, the "offer" put on the table earlier this year –
which US and European diplomats say privately they would never accept
for themselves, if they were in Iran's position – was widely deemed to
have been a necessity of the White House before the Nov. 6, presidential
election, so that Obama would not be open to accusations that he was
"soft" on Iran by offering concessions...
Some of the unilateral American measures have been voted on unanimously, and many limit Obama's diplomatic latitude by allowing only Congress to lift them, not the president. The new measures under consideration now would be attached to a much larger defense bill.
There are reports of renewed talks between Iran and the P5+1 over Iran's nuclear program. I'm sort of getting bored by restating this over and over for the last few years: These talks will not go anywhere, for the very simple reason that Iran's nuclear program is not, and never was, the real issue. The "Iranian nuclear threat" is just a pretext, cooked up by the US as a pretext and justification for a policy of imposing regime-change in Iran, just as "WMDs in Iraq" was a pretext. And the LAST THING the US wants is for this issue to be resolved peacefully, with the regime left in power. So, every once in a while they put on a show of talks, but then impose demands that are intended to torpedo any chances of a resolution.
As Barbara Slavin reports, this is happening yet again:
The “refreshed” proposal includes spare parts for Iran’s aging Western jetliners — a perennial carrot — and assistance with Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure but no specific promise of sanctions relief, Al-Monitor has learned.
Perhaps as a result, Iranian officials appear to be in no hurry to agree to a date to meet again with the so-called P5 +1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
Following US presidential elections, US officials began mulling a more generous proposal but have settled for a conservative position. Iran will be expected to agree to concessions before knowing exactly what it would get in return.People thought that once Obama enters his second term, and didn't have to worry about being re-elected, he would grow a pair and be more forceful in the face of the pro-Israel lobby, but that was naive thinking. Obama is merely a face. He is part of the Democrat party, which has no intention of ticking off Israel either. After all, President Obama didn't fall from the sky. He's very much part of the system, just as previous presidents were, a system that has been fundamentally penetrated and hopelessly corrupted.
As a follow-up to my previous post about the smearing of Chuck Hagel by the pro-Israelis because of his supposed unwillingness to do "what is necessary to stop Iran," I recommend reading this article by Robert Wright in the Atlantic entitled "Chuck Hagel and the NeoCon Smear Machine" especially because it points to two "ironies" in the Pro-Israeli position.
Irony Number 1:
I had a good chuckle over Wright's recounting of this point originally made by Ali Gharib:
"it's ironic for Hagel to be pilloried for saying that politicians are intimidated by a pro-Israel lobby--when those doing the pillorying bear a striking resemblance to a pro-Israel lobby trying to intimidate a politician."
This is the first irony: the powerful Pro-Israeli lobby insists that there is no powerful pro-Israeli lobby (regardless of what former Lobby members themselves say), and yet also even openly boasts about the power of the pro-Israeli lobby. If you read AIPAC's fundraising literature, and listen to their self-descriptions at their annual dinners in Washington, you'd be quite surprised how this supposedly not-powerful lobby bordering on non-existence, congratulates itself for so forcefully exerting its agenda in Washington, in between pandering speeches by the highest officials of the American government (including US Presidents.) Critics of the Walt & Mearsheimer book about the pro-Israeli lobby insisted vehemently that there was no such lobby, and yet at the same time, we have high officials at AIPAC boasting to Jeffrey Goldberg that they can get 70 US Senators to sign their dinner napkins:
I asked [Steven] Rosen if aipac suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”
Irony Number 2:
Israel's supporters insist that Hagel's use of the term "Jewish Lobby" instead of "pro-Israeli lobby" implies anti-Semitism -- and yet they're the ones who also insist that Judaism and Israel are the same thing, and that support for Israel is inherent in being Jewish. Heck, even my local synogogue regularly hosts speakers from the Israeli government to promote the Israeli government line, and also promotes participation in the annual "Celebrate Israel" parade. They even go as far as to claim that any Jew who criticizes Israel is "self-hating" and furthermore, that any criticism of Israel is in fact anti-Semitic (they've even given this a term: "New Anti-Semitism," which pretty much encompasses any criticism of Israel, whether from the "far right" to the "far left", from "Third worldism" to "radical Islam" etc)
And yet Hagel is an anti-Semite for referring to the "Jewish lobby" when discussing Israeli influence-peddling in Washington?
In his article, Wright states that the term "Jewish lobby" is now incorrect because a significant portion of the support for Israel now comes from Christian Evangelicals in the US (who apparently haven't heard how Christian Evangelicals are threatened in Israel.) Well, that may be technically correct, but in reality the reason why Christian Evangelicals have sided with the Lobby is because the Lobby has specifically sought out and deliberatey cultivated their support. Otherwise, the Christian Evangelical movement is itself characterized by extreme anti-Semitism and would hardly seek to support Israel or Jews. What better proof of this than the Reverend John Hagee and his CUFI (Christians United For Israel) movement. AIPAC even had Hagee over to their annual dinner and gave him a podium to pander to Israel and the Lobby, yet if you dare ask why an avowed anti-Semite can be so adored by a pro-Israeli organization, you'll be threatened by the police.
So as far as I'm concerned, the "Jewish lobby" phrase is incorrect only because there are plenty of Jews who don't support AIPAC or Israeli policies. It is my impression that most American Jews, like the rest of the Americans, are just too busy trying to make ends meet and are not involved. Some others are really, really conflicted, and attempt to sit on increasngly wobbly fence by claiming to be "liberal Zionists", showing a wilfull blindless to the illiberalism of an ideology based on "Blood and Soil" nationalism. A small yet growing minority are out-and-out Anti-Zionist. In fact, support for Israel has been falling every year, leading to an Israeli PR effort, to occasional comedic effect.
In conclusion: I think therefore it would be as much a disservice to American Jews to characterize AIPAC and the Pro-Israeli lobby as representative of their views, as it would be undeservedly flattering to AIPAC and the Pro-Israel lobby to designate them as the representatives of Jewish views.
It is sort of fun watching the nervousness of the pro-Israeli lobby over the potentional nomination of Chuck Hagel as Obama's Secretary of Defense. There is speculation that he may not be willing to do "what is necessary to stop Iran" as Jonathan Tobin puts it over at Commentary. And in addition to scouring Hagel's past speeches and writings for any indication of independent thinking, we've already witnessing the smears of anti-Semitism too.
In any case I think it will be fun watching AIPAC and friends do to Chuck what they did to Chas Freeman. Walt thinks that the defeat of the Hagel nomination will finally lead to a realization and national discussion about the negative influence of the pro-Israeli lobby on US politics. But, no such discussion happened when Chas was chased out by the Lobby, much to Chas' disappointment:
The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues. I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.
And this inability to consider what serves the best interest of the US rather than Israel has not changed, so why assume that Hagel's nomination will be any different? Chances are Hagel will not get the job...unless of course if Hagel and Obama manage to convince the Lobby that they're quite willing to be Netanyahu's bedsheet regardless of what inconsiderate things Hagel may have said in the past about not going to war against Iran, in which case his appointment may go through but only after plenty of concessions are made to Israel.
In any case, just let this sink in for a moment, folks: agents representing a foreign country were able to veto the decision of a US president about who would serve as his highest intelligence advisor and now will be determining whom the same President can appoint as his Defense Secretary. That's how bad things have become in Washington.
I should point out, of course, that there's no guarantee at all that Hagel will continue opposing a war on Iran once appointed. If you remember, Bush's VP Cheney strongly voiced his opposition to Iran sanctions while he served as the CEO of Haliburton. After becoming VP, he morphed into a hawk on Iran. I'm sure Hagel can dance just as well as Cheney if and when necessary.
Some catch-up blogging:
Israel-Firsters Ross, Robb and Makovsky of the amusingly-named "Bipartisan Policy Center" warn of any "failure to stop Iran's nuclear-weapons program" -- the fact that there is no evidence of any such weapons program of course goes unstated. Previously the same folks had issued a report which essentially was a roadmap to a war, and with friends had declared that Obama had promised them a war on Iran by March 2013. Of course, other pro-Israeli agents had promised a war by 2011, so...
The rush to conduct damage control over the widely-discredited "AP graph" touted as proof of Iranian nuclear weapons work, is on display in articles which try to vindicate the document by claiming that the graph was "stolen" by the Israelis (rather than given to IAEA by the Israelis -- just as they did with the discredited "neutron initiator" document) and was then mistakenly edited by the Israelis (rather than the error being part of the the original) and finally, that the IAE Anevertheless has "reliable evidence" of an Iranian pre-2003 nuclear weapons program (when in fact the IAEA under Elbaradei denied that it has such reliable evidence.) But Yousaf Butt points out that if the AP graph is anything to go by, then there should be serious doubts about the quality of the evidence to back up IAEA allegations of Iranian nuclear experiments with a "Possible Military Dimension."
Gareth Porter's Kickstarter campaign to publish his book, entitled "Manufactured Crisis: A history of the Iranian nuclear scare" succeeded in raising the required $10,000 for publication, much to my joy.
The Leverett's book entitled "Going to Tehran" is expected to be available by Jan 8th, 2013. Read an excerpt on their website RaceforIran.com, the "Mad Mullah" myth being one of the many bits of nonsense they put to rest in the excerpt. I have already pre-ordered my copy of the book.
The IAEA and Iran may have finally reached an agreement to allow a THIRD visit by the IAEA to Parchin. As I mentioned before, Iran is under no obligation whatsoever to allow ANY visits by the IAEA to Parchin since this is a non-nuclear site and as such falls outside of the IAEA's authority. Iran's conditions for such a visit were that 1- Iran would be allowed to finally see the evidence that is supposed to refute, and 2- that this third visit would put an end to the endless cycle of speculation leading to demands for extra-legal access. One wonders why the IAEA dragged its feet so long to accept these quite reasonable conditions, but I suspect that the goal was to delay the third visit as long as possible, to allow the "Iran cleaning up evidence at Parchin" meme to gain a solid foothold so that once the IAEA inspectors report that they found nothing -- again -- at Parchin, David Albright can claim that the Iranians must have cleaned up the site. And in any case, I have no doubt that even if the Parchin issue is resolved, the US will "find" another "Laptop of Death" chock-full of "evidence" of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, that was mysteriously smuggled out of Iran by someone who got it from someone else who is conveniently too dead to verify any of it...just as before.
But as Peter Jenkins, for UK representative to the IAEA points out, even if Iran had conducted any experiments related to nuclear weapons, such experiments do not constitute a violation of the NPT as long as there was no nuclear material involved -- and the IAEA has repeatedly stated that it has no proof of any such diversion of nuclear material. I also recommend reading Jenkins' previous article on the much-hyped Nov 2011 IAEA report, in which he points out that the IAEA's inability to verify the "exclusively peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear program is merely a legalistic technicality equally applicable to several other countries, and not evidence of Iranian wrong-doing.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist Round Table on the IAEA's (il)legal standards applied to Iran quitely dies off when Dan Joyner's opponents fail to counter his arguments that the IAEA does not have the legal authority to demand that Iran disprove allegations of a "Possible Military Dimension" to its nuclear program, and instead they resort to a confused and self-contradicting final contribution that can only be considered as chaff thrown out to confuse the issue.
All in all, and in broad overview, I have to say that we're finally witnessing the expression of many more dischordant voices that are challenging what used to be an impenetrable wall of conventional wisdom built in the media about Iran's nuclear program -- and after years of bashing my head against a wall on this blog, I take great satisfaction in that.
So Merry Christmas everyone, and to all a good night.
You would think that a New York Times article about prosecuting Iranian officials for human rights abuses would mention that the US was complicit in the abuses, and that the legal impediments to prosecuting Iranian officials are largely the result of American efforts to ensure its own impunity and immunity from international law.
The New York Times has an article entitled "Years of Torture in Iran Comes to Light" which is about an ad-hoc group that has formed a self-designated tribunal to judge the human rights abuses of the Islamic Republic, concentrating on the large-scale executions which happened there in 1988 of leftists opposed to the regime which had been consolidating power after the war with Iraq. It is a great article with some moving testimony but the problem is that it leaves out some crucial facts.
The selection of Mr Asadi as the article's main protagonist is quite ironic since he was reportedly imprisoned due to this membership in the Tudeh Party of Iran, which was the main Communist party there. And in 1983, the top members of the organization were rounded up and executed thanks to the fact that the CIA had provided a list of the members to the government of the newly-founded Islamic Republic, in order to stem Soviet influence in Iran and also as a way to start currying favor with the Ayatullahs as part of what later became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. This was even mentioned in the Tower Commission report on the scandal, yet the New York Times completely leaves it out of history since no doubt it would sully its Good-turns-Evil narrative, and complicate it with inconvenient nuances that implicate the US in the Evil.
Then, there is the whole question of whether the abuses by Iranian officials, for example, constituted torture. The US has been leading the world in redefining the terms in order to fit what it calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" which includes activities any sane person would consider to be torture, as being legal. Read this if you're curious to know if the US thought its torture of prisoners was A-Legal, and not really torture as the term is legally defined by the US itself (a definition that would allow the crushing of a child's testicles), and B- would not constitute a crime under international law subject to prosecution by international tribunals.
The NY Times article then goes on to discuss the legalities and obstacles in the way of prosecuting the Iranian officials before the International Criminal Court ("ICC".) But this is what the New York Times leaves out: Iran signed the ICC treaty in Dec 31, 2000--so did the US. But the US then backed out of the treaty and does not consider it to be binding on the US. In fact the US has been the single biggest obstacle to the ICC's development, and American politicians are hardly supportive of it.
(The ICC itself is one of the main menacing characters in the standard scaremongering conspiracy theories held by the Right in the US, which regularly also rants about "black helicopters" from the UN invading the US as part of an effort to create a "one world governmet" and take away the right of private gun ownership in the US whilst laying the groundwork for the rise of an Islamic Caliphate etc. etc.)
Of course, US opposition to the ICC is easily understandable. While US officials insist on raising the spectre of "politically-motivated prosecutions by rogue tribunals," in fact the reasons for US opposition to the ICC is that international law would hinder the exercise of US power abroad. The sort of treatment meted out to detainees that the US considers to be legal, is considered to be torture under international law and so would make American officials liable (waterboarding, for example, is now deemed to be a legal interrogation technique in the US but even the US considered it to be torture when applied to American prisoners.) More significantly, the ICC also has jurisdiction over the international crime of "aggression" -- illegal military attacks by one state against another. Considering the number of times that the US gets into military confrontations in other nations (234 times in 195 years, or an average of more than once a year -- and that was before the "War on Terror.") American officials aren't keen on getting hauled in front of an ICC tribunal.
And the lengths that the US has gone to kill off the ICC is quite funny: While Clinton signed the treaty which created the International Criminal Court (the treaty is known as the Rome Statute) on Dec 31, 2000, his successor, President Bush, "unsigned" the US from the ICC treaty on May 6, 2002, when Bush declared that neither he nor any future US president would submit the treaty to the US Senate to ratified.
Furthermore, in order to ensure that American personnel can never be taken in front of the ICC tribunal and held to answer for charges of human rights abuses or war crimes, the US has entered into a series of separate, bilateral immunity agreements with individual countries around the world that are intended to defeat ICC jurisdiction over Americans worldwide. These agreements were often obtained through the use of diplomatic strong-arm tactics over the countries involved. And these bilateral treaties act in addition to an annually-renewed blanket immunity that the US has regularly obtained from the UN for its own peace-keeping troops-- which in turn was obtained after the US threatened to cut off the financing UN peace-keeping operations around the world. And as if all that was not enough, the US passed a law that authorizes the President to "use all means necessary" to free any American that should ever be taken into custody by the ICC,and which denies US military assistance to any country that refused to guarantee immunity from ICC prosecution for Americans on its soil.
Indeed, none other than fomer US Sec of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pressed for the US to unsign the ICC treaty, stating:
The ICC's entry into force on July 1st means that our men and women in uniform -- as well as current and future U.S. officials -- could be at risk of prosecution by the ICC. We intend to make clear, in several ways, that the United States rejects the jurisdictional claims of the ICC. The United States will regard as illegitimate any attempt by the court or state parties to the treaty to assert the ICC's jurisdiction over American citizens.
When Rumsfeld included the phrase "as well as current and former officials," he had probably had himself in mind. And so here's yet another point that the New York Times article in question conveniently left out: in addition to undermining the ICC, and redefining the legality of "torture", the US has pressed other nations to weaken their own separate domestic laws that allow the prosecutions for human rights abuses and war crimes, creating precedents that effectively give high officials and heads of states life-time immunity for their actions.
I've written about this before. Belgium, for example had two domestic laws (one drafted in 1990 and another in 1993) which granted the Belgian courts "universal jurisdiction" over war crimes. This meant that Belgian courts and prosecutors could put on trial and punish anyone, from any country, who had committed war crimes or torture anywhere in the world. Human rights lawyers and activists widely lauded Belgium for having such expansive laws that showed such courageous committment to prosecuting international criminals and fulfilling Belgium's obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention and the 1984 Convention on Torture, which require all states to take responsibility the prosecution of the perpetrators of such henious crimes.
But when charges were sought against Israeli PM Ariel Sharon for his role in the massacre of over 1000 people in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and later also against high level Bush administration officials for their atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere, Belgian courts quickly re-interpretted the law to limit its application, and then the Beglian parliament changed the law so as to prevent its application to certain countries. This happened in no small part thanks to intense pressure by the US which included threats by Rumsfeld to limit Belgium's invovlement in NATO, because as he put it, Belgium's efforts to enforce its legal obligation to prosecute war crimes and atrocities meant that "Belgium appears not to respect the sovereignty of other countries."
That's right -- he invoked American sovereignty as defense against internationa prosecution for war crimes and atrocities. Sovereignty is a right. In other words, government officials have a right to engage in atrocities, and are immune from prosecution for their actions - according to the US Sec of Defense.
As one analyst put it, the joint US-Israeli efforts to undermine the principle of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Belgium meant, in effect, that people could in fact get away with committing atrocities in disregard of international law:
This Israeli and US intervention was an unprecedented act of interference in a sovereign state’s judicial and political processes which weakened a number of legally sound attempts at attaining international justice in Belgian courts, including cases against the former Chadean dictator Hissene Habre.
Belgium, of course, was just one example. The same thing happened when Germany sought to charge Rumsfeld, and also when charges against Rumsfeld wer brought in France. In fact when dismissing the charges against Rumsfeld, the French prosecuors -- in a rather novel decision that practically un-did years of prior judicial precedent in human rights law -- ruled that heads of state continued to have immunity from prosecution even after they left office (at least in the case of Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. As international lawyers have noted, such immunity was not recognized when African heads of state were prosecuted for war crimes.)
And as I wrote before, no international court could prosecute Rumsfeld, since the US was not part of the ICC. No foreign court could prosecute Rumsfeld either, since they would inevitably follow Belgium. And attempts file lawsuits against the same American officials in domestic US courts were all fruitless too, because the US government invoked something called the "State Secrets Privilege" and claimed that since any lawsuit or trial of American officials risked the disclosure of national security secrets, then the courts had to ignore the complaints. The courts promptly complied since once invoked, the State Secrets Privilege is not open to question by judges.
So, in effect, if you're being "officially" tortured, you have no claim and no legal right to redress -- not in the US (since the "state secrets" privilege can be arbitrarily invoked to kick our case out the courthouse doors) and not in any other country (since "official immunity" protects the tortureers.)
So much for international humanitarian law.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, this means that government officials such as Rumsfeld and Sharon and others constitute something rather unique in the world: a class of people who are effectively not answerable to any law, anywhere.
In conclusion, and going back to the original subject of this post which was the New York Times article about prosecuting Iranian officials for atrocities, you would think that the New York Times would bother to mention any of this. After all, you would think that readers would be interested in learning not only that the US was complicit in the mass executions of leftists in Iran in 1988 mentioned by the article, but that the legal impediments to prosecuting Iranian officials for such conduct are largely the result of American efforts to ensure its own impunity and immunity from prosecution for international human rights violations. But, like I've said before, you would be mistaken to think so.
How dare a BBC interviewer go off-script and solicit an honest reply from someone they're interviewing! Doesn't he know that his job is merely to solicit the standard rote replies?
[Evan] Davis informally requested [Chief Rabbi] Lord Sacks' input [on Gaza] following a news broadcast, in response to which Lord Sacks paused, sighed audibly, and responded "I think it's got to do with Iran, actually".
Davis' co-presenter Sarah Montague was heard to whisper "We're live" after which Lord Sacks adopted a more formal manner and said the situation required "a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region.
Will the US use the latest drone incident as a justification and pretext to attack Iran -- just as Reagan did with Libya over a dispute about Libya's claims to the Gulf of Sidra? Is this the precursor and an indicator of the "crisis initiation" that Patrick Clawson mused about?
I am amused by the number of armchair lawyers that have popped up on the internet to claim that the US drone which was supposedly and according to the Pentagon 16 miles from Iran (hopefully, that's 16 NAUTICAL miles - did anyone check?) was in "international airspace," and 4 miles outside of Iranian territorial waters, and so the Iranian attack on it constituted aggression and an attack on the US -- as if the issue of determining maritime boundaries is simply a matter of subtraction rather than a highly complicated and legally controversial matter.
Yes, I know the textbook answer is that territorial seas extend 12 nautical miles but in practice, there all sorts of practical and legal complications: aside from the fact that determining the baseline where the 12-mile limit is drawn can be quite complicated (due to the irregular shape of the coastline, and the presence of bays, islands, shifting sandbanks etc) there are also questions of legal interpretation of treaties. That's why there are so many unresolved maritime border disputes around the world which occasionally flare up and risk outright war.
For example, several nations don't even recognize the 12 mile definition, and they don't have to since the relevant treaty is just a treaty and not the world of God Almighty. Amongst the list of countries that do not recognize the 12-mile limit are Peru, Liberia, Benin, Somalia, etc. -- all of which instead claim a 200 nautical mile limit to their territorial waters. Nor is this some sort of idle claim. Though most Americans certainly don't remember it, in 1992 Peru shot down an unarmed American C-130 airplane which had been spying on drug operations in that country without the consent of the Peruvian government. One American airforce officer was presumably killed when he was sucked out of the damaged airplane and his body was never found, and several others were seriously injured. The shooting took place about 30 miles off of Peru's coastline -- an area which under the 12-mile rule should have been considered international airspace. However, both the US and Peru hushed up the matter and portrayed it as a case of mistaken identity. Compare that to the wails of "Aggression!" we hear about due to Iran firing warning shots at a toaster flying right off (if not inside?) Iranian airspace.
Another example: In 1985, Canada objected to the presence of US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea in the Northwest Passage, claiming that the Passage was sovereign Canadian territory. Thankfully that dispute was somewhat resolved when the US and Canada later agreed that the US would not send vessels there without prior approval of the Canadians.(Today the Canadians allow free access)
The UN treaty itself recognizes that there are all sorts of exceptions to the 12 mile rule, for example in the case of "historic bays": bays that a country can claim to be historically entirely part of its territorial waters, even though it may be much larger than the 12 mile limit. The Bay of Delaware in the US, the Sea of Azov in the fUSSR, and the Bay of Chaleur in Canada are all such "historic bays". If the 12-mile rule strictly applied, these would be international waters, not the territorial waters of the countries mentioned.
There several other countries which make similar claims to their own historic bays, which the US does not recognize: Canada's claim to Hudson Bay; India and Sri Lanka's claims for Palk Bay and the Gulf of Manaar; Uruguay's claim to Rio de la Plata; Australia's claim to Anxious Bay, Encounter Bay, Lacepede Bay and Rivoli Bay; Cambodia's claim to the Gulf of Thailand; Italy's claims for the Gulf of Taranto; Panama's for the Gulf of Panama; the former USSR's for the Gulf of Riga and Peter the Great Bay (contested by Japan); and Vietnam's for the Gulfs of Tonkin and Thailand.
When the US doesn't recognize such a claim to historic bays and other disputed waters, it has a habit of sending in its warships to conduct manouvres there, which it refers to as "freedom of navigation" manouvres. Ostensibly the US goal is to establish, though such manouvres, that the claims are not recognized by other powers in actual practice (the US legal position is that actual recognition of a claim is required to establish a valid legal claim to a "historic bay" rather than mere acquiescence by other powers -- though other nations don't necessarily see it that way.) In reality, this is a great way to justify wars.
One significant example of was Libya's claim to the Bay (of Gulf) of Sidre (aka Sirte), which Libya proclaimed to be entirely part of its territory in 1973. In 1989, Reagan sent in the US Navy there, and predictably the Libyans reacted by sending fighters, which were shot down. There was much jubiliation about how the US had protected the "freedom of navigation" in the bay from "illegal" claims by Ghaddafi, but in fact the supposed illegality of Libya's claim is very much open to doubt -- after all, the US isn't the final arbiter of international maritime disputes. But Reaan needed an excuse to attack Libya, and that was it.
So now we come to the issue of Iran and the drone incident. The US has warned Iran, regarding this incident, that it intends to continue operating in "international waters." And as I've mentioned before, the precise legal boundaries in the area are "highly disputed" so what constitutes "international waters" is open to interpretation, aside from the ambiguities of determining what exactly constitutes a 12-mile limit. Even before this recent drone encounter, the US has already objected to Iran's legal claims to its marine borders.
Is it only a matter of time before, under the guise of protecting the "freedom of navigation", the US will be sending naval vessels to conduct manouvres in Iran's claimed waters, thus creating a pretext to attack Iran -- just as Reagan did in the Gulf of Sidra?
So late Thursday, a CNN blog breathlessly reported that on Nov 1 an unarmed US Reaper drone was shot at by an Iranian fighters. Glenn Greenwald has taken apart this CNN report, so I recommend reading his analysis.
[Now, as a matter of principle, whenever a story about Iran comes out in the media, it is best to wait at least a day for the rest of it to come out...or better yet, at least a year. The unreliability of such news is compounded when the story is first published in one of the "news blogs" phenomena which regularly further blur the distinction between news and hype. And once something is reported by one news agency in any form, it falls into the echo chamber and gets repeated ad infinitum by other outlets until it obtains a ring of truth--not because any of the claims have been objectively verified but simply because the story is further embellished and repeated.]
The question on everyone's mind is where was the drone located, naturally. It is claimed in the media, repeatedly, that the drone was inside "international airspace" when it was shot at, and so this was an "act of aggression" by Iran.
Leaving aside the number of times that that US drones have violated Iranian airspace and thus committed similar "acts of aggression"...
The Washington Post actually reports that the Iranian fighter "pursued the U.S. drone as it retreated from Iranian airspace." This can be read as an admission that the drone had been inside Iranian airspace before it "retreated from Iranian airspace". If so, guess what? Under international law, there's a doctrine called Hot Pursuit, which allows coastal nations to chase violators into international territory and capture/shoot them down. So in other words, had the drone previously violated Iranian airspace, the Iranians were perfectly entitled to chase and shoot at it in international airspace.
Of course the reporters say that the drone was 16 miles away from Iranian territory, based on what the Pentagon told them. The reporters then helpfully remind readers that the sovereign territory of countries extends 12 miles into international waters. The conclusion the reader is supposed to reach is that the drone was outside of Iranian airspace by 4 miles, and so the Iranians had no right to shoot at it... except that the reporters are not international lawyers who specialize in the highly complex area of resolving international border disputes. They don't mention that the 12-mile territorial limit applies in theory to perfectly straight boundaries; things get much more complicated when there are complicated coastlines, shifting sand banks, islands, bays etc. (in fact the US makes a claim to waters around it that far exceeds the 12 mile limit.) And they also don't mention that this drone reportedly can fly at speeds of 135 miles per hour, which means that the 4 mile buffer could have been breached by the drone in a mere 107 seconds, or about 1.5 minutes. Yes, when shot at, the drone was just about 1 minute away from Iranian airspace. What a terrible act of blatant aggression by Iran! Imagine if Iran had been sending military drones to within 1 minute of the US coastline!
What they also don't mention is that the boundaries of waters East of Kuwait are highly disputed between Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait. There are no defined boundaries there, so to say that the drone was in "international" airspace is complete bullshit. This was a problem back in 2007, when Iran captured several British Marines in the area. At the time the UK govt claimed repeatedly that the Marines had been captured inside Iraqi waters. The London Times reported, a year after the event, that the Brits had simply decided to draw their own boundary lines, without telling anyone else:
"Fifteen British sailors and Marines were seized by Iran in internationally disputed waters and not in Iraq’s maritime territory as Parliament was told, according to new official documents released to The Times. The Britons were seized because the US-led coalition designated a sea boundary for Iran’s territorial waters without telling the Iranians where it was, internal Ministry of Defence briefing papers reveal."
All of this came to light after Amb Craig Murray mentioned it on his blog. In addition to being an ambassador, he had headed the section of the UK Foreign Office in charge of negotiating international boundaries. According to Murray:
The difficulty is that the maritime delimitation in the North West of the Persian Gulf, between Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, has never been resolved. It is not therefore a question of just checking your GPS to see where you are. This is a perfectly legitimate dispute, in which nobody is particularly at fault. Lateral maritime boundaries from a coastal border point are intensely complicated things, especially where islands and coastal banks become a factor.
And Parliamentary investigation later concluded:
"We conclude that there is evidence to suggest that the map of the Shatt Al-Arab waterway provided by the Government was less than clear than it ought to have been. The Government was fortunate that it was not in Iran's interests to contest the accuracy of the map."
And Martin Pratt of the International Boundaries Research Unit of Durham University testified in that same investigation:
"The former head of the Foreign Office's Martime Section, Craig Murray, has stated on several occasions that the map published by the Ministry of Defence following the arrest of British forces was a 'fake'. I believe that the map was certainly an oversimplification of reality, and I think it could reasonably be argued that it was deliberately misleading...."
So you can't trust the Brits to be honest, but what about the Americans? Well, sadly the US Navy doesn't exactly have a great record of being honest about things like that either; they claimed that the USS Vincennes was acting in self defense inside international waters when it shot down Iran Air 655 on July 3 1988. Only later it turned out that the Vincennes had initiated the conflict (and so could not claim self-defense) and was actually (illegally) inside Iranian territorial waters at the time too. It took 4 years until that lie was exposed by a joint Newsweek/Nightline investigation. Adm. Crowe (then retired) came on TV and confessed to the real location of the Vincennes to Ted Koppel on Nightline:
Ted Koppel (interviewing). But if I were to ask you today, was the Vincennes in international waters at the time that she shot down the Airbus—William J. Crowe Jr. Yes, she was.
So, we're supposed to automatically believe whatever the Pentagon says about the location of drone today?
[Crowe later tried to downplay the fact that the Vincennes was inside Iranian waters by claiming, amongst other things, that the location did not matter --- which begs the question of why the US lied about it for so long. They even went to the extremes of erasing an Iranian island from the map presented by to the Congressional whitewash investigation into the matter, headed by Adm Fogarty.]
Incidentally, I'm also amused by the number of articles including in the Washington Post and Glen Greenwald's Guardian post which remind reader that Iran previously "shot down" a US RQ-170 drone. Actually, the Iranians captured the drone by taking over its GPS guidance system; they did not "shoot" it down. They were kind enough to put it on display pretty much intact, explaining that the drone suffered some undercarriage damage since the elevation of the place it was fooled into landing was slightly different from where it thought it was landing. But I suppose the fact that Iranians captured this drone is something that the media and the US Govt would prefer be forgotten. US Sec of Def Panetta dismissed Iranian claims about capturing the drone, but in fact this was later proven to be easily do-able
One final point: The Pentagon says this entire incident occurred over the Arabian Gulf. Since there is no such place called the Arabian Gulf, then it never happened.
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has patted itself on the back for supposedly "breaking" the news that Iran had started to convert its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into reactor fuel plates, thus making it practically impossible to use the material for nukes. Ha'aretz claims:
Three weeks ago, Haaretz's Amos Harel broke the story that Iran had diverted a large quantity of enriched uranium to civilian scientific research, delaying the progress of its nuclear program by at least half a year
Who actually broke this story? It was blogger "b" at MoonofAlabama.org who first wrote about it on Aug 31, 2012, right when the IAEA report became publicly accessible.
FAIR mentioned how the NY Times had chosen to ignore this rather significant point contained in the IAEA report, on Aug 31st.
It was followed-up on by journalist Gareth Porter on Sept 1, 2012.
Amos Harel of Ha'aretz only got around to "breaking" the story 10 days after the blog entry by "b", on Sept 9th.
And to make matters worse, the Iranians had publicly announced plans to start making the fuel plates one year earlier. This news was welcomed in the media at the time too, since the reduction of Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium meant that Iran would be stepping farther away from the infamous "Capability to make nukes" which the US accused Iran of seeking.
The IAEA report itself (perhaps as a result of the presence of the biased and American-installed puppet Amano in charge of the organization) did not explicitly acknowledge this fact about the reduction of the enriched uranium stockpile, and "b" discovered it by comparing the figures for the amount enriched uranium cited against previous IAEA reports. Even I missed it, a point that "b" brought up on this blog, in a comment posted to my analysis of the IAEA report on the same day that I published it, on Aug 31.
Had "b" not been paying attention, the news would have remained buried, we would not have known about this at all in all liklihood, or the news would only have emerged with a great deal of spinand much later.
In short, Ha'aretz "broke" what was by then old news, news that had found its way into the public sphere as a result not of mainstream journalism but by the efforts of an independent blogger and an independent investigative journalist. And now the mainstream journalists are trying to take the credit for supposedly "breaking" this news. Note that neither Ha'aretz nor Amos bother to even make a gesture of acknowledgement towards "b" or FAIR or anyone else who brought all this to light long before they did, and certainly the Washington Post makes no mention of any of this.
TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE not only are the mainstream media trying to now take the credit for supposedly "breaking" this news, they're still trying to spin the news to do damage control: Naturally it took a while for the mainstream press to even report on this reduction of Iran's uranium stockpile, having dedicated most of their time and column space to scaremongering and misrepresenting the IAEA report. The fact that Iran hadreduced the stockpile was only mentioned in passed, in a single sentence buried after several paragraphs of scaremongering. When they did finally and grudgingly get around to covering the reduction of Iran's uranium stockpile in some depth, they made a point of citing the sort of "non-proliferation experts" whom Dan Joyner refers to as members of the "U.S. Nonproliferation Epistemic Community", who claimed that the Iranians could always re-convert the uranium from the fuel plates back into its original form. In short they were trying very hard to down-play the news that Iran had actually taken steps away from the supposed "capability" of making nukes inherent in having this stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, since that fact contradicts their consistent scaremongering and their repeated claims that the existence of the stockpile supposedly meant that Iran was "closer to making nukes than ever before", yadda yadda yadda... And since then, because they've finally had to acknowledge this incongruent fact, they have been promoting yet another, new Israeli spin on this matter, according to which the only reason the Iranians took this step of reducing their enriched uranium stockpile was supposedly because Iran was scared into doing soby US pressure, and not because it was precisely what Iran had intended on doing all along.
In fact, once the 20% enriched uranium is converted into reactor fuel plates, for all intents and purposes, it is no longer a weapons threat -- something that the same mainstream press had acknowledged previously when Iran first announced plans to start the process of manufacturing fuel plates. Of course in theory it is possible to reconvert fuel plates or rods back into enriched uranium but in reality this is long, arduous and very dangerous process that cannot go unnoticed by international inspectors, and requires facilities that cannot be hidden from view -- in short, making fuel plates is not something Iran would have done in the first place if it was seeking nukes -- a point that the mainstream coverage did not bother mentioning.
In fact there's an even bigger point that none of the mainstream media want to acknowledge or even mention: Iran would not have had to enrich uranium to 20% in the first place, had the US not prevented Iran from simply buying the reactor fuel as usual. Iran was forced to make its own 20% enriched uranium in order to make the necessary reactor fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, after it was prevented from buying it. The Tehran Research Reactor makes isotopes for the treatment of Iran's 800,000 cancern patients. As it is now, the US is demanding that Iran not make the fuel, and has also prevented Iran from buying the fuel ... and those 800,000 cancer patients can just go and die.
The further irony in all of this is that the Tehran Research Reactor ( which the US gave to Iran in the late 1960s) is not even conceivably a nuclear weapons proliferation threat. It is basically a water-filled hole in the ground, located in the basement of a university building in Tehran. Not only is it under constant IAEA monitoring and observation, it is far too small to be useful for nukes. (I personally saw it as a child, when we were at the university for some reason. Years later I saw another similar-looking reactor at the University of California in Irvine.)
And on top of that, Iran has repeatedly offered to cease enriching Uranium to 20% as long as it is allowed to once again simply purchase the fuel, but the US refuses this offer along with the long line of other Iranian compromise offers, including the agreement by Iran (brokered by Turkey and Brazil) to ship out half of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium in exchange for reactor fuel -- a deal which was killed off by the Obama administration, after Iran had unexpectedly agreed to the arrangement, and despite the fact that the same Obama administration had previously endorsed the offer in separate letters written by the President to the Turks and Brazilians (They even publicized the letter to prove that the Obama administration had pulled out the rug from under them just when they had succeeded in getting an agreement with Iran.)
So in short, if Iran is supposedly "closer to making nukes" due to its stockpile of 20% uranium enrichment (which is now being reduced by Iran) it is precisely a consequence of the US policy of interfering in Iran's right to acquire the fuel it needs ...a policy which served no non-proliferation goal whatsoever, but instead made matters worse by forcing Iran to make its own higher enriched uranium.
You'd think that such a spectacular policy failure and self-inflicted wound would be something worth reporting, but like I said before, you wouldbe mistaken to think that the mainstream press can be trusted to report facts about Iran's nuclear program.
Helena Cobban of Just World News and Just World Books has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish a book by Gareth Porter entitled "Manufactured Crisis: A history of the Iranian nuclear program". I sugges that all my readers contribute whatever they can to finance this project since the few books that exist already on the subject are mostly garbage, and Gareth Porter has shown himself to be quite independent and willing to do some real news reporting and analysis when it comes to Iran, instead of merely acting like a mouthpiece of the US by parrotting conventional wisdom and half-baked claims as do the Judith Miller, Michael Gordon, David Ignatius, Joby Warrick, David Sanger or Con Coughlins of the world.
I should point out that this Kickstarter campaign was brought to my attention by "b" at MoonofAlabama -- who has himself (herself?) done some excellent analysis on the Iranian nuclear program which debunked many of the claims made about the program in the mainstream media, and was usually the first to do so - including debunking the claims about the role of a "Soviet nuclear weapons scientist" in Iran and by pointing out that according to the last IAEA report, Iran had started to convert its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into reactor fuel plates, precluding the use of the material for bomb-making and thus actually reducing the alleged "threat" posed by the program -- a fact that the IAEA report itself did not explicitly acknowledge, and that the mainstream media attempted to ignore and has only recently been forced to grudgingly acknowledge (probably due to Gareth Porter's continued reporting on the subject.)
It makes me happy to see that informed people are following the news carefully and exercising critical judgment in analyzing the reports, especially since they're taking the time and making the effort to "talk back to power". Maybe there's hope in this Internet thing after all,and we should all use this chance to support journalists like Porter to state his case. If enough people join together and cooperate, we can break through the (dis)information monopoly created by the same mainstream press that brought you "WMDs in Iraq".
In light of reports that the US-imposed sanctions on Iran have started to negatively affect innocent people including the sick and elderly who are deprived of needed imported medicine, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of the various spins which were employed by the the Bush and Clinton administration to dismiss or downplay similar concerns about the suffering of Iraqis under the previous sanctions imposed on that country during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq (and especially regarding the 500,000 excess child deaths that resulted directly and knowingly by the US targetting of water treatment facilities for bombardment, and continued sanctions which caused such widespread death and hunger there that several Western officials at the UN resigned in protest.)
These were the spins I identified and wrote about previously:
1- That the deaths were over-estimated and the UNICEF/FAO/Garfield studies (showing massive child mortality in Iraq due to sanctions) were cooked up (denial)
2- That the number of deaths were in fact "worth it" (justification)
3- That no one "meant" or "intended" to kill children; they were just collateral damage (excuse)
4- That it was in fact the UN that imposed the sanctions and not the US (misdirection)
5- Saddam is responsible for the deaths since it was Saddam who provoked the sanctions (evasion)
Just like in Iraq, these same sort of spins will be used -- and havealready been used -- to justify the disproportionate effect of the sanctions on innocent people in Iran. For example we've already heard Obama administration officials claim that the suffering of innocent people in Iran is merely due to Iran's refusal to "abide by its international obligations" (nevermind that Iran is in no way "obligated" to do as the US demands on its nuclear program, and furthermore the sanctions cannot and will not be lifted even if Iran totally gives up her nuclear program because the real aim is imposing regime change, just as Iraq's giving up of her WMDs didn't end the sanctions on that country either -- a fact that some people are only now starting to realizeis the actual game-plan.) This sort of "blame the victim" spin was also used when the US shot down Iran Air 655 during the Iran-Iraq war: we were told that the whole incident was the fault of Iran for not accepting a cease-fire with Iraq, not because the US decided to use its Navy in the conflict to the benefit of Iraq.
In theory, of course, Iran can supposedly import these needed drugs because the Office of Foreign Asset Control in the US (which regulates the sanctions regime) has issued general licenses that exclude medicines from the sanctions regime. In reality, other regulations by the same organization prevent any financial transactions with Iran (including transactions to pay for these drugs) so the net effect is that Iran can't actually pay for any of the medicines. This point was made by Clif Burns of ExportLawBlog.com when he used another example of personal remittances of money sent to Iran which are similarly possible in theory yet impossible in practice due to the ban on financial transactions with Iran:
Frankly, I don’t know whether this conundrum is the unintended result of sloppy drafting by OFAC or is an intentional ambiguity designed to discourage activities that OFAC doesn’t believe it could, as a political matter, prohibit outright.
So apparently the Israelis have had to walk back their claims about the "existential threat" from Iran's "nuclear weapons program"and admit that it isn't as "imminent" as they have been claiming it was for the last 20 years...and David Ignatius of the Washington Post is quick to protect their retreating flanks by spinning this as a case of Iran "blinking" in the nuclear standoff rather than just admitting that the Israelis were just wrong and lying all along.
The fact that Iran has all along said that it intended to make fuel plates, and that no one else claims Iran has even shown an interest in nuclear weapons in the first place, does not make any sort of impression on Ignatius. I mean, why bother with the factual information when the goal is to spin the issue as if Israel was right all along about the Iranian "nuclear threat" anyway?
Apparently David Ignatius is in the business of post-facto justification of what turn out to be false claims about exaggerated Iranian "threats", and his trick is to say that the claims about the threats were right all along, but the reason why these threats never came to fruition is that Iran somehow backed down from them. That, ladies and gents, is what a propagandist does, not a reporter. It is called spin.
On a related note: I guess Netanyahu's embarrassing performance before the UN with his silly cartoon bomb has caused a set-back to the Israeli campaign of scaremongering so they're changing the time frame for the alleged Iranian nukes. Though, Netanyahu himself shows no sign of ending the gaffes. Today, he claimed that an Israeli attack on Iran would help the Arabs. You know, because Netanyahu is all about helping the Arabs.
Sean Lawson at Forbes writes:
"Anonymous Sources Provide No Evidence of Iran Cyber Attacks"
This is the headline that should have been affixed to the New York Times’ most recent story about supposed Iranian cyber attacks against oil and natural gas companies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as banks in the United States. In fact, it is the most appropriate headline for practically all of the news reports on this topic published during the last two weeks. Thus far, the reporting has been based entirely on anonymous sources who have provided no evidence to support claims of Iranian cyber attacks...
Poor Sean, apparently he thinks the New York Times is in the business of reporting actual news rather than any sort of innuendo or scaremongering rumor when it comes to Iran coverage.
And the New York Times is of course matched by the Washington Post blog, which was quick to report this bit of "news": Someone somewhere posted something silly on Facebook, specifically, the claim that Iran and Syria somehow caused hurricane Sandy. Normally of course that would not be news, since people post silly things on FB all the time, entirely on their own...except this Facebook post implicates Iran so naturally it is going to be reported anyway, since the WashPo can rely on the fact that some people are apparently too stupid to realize that neither Iran nor Syria made this claim, rather someone on FB did.
Sometimes in reviewing some of the older material in my files, I run across little things that just make me laugh out loud when I'm reminded of the events. Tonight, this caused a substantial chuckle:
Remember when NeoCon Oliver Kamm wrote an article (behind paywall) in Rupert Murdoch's Times (of London) in which he dramatically "exposed" a document that supposedly proved that Iran had conducted tests with atomic bomb detonators (known as neutron triggers)? Naturally, it quotes David Albright too, claiming that this is "strong evidence" of continued Iranian nuclear weapons work. The Times even published an image of the document itself, quite helpfully. It is always great when a news outlet publishes the primary material which forms the basis of their reporting rather than simply passing off hearsay and rumor, often from anonymous sources, as fact. Congratulations, The Times and Oliver Kamm. You deserve a Medal of Journalism for that...
It turned out that there are all sorts of suspicious things about that document. The collective intelligence of the web kicked in and nitpicked the document and noticed some interesting things, namely, that there were no security markings of any sort on the document as would be expected, and furthermore, it wasn't even typed with Farsi fonts but was instead typed using Arabic fonts. Hmmm...that's kinda weird, huh? Gareth Porter did a great job pointing otu the...inconsistencies?...with this document.
Oh but it is OK because Oliver Kamm wrote back to the commentator, George Maschke, who initially brought these points to light in the comments section of the article, and Oliver Kamm explained these inconsistencies. The following is the very first sentence of what Oliver Kamm, journalist, wrote in reply to Maschke:
George Maschke, the whole of your comment is undermined by your mistake in assuming that the document that you read online was the document in its original form...
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you perhaps the funniest and also most insightful description of journalism at the begining of 21st Century. It should be written in gold and posted on every corner of the world.
You see, if you expect that a document published by the likes of Oliver Kamm and the Times of London to actually be what they claim it is, then you are mistaken. It is your mistake to think that the press will not try to pass off a fake, edited and altered document as the original. You are mistaken to think that these people believe in any sort of honesty or accuracy, or that the Times would not allow an agenda-driven ideologue with a track record of lying to present himself as a journalist.
You are mistaken to think that Oliver Kamm would mention that the Israelis tried to pass off this document to the IAEA in 2009 as evidence of a continued nuclear weapons program in Iran, that the IAEA Director Elbaradei dismissed the document as a a suspected bit of fraud intended to undermine the 2007 US National Intelligene Estimate that judged Iran had no nuclear weapons program, and then the Israelis turned around and fed it to Kamm who dutifully published it in The Times, after he edited and altered it without telling his readers. If you think Oliver Kamm would mention any of these facts in his article, it was your mistake.
In fact, let me explain something to you: there are more laws imposing a duty of honesty and accuracy on used car salesmen than there are on "journalists". In other words, you can rely on what a used car salesman says, more than you can rely on what you read in The Times or any other media outlet. They can lie directly in your face, and there's nothing to stop them. They can make up complete crap -- like that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs and aluminum tubes intended to make nuclear weapons, that Ahmadinejad is secretly Jewish, that Iran requires Jews to wear yellow stars, that Iran's soccer players wore green wristbands as indicators of their political support for the riotors in the aftermath of the 2009 Presidential elections in Iran, or that Iran secretly funded the presidential campaign of Turkey's Prime Minister -- and there's NOTHING to stop them (yes, the Turkish PM won a libel suit against the Telegraph and Con Coughlin for that false claim about Iranian campaign funding -- but that hardly stopped the Telegraph and Con Coughlin from continuing to write nonsense about Iran.)
This is the state of the media and these are the "journalists" you are stuck with to try to figure out what's going on in the world. And of you think anything they write can be taken at face value, you are mistaken.
And here's something else to consider. That alleged neutron trigger work supposedly happened...at Parchin. Yes, the same Parchin that Albright is jumping up and down about, that was already inspected -- twice -- by the IAEA which found nothing but which is still mentioned as evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons work.
Gwynne Dyer's article on Iran entitled 'No Panic in Iran Despite Currency Collapse' won't be picked up and republished in the world's major media because he says things you're not supposed to say publicly about Iran:
First of all, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. and Israeli intelligence service are all agreed on that. A “threshold nuclear weapons capability” (but no nuclear weapons) is still not illegal...
So what are these sanctions really about? Overthrowing the Iranian regime, of course.
Since stopping the enrichment program would not end the sanctions, why would the Iranian government even consider doing so? And will the Iranian people rise up and overthrow the regime because sanctions are making their daily lives very difficult? Even anti-regime Iranians are proud and patriotic people, and the likelihood that they will yield to foreign pressures in that way is approximately zero.
Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA, Peter Jenkins, reacts to Albright calling Joyner "the Ayatollah's Lawyer" by pointing out some of the "misrepresentations" and "contentious interpretations" promoted about Iran's nuclear program:
Misrepresenting evidence has been a recurrent feature of the last ten years. In 2002, for instance, we claimed that Iran had no intention of declaring the Natanz enrichment plant because no declaration had been made before construction began; yet at that time Iran was only obliged to declare plants 180 days before the introduction of nuclear material...
As for contentious interpretations, they are too numerous to list. One of the most egregious, though, is the claim that Iran may not enrich because it is in non-compliance with the NPT. Not only would an impartial court (if such existed) be challenged to determine that Iran has been in NPT non-compliance since its pre-2004 safeguards failures were corrected; but the NPT is without provision for the forfeiting of rights, and in the 2003-5 period the Europeans fully accepted that Iran’s suspension of enrichment was a voluntary confidence-building measure, not an obligation, as did the IAEA Board of Governors.
Law professort Dan Joyner wrote a very interesting piece about the (il)legality of the IAEA and UNSC demands on Iran, and the legal problems with the analyses by ISIS, the think tank that most of the US media tends to automatically refer to whenever issues regarding Iran's nuclear program come up.
David Albright, the director of ISIS, responded with a sneering insult, openly accusing Dan Joyner of being biased in favor of Iran whilst not addressing any of Joyner's points.
Others have pointed out the problems with Albright's claims about Iran. The fact that ISIS continues to refer to "Iran's nuclear weapons program" and continues to promote one-sided and inaccurate fearmongering about Iran doesn't seem to have had any effect on the mainstream media's usage of ISIS. The media continue to refer to ALbright as some sort of objective expert, which by now should be quite clear he is not not..
Yousaf Butt is a nuclear scientist who previously pointed out that the US sanctions on Iran cannot be lifted even if Iran totally shutters its nuclear program, and so the sanctions are really meant to promote regime-change and not nuclear non-proliferation. More recently he has written a very interesting piece entitled The Rial World on the Iranian currency crisis that makes some points I've been considering, but mainly that the Iranian street is going to blame the US for their suffering and not their own government:
So even if Iran were to completely shutter its nuclear program tomorrow, it would still be sanctioned by the United States. But if it's going to be sanctioned no matter what it does with its nuclear program, why should Tehran make any nuclear concessions at all?
In short, the sanctions are not working because they are not designed to work. Rather than being restricted to nuclear issues, they appear to be crafted to put more and more "crippling" pressure on the populace to -- one assumes -- agitate them to demand regime change.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement that the sanctions "will impose crippling economic pressure on the Iranian regime in order to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear program and other dangerous policies."
Nothing of the sort is happening. The nuclear-enrichment program is humming along (under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards), and other unnamed "dangerous policies" -- such as, perhaps, Iranian support of the Syrian regime -- also continue apace.
It is perfectly clear to the average Iranian who is to blame for her recent misery. In the past few months, as more and more of the sanctions have started biting, the ire of the Iranian people has increasingly shifted away from the regime's long-term incompetence, repression, and corruption and toward the United States and the West...
Sheldon Richman writes about the Glaring Contradiction in the US presidential candidates' stances towards Iran:
Each says that a nuclear-armed Iran could not be effectively contained the way the U.S. government contained the nuclear-armed Soviet Union and Communist China. Yet each also says that Iran can be prevented from acquiring a nuclear capability or weapon if the United States and Israel draw a “red line” and threaten Iran militarily if it crosses the line.
Both assertions cannot be true...
In other words, if the Iranian regime were to acquire a nuclear bomb (a very big “if”), there would be no reasoning with it. Threats of massive retaliation — the essence of containment and deterrence — would likely have no effect whatsoever.
But if that is true, why would Obama, Romney, and Netanyahu expect that setting red lines backed by military threats would have the desired effect of deterring Iran from developing a nuclear capability or a weapon itself? How can Obama and Romney hope that harsh sanctions will dissuade Iran's “apocalyptic leaders” from developing a nuclear capability?
Why is deterrence expected to fail in one case but succeed in the other? The same allegedly suicidal fanatics would be making the decision.
I don't think the claim that its nuclear program was the subject of deliberate sabotage is far-fetched, considering that they've also had assassinated civilian scientists. This also jibes with the prior reports of sabotage, including the report that the US sent fake nuclear diagrams to Iran which were discovered by the Iranians.
Now, imagine if the tables were turned and Iran was caught trying to sabotage a US nuclear reactor. We would be hearing all about how them "evul muslims" don't care about human life and are willing to cause a nuclear catastrophe onto civilians. But when the US does it to Iran, it just goes by without causing a ripple.
From The Passionate Attachment, Patrick Clawson of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and outgrowth of AIPAC) speculates on "conflict initiation":
Last Friday, during question time at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy policy forum luncheon on “How to Build US-Israeli Coordination on Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout,” the director of research at the pro-Israel think tank hinted that a Pearl Harbor-type attack might be necessary to get the United States to go to war against the Islamic Republic.
“I frankly think that crisis initiation is really tough,” said Patrick Clawson, who also heads the Washington Institute’s Iran Security Initiative, in response to a question about what would happen if negotiations with Tehran fail. “And it’s very hard for me to see how the United States … uh … President can get us to war with Iran.”
As a consequence, Clawson said he was led to conclude that “the traditional way [that] America gets to war is what would be best for US interests.”
Intriguingly, he went on to recount a series of controversial incidents in American history — the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Lusitania, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the blowing up of the USS Maine — that US presidents “had to wait for” before taking America to war.
“And may I point out that Mr. Lincoln did not feel he could call out the federal army until Fort Sumter was attacked,” Clawson continued, “which is why he ordered the commander at Fort Sumter to do exactly that thing which the South Carolinians had said would cause an attack.”
“So, if in fact the Iranians aren’t going to compromise,” the Israel lobbyist concluded with a smirk on his face, “it would be best if somebody else started the war.”
Parchin is a military site that has been in the news lately because the IAEA is insisting on sending inspectors there, and Iran has been resisting the pressure. While this has naturally led many US media outlets to suggest that Iran is hiding something there, Hassan Beheshtipour explains Iran's position over at IranReview.org
1. No country [would] ever allow the IAEA to inspect its military sites because the agency is missioned to merely visit nuclear sites, and non-nuclear military bases [are not] covered by its inspections [authority].
2. In order to prove its goodwill and reveal [the] falsehood of the Western media propaganda, Iran has already allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the site twice in 2005, and after each visit, the inspectors said nothing illegal had been found there. Olli Heinonen, the deputy to the then director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, had orally promised that if Iran allowed inspection of the military site in Parchin, they would announce once and for all that Parchin is a non-nuclear site and would need no further inspection. However, as the agency’s deputy director general for safeguards changed, the new deputy, Herman Nackaerts, announced in 2011 that Parchin site needs to be inspected again in the light of alleged studies whose information had been provided by some member states of the agency. This issue has caused Iran not to trust the promises given by the IAEA officials anymore.
3. Following three rounds of negotiations with delegates of the IAEA, Iran announced that the agency would be able to revisit Parchin site if two conditions are met. Firstly, they should promise that following the visit, there would be no further request to inspect Parchin again. Secondly, documents related to the agency’s alleged studies should be made available to Iran in order to make it possible for Tehran to evaluate that information and give an appropriate answer. The IAEA, in return, responded to Iran’s logical request by claiming that countries providing information about the alleged studies would not allow copies of those studies to be provided to Iran. As a result, the agency rejected Iran’s request and denied the Islamic Republic of an opportunity to defend itself by alleging that the IAEA, an impartial international organization, is competent enough to verify the studies.
4. The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the IAEA to guarantee that after its inspectors visit the military site at Parchin, there would be no leak of confidential information related to this non-nuclear military site and such information remain secret. This is a result of the background of the IAEA's performance in similar cases. For example, during the agency’s work in Iraq, information related to non-nuclear military sites of that country were made available to other states a few years before military invasion of Iraq by the United States. Of course, the United States announced that it had not gained that information through the IAEA inspectors, but at any rate, the leak of confidential information about Iraq’s military sites dealt a drastic blow to credit of the agency regardless of the source of the leaked information.
The writer goes on the remind readers that the IAEA and Iran resolved most of the "outstanding issues" between them back in 2007-2008, after they had reached a "Modalities Agreement" for a step-by-step process of cooperation, and,
At present, Iran is also ready to cooperate with the agency on all issues provided that the cooperation is mutual and based on a correct understanding of Iran’s security considerations.
I should point out here that regarding point no. 3 raised by Beheshtipour, former IAEA head El-Baradei wrote in his memoirs entitled "Age of Deception" about how ridiculous the thought it was that Iran was expected to rebut evidence that it was not allowed to see. In fact, under the 2007 Modalities Agreement, which led to the resolution of all of the claims against Iran except for the "alleged studies", Iran agreed to provide an evaluation of these claims if it was presented with the documentation first. However the US has prevented the IAEA from sharing the information with Iran, and in some cases the US has even prevented the IAEA itself from seeing the full documentation which forms the basis of these "Alleged Studies" even though there are signficant doubts about the veracity of these same documents. Iran supplied their promised evaluation in the form of a 117-page document anyway. Under the terms of that Modalities Agreement, this was all Iran was obligated to do, and the IAEA was then bound to conclude the issue. That, of course, is not what happened. Read more here
I have concluded that in reading mainstream US media converage especially about foreign affairs you have to view it as reading a comic book. See for example Joby Warrick, the same fellow that not long ago was promoting scaremongering bullshit about "Soviet nuclear scientists" secretly working at Iranian nuclear sites (Sort of a riff on "Dr. No.") Now Warrick has once against stringed together a bunch of bullshit and called it an article entitled "Obama's policy on Iran bears some fruit."(I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone with the term "bullshit" but that's precisely what it is, and I'm having a bit of pain so I don't have the patience to be nice!)
In judging Obama's Iran policy, Warrick promotes the same set of discredited lies as usual, portraying the US as magnanimously offering the hand of peace to Iran, only for the intransigent and crazy Iranians to slap it away as they continue to plot to make nukes. The real news -- that Joby Warrick doesn't want you to read -- is that the Obama administration has been pursuing the same policies as Bush, policies designed and implemented by Israel-firsters like the same Dennis Ross and Elliot Abram quoted by Warrick, who have in fact actively prevented a peaceful resolution of the standoff with Iran, and have instead brought us closer to a conflict by consciously closing off other options -- which is why Joby would like you to believe that there's some sort of race between the fall of the regime in Iran or a nuclear-armed Iran (whch is a false choice - there's zero proof of any nuclear weapons program, and Iran's nuclear program is actually quite popular amongst Iranians.)
First let us all hail the great and noble Obama:
Over the previous few years, the president has used his office to repeatedly extend offers of rapprochement to Iranian leaders. And when those attempts have been rejected — firmly — he has used diplomacy to build an unprecedented wall of international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and preside over the imposition of the harshest economic sanctions in the country’s history.
Yes, you see in Joby Warrick's world, it is US that is doing the "offering" and Iran that is doing the "refusing" -- nevermind several little incidents like the aborted Turkey/Brazil-brokered Uranium swap deal that was killed by Obama after Iran unexpectedly said yes (causing even US allies Brazil and Turkey to publicly complain.) Nevermind the whole history of this conflict which has witnessed repeated Iranian compromise offers ignored or spurned by both Bush as well as Obama.
No, see in Joby Warrick world, the Iranians have to be the 'intransigent' party, stubbornly seeking nukes and refusing peaceful settlements. That's why, according to Joby Warrick at least, Iran's leader Ayatullah Khamenei "publicly rejected Obama’s appeals" -- whereas in real life, Khamenei said quite overtly that he would judge the US by its actions not words:
In a televised address in the city of Mashhad, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama called for a new beginning in the troubled U.S.-Iran relationship, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: “We have no experience with the new American government and the new American President. We will observe them and we will judge. If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”...
The Iranian leader reiterated that his country was looking practical changes on the ground as a precondition for an engagement with the Americans. “Have you released Iranian assets? Have you lifted oppressive sanctions? Have you given up mudslinging and making accusations against the great Iranian nation and its officials? Have you given up your unconditional support for the Zionist regime?” he asked.
Earlier, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a top adviser of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also stressed that Tehran was looking for concrete action from Washington so that ties could improve.
And what were come of the Obama administration actions? Sanctions and bringing Ross up from the bowels of AIPAC and the Bush administration and put him in charge of promoting an Iran policy that was quite obviously a continuation of Bush's policies and explicitly intended by Dennis Ross to justify a conflict with Iran.
And just to make sure you, dear reader, don't get confused by little inconvenient facts -- like the fact that the 16 (now 17) combined US intelligence agencies still say there's no sign of any Iranian nuclear weapons program -- Joby Warrick is quite happy to claim that the Obama administration discovered Fordo (in fact it was first publicly disclosed by Iran) and furthermore that the "discovery" of Fordo has "all but demolished" any claims Iran may have to operating a purely peaceful civilian nuclear program -- nevermind that the IAEA visited Fordo and concluded at the time that it was nothing more than a "hole in the mountain...nothing to be worried about" (just like all the other US intelligence tips to the IAEA that ended up being dead ends) and which today operates under IAEA safeguards and inspections. Oh, and another fact that is too inconvenient to exist in Joby Warrick world: Iran has started converting its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into fuel plates, thus making it impossible to use the material for making nukes, and just as it said it would.
In fact, Fordo is where Iran manufactures uranium enriched to just under 20% (still low-enriched uranium which cannot be used for bombs) for a medical reactor that creates isotopes to diagnose and treat Iran's 800,000 cancer patients. Prior to that, Iran was enriching Uranium at 3.5% which is what civilian reactors use. Iran would not have had to enrich uranium even to 20% had the US not prevented Iran from simply buying the fuel on the open market as is done usually. So the Iranians were forced to make the 20% enriched uranium themselves thanks to US policies -- something that the same Moussavian who is quoted by Joby Warrick in this same article wrote about quite recently but apparently Warrick didn't want to confuse you with such details that contradict his narrative about a sneaky Iran making bombs at Fordo.
Indeed, just today, the Iranians once again offered to cease enriching uranium at 20%, if only they're permitted to buy the reactor fuel for the medical reactor again -- but you know, Joby Warrick is too much of a good Washington Post reporter to mention that bit of current news in his analysis -- especially since it would contradict his lies about Iran seeking nuclear weapons.
The fact that the US has been demanding that Iran give up a sovereign right to operate an indigenous nuclear program that is perfectly legal, the fact that the majority of the world's countries as represented by NAM hperfectly legalave explicitly supported Iran (once again) just a couple of weeks ago, none of that matters. No, you see, the US is the maganimous party, making reasonable offers that only a crazed, nuke-luvin' bunch of ayatullahs can refuse...according to Joby Warrick. That's straight out of a comic book.
Naturally, the New York Times seized on this -- the story that an official in charge of Iran's nuclear program, Fereydoon Abbasi, has "admitted" that Iran occasionally tried to mislead on its nuclear program:
Iran's top atomic energy official said in an article published Thursday that because of foreign espionage, his government had sometimes provided false information to protect its nuclear program.
Note the crucial bit of missing information here, left out by the NY Times in order to spin this sentence as some sort of "confession" by Iran of having hidden nukes: WHO WHOM? TO WHOM has he said Iran provided false information - to the IAEA or to Western spies?
Because that's a real crucial bit of difference! Needless to explain: There's generally no obligation on a country to allow foreign spying, especially when its scientists are being assasinated. However the NY Time's simply runs with the assumption that this official is saying "We lied to the IAEA because we're making nukes" rather than "We tried to mislead foreign intelligence agencies so they would not assasinate us". Go back and read it again, better yet read the original Arabian news report. Or translate it. You won't see him saying "We lied TO THE IAEA because we're hiding nukes" Instead, he's referring to foreign intelligence agencies. But that's not how the NY Times spins it.
The bottom line is, as much as the NY Times and friends would like to exploit these 2 sentences, there is still no evidence of any nuclear weapons program, and Iran has never diverted nuclear material for non-peaceful uses, and all of this is verified by regular, intensive IAEA inspections. So what precisely is it that Iran has been lying about to the IAEA? Because the IAEA would sure like to know.
Of course the NY Times has to raise the suspicions by referring to a list of events in a one-sided way. For example, the Times repeats the lie that Iran "hid" its enrichment facilities until 2002 -- but in fact Iran had simply not officially declared them to the IAEA since legally it wasn't obligated to do so yet, and in any case Iran's enrichment program was in fact never a secret. Or, the lie that Iran was "hiding" Fordo and only disclosed it when it had found out that the US knew about it? What a sad attempt to distort the true facts: Iran is not legally obligated to disclose a facility until 180-days prior to the introduction of nuclear material into the facility. If the US "beats them to the punch" and makes the site publicly known, it wasn't because Iran was "hiding" it - it was simply not within the 180-day time limit yet. And aside from that, the IAEA went to Fordo and investigated it, and the IAEA director said bluntly that it was nothing more than a hole in a mountain and nothing to be concerned about. That's another crucial bit of fact left out by the Times. Or the lie that Iran is not cooperating with IAEA efforts about the in-famous "Alleged Studies" -- leaving out the crucial fact that IRan has responded to them, to the best degree possible, especially considering that the IAEA has not been permitted by the US to actually show the evidence to Iran, that Iran is expected to rebut - something the former IAEA director complained about in his book where he also recounted that some of the documents cited as proof of Iranian nukes were in fact so obvious forgeries that in one case he simply returned the a document to the Israelis who had provided it to him. (I'm too tired to find all the links verifying what I've written here - google it.)
So what's really going on here? Why is the NY Times putting this spin on the story? Because for the longest time they've been looking for a way to kill the US National INtelligence Estimate, which has been saying for a while now that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and has shown no interest in one either. Boy when that NIE came out, it went off like a bomb. Bush ran off to Israel and disassociated himself from his own intelligence agencies. There was talk about intelligence agencies having carried out a "coup" and gone rogue. The Israelis were steaming. They've been pressing ever since to either get that NIE rewritten, or to somehow find a way around it, even if it means denigrating US intelligence analysts. Well, here you go! Here's an Iranian official saying "We lied". How much hay can you make out of that?!
Law professor Dan Joyner on how the IAEA's demands on Iran are illegal:
"[T]he core legal standards that the IAEA has used in its official reports as the basis for its scope of investigations and assessment on any issues outside of the question of non-diversion of declared, safeguarded nuclear material in Iran have been unlawful. And that in applying these unlawful legal standards in its investigations and assessments, the IAEA has, since at least 2006, been acting ultra vires its authority. In short, it has been acting illegally."
I'll explain all this in layman terms later but basically the IAEA, prodded on by the UNSC, has been imposing demands that Iran meet inspection standards that go well beyond Iran's legal obligations, and which the IAEA has no authority to demand. The irony is that the IAEA states that it already has this authority, and yet demands that Iran sign a treaty giving it that same authority.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian's informative lecture on Iran nuclear issue in the Common Wealth Club in San Francisco, on C-SPAN, in which he points out that Iran was forced to enrich uranium to 20% to make its own fuel for a medical reactor that treats cancer patients, when the US interferred in Iran's attempts to simply buy the necessary fuel as usual:
"In February 2010, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization proposed that the P5+1 [China, Russia, US, Britain, France and Germany] provide fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor, which is a reactor that was built by Americans and is used for medical isotopes for 800,000 patients struggling with cancer. They need fuel rods to continue to run this nuclear facility. Iranians proposed that we would not increase the level of enrichment beyond 5% if P5+1 would provide the fuel rods. In order to build the fuel rods, you need at least 20% enrichment. This was Iran’s proposal that we would keep enrichment below 5%. We don’t want to have high level enrichment. We don’t want to enrich 20%. Instead, give us the fuel rods. But the Western countries declined.
Iran had no other option but to increase the level of enrichment to 20%. Now people say that because we enriched up to 20%, we must want to build a nuclear bomb. This is the story you read everywhere in the media. But they don’t tell you the truth. In September 2011, the Iranian foreign minister and president came to New York for the United Nations assembly, and they made a proposal to the U.S. and the West. They said, ‘Now that we have 20%, we are ready to stop. We are ready to go back to 3.5% if you provide us with the fuel rods, because about a million patients with cancer need it.’ The U.S. declined.
It was the Iranian proposal to stop enriching at 20% and go back to below 5%. As long as enrichment is below 5%, there is no danger of any nuclear weapon at all. Everybody knows this. But because the U.S. refused our proposal, Iran had to build its own fuel rods to run this American-made Tehran medical research reactor.
I should point out that there was no "non-proliferation" goal served by this US interference in the purchase of fuel rods for this reactor, since reactor fuel rods practically cannot be used to make nukes, and this particular reactor not only operates under constant international monitoring, but it is also far too small to be used to make nukes anyway.
So in short, by interferring with Iran's purchase of fuel for this reactor, the US actually managed to push Iran closer to nuke-making ability by forcing Iran to learn to enrich uranium to 20% purity. And though Iran has repeatedly offered to cease 20% enrichment if it is only allowed to buy the fuel once again, the US has consitently refused this and other Iranian compromise proposals.
So now we have to ask ourselves: Why did the US adopt this policy?
Because like I keep saying over and over again, this conflict actually has nothing to do with nukes or Iran's nuclear program. That's just a pretext for a policy of imposing regime-change, just as 'WMDs in Iraq' was just a pretext too. No amount of Iranian compromise proposals, no amount of IAEA inspections, no amount of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will ever suffice -- just about the last thing the US wants it to allow this conflict over Iran's nuclear program to be peacefully resolved whilst the regime there is still left in power.
UPDATE: Writing in CounterPunch, Joe Richardson points out that Iran agreed to ship out half of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium in a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil with the blessings of the Obama administration, only to have the same administration pull out the rug from under the Brazilians and Turks right when they got Iran's consent to the deal:
The subsequent US failure to avail itself of the opportunity to embrace a deal for which it had supposedly been striving, is perplexing only to who seriously entertain US assurances that its policy is animated by concern over a nuclear weapons’ program... Sanctions are a policy to precipitate war, not to obviate it. How else are we to construe the absurd spectacle being currently enacted amongst Western powers in their dealings with Iran?
Trita Parsi writes in today’s Daily Beast that the US sanctions can cause considerable damage to America’s “soft power” amongst ordinary Iranians, who until now generally held favorable views of the US and Americans, with possible negative consequences to US interests:
This dynamic—growing Iranian resentment of broad-based sanctions—will likely directly affect future nuclear talks between Iran and the West. While citizens of a country don't exert direct power in un-democratic countries like Iran, popular sentiment can still bring some pressure to bear on these countries' governments. This is what the Obama Administration hopes to achieve in order to soften Tehran's stance. But this pressure grows proportionally with ire directed against the government—but not with anger directed at outside powers. If the balance of anger shifts against the U.S., a key element of the pressure approach falls apart.
If the Obama administration is betting that the sanctions will cause public sentiment to swing against the regime on the nuclear issue thus causing Tehran to "soften" its negotiating position, as Trita states above, it is not just a stupid policy but it also shows a profound misunderstanding of the Iranian national psyche and their narrative of their history, something that may be a mystery to most Americans including the policy-makers, but which Iranian children read all about in their highschool history books.
If anyone had bothered to actually learn this Iranian historical narrative, they would know that this is hardly the first time that a foreign superpower has imposed sanctions, issued ultimatums, and threatened attacks on Iran. There's a long history of this dating back to before the 1953 coup, when the UK practiced gun boat diplomacy in the Persian Gulf and the media was also full of reports of military forces preparing to attack Iran, just like how the US military is regularly reported to preparaing to attack Iran today.
In fact, Iran has been dealing with this sort of thing since the late 1890s, and especially during the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-07, when Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia were the dominant powers of the world. (Short version of history: Iran created a constutional form of government where the King reigned but did not rule -- like in Belgium, Norway or Britain -- and attempted to gain control of their own government's finances which were under the control of Russia and Britain, but the Russians ended up shelling Iran's Parliament building, and together with the British they divided Iran up between themselves while installing a puppet Shah in power -- thus ending Iran's first experiment with a Western style constitutional democracy. Yes, this was in 1907, long before the CIA coup of 1953 that toppled Mossadegh.) And in this historical narrative, the Iranian officials who stood up to the foreign pressures are considered national heroes, while the ones who caved-in are considered corrupt traitors to the motherland.
So now, the US has allowed itself to be steered by AIPAC and Israel into filling the same role as the Russians and British in this damning historical narrative. This will naturally result in the same sort of Iranian nationalistic backlash and the same sort deep resentment against America that Iranians still reserve for the previous imperial powers who pulled this crap on them (even today, Brits are less preferred to Americans in Iran, as the general Iranian popular stereotype of the British portrays them as being crafty and underhanded in pursuing their interests at the cost of Iranian interests.)
After all, lets keep in mind an inconvenient fact: Iran’s nuclear program has massive popular support, even amongst opponents to the regime. Even Mir Hussein Moussavi, the purported leader of the alleged “Green Movement” whose post-election demonstrations were presented in the US media as evidence of anti-regime, pro-democracy movement in Iran, criticized Iranian president Ahmadinejad over his stance on the nuclear issue -- not because Mousavi thought Ahmadinejad was being too hardline and uncompromising, but because he thought Ahmadinejad was being too soft on the nuclear issue and was offering too many nuclear concessions to the West in the now-defunct uranium swap proposals. That's right: the "leader" of the so-called "Green Movement" that the West put so much stock in, was actually more hardline on the nuclear issue than the current Iranian president.
And why should this be surprising? Like I always say, let us engage in a thought experiment: suppose the roles were reversed, and Iran was daily threatening the US unless the US gave up a sovereign right. What would the reaction of an average American be? Why assume Iranians would react any differently when they’re told they have to give up enrichment of their own uranium, using their own technology, to power their own reactors? This fact -- that Iranians a whole support their nuclear program -- never really enters into the debate because it is a taboo thing to say in polite Washington DC circles. I am constantly amazed at this persistent blindness to the fact that other people may love their country too. But perhaps it can be explained by the fact that at bottom, the NeoCons are racists who assume other people, particularly from less developed countries, are somehow less human than they are, and so should be more easily cowed. I remember one pundit -- I think it was Gary Milholin of the Wisconsin Project (who insisted that Iraq had WMDs) saying that the Iranian people support their nuclear program only because "they haven't tasted sancions yet."
Well, what if they taste the sanctions, develop an even bigger grudge about it against the US, and support their nuclear program even more out of a sense of outraged nationalism? Where would that leave things? Having invested so much in pushing the sanctions, one can't really expect the US to then simply throw up its hands and walk away from this policy. No, the US will have to double-down and dig the hole deeper, raising the stakes in the hopes that the Iranians may eventually crack -- and if they don't, then the US has dug itself a hole that it cant' get out of and will have no choice but to attack militarily. We're already well down this path.
In fact lets keep another inconvenient fact in mind: the Iranian people are actually more “hardline” regarding their nuclear program than the Iranian regime itself. While Iranian government officials go to great lengths to deny any intention to make nuclear weapons and have repeatedly offered to accept additional restrictions on the nuclear program -- restrictions that go well beyond Iran’s legal obligations under the NPT or what any other country has accepted -- polls have shown a growing portion of Iranian people actually want their country to not just produce nuclear energy but nuclear weapons as well.
So much for the prospects of sanctions causing public sentiment to soften Iran's nuclear negotiation stance.
But of course, aside from all this, the sanctions can’t be removed by the Obama administration anyway, no matter how damaging the sanctions policy may be to America’s influence over Iran and no matter how much Obama himself would want to remove them. Apart from the fact that the Israeli-dominated US Congress has imposed the sanctions and so they're the only ones who can remove them, and also apart from the fact that the proponents of sanctions (NeoCons, specifically) have an authoritarian worldview themselves and so they simply lack the necessary imagination to come up with a better policy on Iran except one that relies on coercion and dominance, the truth is that the forces behind the sanctions (for example AIPAC, which literally wrote the texts of some of the sanctions laws passed by Congress) have their own particular short-term interests and goals in mind, and so they simply don’t concern themselves with the broader and more general US interests anyway. The goal of these sanctions-proponents is to forestall an improvement in US-Iran relations for the same of Israel, not to promote it, and ultimately to even cause a war between the two nations if it comes to it. The fact that the sanctions may turn popular opinion in Iran against the US is in fact a desired outcome for them, not an unforseen side-effect. They would actually prefer more ill-feeling between Americans and Iranians, not less, because the last thing they want is any such positive sentiment to lead to an improvement in US-Iran relations while the current regime is still in charge.
In fact, like I said before, the “target” of the sanctions is not so much Iran as the Obama administration itself, because with the passing of each sanctions measure against Iran, the US goes further down the road that can only lead to a war, and it becomes politically more difficult for any US politician to do an about-face and remove the sanctions on Iran. (This is also why the issue is presented in the media as a false choice between “bombing Iran, or Iran gets the bomb”. There's no intermediate option of Iran operating a perfectly normal nuclear energy program with no bomb-making, according to this false choice.)
Sanctions are therefore not really about addressing any purported “nuclear threat” from Iran -- that’s just the pretext, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was just the pretext for another policy altogether: imposing regime-change. Those pushing for sanctions see them as a necessary preliminary step towards a war, not just to “soften-up” Iran prior to the attack as was the case for Iraq, but to create the pretense of having "exhausted diplomacy" and to thus manouvere the Obama administration into a position where politically-speaking, it has no other choice but to attack Iran (which is why you see the Right goading Obama for being "weak" on Iran due to his refusal to impose Netanyahu's "red lines". How much longer can Obama hold out?)
And in the meantime, multiple opportunities for a peaceful, compromise solution to the nuclear standoff have been systematically eliminated or ignored. (Indeed, as Trita notes and Yousef Butt has written, we are now at a stage where legally-speaking, the sanctions cannot be removed even if Iran totally gave up her nuclear program, but at the same time the sanctions proponents also say that the sanctions won't work either, thus conveniently leaving only one option: war.)
So, does the suffering of Iranians even matter to these sanctions-proponents? I think that no matter how much suffering is imposed on the ordinary Iranian people, these sanctions-proponents will find a way to justify it or to shift the blame, just as we saw happened with regard to Iraq: Nevermind Madeleine Albright’s assertion that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children as a result of sanctions was “worth it” (a statement she later withdrew but only to attempt to shift the blame for the continued sanctions carnage onto Saddam) but I distinctly remember the Right even arguing that the Iraqi people deserved their suffering under the sanctions for their failure to topple Saddam as they should (ignoring that when the Shi’a in southern Iraq did rise up against Saddam with the encouragement of the first Bush administration in 1991, they were almost immediately abandoned by the US, to be brutally massacred by Saddam.)