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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Will There be a Sunni-Shi’a War in the Middle East? Not Likely--William O. Beeman, New America Media

Will There be a Sunni-Shi’a War in the Middle East? Not Likely

Will There be a Sunni-Shi’a War in the Middle East? Not Likely

New America Media, News Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Jun 18, 2014


The success of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in capturing large territories in Syria and Northern Iraq, and now threatening Baghdad, has raised once again the specter of a Sunni-Shi’a war in the Middle East. Such a scenario is possible, but unlikely. That’s because Sunni and Shi’a believers throughout the world are divided into many factions living under different social conditions and with different religious, social and political agendas. These differences greatly reduce the possibility of the emergence of a coalition of either group into a single bloc opposing the other.

ISIS belongs to a small faction of Sunni Islam committed to extremist fundamentalist religious convictions that they seek to impose on other Muslims. In this they have common cause with the Salafi movement (salaf means “ancestors,” referring to the original founders of Islam).

The Taliban of Pakistan and Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda also spring from the Salafi movement. The Salfis view Shi’ism as heresy. They believe that Shi’a believers are “polytheists” because of their reverence for Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad and his descendants. Salafi preachers have authorized the killing of Shi’a Muslims as a religious duty. Salafi adherents are found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and also in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

ISIS has roots dating back to 2000 and has evolved to the point that it is functioning as a quasi-government at present with an organized leadership and judicial, financial and military systems. They are actively hegemonic, hoping to establish an Islamic Caliphate, hearkening to medieval times, governed exclusively by their own narrow interpretation of Shari’a Law.

Meanwhile, Shi’ism also exists in many forms. The form known as “Twelver Shism” has been the State religion in Iran since the 18th Century, and is practiced in other nations where believers are a plurality or a majority. Although Americans have been led to believe that Shi’a Muslims are also fundamentalists, in fact Shi’ism is far more flexible in its belief system than fundamentalist Sunnis. Besides the “Twelvers” there are Zayyidis in Yemen, Alawis in Syria (the religion of the Assad regime) and Isma’ilis living in many locations throughout the world.

Twelver Shi’ism is organized into differing philosophical camps headed by Grand Ayatollahs. Shi’a believers attach themselves to one of these religious leaders from whom they seek guidance on religious matters. There are currently 66 living Grand Ayatollahs living mostly in Iran and Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait, each with his own individual view of proper conduct and religious philosophy. A coalition of thought for this diverse body of clerics is highly unlikely.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was founded by the followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni with the controversial doctrine that the most knowledgeable Grand Ayatollah should be the ultimate authority in government and social life. However, many other Grand Ayatollahs disagreed with Ayatollah Khomeini’s view of governance. A number were arrested and stripped of their religious credentials because of their opposition. One of the chief oppositionists to the Khomeinist view of government is Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani of Najaf, the most revered Grand Ayatollah of Iraq.

Shi’ites have been under siege everywhere else in the world outside of Iran. Shi’ites in Lebanon were attacked by Israel seeking to cripple Sunni Muslim Palestinians living in refugee camps there. The Alawite regime in Syria holds power, but has been continually attacked by the Sunni majority in that country. The Zayyidis in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been attacked by the Sunni governments in both nations. The Bahraini majority Shi’ites have been under siege by the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa family. Hazara “Twelver” Shi’ites have been persecuted and murdered in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Shi’a in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia have been prevented from carrying out religious observances and have been economically disadvantaged. The religious rights of Shi’ites have been curtailed in various parts of Southeast Asia.

Now, although Shi’a Muslims are a plurality, perhaps a majority in Iraq, they are under attack by ISIS.

Iran, meanwhile, has striven to help Shi’a communities when they have been under attack. Iran was instrumental in the formation of Hezbollah in Lebanon when the Shi’a community was first attacked by Israeli forces in 1980. However, Iran no longer has any effective influence on Hezbollah’s actions. Iran also continues to provide aid to the Assad regime in Syria. It has sheltered Hazara refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has been wary of providing direct aid to other Shi’a communities, such as those in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, despite the fact that ruling powers in those countries have accused them of doing so.

The current crisis in Iraq, though, is not likely to lead to more widespread conflict. ISIS is frightening even for the conservative government of Saudi Arabia and the more liberal government of Jordan. ISIS is well funded, largely because it has commandeered oil fields in Iraq and it robbed the Iraqi Central Bank in Mosul. It continues to receive funding from Salafi “businessmen” in the Gulf States. But support for ISIS will eventually run out, since for many other Arab nations, the ISIS Salafi agenda is far too extreme.

And if Iran does enter into confrontation with ISIS, it is not likely to engineer the disparate Shi’a communities in the Middle East into anything resembling a bloc. On practical grounds such an effort would fail, and savvy Iranians know this. Iraqi Shi’a don’t like or agree with Iran’s Islamic Republic governmental structure. Hezbollah in Lebanon has set its own course at home, and is not likely to be under Iranian control. Iran seeks better relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, even as the leaders of those nations denigrate Tehran. Even within Iran there will be many factions that will not support any kind of cultivation of a Grand Shi’a Alliance for military or political gain.

The United States is now considering making common cause with Iran, something that critics see as a dangerous move that would support “Iranian hegemony.” But this criticism is largely speculation, based on based on lack of information about Iran and the rest of the Shi’a world.

If it is possible for the government of Iraq to repel and contain ISIS with Iran’s help, the United States should definitely support such an action. There need be no real fear at this time that either the Shi’a or Sunni forces will evolve into a kind of World War III in the Middle East.

If Iran itself or the sacred Shi'a Shrines in the Iraqi cities of Najaf, Kerbala, Kufa and Samarra are attacked, however, all bets are off. Iran fought an eight-year war with Saddam Hussein when it was attacked in 1980. The shrines are essential to Shi'ism and Iran considers itself guardian of them. No matter what nationality, if Sunni Muslims make common cause with any group that attacks Iran, they will be met with enormous ferocity.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the department of anthropology, University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in the Middle East for more than 40 years.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Disintegration of Iraq Has Begun--William O. Beeman--New America Media


The Disintegration of Iraq Has Begun

New America Media, News Analysis, William Beeman, Posted: Jun 12, 2014
Iraq was a creation of the British following World War I out of disparate Ottoman provinces that had never had any coordinated existence. It is now on the verge of disintegration, thanks to the misguided policies of the American Bush/Cheney administration. President Obama is being pressured by his Republican critics to “do something” about this. But anything he does will only make matters worse.

The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have now taken most of Northern Iraq and are inching toward Baghdad. The withdrawal of American troops from the country, and the inexperience of the Iraqi national army have left the field wide open for this takeover. Since troop numbers for ISIS are very small—around 1000 by some estimates—their rapid advance seems incomprehensible, until one considers the ethnic makeup of the territory.

ISIS is a mature Sunni Muslim movement started in 2000. The government of Iraq and its troops are largely Shi’a Muslim. The territories now conquered by ISIS are also Sunni. There is only one conclusion that fits the facts of the success of the ISIS conquest: The Sunni residents of Northern Iraq are aiding ISIS in the takeover. Thus the ISIS “conquest” is not that at all—it is rather a full-scale revolt of the Sunni population against the Shi’a government.

The seeds for these events were sown a full century ago in the creation of the State of Iraq by the British. The British essentially created an artificial state that was doomed to self-destruct. The surprise is not that it is falling apart; it is rather that it has lasted this long.

After World War I, the British had two goals regarding Iraq. They wanted the oil riches of the Ottoman province of Mosul, and they wanted the port of Basra as a depot for the export of that oil and the transport of goods from India to Europe via the railway they also built. Baghdad, the historical metropolis that lay between these two on the great navigable rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, was the natural capital of the new nation.

The British were not at all concerned about the ethnic communities of the new nation. They were mere inconveniences controlled by force to allow the colonial occupation to continue to extract wealth. The Kurds, sitting on the oilfields, were traitorously cheated out of their own independent state. The majority Shi’a in and around Basra were deprived of any but a token role in governance, and the Sunni kings in Baghdad—natives of Arabia and installed by the British—were dominated by the British Embassy and army until a revolution removed them all in 1958.

Keeping the nation together after that point was a formidable task. After years of internal strife the nation devolved into a military dictatorship under Saddam Hussein whose ruthless authoritarian tactics suppressed all revolt on the part of the individual ethnic communities.

All of this changed in 2003 with the American invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush. The first American invasion by George H.W. Bush had left the government intact, but the 2003 invasion destroyed Saddam’s rule and left the nation’s factions exposed like an open sore. The Shi’a majority established a government, but like in the Kingdom of Iraq, the new government was dependent on the American military to maintain the order they needed to govern. Moreover, the Shi’a leaders, fuming with rage at decades of mistreatment wanted revenge. They clamped down on the Sunnis, depriving them of any power in the new government and engaging in their own repression of Sunni majority regions. This of course created even more enmity between the communities.

Now, with the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq, the wounds are open once again, and there is nothing available to stench the flow of blood. The United States situation presents a terrible dilemma for President Obama. He is being called upon to do something to stop ISIS, as if this organization was an invading force that could be air-bombed and stopped. In fact, ISIS is simply the vanguard of a popular resistance against the Baghdad government. Moreover, Iranian troops have been enlisted to aid the Iraqi army in countering these forces.

So the pressure on President Obama from his Republican critics to provide military support against ISIS is misguided. If the President acquiesced, he would be attacking a popular revolt. The justification for this would be that the United States is actually attacking the seemingly greater enemy—fundamentalist Sunnis who are already furious at the United States. However, this distinction is utterly lost on the Sunni residents of Northern Iraq who have been caught in military crossfire for more than a decade and already see the United States as the enemy.

Added to this is the fact that Iranian troops have been enlisted to aid the Iraqi army. Thus the United States, in attacking ISIS would actually be making common cause with Iran—which Washington has labeled “the chief State supporter of terrorism.” The irony is truly staggering.

So at this point President Obama is trapped. Opposing ISIS is in the interests of the United States. Allying with Iran is political poison for the Obama administration. Doing nothing will result in the disintegration of Iraq. Right now, disintegration seems to be the path that the United States and the Iraqis are following.

Can this terrible state of affairs be calmed? Perhaps. The United States handled the insurgence in the Sunni communities by bribing the leaders of the resistance with cash and promises of leadership positions. The cash was given, but the leadership positions never emerged. That is still a strategy that could work in the short run. In the long run if Iraq is to hold together, there must be a serious effort at power-sharing at the national level.

Failing that, the nation will certainly split apart. There is nothing more to hold it together.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in the Middle East for more than 40 years

Sunday, April 06, 2014

William O. Beeman Commentary on Thomas Friedman "Sheldon: Iran's Best Friend" NY Times April 5, 2014: Crude and Inaccurate on Iran

Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend
APRIL 5, 2014

Commentary on this article by William O. Beeman

Tom Friedman's characterization of Iran's current attitude toward Israel is both crude and inaccurate. Iran has never threatened to "destroy Israel." This is a piece of cant that has been repeated so often that it constitutes "truth by repetition." Mr. Friedman's piece uses a cheap rhetorical ploy to make his point. It is indeed "cute" to juxtapose Adelson and Iran and thus play to mistaken cultural stereotypes.

Iran has championed the Palestinians and their mistreatment by Israel. It has also defended the Shi'a population in Southern Lebanon that has been attacked in over-the-border raids by Israel in violation of international law. If Israel would resolve the Palestinian issue, Iran would gladly resume diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, since Iran has no quarrel with the Israeli people, or indeed with Jews. It may be that Sheldon Adelson may destroy Israel by promoting crude right-wing politics directed at the Palestinians, but Iran would applaud the granting of equal rights and independence for Palestinians, and this would effectively end Iran's objections to Israel.

A final point: Iran conducts considerable sub rosa trade with Israel through third parties, and Iranian Jews (and indeed others) can travel to Israel via third countries. The large Iranian Jewish population in Israel are still Iranian identifying with Iranian culture and civilization. There is far more that unites Iranian and Israeli society, but the Palestinian issue is a continual obstacle.
___________________________________________
IT occurred to me the other day that the zealously pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, actually have one big thing in common. They are both trying to destroy Israel. Adelson is doing it by loving Israel to death and Khamenei by hating Israel to death. And now even Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey inadvertently got drawn into this craziness.

What’s the logic? Very simple. Iran’s leaders want Israel destroyed but have no desire, in my view, to use a nuclear bomb to do it. That would expose them to retaliation and sure death. Their real strategy is more subtle: Do everything possible to ensure that Israel remains in the “occupied territory,” as the U.S. State Department refers to the West Bank, won by Israel in the 1967 war. By supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it. The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and the world will demand a “one-state solution,” with Palestinians given the right to vote. 

The more Israel resists that, the more isolated it becomes.

Iran and its ally Hamas have plenty of evidence that this strategy is working: Israel’s 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank has led it to build more settlements there and in doing so make itself look like the most active colonial power on the planet today. The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank reinforce that view by claiming their presence in the West Bank is not about security but a divinely inspired project to reunite the Jewish people with their biblical homeland.

The result is a growing movement on college campuses and in international organizations to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state because of this occupation. This “B.D.S. movement” — to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel — is gaining adherents not only among non-Jews on American campuses but even within some Hillels, campus Jewish centers.

Iran could not be happier. The more Israel sinks into the West Bank, the more it is delegitimized and isolated, the more the world focuses on Israel’s colonialism rather than Iran’s nuclear enrichment, the more people call for a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine.
And now Iran has an ally: Sheldon Adelson — the foolhardy Las Vegas casino magnate and crude right-wing, pro-Israel extremist. Adelson gave away some $100 million in the last presidential campaign to fund Republican candidates, with several priorities in mind: that they delegitimize the Palestinians and that they avoid any reference to the West Bank as “occupied territories” and any notion that the U.S. should pressure Israel to trade land for peace there. Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took the money and played by Sheldon’s rules.

In case you missed it, the R.J.C., the Republican Jewish Coalition, held a retreat last weekend at an Adelson casino in Las Vegas. It was dubbed “the Sheldon Primary.” Republicans lined up to compete for Adelson’s blessing and money, or as Politico put it: “Adelson summoned [Jeb] Bush and Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin to Las Vegas. ... The new big-money political landscape — in which a handful of donors can dramatically alter a campaign with just a check or two — explains both the eagerness of busy governors to make pilgrimages to Las Vegas, and the obsession with divining Adelson’s 2016 leanings.”

Adelson personifies everything that is poisoning our democracy and Israel’s today — swaggering oligarchs, using huge sums of money to try to bend each system to their will.

Christie, in his speech, referred to the West Bank as “occupied territories” — as any knowledgeable American leader would. This, Politico said, “set off murmurs in the crowd.” Some Republican Jews explained to Christie after he finished that he had made a terrible faux pas. (He called something by its true name and in the way the U.S. government always has!) The West Bank should be called “disputed territories” or “Judea and Samaria,” the way hard-line Jews prefer. So, Politico reported, Christie hastily arranged a meeting with Adelson to explain that he misspoke and that he was a true friend of Israel. “The New Jersey governor apologized in a private meeting in the casino mogul’s Venetian office shortly afterward,” Politico reported. It said Adelson “accepted” Christie’s “explanation” and “quick apology.”
Read that sentence over and contemplate it.

I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will. But I know this: If Israel wants to remain a Jewish, democratic state, it should be doing everything it can to nurture such a partner or acting unilaterally to get out. Because, I’m certain that when reports about the “Adelson primary” reached the desk of Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran, a big smile crossed his face and he said to his aides: “May Allah grant Sheldon a long life. Everything is going according to plan.”


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Did Robert Gates Manufacture the Iran Crisis?--Huffington Post--Beeman

com/william-o-beeman/robert-gates-iran_b_5002405.html>

Did Robert Gates Manufacture the Iran Crisis?

Posted: 03/24/2014 1:27 pm EDT Updated: 03/24/2014 1:27 pm EDT

Gareth Porter has been the most conscientious follower of the purported danger of Iran's purported "nuclear weapons program." In his new, meticulously documented book, Manufactured Crisis (New York: Just World Books, 2014) he exposes the many lies and half-truths that have been promulgated over more than two decades to try and convince the American public and the world that Iran is the chief danger to international peace through its nuclear program.

One of Porter's surprising implications is that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have been the prime mover in the 20-year-old attack on Iran based on unsubstantiated claims that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Before plunging into the details of Porter's book or his information about Mr. Gates, let me state the book's conclusions unequivocally: Iran has never been proven to have a nuclear weapons program. Any claim to the contrary is absolutely false. The attempt to claim that such a weapons program exists was the result of a decades long effort on the part of American neoconservatives allied with right-wing forces in Israel to legitimize hostile actions against Iran designed to effect regime change there.

Porter's overall account of the evolution of consensus about the threat of Iran's nuclear program is fascinating and appalling reading. It is fascinating because he has created a compelling narrative showing how the framework for attacking Iran compounded lies and misinformation over many years. It appears in this account that Robert Gates had a continuing central role.

Robert Gates had been employed by the CIA since college. He was witness to the Iran-Contra affair under President Reagan, and was called to give testimony about his knowledge of the affair. Despite continual questions about the conduct of the CIA during the 1980's and early 1990's in which he had a central role, Gates rose through the ranks of the intelligence community. He served as Deputy National Security Adviser (1989-1991) -- a promotion from his role as Deputy Director of National Intelligence (1986-1989), and finally became Director of Central Intelligence in 1991 after contentious hearings

One of the most telling episodes in Porter's book concerns President George H.W. Bush. In 1989 he was willing to improve relations with Iran eliminating sanctions that had been in place since the Revolution of 1978-79. At that time American hostages were being held by Shi'a forces in Lebanon. Then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati intervened, and all American prisoners were released. Bush was grateful and was supported by his National Security Advisor, Brent Snowcroft but suddenly his administration reversed course.

This is the point at which Robert Gates becomes a major player in the attacks against Iran. As Porter describes it, though Snowcroft and Bush wanted improved relations, everyone else on the National Security team -- and one assumes that this includes Gates -- insisted that Iran was "deeply engaged in other acts of terrorism that made it very, very difficult to improve the relationship" (p. 87). Porter goes on to demonstrate that these "other acts of terrorism" were unsubstantiated. Essentially the decision not to go forward with improved relations with Iran was a political one and not based on any proven Iranian actions.

After Gates became CIA Director, the disinformaton about Iran continued. Porter documents that in 1992 it was Gates who first declared in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 27, with no hard evidence, that "Iran is developing a capability to produce weapons of mass destruction," and was "seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability." The phrase "nuclear weapons capability" likely originated here.

In this way the juggernaut against Iran was launched. Although the National Intelligence estimate for 1992 declared that Iran would not seriously threaten U.S. interests, Gates' estimate became gospel for the balance of the Bush administration, carrying forward into the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Gates' influence was indeed extremely telling.

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration was dominated by neo-conservatives who had been active since the administration of his father and were anxious to see regime change throughout the Middle East. They ignored the fact that the Iranian nuclear energy program had started in earnest during the last years of the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and declared that Iran had been undertaking "secret" nuclear developments. In fact, these were not at all secret, and had been governed by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran and the United States (but not Israel, Pakistan, India or North Korea) were signatories, and which guaranteed Iran the "inalienable right" to the peaceful development of nuclear power.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with carrying out inspections of Iran's nuclear program (and indeed, the nuclear programs of all signatories to the Treaty). They never once found the slightest evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program or had diverted any nuclear material for military use.

Still Gates' 10-year old assertion that Iran was seeking to acquire a "nuclear weapons capability," though completely unproven, was seized upon by the neoconservatives who wanted to bring down the Iranian regime.

As Porter documents, the IAEA quickly became politicized. Its head, Mohammad elBaradei was excoriated by the George W. Bush administration who tried to get him fired because he would not assert that Iran was building nuclear weapons. His eventual successor Yukio Amano was more compliant. Though still not able to say that Iran had a demonstrable nuclear weapons program, IAEA reports after he took office used convoluted language to suggest that they "could not eliminate the possibility" that Iran might be building nuclear weapons. Several attempts on Iran's part during the Bush administration to negotiate over misunderstandings of its program were rebuffed by Washington, partially due to those same neoconservatives in his administration, notably John Bolton who served as United Nations Ambassador on a recess appointment during a the crucial period from 2005-2006 and made it his mission to attack Iran with falsehoods at every turn.

Porter presents example after example of the U.S. Press, notably the New York Times, distorting the facts about Iran's nuclear activities. Every action and decision was placed under a microscope, and though Iran had only completed one reactor in development since before the Revolution, and was far from completing any facility for additional generation of nuclear power, the hyperbole in the press made it seem that Iran would have a bomb tomorrow. Lobbying groups such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) influenced these writings and lobbied the U.S. Congress for more stringent sanctions on Iran with the aim of completely dismantling Iran's forty-year old nuclear program. They also supported military action against Iran either by the United States or by Israel. Porter's book features the famous picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointing to a picture of a Warner Brothers cartoon bomb and inveighing against Iran.

In 2006 President George W. Bush nominated Robert Gates to be secretary of defense. Gates had been serving as president of Texas A&M University, and was persuaded to leave that post to return to national service. He was retained by President Obama after the 2008 election. It is notable that although President Obama had pledged to engage Iran diplomatically, in his first term, no serious diplomatic efforts were undertaken. To the contrary, increased rhetoric claiming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program issued from the White House and the Department of Defense. It was only after then Secretary Gates left office that the Obama administration began to engage in serious diplomatic talks with Iran. This process was aided by the election of Hassan Rowhani as president of Iran and the appointment of Javad Zarif, American educated former Iranian U.N. Ambassador, as Minister of Foreign Relations.

Aside from the intriguing clues to Robert Gates' probable role in constructing a false picture of the Iranian nuclear danger, Porter's book is essential reading for all Americans wary of manufactured paths to war that have become a major theme in U.S. foreign relations after World War II. Porter shows how ideology can distort facts, and be used as a weapon to sway public opinion in directions that are inimical to world interests. As talks with Iran in Vienna over its nuclear program proceed, Porter notes that the Obama administration, only after ridding itself of the extended influence of Robert Gates and his ilk, has finally made attempts to wind down the two decades of baseless attacks on Iran to try and forge a rapprochement. The question remains whether war mongers in Washington, Israel and some nations in Europe will come to their senses and let this happen.


Follow William O. Beeman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wbeeman

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Tale of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing--Review of Manufactured Crisis by Gareth Porter (Beeman)


http://womenagainstmilitarymadness.org/newsletter/2014/030414/tale.html
A Tale of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing: Iran’s Nukes


Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare by Gareth Porter (New York: Just World Books, 2014)

Reviewed by William O. Beeman









Gareth Porter has been the most conscientious follower of the fantasy danger of Iran’s purported “nuclear weapons program.” In this new, meticulously documented book, he exposes the many lies and half-truths that have been promulgated over more than two decades to try and convince the American public and the world that Iran is the chief danger to international peace.

Before plunging into the details of the book, let me state its conclusions unequivocally: Iran has never been proven to have a nuclear weapons program. Any claim to the contrary is absolutely false. The attempt to claim that such a weapons program exists was the result of a decades-long effort on the part of American neoconservatives allied with right-wing forces in Israel to legitimize hostile actions against Iran designed to effect regime change there.

Porter’s account is fascinating and appalling reading. It is fascinating because he has created a compelling narrative showing how the framework for attacking Iran in this way evolved over decades. One of the most telling episodes in the book concerns President George H.W. Bush. In 1989 he was willing to improve relations with Iran eliminating sanctions that had been in place since the revolution of 1978-79. At that time American hostages were being held by Shi’a forces in Lebanon. Then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati intervened, and all American prisoners were released. Bush was grateful and was supported by his national security advisor, Brent Snowcroft, but suddenly his administration reversed course.

As Porter describes it, though he and Bush wanted improved relations, everyone else on the national security team insisted that Iran was “deeply engaged in other acts of terrorism that made it very, very difficult to improve the relationship” (p. 87). Porter goes on to demonstrate that these “other acts of terrorism” were unsubstantiated. Essentially the decision not to go forward with improved relations was a political one and not based on any proven Iranian actions.

After Robert Gates, who had served on the National Security Council, became CIA director, the disinformaton about Iran continued. Porter documents that in 1992 it was Gates who first declared, with no hard evidence at all, that “Iran is developing a capability to produce weapons of mass destruction,” and was “seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.”

In this way the juggernaut against Iran was launched. Although the national intelligence estimate for that year declared that Iran would not seriously threaten U.S. interests, Gates’ estimate became gospel for the balance of the Bush administration, carrying forward into the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Gates’ influence was indeed extremely telling.

After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration was dominated by neoconservatives who had been active since the administration of his father and were anxious to see regime change throughout the Middle East. They ignored the fact that the Iranian nuclear energy program had started in earnest during the last years of the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and declared that Iran had been undertaking “secret” nuclear developments. In fact, these were not at all secret, and had been governed by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran and the United States (but not Israel, Pakistan, India, or North Korea) were signatories, and which guaranteed Iran the “inalienable right” to the peaceful development of nuclear power.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with carrying out inspections of Iran’s nuclear program (and indeed, the nuclear programs of all signatories to the treaty). They never once found the slightest evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program or had diverted any nuclear material for military use. Still Gates’ 10-year-old assertion that Iran was seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, though completely unproven, was seized upon by the neoconservatives who wanted to bring down the Iranian regime.

As Porter documents, the IAEA quickly became politicized. Its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, was excoriated by the George W. Bush administration, who tried to get him fired because he would not assert that Iran was building nuclear weapons. His eventual successor, Yukio Amano, was more compliant. Though still not able to say that Iran had a demonstrable nuclear weapons program, IAEA reports after he took office used convoluted language to suggest that they “could not eliminate the possibility” that Iran might be building nuclear weapons. Several attempts on Iran’s part during the Bush administration to negotiate over misunderstandings of its program were rebuffed by Washington, partially due to those same neoconservatives in his administration, notably John Bolton, who served as United Nations ambassador on a recess appointment during the crucial period from 2005-2006 and made it his mission to attack Iran with falsehoods at every turn.

Porter presents example after example of the U.S. media, most notably The New York Times, distorting the facts about Iran’s nuclear activities. Every action and decision was placed under a microscope, and though Iran had only completed one reactor in development since before the revolution, and was far from completing any facility for additional generation of nuclear power, the hyperbole in the press made it seem that Iran would have a bomb tomorrow. Lobbying groups such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) influenced these writings and lobbied the U.S. Congress for more stringent sanctions on Iran with the aim of completely dismantling Iran’s 40-year-old nuclear program. They also supported military action against Iran either by the United States or by Israel. Porter’s book features the famous picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointing to a picture of a Warner Brothers cartoon bomb and inveighing against Iran.

Porter’s book is essential reading for all Americans wary of the manufactured path to war. It shows how ideology can distort facts, and can be used as a weapon to sway public opinion in directions that are inimical to world interests. As talks with Iran in Vienna over its nuclear program proceed, Porter notes that the Obama administration, only after ridding itself of the extended influence of Robert Gates, has finally made attempts to wind down the two decades of baseless attacks on Iran to try and forge a rapprochement. The question remains whether warmongers in Washington, Israel, and some nations in Europe will come to their senses and let this happen.


William O. Beeman is professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years, and is author of The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.





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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eight Ways You're Wrong About Iran's Nuclear Program--Yousaf Butt [The National Interest]


Eight Ways You're Wrong About Iran's Nuclear Program



Friday, January 17, 2014

Sign Petition opposing additional sanctions against Iran


The United States has opened the first serious talks with Iran in 34 years. Some members of Congress are attempting to sabotage this diplomatic effort by calling for increased sanctions against Iran. This is an unwise action during this negotiating period. Americans should support peaceful diplomacy whenever feasible.

That's why I created a petition to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN-1) and Sen. Al Franken (MN-2), which says:

"We the undersigned urge you to support diplomacy with Iran concerning Iran's nuclear program during the six month negotiation period recently agreed upon by the United States and its P5+1 European partners and Iran. We also strongly urge you to oppose legislation directed at the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran during this period--a move that will lead to the likely failure of these talks. "

Will you sign my petition? Click here to add your name:

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/support-diplomacy-with-4?source=c.fwd&r_by=306515

Thanks! 

The War Bill--Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013--Gusterson (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Commentary from William O. Beeman: 

This excellent article points up the danger of letting ignorant legislators try to micromanage diplomacy. I use the word ignorant in three senses. First, for the most part they know nothing about the actual issues at hand in the Iranian nuclear program--neither the history nor the actual technical details on the ground.

Second, I am convinced that many of the supporters of the bill haven't read it, or considered its implications. The bill goes far, far beyond dealing with Iran's nuclear program, including trying to put restrictions on conventional weapons. Iran's "rocket" program would conceivably be covered by this agreement--rockets that are currently used to launch communications satellites.

Third, the supporters are ignorant of the implications this bill has for all American diplomatic efforts going forward. Pre-configuring the outcomes of diplomatic negotiations effectively renders them moot. Why even  have diplomats if their hands are tied in this way?

The bill is a fantasy desire on the part of Israel and its supporters, such as Senator Kirk, whose ideological biases are quite evident, to cripple Iran's general technology. It is overreach, and if it passes, will backfire in really terrible ways. This is a bad bill in every sense of the word.

William O. Beeman
University of Minnesota


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

15 January 2014
The war bill
Hugh Gusterson
Just when it seemed we might escape the political tides pushing the United States toward war with Iran, a group of senators has introduced a bill that would put us back on the path to war. We might as well call it the “give war a chance” bill.

Until recently there had been a general consensus in Washington in favor of sanctions against Iran. Although Washington’s two foreign policy factions—arms controllers and regime changers—diverged in their ultimate goals, as long as Tehran kept methodically expanding its uranium enrichment capability (from a few hundred centrifuges in 2005 to 19,000 today and from 5 percent enrichment to 20 percent), the two sides could often agree on a policy of economic strangulation  against Iran, backed up with the threat of military attack.

That coalition between Washington’s arms controllers and regime changers was shattered, though, following the 2013 election victory in Tehran of a moderate, President Hassan Rouhani, who is aggressively pursuing an entente with the West. While the arms controllers, led by President Barack Obama, are trying to avert a war by reaching an accord with Iran, the regime changers are doing everything they can to sabotage such an accord through a Senate bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, co-authored by Sen. Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois. Of course, being against arms control and for an increased likelihood of war is like being against motherhood and apple pie, so the regime changers are pretending to help the arms control negotiations they seek to undermine.

The geopolitical landscape first shifted in November 2013 after an extraordinary icebreaking phone call in September between Presidents Rouhani and Obama. Iranian and Western negotiators went on to achieve a modest but—given decades of animosity—historic agreement in Geneva. In exchange for an easing of sanctions worth about $7 billion, the Iranians agreed to cease work on their reactor at Arak, freeze the building of new centrifuges, cap uranium enrichment well below bomb-grade at 5 percent, and allow international inspectors greater access. This agreement was the appetizer for the more substantial deal Western and Iranian diplomats are now trying to negotiate—one with the potential to freeze Tehran’s seemingly inexorable progress toward a nuclear weapon indefinitely, while reintegrating the country into the international system and permanently realigning the relationship between Iran, its neighbors, and the United States.

Rolling back Iran’s nuclear program has thus far been the publicly stated rationale for sanctions. But a faction of the US foreign policy community, dominated by the neoconservatives who brought about the disastrous invasion of Iraq, has always had the more ambitious, if less candidly avowed, objective of ousting the regime that came to power in Tehran in 1979. In the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, neoconservatives liked to quip that “anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran.” Neocons like William Kristol, Doug Feith, Eliot Cohen, Paul Bremer, and Danielle Pletka (all of whom have signed a letter to the Senate endorsing the Menendez-Kirk approach) have never forgiven the Iranian regime for its humiliating seizure of American hostages at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. And they believe that the removal of Iran’s clerical regime would ameliorate the situation in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; cripple Hezbollah; dispose of the main threat to Israel in the neighborhood; and re-establish American dominance in the region. Of course, they had similarly utopian dreams for the invasion of Iraq, and look how that turned out.

In a recent opinion piece for The Washington Post, Senator Menendez (or is that Senator Mendacious?) presented his legislation as intended to help negotiations with Iran succeed. “The proposed legislation is a clarifying action. It allows all sides to negotiate in certainties and provides one year of space for the parties to continue talking. It spells out precisely the consequences should the agreement fail. This should motivate Iranians to negotiate honestly and seriously. At the same time, these prospective sanctions play a positive and reinforcing role in negotiations.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Even by the currently degraded standards of Washington discourse, this is a pretzel-shaped representation of reality. It is for good reason that President Obama has promised to veto the Menendez-Kirk legislation if it passes, and 10 Senate committee chairs have co-signed a letter to Senate majority leader Harry Reid condemning it.

Edward Levine, a former Senate staffer, has posted an excellent analysis of the Senate bill’s dangers on the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’s website. He foregrounds four poison pills that it contains.
First, for sanctions against Iran to be suspended, the bill requires the President to certify that “Iran has not conducted any tests for ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 500 kilometers.” As Levine points out, this moves the goalposts on Iran since missile tests have not been a part of the negotiations thus far. Furthermore, since the bill specifies no time period during which such missile tests are disallowed, and Iran has conducted such tests in the past, by some interpretations the bill will preemptively exclude lifting sanctions.

Second, the bill would allow sanctions to be lifted only if the US president certified that “Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world.” Again, no time period is specified. As Levine observes, this means that “if, say, Hezbollah were to explode a bomb outside a US firm’s office in Beirut, the sanctions would go into effect (because Iran gives financial and other support to Hezbollah) even if Iran’s nuclear activities and negotiations were completely in good faith.”

Third, the bill would preauthorize sanctions, but waive them every year if the US Congress agreed that Iran was meeting its commitments. From the Iranian point of view, this would weaken any agreement by introducing the possibility that Congress could allow it to lapse. Iran could end up dismantling nuclear infrastructure only to find itself dealing with a new Congress that decided it had not done enough, or one so paralyzed it could not prevent the trap it had devised from snapping shut.

Finally, Levine points out that the bill requires the dismantling of Iran’s “enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology.” While it might be conceivable that this could happen many years in the future at the end of a multi-stage process, it is unreasonable in the near term to expect Iran to give up the nuclear infrastructure, permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for which it has paid so dearly, and in which it sees a hedge against possible security threats.

As former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl puts it in The National Interest, “given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. Indeed, Khamenei probably fears such a humiliation more than he fears economic collapse or targeted military strikes against his nuclear facilities.” In other words, this provision in the Kirk-Menendez bill, tantamount to a demand for Iranian surrender, is an offer Tehran cannot accept—but can be blamed for refusing.

There is one more troubling clause in the Senate bill. It states that "if the government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States government should stand with Israel,” calling for “diplomatic, military and economic” support in such circumstances. In other words, it effectively outsources to Israel the decision over whether the United States should go to war with Iran. No wonder the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been pushing so hard for the bill on Capitol Hill. (Incidentally the Jewish lobby groups J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose the bill.)

The Kirk-Menendez bill has 59 co-sponsors—just eight shy of the number needed to override a presidential veto. It is astonishing that such a disastrous piece of legislation could have so much support in what we used to be able to call, with a more or less straight face, the world’s greatest deliberative body. Kahl, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense, believes the bill would violate the agreement already reached with Iran in November. The Iran expert Trita Parsi warns that “if the Geneva deal falls apart as a result of Congressional foul play, the world will view the United States and not Iran as the main obstacle to a nuclear agreement,” and that the international sanctions regime may fall apart as a result. Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, and Kate Gould of the Friends Committee on National Legislation laid out what's at stake, pointing out that "if Congress isn't careful, it will sabotage our country's best opportunity to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran.” Meanwhile many commentators have cautioned that the bill will actually strengthen the hardliners in Tehran and, by sabotaging the chance to reach an agreement, make it more likely that the United States will face a stark choice between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran and going to war.

But the bill is above all dangerous because of the reckless way in which it creates two dead man’s switches—protocols that automate escalation and weaken the grip of American decision-makers on decisions about war and peace. One dead man’s switch is the pre-emplacement of sanctions and the insistence that action must be taken every year to prevent them from being implemented. One would have thought that Congress had learned from its experience with the automatic budget cuts of the 2013 sequester not to play this kind of game with itself.

The second, and even more disturbing, dead man’s switch is the clause pressing the United States to follow Israel to war. Reminiscent of the catastrophic alliance obligations that historians now blame for ensnaring Europe in the First World War, this stipulation incites Israeli hardliners by making them think they have a blank check from the United States. It also willfully and deliberately moves the center of gravity of the decision making outside the United States.

Neoconservatives like to use the rhetoric of patriotism to discredit their opponents. But true patriots do not outsource national-security decisions to other countries.
An anthropologist, Gusterson is a professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University. His expertise is in nuclear culture, international security, and the anthropology of science....