Obama is channeling Bush fever in Iran

Ten years after the Iraq debacle, are we -- mind-bogglingly -- headed to war with Iran? The signals suggest yes

Published March 31, 2013 4:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Matt York/Reuters/Jason Reed)
(AP/Matt York/Reuters/Jason Reed)

A gold star if you can guess who made the following four statements without clicking on the links. Hint: Two were by an aggressive, hawkish, Republican, one of which was famously said over 10 years ago. Two others are by the more erudite, constitutionally savvy, liberal, moderate, current president. You remember him: He’s the one  Hillary Clinton taunted in 2008 as not being tough enough to answer the phone at 3 a.m. At this point, it’s safe to say that we no longer need to worry about that.

1) "I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran."

2) "One thing is certain. The United States should never allow Iran to threaten the world with a nuclear bomb."

3) "Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we've done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia."

4) "Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."

The rumblings of invading and "punishing" Iran have been in existence at least since President G.W. Bush’s famous 2002 “We Will Save the World From the Bad Guys” speech, which framed American foreign policy objectives for the foreseeable future. After confirming the U.S. "partnership with Afghanistan" to fight the terrorists, he named future conquests (in reverse chronological order?):

North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction.

Bush’s speech was untroubled by facts, including those so meticulously gathered by Hans Blix, the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector, who searched for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) all over Iraq, and found virtually nothing of note. Blix, as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997, knew whereof he spoke. As he said in a 2004 interview about the invasion of Iraq:

"There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.”

Sadly, these loud declarations by one of the foremost experts on nuclear weapons stopped neither the leaders of the United States nor Britain. And they certainly had no effect on pundits or politicians across the spectrum who howled in support of invading Iraq. (In 2005, Corey Robin wrote a compelling analysis of why that might have been.) Still, how ironic that on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, even as some of those "critical" voices reflected, recanted, apologized — or offered revised interpretations -- for their support for the march into Iraq (Peter BeinartJonathan ChaitEzra Klein, Chris Matthews and Andrew Sullivan, among many others), all signs foreshadow the next invasion.

It doesn’t seem far-fetched to surmise that the eagerness with which so many anticipated a change in the U.S. administration back in 2009 was due in part to being rid of that “warmonger” President Bush. To many, including the committee that selects the Nobel Peace Prize, President Bush’s exit signaled a more dovish and fact-based foreign policy. But the change in administrations, as many liberals might concede today, did not bring about a different foreign policy. It is true that as recently as one year ago, President Obama warned against “loose talk” of invading Iran. Yet, his position seems to have changed substantially over the last six months. During a visit to Israel last week, the president assured Israel that “America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Lest anyone worry about internal discord, be assured that the president’s Cabinet is in line with this increasing hawkishness. In a speech delivered at AIPAC’s 2013 conference at the beginning of March, Vice President Biden insisted that the president “was not bluffing” and that “all options, including military force, are on the table” regarding Iran. Obama’s new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, whose mildly critical voice on Iran and Israel once offered hope to liberals, was criticized at his confirmation hearings by his fellow Republicans for not being aggressive enough on Iran. Happily for Obama and Israel, Hagel has remained perfectly silent since his confirmation. But just in case you worry about Hagel’s unduly dovish influence on the president, you can breathe easy. To hear the president speak, no one — neither Hagel nor his new Secretary of State John Kerry -- will prevent Obama from taking an aggressive stance on Iran. As Josh Gerstein reported 10 days ago, the president assured anyone who cared to listen that:

“When I say that we intend to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, that we're going to pursue all avenues to make sure that that does not happen ... I think my Cabinet is prepared for a whole range of contingencies, but Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel share my fundamental view that the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability is an issue of U.S. national security interests as well as Israel’s national security interests and they also share my view that our commitment to Israel’s security is unbreakable."

The president’s words echoed Israeli President Shimon Peres’ insistence that the U.S. must launch a military strike against Iran in the event that Iran’s nuclear program moves past “the point of no return.” Even Fox News, a most vigilant observer of all capitulations to Iran, no matter how negligible, enthusiastically described Obama’s Israel speech as signaling “all systems go,” to Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran. All of these speeches and public postures foreshadow another war 10 years after the "reassessments"/errors/apologies/regrets over the invasion of Iraq on visibly false pretenses.

So what’s with the Iraq invasion redux? Let’s get straight to the obvious, shall we? Iran has no intentions of attacking Israel. One obvious reason is that Iran has no plausible ability to attack Israel. As the erudite journalist and political analyst Nima Shirazi has documented carefully and exhaustively herehereherehere, and perhaps crystallized most clearly here, Iran presents no threat, nuclear or otherwise, to Israel. None. Zilch. Nada. President Obama knows this. Shimon Peres knows this. Bibi knows this. As Shirazi writes:

Netanyahu deliberately ignored the fact that Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium remains far from weapons-grade and that Iran has, for over a year now, been systematically converting much of its 19.75% enriched stock to fuel plates that precludes the possibility of being diverted to military purposes.

Of course, the fact that Iran has an inalienable legal right to a fully-functioning nuclear energy program - including the indigenous mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle - was not addressed at all. For Netanyahu and his acolytes, any Iranian nuclear program is synonymous with a weapons program - and not only that, but a weapons program designed to "exterminate" Israel's "Jewish people." Facts remain irrelevant.

Hans Blix, the UN Inspector who repeatedly declared in 2002 that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, knows this (a fact that our liberal pundit class has only now come to acknowledge. See Beinart et al. above). He has again affirmed there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iran. As reported by an Australian news site, Blix insists:

“Memories of the failure and tragic mistakes in Iraq are not taken sufficiently seriously.”

"In the case of Iraq, there was an attempt made by some states to eradicate weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, and today there is talk of going on Iran to eradicate intentions that may not exist. I hope that will not happen."

Today, Mr Blix believes that the international community has even less evidence of the existence of atomic weapons in Iran, which is facing international pressures over its controversial nuclear program.

Moreover, even senior Israeli officials with close ties to the intelligence community are unconvinced of Iran’s danger to the United States or to Israel:

Beyond being obvious that Iran poses literally no threat to the United States, numerous Israeli military and intelligence officials openly reject the notion that a nuclear-armed Iran would "present an existential threat to Israel." Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy recently told the UK Zionist Federation that Israel's existence "is not in danger and shouldn't be questioned."

(ThinkProgress.org lists Israeli officials who are not concerned about Iran’s threat to Israel here.)

In essence, the increasingly menacing public posture of U.S. officials toward Iran — coming in the same month as the 10-year anniversary of the jingoistic, imperially smug, and devastatingly destructive invasion of Iraq — cannot but remind us of the spurious calls for war made back in 2002. Somewhere, in between the support for invading Iraq voiced by pundits who now insist that “analytical failures” combined with aversions to “white-bearded peaceniks” induced them to align with Republicans (and Democrats) to go to war, and the bizarre revisions of history now being presented, we can observe a new pitch for war against yet another Muslim nation being presented by various political figures. Invested in learning nothing from his previous errors, old-timers such as Veep Biden are again guzzling the Kool-Aid. As he said to the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Georgia last year:

“When we took office, let me remind you, there was virtually no international pressure on Iran,” Biden continued. “We were the problem, we were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe. We were neither fully respected by our friends nor feared by our opponents. Today it is starkly, starkly different.”

It’s hard to imagine Biden believes that the pressure on Iran is "international" in the sense of coming from any nations other than Israel and the U.S. Neither is it plausible that this “crisis” constitutes anything other than old-fashioned imperialist pressure for an independent nation to submit to the will of a global hegemony. This is especially obvious in light of the extensive documentation of Iran’s lack of destructive nuclear capabilities, its explicit disinterest in producing WMD, along with its goodwill in cooperating with the conditions of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. The same cannot be said of Israel, which not only has refused to join the NPT, but is considered the fifth-largest nuclear power in the world.

While disappointing, the run-up to a confrontation with Iran hardly feels like a surprise. The current march to war has included Hollywood as well, as witnessed by the excitement and pomp over this year’s Oscar win for best picture, given to "Argo," a blatantly xenophobic film directed by Hollywood darling Ben Affleck. In on the action was first lady Michelle Obama, who presented the prestigious award to the director himself. Coincidence, perhaps. Or maybe just some coy disingenuousness in having the first lady on hand to — surprise!! — salute the CIA present the award for best picture during a year when "Zero Dark Thirty" was also a strong contender.

So let’s sum up. Despite ample evidence of the devastating effects of the gratuitous invasion of Iraq that began a decade ago, the president and his buddies are now drumbeating for an attack on Iran. The search for elusive WMD is falsely alleged to have been stymied by Iran. There is a repeated insistence that there’s no telling what those crazy Muslims (or Muslim dictators) will do. Yet we have repeated confirmations that there are no plausible destructive weapons or development capabilities in the country that is the intended target. Does any of this sound familiar? Andrew Sullivan, Peter Beinart and Ezra Klein have recognized the rumblings, although they did so prior to the 2012 reelection of President Obama. Will others sound the alarm before it’s too late? Or will we only be treated to silence or continued fear-mongering in the face of this bellicose posturing by the Nobel Peace laureate?

Will it be, in the apt words of Yogi Berra, “Déjà vu all over again”?

By Falguni A. Sheth

Falguni A. Sheth is a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She writes about politics, race, and feminism at translationexercises.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FalguniSheth.

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