Our serious foreign policy geniuses strike again

The same people who smeared Mohamed ElBaradei in 2002 over Iraq did the same in 2007 over Iran. They were dead wrong both times.

Published December 4, 2007 8:59AM (EST)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)

Over the past year, the rhetoric from our Serious Foreign Policy establishment regarding the supposed threat posed by Iran's active pursuit of nuclear weapons has severely escalated both in terms of shrillness and threats. Opposition to this building hysteria has been led by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who -- exactly as he did prior to the invasion of Iraq -- has been relentlessly warning that there is no real evidence to support these war-fueling allegations.

Because of that, he has been relentlessly attacked and smeared by our Serious Foreign Policy elite -- yet again. And yet again, ElBaradei has been completely vindicated, and our Serious Foriegn Policy Experts exposed as serial fabricators, fear-mongerers and hysterics.

In 2005, the Bush administration vigorously (though unsuccessfully) sought to block ElBaradei's re-election as IAEA head on the ground that he was right about Iraq's non-existent weapons stockpiles:

The U.S. has complained ElBaradei has been too soft with Iraq, and has clashed with him over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. ElBaradei balked at U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted WMD.

The administration went so far as to tape record ElBaradei's conversations with Iranian officials in order to prove he was in league with them, all "in search of ammunition to oust him as director general." As The Washington Post reported, even back then (2005), administration officials "with access to the intercepts" were accusing ElBaradei of being "way too soft on the Iranians." According to the Post: "Some U.S. officials accused ElBaradei of purposely concealing damning details of Iran's [nuclear] program from the IAEA board."

Less than three months ago, the Very Serious Foreign Policy Expert Fred Hiatt published a scathing Washington Post Editorial attacking ElBaradei for warning of the dangers of an unnecessary war with Iran and pointing out that the evidence is non-existent that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Hiatt's Editorial accused ElBaradei of being a "Rogue Regulator" right in the headline.

ElBaradei's crime in Hiatt's eyes: he was trying to "use his agency to thwart their leading members -- above all the United States." And how, according to Hiatt, was ElBaradei engaging in his dastardly obstruction? By pointing out that the claims from American warmongers regarding Iran's nuclear program were exaggerated or false. Hiatt said that ElBaradei's chief sin was "to excuse the Iranian activity that most justifies the would-be bombers -- uranium enrichment."

Hiatt actually went so far as to warn that ElBaradei's insufficiently hysterical statements might mean that we will run out of time to act before Iran gets The Bomb -- exactly the same way that hysterical warmongers like Charles Krauthammer argued that we could not afford to wait for the U.N. inspections process in Iraq to be complete because, by then, Saddam might have The Bomb and it would be too late to act. Hiatt:

The IAEA issued a report last week playing down the centrifuge operation, saying that "only" 2,600 were operating or being installed and tested in July. But Mr. Ahmadinejad announced over the weekend that 3,000 were in place -- and even the lower number is a 50 percent increase over the number that inspectors counted earlier this year. By the time the IAEA and Iran are done talking about past questions, Iran will almost certainly have enough working centrifuges to produce a bomb within a year. . . .

Moscow and Beijing could join Mr. ElBaradei in arguing that nothing should be done before the end of the year. By then, the options of the Bush administration and other governments that believe Iran's nuclear program must be stopped, and not accommodated, may be greatly attenuated -- thanks to a diplomat who apparently believes he need not represent anyone other than himself.

Showing his true allegiances, Hiatt mocked ElBaradei for having "set himself a new task: stopping what he considers to be the 'crazies' in Washington who 'want to say, 'Let us go and bomb Iran.'" Hiatt loyally defended his friends in the the "Bomb Iran" crowd: "we consider its members saner than many of the statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Identically, earlier this year, Hiatt's neoconservative comrade John Bolton went on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and repeatedly smeared ElBaradei for suggesting that there was no evidence that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon. After Blitzer showed Bolton a clip of ElBaradei on CNN downplaying the threat of Iran's nuclear program, Bolton angrily blurted out: "Mohammed ElBaradei is an apologist for Iran. . . . He needs to learn that he works for the members governments of his agency, not the other way around."

Naturally, Bolton escalated the "Iran apologist" accusation against ElBaradei on Fox News. When Bolton accuses a U.N. weapons expert bearing the name "Mohamed ElBaradei" and an Egyptian accent of being an "Iran apologist" -- and when the Bush administration tapes his conversations with Iranian officials to prove he's in cahoots with them -- the reprehensible meaning could not be clearer.

In Bolton's CNN appearance, after Blitzer pointed out that ElBaradei was re-elected and therefore obviously has the confidence of most member states, Bolton lamented: "I don't think we were effective in our campaign to oppose him, and I don't think we did nearly what we should have done, and I think we are paying the price now and will pay it into the future. Then this exchange:

BLITZER: In fairness to Mohamed ElBaredei, before the war in Iraq, when Condoleezza Rice and the President were speaking about mushroom clouds of Saddam Hussein and a revived nuclear weapons program that he may be undertaking, [ElBaradei] was saying that there was absolutely no such evidence, he was poo-poo-ing it, saying that the Bush Administration was overly-alarming and there was no nuclear weapons program that Saddam Hussein had revived. He was right on that one?

BOLTON: Even a stopped clocked is right twice a day.

Even Blitzer pointed out the obvious: "That was an important issue in trying to justify the war -- the mushroom cloud, the fear that the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud -- that's not just a little issue. He was right on a major, major justification for going to war."

Yet Hiatt himself maligned ElBaradei and Hans Blix exactly the same way prior to the war in Iraq as he did this year concerning Iran, as Hiatt wrote in a March 11, 2003 Editorial urging the invasion of Iraq without waiting for completion of the inspection process (via LEXIS):

So why do the inspectors sound so upbeat? Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei are international civil servants who are desperate to prove that agencies like theirs can be effective . . .

Mr. ElBaradei has responded to similar problems by turning on Iraq's accusers. . . . He has used his two subsequent presentations to dispute evidence offered by Britain and the United States, while coming close to declaring Iraq free of any nuclear program. Last Friday, Mr. ElBaradei made headlines by denouncing one secondary piece of evidence, about an alleged Iraqi attempt to obtain fissile material from Niger, as a forgery. But the allegation is not central to the case against Saddam Hussein, and it did not even form part of Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent presentation to the Security Council. Such diversions have lamentably become the substitute for U.N. oversight of real Iraqi disarmament; weeks or even months more of them may help unify the international community, but can yield little else.

ElBaradei's warnings about the lack of evidence for Iraqi WMD were, to Hiatt, mere "diversions" to getting on with the war. In attacking ElBaradei for daring to "dispute" U.S. claims about Iraq, Hiatt -- as always -- was channelling Dick Cheney. When Cheney went on Meet the Press a week before the invasion of Iraq, Tim Russert asked him: "even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said [Saddam] does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?" Cheney replied:

He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don't have any reason to believe they're any more valid this time than they've been in the past.

Yet now, four years later, we have the very same Serious Warmongers who were proven so spectacularly wrong about Iraq -- the John Boltons and Fred Hiatts and Joe Liebermans and Bill Kristols and Dick Cheneys -- once again smearing Mohamed ElBaradei for pointing out, accurately, that the hysterical, fear-mongering war-fueling claims about The New Enemy are simply false. And exactly the same result has occurred. From this morning's New York Times:

In Vienna, the American intelligence finding was embraced by the International Atomic Energy Agency as proof that its conclusions about Iran's nuclear program were correct.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency, is seeking to resolve questions about Iran's suspicious activities in the past, but has been criticized for not pressing Iran hard enough on curbing its current nuclear program and for conducting diplomacy that seemed at odds with Security Council strategy.

"Despite repeated smear campaigns, the I.A.E.A. has stood its ground and concluded time and again that since 2002 there was no evidence of an undeclared nuclear weapons program in Iran," a senior agency official said. "It also validates the assessment of the director general that what the I.A.E.A. inspectors have seen in Iran represented no imminent danger" . . . .

Gregory L. Schulte, the American envoy to the agency, telephoned Dr. ElBaradei, who was traveling in Uruguay, and told him that the American assessment is "close to what you've been saying," the agency official said.

Somehow, it was decided in our political establishment that being completely wrong about the worst strategic disaster in our country's history -- the invasion of Iraq -- is not a cause for any diminished credibility at all (and having been right is no cause for enhanced credibility). Even after the invasion of Iraq, our Hiatt-modeled political establishment even proceeded to smear and target those such as Mohamed ElBardei who were clearly proven right, as though being right was a crime.

But how about trying to start a second war, this one against Iran, based on exactly the same completely fabricated claims? Might that be considered credibility-impeding? Here's what senior Giuliani foreign policy advisor Norman Pordhoretz said in May when he went to the Wall St. Journal to urge the bombing of Iran:

As the currently main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11, and as (according to the State Department's latest annual report on the subject) the main sponsor of the terrorism that is Islamofascism's weapon of choice, Iran too is a front in World War IV. Moreover, its effort to build a nuclear arsenal makes it the potentially most dangerous one of all . . . .

In short, the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force -- any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938.

On the January 20, 2006 edition of Fox Special Report with Brit Hume, Fred Barnes said: "the truth is that we're way behind anyway in moving diplomatically. . . . the Iranians are moving so quickly toward a point of no return on getting to nuclear weapons, a nuclear weapon, that I think this diplomatic stuff doesn't mean much." Based on such patently false claims, people like Joe Klein and Rudy Giuliani have actually mused out in the open about a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran.

These are truly the lie-fueled rantings of "crazy" people, just as ElBaradei said that they were. In a minimally rational society, the Fred Hiatts and John Boltons and Norm Podhoretzs and Rudy Giulianis and Joe Liebermans would be considered laughingstocks. In light of this track record, what rational person would trust a single thing they say?

Yet as always in our political culture, those hungry for American wars -- both old and new -- are, by definition, Serious and Respectable, and those who try to stop such wars (such as ElBaredei) are losers and "apologists" whose judgment and allegiances are equally suspect. Just compare the Very Serious Fred Hiatt's fact-free, war-pursuing attacks on Mohamed ElBaradei in both 2002 and 2007 with the fact that ElBaradei -- both times -- was absolutely right on the most vital matters of the day, and one finds all one needs to know about how sad and broken our political establishment is.

UPDATE: Norman Podhoretz, horrified and petrified that the consensus of our intelligence agencies "just dealt a serious blow" to his desire for a new war, unloads what he aptly calls his "dark suspicions" that this is all just a ruse by our dishonest intelligence community "to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations" (h/t Zack). Did I mention that this is the Senior Foreign Policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani? Does Giuliani harbor similar "dark suspicions" about the allegiances of our intelligence officials?

Podhoretz's predictable attack also underscores one of the most dishonest maneuvers one has seen in some time. It was, of course, Podhoretz, Cheney and their friends who incessantly pressured and manipulated the intelligence community to conclude that Saddam had WMD so that they could start the war they desperately wanted for so long. And now, they use the false conclusions which they foisted on the intelligence community to cast doubt on the credibility of intelligence officials with regard to Iran -- as though neoconservative warmongers were the victims of the pre-war intelligence failures rather than the perpetrators. Their dishonesty in the service of new wars knows no bounds.

UPDATE II: From the Beacon of Foreign Policy Seriousness, Kenneth Pollack, in a September, 2005 interview with Spiegel:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How compelling is the evidence that Iranians are developing a nuclear weapons program?

KENNETH POLLACK: Obviously, the evidence is circumstantial, but it is quite strong.

As ElBaradei was pointing out, the evidence was actually non-existent. Nonetheless, the following year, the Senate Foriegn Relations Committee brought in Pollack to share his great wisdom (.pdf) about "Iran's nuclear program." And even through today, one would have to smash one's television sets to pieces in order to avoid hearing Pollack hailed as a wise and serious foreign policy expert, despite his being wrong about everything that matters over and over and over.

UPDATE III: Fred Hiatt, September 26, 2007, in "The Iran Impasse" (h/t Thomas C):

As France's new foreign minister has recognized, the danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it.

The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy -- that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce Mr. Ahmadinejad's superiors to suspend their race for a bomb. . . . .

Even if Tehran provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment -- and thus its progress toward a bomb -- will continue. That doesn't trouble Mr. ElBaradei, who hasn't hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking U.S. military action. . . . .

European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don't make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.

Iran's "race for a bomb." Our political establishment is led by reckless war-lovers who will say anything, no matter how little basis there is, in order to beat their chests and threaten and start more wars (all the while accusing their latest desired bombing targets of being "rogue nations" and "threats to peace").

UPDATE IV: The Washington Post, January 20, 2006 (h/t sysprog):

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) accused the Bush administration of playing down the threat of a nuclear Iran and called for swift action at the United Nations to impose sanctions on the Iranian government.

The senator's statements, in which she said the administration should make it clear that all options remain on the table for dealing with the Iranians, came during a speech about the Middle East on Wednesday night at Princeton University. She criticized the White House for turning the problem over to European nations and said Iran must never be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons.

"I believe we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," Clinton said. "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines."

Her National Security Director actually had the audacity to say this yesterday in response to the NIE story: "Senator Clinton has the strength and experience to conduct the kind of vigorous diplomacy needed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons." None of this should be surprising coming from someone who, as President, will almost certainly appoint someone like Ken Pollack as National Security Advisor and Michael O'Hanlon to run some Middle East desk in the State Department or some Pentagon bureau.

UPDATE V: Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell collects still more examples, from the likes of David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, demonstrating just how miniscule is the knowledge and/or pervasive is the propaganda among our foriegn policy geniuses.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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