May 14, 2007

So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?

I suppose I'll have to go through this at least once a week in the current season of still gathering madness. From a prominently featured New York Times story -- which as I write this is, of course, linked by a huge red headline on Drudge:
Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran appears to have solved most of its technological problems and is now beginning to enrich uranium on a far larger scale than before, according to the agency's top officials.

The findings may change the calculus of diplomacy in Europe and in Washington, which aimed to force a suspension of Iran's enrichment activities in large part to prevent it from learning how to produce weapons-grade material.
Several paragraphs later, we begin to get the qualifications to this recycled doomsday scenario, in a neverending succession of virtually identical doomsday scenarios:
The material produced so far would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be transformed into bomb-grade material. To accomplish that, Iran would likely first have to evict the I.A.E.A. inspectors, as North Korea did four years ago.

Even then, it is unclear whether the Iranians have the technology to produce a weapon small enough to fit atop their missiles, a significant engineering challenge.

While the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend all of its nuclear activities, and it has twice imposed sanctions for Tehran's refusal to do so, some European nations, and particularly Russia, have questioned whether the demand for suspension still makes sense.

The logic of demanding suspension is that it would delay the day that Iran gained the knowledge to produce its own nuclear fuel — what the Israelis used to refer to as "the point of no return." Those favoring unconditional engagement with Iran have argued that the current strategy is creating a stalemate that the Iranians are exploiting, allowing them to make technological leaps while the Security Council steps up sanctions.
At this point, I suppose I should also remind you that the "unsustainability" of a sanctions policy was one of the reasons used to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That particular reason was enormously popular with many liberals, among others. Moreover, it is well-known -- or at least, it should be well-known -- that sanctions do nothing to deter the targeted country's leaders from pursuing the policies disfavored by those who demand the sanctions, while they inflict grievous, terrible suffering on the country's population in general. In brief, sanctions are an unspeakably cruel, complete failure.

On this subject, I will turn the floor over to Stanley Kutler, whose entire article I recommend with special emphasis to those liberals and progressives who continue, with no factual support whatsoever, to view Clinton's foreign policy in the 1990s through rose-colored glasses so heavily tinted that they render those who wear them almost completely blind:
Where was our attention for the decade following the Gulf War in 1991? ...

And what attention did we give to the thirteen-year campaign of sanctions and bombings of Iraq? For Barry Lando, in his useful new book Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, From Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, sanctions were the weapon of mass destruction used against the Iraqi people to starve and reduce them to a Third World level of poverty. Lando's work opens our eyes to one of the most tragic episodes in the lengthy, sorry history of "Western" dealings with Iraq. ... The British preferred Winston Churchill's imperial ambitions. We chose Bushes, a Clinton and their respective entourages. Either way, disaster was not far behind.


The sanctions and bombings of the 1990s are directly linked to Bush's determination to invade Iraq in 2003 and attempt to remake it--again, in our image. History illuminates the present, and we would do well to absorb Lando's narration.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq as part of the run-up to the first Gulf War. The Security Council severed all imports and exports between Iraq and the world--from food and vaccines to hospital equipment and medical journals. Iraq imported 70 percent of its food, largely paid for by oil exports. The UN's writ is not meaningless--not when the United States and Great Britain rigorously enforced the sanctions. And to underline for the Iraqis where the muscle was, the two powers regularly bombed the country.

We estimate between 500,00 to 1 million Iraqis died in the 1990s, a very large proportion being children. To what end? Not, Lando maintains, to destroy Saddam Hussein's WMDs but to force him out. ...

The CIA badly miscalculated that sanctions, coupled with Iraq's devastating defeat, would result in a military coup, toppling Saddam. Anything but. The sanctions and Saddam's heightened repression insured his survival--much to the frustration of Western leaders.

The sanctions worked only as partly intended: They imposed untold suffering on the population. Americans at the UN blocked a request to ship baby food because adults might use it. They vetoed sending a heart pill that contained a milligram of cyanide because tens of thousands of such pills could become a lethal weapon. The banned list included filters for water treatment plants, vaccines, cotton swabs and gauze, children's clothes, funeral shrouds. Somehow, even Vietnamese pingpong balls found their way to the proscribed list.

Sanctions devastated the country's medical system, once one of the best in the region. Sanctions insured that malnutrition would morph into virtual death sentences, as Lando notes. Babies died in incubators because of power failures; others were crippled with cerebral palsy because of insufficient oxygen supplies. As early as May 1991, a visiting Harvard medical team concluded that Iraq had a public health catastrophe.


Iraqis hoped for a better day with the new President, Bill Clinton. Alas! Clinton's background and his political calculus determined that he had to establish his macho credentials and his credibility with the right. He authorized a Tomahawk missile attack against Baghdad, supposedly in retaliation for Saddam's alleged plot to assassinate former President Bush. (The Kuwaiti-provided evidence, many believe, is quite tenuous.) In any event, Clinton's attack went off track and killed eight civilians, including a gifted artist. His UN Ambassador, Madeleine Albright, carefully monitored the ever-tightening sanctions. In late 1994 the New York Times reported on children in filthy hospitals, dying with diarrhea and pneumonia, people desperately seeking food, and Iraq's inability to sell its oil--the country faced "famine and economic collapse." Without doubt, the sanctions consolidated Saddam's power. UN Administrator Denis Halliday wrote that the people blamed the United States and the UN for their travails, not Saddam Hussein. Halliday resigned, refusing to administer a program that he called "genocide."


The present Iraq War and occupation is but another chapter in our melancholy, misguided and decidedly bipartisan relations with Iraq. Lando painfully underscores how we knew--and deliberately enforced--such policies just to heighten that civilian suffering. The chimera of Saddam's imminent overthrow only tightened the screws for the Iraqis.


When in March 2003, the Bush Administration launched its inevitable invasion, American forces confronted an empty shell of defenses and a dispirited, devastated and despairing populace. The invasion was a cakewalk. But our not-so wise policy-makers wanted more, and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz promised our troops garlands of flowers as Iraqis would welcome their liberators. Some welcome. The American and British sanctions' policy had done its work quite well--painfully, devastatingly well. Remember: Much of this was pursued by the Clinton Administration, anxious to show that its statesmanship credentials could match any Bush. So the last word properly belongs to Secretary Albright. Although she belatedly disavowed her comments after the Iraq disaster was obvious to all except George W. Bush, nevertheless, she said of sanctions and bombings: "It was worth it."
The Clinton administration's Iraq policy, as well as its interventions in the Balkans, strengthened the groundwork of our bipartisan foreign policy and provided unbroken continuity to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ignorant or lying, or both. The Clinton administration and its defenders in the realm of foreign policy have a great deal to answer for.

Finally, we should consider the more general issues that are implicated. Even though the foreign policy establishment and almost all political leaders of both parties are fully committed to American world hegemony, a world where we are entitled to call all the shots and tell every other country what it is and is not permitted to do, there is no political, strategic, legal or moral justification for this stance, and there never will be. (See "Dominion Over the World" for much more on this.) Our position is especially untenable when we carve out exceptions for a country like India, which is not a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, while we threaten to unleash nuclear destruction of our own on Iran (which is a signatory), because of the potential threat Iran might represent at some point in the indeterminate future. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are especially insistent on this last point.

Almost one year ago, in "And Still One More Time: Stop Helping the Warmongers," I discussed the irrelevance of intelligence to major foreign policy decisions. Such decisions, including matters of war and peace, are ones of judgment; they do not depend on "secret information," which is invariably wrong, and basically intelligent, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making such judgments as supposedly learned and experienced government leaders (who, as history has just demonstrated for the thousandth time, are stupendously thickheaded, entirely cowardly, and relentlessly bloodthirsty when it comes to such matters). In analyzing the terrible mistake of insisting that "the intelligence has to be right this time" -- as if intelligence actually has anything to do with the decision to go to war, which it does not and almost never has -- I wrote:
The issue matters so much because the error in the way the debate is framed may very well lead us into disaster once again, and even into a global nuclear war. With regard to Iran, everyone who is at all prominent in the debate about what we should do -- everyone, Democrat, Republican or otherwise -- insists that we have "to get the intelligence right this time." In other words: if we are convinced that Iran is actually trying to get nuclear weapons (even though all the best estimates indicate they still won't have even one for five to 10 years), then something has to be done. Usually, the proponents of this view add that something has to be done now, or very soon.

Just as I argued with regard to Iraq, I offer a resounding no. Once again, the decision is one of policy and judgment, and the intelligence will have nothing to do with it. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons in five or 10 years [or even sooner], many factors strongly argue against the likelihood that they would ever use them against the United States. There is no evidence to suggest that Iran's leaders are entirely suicidal: any attack that could be traced back to Iran would surely result in the large-scale destruction of that country. They know that, so do we, and so does everyone else. Given our current foreign policy of attacking and occupying any country on earth that our current leaders take a strong dislike to -- whether that country constitutes a threat to us or not -- it is hardly surprising that Iran and other nations want a nuclear deterrence of their own, to protect them from our lethal lunacy. Moreover, it is well-known, despite the fact that it is almost never mentioned in our polite political debates, that Israel has a very sizable nuclear arsenal. I should remind you that Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and that Iran is. If Iran and Israel both had nuclear weapons at their disposal, that might actually serve to stabilize the Middle East situation, and make a wider regional war less likely. This is not a complicated or controversial thought. It is blindingly logical and straightforward. (Obligatory point for the thinking-impaired: this is not to say that I view a nuclear Iran as a good thing. I don't view it as a remotely good thing that anyone has nuclear weapons, including us. [That is especially true, since we're the only country that has used them-- even when we did not have to, and even when we lied about the devastating human consequences.] I am simply suggesting that the results may not in fact be the End Times calamity that so many assume.)

But the current administration seeks to impose its will on the entire world, and the Middle East is only the first stop on their global hegemonic journey. And the Democrats -- fully cowed and terrified of being seen as "weak" on national security -- for the most part seek only to show that they're "gutsier" and "stronger" than the Bush crowd, which means only that they're even more willing to bomb countries that don't threaten us in the least. At this point, no one should have any doubts on one issue: if the Bush administration wants "intelligence" that shows Iran is a "serious" and "growing" threat, they will find it or create it out of nothing, or next to nothing. The atmosphere of growing hysteria will be amplified by a press which continues to view itself primarily as an adjunct to the powerful (some rare exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, as noted here). With only one or two exceptions, the craven Democrats won't dare to oppose the tide -- and Armageddon, here we come.
Even after the unspeakably criminal, immoral, illegal, monstrous, and catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq, none of this has changed.

As I recently remarked: as far as our governing elites are concerned, America is God. God's Will be done.

That, please note, includes the destruction of large parts of the globe, and the deaths of countless millions of people -- destruction that it remains very likely the United States will begin and no one else at all, entirely on its own initiative, and on the basis of endless lies and propaganda.

None of this has changed. Most people are entirely unaware of these issues, and almost no one appears even to give a damn.

Have a nice night.

[Much more about the misunderstandings of the role of intelligence will be found in, "How the Foreign Policy Consensus Protects Itself," at the conclusion of which you will find links to other essays on the same topic.]