Dancing Around War With Iran

“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons,” declared Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, yesterday.

“The Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”


“No one buys Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes,” declared CNN’s Erin Burnett last week, speaking authoritatively on behalf of the pundit class in the U.S.

Sigh. We’ve seen this movie before.

“The debate surrounding the invasion of Iraq,” we wrote in the first edition of Empire of Debt, “was an imperial debate — about means and methods, not about right and wrong or national interest.”

“No one from either major political party bothered to suggest that the United States had no business nosing around in other peoples’ business.”

“Both parties recognized that Iraq was not a matter of national interest — it was a matter of imperial interest. No sparrow falls anywhere in the world without triggering a monitoring device in the Pentagon.”

This time, at least, there’s a variation on the theme.

In 2003, you heard nary a word about whether Iraq really had weapons of mass destruction… or whether an invasion might turn out to be something other than a sprint to victory.

This time around — while you wouldn’t know it by listening to knuckleheads like Burnett — there’s considerable skepticism even among the imperial classes about whether Iran aims to produce a nuclear weapon… or whether a military attack on Iran would work out well.

“Tehran has not made a decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Congress a week ago today, trying to stifle the first question. A National Intelligence Estimate issued by the Obama administration last year affirmed a similar report issued by the Bush administration in 2007: Iran stopped pursuit of a nuclear weapon in 2003.

Darn it.

As for the second question, “Both the American and Israeli governments,” writes Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast, “boast military and intelligence agencies charged with answering [the question of whether military attack would be wise]. With striking consistency, the people who run, or ran, those agencies are warning — loudly — against an attack.”

What’s wrong with these people?

Mr. Beinart was among a cadre of “liberal hawks” who gave the Iraq war a good name nine years ago. Now he’s turned into a wuss. Among the warnings he cites:

  • Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last week, “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict”
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — who oversees 16 U.S. intelligence agencies — estimates a U.S or Israeli attack would set back Iran’s nuclear program by only a year or two
  • Further, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey says a U.S. or Israeli attack would “guarantee that which we are trying to prevent: an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon.”

“I’ve never seen a more lopsided debate among the experts paid to make these judgments,” Beinart goes on. “Yet it barely matters. So far, the Iran debate has been a rout, with the Republican presidential candidates loudly declaring their openness to war and President Obama unwilling to even echo the skepticism of his own security chiefs.”

“War is no longer made by simply analysed economic forces if it ever was,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in an essay entitled “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter,” published by Esquire in 1935.

“War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vaunted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule.”

As such, Congress is moving quickly. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill last week that:

“…rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the president to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Leave aside the fact the bill leaves the definition of nuclear weapons “capability” murky. The point is that if Iran crosses this new red line, it compels the United States to go to war.

“Imagine,” writes M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, “if President Kennedy had been told by the Congress back in 1962 that if the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, he would have no choice but to attack the USSR. If it had, I wouldn’t be here writing this column today, and you wouldn’t be reading it.”

Right now, this is nonbinding legislation. But it has the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “Often, AIPAC-backed congressional initiatives start as nonbinding language (in a resolution or a letter), and then show up in binding legislation,” says Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now.

“Once members of Congress have already signed on to a policy in nonbinding form, it is much harder for them to oppose it when it shows up later in a bill that, if passed, will have the full force of law.”

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning