The Persian Bomb Squad

Some people just can’t be trusted

A recent New York Times article offered another textbook example of the spectacular bias the U.S. employs to undermine those that might pose a challenge to its global hegemony. It also nicely illustrated the willingness of the media to serve as little more than a relay station for state propaganda. Yet it was but the latest in the glossary of deceits that characterize America’s relationship with Iran.

The front-page article from two Saturdays covered the Iranian nuclear program negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1, which includes the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. It was titled, “In Iran Talks, U.S. Seeks to Prevent a Covert Weapon.” The subhead reads, “A ‘Sneakout’ Feared.” The article then intones, with its vacuous air of impartiality and even-handed reserve, that the West (naturally acting with the best interests of all people at heart) is wrestling with “how to design an agreement to maximize the chances that Western intelligence agencies would catch any effort to develop an atomic bomb at a covert site.” Concern is obviously, then, “over a future Iranian covert program.”

The authors repeatedly emphasize Iran’s “declared” nuclear facilities. The authors at least concede that the declared facilities are “crawling with inspectors and cameras.” The goal, it is said, is to stretch the “breakout” timeline by which Iran could ‘sprint’ to a bomb. But the real problem for the U.S. and its allies is not only a “breakout,” but a “sneakout,” which is the nonexistent covert program that it believes may one day exist “deep in the Iranian mountains.”

Note that all of this talk of breakouts and sneakouts and covert programs is conjecture, speculation perhaps calibrated to produce distrust in Iranian aims, which to this point, seem to be in line with its right to pursue civilian nuclear energy—something the U.S. happily supported when its brutal stooge, the Shah of Iran, held the reigns of the country. But America has never forgiven the 1979 Islamic revolution.

This entire narrative smacks of the Iraq invasion of 2003, when the Bush administration’s unquenchable thirst for regional dominion led it to fabricate a covert Iraqi WMD program. Though UNSCOM had found no evidence of WMD programs, and no radar or satellite detections of nuclear activity were ever reported, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Keep this quote in mind as we review five critical steps to bringing your rivals to heel.

  1. Demonize and penalize…

The game plan for Iran is largely drawn from the Iraqi playbook, with a few modifications. For instance, it is important to establish an unreachable standard of compliance by which you can cast a considerable shadow over your enemy’s motivations. Though the IAEA has repeatedly found that Iran has not diverted nuclear power toward a weapons program, the U.S. still seeks confirmation of “the absence of undeclared activities.” This is, logically speaking, impossible to verify. To do so would require omniscience—knowledge of everything—to verify the absence of the imagined. It is under the rubric of this intellectual fatuity that the West has pressed for further inspections than members are required to provide under their NPT Safeguards agreement.

This is how it worked with Iraq. The White House knows if it pushes far enough, eventually the oppressed country will balk and resist. At that moment, the White House and State Department will leap into action, declaring that Iraq or Iran isn’t negotiating in good faith, has failed its obligations, and so on. It will point to “hard-liners” in the target government, characterizing them as myopic fundamentalists that cannot cope with modernity.

In Iraq, absurd demands included a dire need to inspect Hussein’s own palace for evidence of WMD subterfuge. The same is being proposed for Iran. Imagine Iran insisting that it be permitted to inspect the Knesset for possible plots to attack Natanz facility. How might our mild-mannered Zionist allies react?

A key sticking point are the “additional protocols” pushed by the U.S. as new measures to verify NPT compliance back in the late nineties, largely in response to successful Iraqi efforts to disguise nuclear work, which appear to have eluded the IAEA less from deficiencies in the NPT Safeguards but negligence in applying the full authority they accord inspection teams. They call for the member states to declare more activity related to nuclear energy and to permit more expansive access for IAEA inspectors.

Naturally, the U.S. was behind the push for more extensive access above and beyond the NPT. This process stretches back into the nineties when the additional protocols were being formed, ostensibly based on insights from the Iraq invasion earlier in the decade. The U.S. led the push for more access: “U.S. leadership in negotiating the Model Additional Protocol was instrumental in its acceptance by the IAEA Board of Governors. Countries with extensive nuclear civilian energy programs…opposed U.S. efforts to strengthen the draft protocol, citing its inapplicability to the United States.”

Early in the 2000s, an IAEA report found that Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons but that it had concealed the extent of its enrichment activities—a direct violation of the NPT. In an attempt to ease Western concerns, Iran signed on to the additional protocols (but didn’t ratify them) and voluntarily suspended enrichment activity for a couple of years, hoping that by so doing it would gain EU promise to accept its uranium enrichment for civilian energy. The EU agreed to that proviso in the Paris Agreements of 2004. A few months later it reneged on its promise. In response, Iran began enriching uranium again and dropped the additional protocols.

(Note during this long period of bickering, Iran had quietly offered complete transparency of its program, quitting its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S. The West instantly rejected this idea. It also suggested its enrichment being managed by an international consortium. Again, dismissed.)

Despite its legal right under the NPT to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the IAEA tossed the Iranian dossier to the UN Security Council, which pretended to extend a new offer to Iran after requesting it halt the exercise of its legal right to enrichment. The new offer of negotiations, in a predictable tactic familiar to U.S. foreign policy observers, included a request that the purpose of negotiations—Iran’s enrichment program—be halted before the negotiations began.

The Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran. The U.S. pressed the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of the NPT. Iran, by contrast, claimed the sanctions were illegal. By 2007, the West was demanding satisfaction beyond even the additional protocols, according to IAEA Deputy Director general of safeguards Olli Heinonen.

  1. Falsely accuse…

Aside from demanding the impossible, one should produce a steady stream of false accusations to further undercut whatever credibility your rival may have in international circles. As evidence of Iranian duplicity, the U.S. points to the “hidden” Fordo plant, which it says was “uncovered” in 2009, before the site was finished. In actuality, Iran announced the facility to the IAEA. The “additional protocols” spearheaded by the West that Iran had initially agreed to then refused to ratify stipulated it needlessly inform the IAEA the moment it put spade to earth on a proposed nuclear facility. The old “Safeguards” that it still abides by require all members to give notice of a new facility 180 days prior to its going online. Iran did the latter, but not the former, in keeping with its original agreement.

Iran plausibly said the facility was a contingency facility it built after public threats from Israel (the latest here) and the U.S. to militarily destroy its Natanz program. In 2013 Iran granted additional access to facilities “including mines and mills” beyond even the superfluous extra protocol. But the West wants to account for “the location of every (centrifuge).” It wants to regularly interview Iranian scientists, which Tehran has thus far resisted since a number of them have been assassinated, reportedly by Israeli clandestine agency Mossad.

The Europeans regularly chime in to call negotiations an “endless game of hide-and-seek.” Unnamed “intelligence officials” and “experts” (the usual suspects the Times relies on) claim that Iran is riddled with “bunkers and tunnels.” The Times article concludes that the “past lurks over the sneakout problem,” and that, according to an American ‘hard-liner’, it needs to, “’guard against the hidden program.’” Notice here how the definite article is used twice in succession. This implies the existence of a thing unknown to exist. The entire article is based on a suspicion in Washington. But better to assume now than be fooled later, as the beltway hawks would have it. Left aside is the reality that despite myriad inspections and unprecedented access, no inspector has ever found weapons-grade uranium in Iran, or a program to quickly develop it.

  1. Negotiate in bad faith…

Negotiations are often a preliminary means of posing as a dutiful and peace-loving member of the international community before you resort to force against your enemy. It is important not to be fooled by your own pretext of good faith. You must remember that negotiations are not about solutions, but about convincing onlookers that you have exhausted diplomacy in an effort to make the peace. This will nonetheless require extraordinary hypocrisy in order to properly vilify your rival.

How interesting it is that the West will take at face value the Hamas declaration that it wants to eliminate the state of Israel. In good faith, we say, we are taking them at their word. Yet when Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei issues a fatwa against the development and use of nuclear weapons, his sincerity is dismissed as transparent posturing. Likewise, when calls for policies of ethnic cleansing in Palestine appear, they too are brushed aside by Western nations, and their pliant press flacks.

Nor should it be forgotten that the U.S. violated the NPT by openly selling uranium to India, a non-signatory of the treaty. It also claimed Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium in Africa. Multiple efforts were made to discredit Iran during the Bush years. Not just that, but it is widely known that the Obama administration, having made peaceful overtures to Tehran, surreptitiously launched cyberattacks against it. But it is the mullahs who are not to be trusted, but perhaps rightly so, since their negotiating partner has acted so aggressively toward them.

Likewise, the West’s double standards must be a grave insult to Iran. America happily obliges Israel’s aberrant behavior. Tel Aviv can defy international accords and cloak its WMDs behind a “policy of deliberate ambiguity.” It can permanently derail efforts to create a nuclear-free Middle East. It can be the most violent and aggressive nation in the entire region. It can do all this and more, and no one in Washington will hold it to account because Israel can be trusted.

The arguments America makes against Tehran are transparently racist as well. Whether or not policymakers in Washington truly believe the Iranians are insane theocrats who wouldn’t hesitate to start a nuclear war, we don’t know. But we do know the tactic of claiming a people aren’t ready for self-rule is by now a threadbare cliché of American history. After the Spanish-American War, the U.S. decided that Cuba was unfit for democracy. Haiti and Guatemala were similarly oppressed by maintaining the flimsy pretext that such unenlightened tribes must first benefit from our benevolent oversight before being permitted a modicum of self-rule.

When 16 American intelligence agencies hold no active nuclear weapons program, and that its foreign policy was “a posture of deterrence,” why is it that Iran cannot be trusted with civilian nuclear power? Why is the trustworthy country the only one that has used nuclear weapons? Why is it Iran cannot be trusted when it hasn’t launched a war in centuries? Why is the West to be trusted when it has not only attacked Iran on the sly, but openly invaded its eastern and western neighbors as well? When it is openly conceded that U.S. ally Israel has threatened its program and murdered its scientists, no doubt with Washington’s approval? Why must the West be trusted when it has indicated on numerous occasions it is developing new and better nuclear weapons, and alarming rivals into action through aggressive military posturing? To be sure, the U.S. has admirably reduced its arsenal from 31,000 weapons in the late 1960s to under 5,000 weapons today. However, more than a thousand are actually deployed. There is little talk internationally about whether these new plans violate or undermine NPT agreements.

The relationship between disarmament and nonproliferation is important. As the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has insightfully noted, these are the bedrock principles of the NPT. They are interrelated in that the successful application of one will likely promote the success of the other. Likewise, a loose and negligent application of one will likely ensure the same in the other.

  1. Be opaque but insist on transparency…

Part of your job as an international dissimulator will be to claim your rival is dangerously unhinged while simultaneously disguising instances when you behaved in precisely the same manner. A cursory glance at the NPT itself will be helpful in this regard.

What is rarely mentioned in western media is the bizarre discrepancy between the obligations of nuclear states and non-nuclear states under the NPT. Nuclear states don’t have to comprehensively apply the safeguards to all of their sites. They can even except sites for reasons of national security. Non-Nuclear states have to make practically all of their facilities—even non-nuclear energy sites with the additional protocol—eligible for NPT safeguards.

In 2004 the U.S. adopted the Model Additional Protocol in a good-faith attempt to bring other NPT members on board. But they were of little consequence to the U.S. as it is a Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) and must adhere to less stringent protocols than Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS).

Not only that, but the U.S. has, per its usual legalese, added two addendums to its adoption of the protocol, a corollary of the NPT’s exemption for NWS members, called by the U.S. a National Security Exemption (NSE). It lets the U.S. permit access to sites, activities, information, and additional locations, at its own discretion. A second addition limits the use of environmental sampling and the number of inspectors who can access a site.

Before Congress ratified it, the additional protocol was tagged with a letter from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) that stipulated, among other notes, that the NSE would be used regularly and repeatedly. It also, in an almost comical provision, insisted that the President ensure security and counterintelligence training will have been completed for any sites it plans to declare to the IAEA. Hirsch, in his excellent reading, questions whether these extra conditions amount to “reservations” that would indicate that the U.S. was not accepting the same provisos as NNWS members.

Compare that with the incredible access required under the additional and comprehensive protocols. Imagine America being asked, as one Iranian government official complained, for concessions that included “permissions for reconnaissance flights over our country and that their inspectors can enter anywhere, even the presidential palace.” (Note that an ‘undeclared’ American drone has already crashed in Iran.)

To date, some 72 members of the NPT have yet to adopt the additional protocols.

  1. Never forget the big picture…

Finally, one must always remember the big picture. If you lose faith, and ask yourself why you are behaving like a boorish tyrant, just recall the treasures that lay just over the horizon. Keep your eyes on the prize; it’s the geopolitical game that matters.

As regards the Middle East, there are long-term strategies afoot to divide and defang the Shiite Crescent that includes Lebanese, Syrian, and Iranian Shiite allies. Control over oil and gas fields in the Persian Gulf and Black and Caspian Seas are at stake, as is the fate of various competing pipeline projects of either Shiite or Sunni provenance. Dominion over energy will allow the U.S. and it’s global partners to force most of the world to denominate their fuel purchases in dollars. This will sustain the buck’s role as global reserve currency, which ensures that countries will buy up American debt, inadvertently funding its imperialist projects. And after all, nobody buys more oil than the U.S. military.

America will do all it can to assure that their Sunni proxies win these contests rather than the Moscow-backed Shiite coalition. In that regard, job one is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The idea is pure anathema to Washington. Everyone knows a bomb buys leverage. And a Shiite Crescent with leverage deeply undercuts American hegemony in the region. Hence the fairly continuous project to demonize Tehran. In this game, controlling the media narrative is critical, and all forms of slander and calumny are fair game.

In any event, the talks have been extended until next July. It wouldn’t require an extreme cynic to speculate that the seven-month extension serves U.S. interests by providing time for the ISIS debacle to play out, particularly in relation to Syria. Once the dust settles and the weather warms on that front, the West will be in a better position to decide whether it wants to opt for a military solution to its fabricated crisis with the Persians. To be sure, the international community—comprised of elites in Washington, New York, London, Paris and perhaps Riyadh—will affect the consternation of trusting but troubled Westerners, going to great lengths to persuade another rash and intemperate Muslim society to ‘join the international community.’ Once the media lapdogs paint a convincingly terrifying portrait of Iran for the edification of the masses, the wheels of war will begin to turn, legitimized by international sanction, prosecuted by the peacemakers.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.