Don’t Fear Iranian Nukes

In his speech after the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich warned that “an Iranian nuclear weapon is one of the most frightening things we have to confront.” He was criticizing the non-interventionist views of Ron Paul, but beyond the presidential campaign, we seem to have this bundle of assumptions overtaking the media and most political discourse: Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and only an unreasonable person would think the U.S. should not do nearly anything to prevent Iran from achieving this goal.

The last wave of this hysteria began in response to the newest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s nuclear program released two months ago. Yet the new smoking gun in that document, as it was confusingly described in one media account after another, was based on questionable and old intelligence going back to 2003. There was nothing new. Seymour Hersh reports:

Robert Kelley, a retired I.A.E.A. director and nuclear engineer who previously spent more than thirty years with the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, told me that he could find very little new information in the I.A.E.A. report. He noted that hundreds of pages of material appears to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the I.A.E.A. by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established. Those materials, and others, “were old news,” Kelley said, and known to many journalists. “I wonder why this same stuff is now considered ‘new information’ by the same reporters.

Indeed, the IAEA “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” as it has in its previous reports.

Some more important facts to keep in mind:

(1) Iran is reported to be attempting to enrich its uranium to 19.75% LEU —well below the 95% used for nuclear weapons, and there is no evidence Iran has the potential to reach such high enrichment any time soon;

(2) According to the relevant U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, agreed on by both the Bush and Obama administrations, Iran has not even sought nuclear weapons in nearly a decade;

(3) The Iranian military state is run by the clerics, not by President Ahmadinejad, whose statements about Israel have been taken out of context and have little bearing on actual Iranian policy;

(4) even if somehow Iran did get nuclear weapons, they would not be any more dangerous than the thousands of other nuclear weapons in the world, some of which have gone missing;

(5) even the head of Israel’s Mossad does not see Iran with nuclear weapons as an “existential threat” to Israel—and it certainly wouldn’t be such a threat to the United States;

(6) Indeed, attacking Iran, whether over alleged nuclear program or any other pretext, is a far greater threat to Israel to anything Iran is posing just being left alone (the linked interview between Scott Horton and Gareth Porter is well worth hearing in full);

(7) During the Cold War, the U.S. faced the Soviet Union, which was an existential threat, and was a much more belligerent and repressive regime than the one ruling Iran.

The Iranian regime is not particularly belligerent, either. Iran may be guilty of an extrajudicial conviction of an accused American-born spy, but this is hardly any worse than the U.S. government’s own show trials involving charges just as dubious and does not justify war. All this talk about Iran’s weapons testing and other transgressions against America’s sense of what’s right in the world does not negate the fact that the U.S. has been the greater instigator in all relations with Iran.

In 1953, the Eisenhower administration overthrew the democratically elected government and replaced it with the brutal Shah, whose torturers were later trained by the CIA. In the 1980s, the U.S. sided with Iraq’s aggressive war with Iran. In the last few years, the U.S. has been imposing sanctions on Iran and waging a covert war, most likely supporting such terrorist groups as Jundallah, itself possibly tied to al Qaeda, and the Marxist Mujahedeen-e Khalq.

Compared to America’s record in waging aggressive wars—indeed, compared to most of the world—Iran is a fairly peaceful country. Juan Cole writes:

Unlike Israel (Egypt 1956, 1967; Lebanon 1982, 2006) or the US (Iraq 2003), Iran has not unilaterally attacked a nation that had not attacked it, and Iran has not occupied other states’ territory. Both Israel and the US have stockpiles of nuclear warheads. Iran doesn’t have a single one and doesn’t even have a nuclear weapons program. Since Iran has not attacked anyone (and hasn’t done so for over a century), and since the UNSC has not authorized the use of force against Tehran, it would be illegal under the UN Charter for the US or Israel to attack Iran.

Moreover, the toxic and radioactive materials released on civilians in Isfahan as a result of an attack on the Natanz facilities would pose a significant hazard to civilian life in that city– another war crime.

So why all the U.S. saber rattling? The Obama administration’s latest assault on Iran, the new round of sanctions, is not targeting any sort of actual weapons program, but is instead designed to evoke “public discontent” among the Iranian people, in the words of one administration official. Is the goal regime change? It is simply to flex geopolitical muscle or to benefit Israel? Perhaps, but even in terms of realpolitik, war with Iran would be utterly disastrous.

Regardless of the precise reason behind the propaganda campaign, there is no reason to worry about Iranian nukes. There is no real evidence of a nuclear weapons program, despite every tiny thing being blown out of proportion in the media as proof of Iran’s nefariousness and impending development of such weapons. Even if the Iranians had such weapons, it would not be nearly the threat to Israel it’s made out to be, and it would be virtually no threat at all to the United States. War with Iran, however, would be a grand calamity, potentially far worse than the folly of the Iraq war, and would likely destabilize the whole region and make matters much worse for Israel anyway.

This is not how most of the establishment is interpreting reality. But there is one final reason to be highly suspicious of all the warmongering out there. Most of the people in government and connected to the war party are known to play fast with the truth in fomenting wars. This same group was wrong about Iraq and misled the nation into a horrible war, either intentionally or with negligence rising to the level of gross criminality, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed as a result. We should never listen to what they have to say without a grain—make that a truckload—of salt. The cost of action is so much higher than the cost of inaction.

Don’t listen to the propagandists. They are flirting with an international cataclysm, and fudging the facts in the process.

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