In 2003, after the U.S. criminally invaded Iraq, France and Germany, the core of the European Union, feared that the U.S. might expand its aggression into neighboring Iran. They feared this both because an attack on Iran might produce further disorder in the region, with unpredictable consequences; and because if successful, the U.S. would likely establish a string of client states stretching from Central Asia to the Mediterranean coast of Syria. That Southwest Asian empire, embracing the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil fields, would put the U.S. in an even more advantageous geopolitical position than it already occupied. Decades of economic growth had allowed Europe to obtain parity with the U.S.; both the EU and U.S. produce about 28% of the world’s wealth (with Japan 11%). But empire would give the U.S. extraordinary leverage over Europe and other competitors. After the defeat of the socialist experiments in the Soviet Union and China, old-fashioned inter-capitalist rivalry has intensified. Who would have imagined a decade ago that France would be branded an “enemy” by many in the U.S.? The present more resembles 1914 than 1945 in some ways. Not social systems but competing centers of capital are locked in intense competition.
So France and Germany took Iran aside and said, “Look, you don’t want the U.S. to attack you, and neither do we. Let’s talk about how to prevent it. The Americans say you have a secret nuclear weapons program. Let’s discuss how you can allay their fears and get some benefits from us, and the British whom we expect to join us after awhile, for doing so.” The Iranians might have said, “Fine. We actually offered to negotiate with the Americans this year, contacting them through the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, but Cheney’s office not only didn’t reply, it berated the ambassador for passing along the message. But they’re the ones we really want to talk to, since they’re threatening us.” After three years the talks broke down because the Europeans broke promises and refused to budge from their demand that Iran renounce its inalienable legal right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and master the nuclear cycle. Iran, which had voluntarily suspended enrichment activity during the talks, resumed it, announcing in April that it had enriched uranium to 3.5%.
Meanwhile the U.S. has steadily proceeded with its plans to attack Iran. In the case of Iraq, as Paul Wolfowitz admitted after the invasion, the neocons “settled on one issue -- weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” They wanted to attack Iraq, and just chose the WMD issue because it was the one most likely to scare people into supporting war. Similarly with Iran, although Condi reminds us “the nuclear issue…is not the only obstacle standing in the way of improved relations. The Iranian government supports terror. It is involved in violence in Iraq. And it is undercutting the restoration of full sovereignty in Lebanon under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.” In other words, if Iran announced tomorrow it would capitulate to the U.S. demand that it never ever enrich uranium, there’d still be a laundry list of reasons to attack it.
But the nuclear program has been the central demonizing issue to date, and those standing in the way have been attacked along with Iran’s mullahs. Mohamed ElBaradei, whose judgment Vice President Cheney has questioned (just as he questioned Hans Blix’s judgment about Iraq’s imagined WMDs), found his third term as IAEA chief strongly resisted by the U.S. But candidates preferred by the U.S. declined to apply for the post, and ElBaradei, one of the UN’s most respected officials, not only won a third term but also the Nobel Peace Prize. (Some saw the choice by the Swedish Academy as a slap at the Bush administration.) This might seem a blow to Washington’s effort to use the UN to legitimate an attack on Iran, but in June 2005, before his reappointment, ElBaradei had met with Condi Rice. She apparently told him the U.S. would not block his continued directorship under certain conditions. In November, 22 delegates on the 35-nation IAEA board voted to say that Iran’s “many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement [voluntarily signed by Iran in 2003] . . . constitute non-compliance” with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Then ElBaradei, who had in earlier reports emphasized that Iran was complying with the treaty and that there was no evidence for a military program, reported in March 2006 that the IAEA “is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.” Maybe Condi had advised him to take his cue from Rumsfeld, who once famously remarked of Iraq’s WMD, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Maybe she said, “Just say ‘We don’t know there isn’t a bomb-making factory,’ and then you can turn the matter over to the Security Council and wash your hands of it.” That seems, in any case, to be what’s happening.
France and Germany meanwhile have joined the anti-Iran bandwagon, embracing the U.S. demand that Iran do what it’s said from the outset it won’t do: quit its legal nuclear enrichment activity. France, the “enemy” of 2003, has achieved a remarkable rapprochement with the U.S. Accepting the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a fait accompli, it has even offered to train puppet police in France. In February 2004 France and the U.S. collaborated to overthrow the government or Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. After France sent troops into the Ivory Coast in November 2004, Washington withdrew its initial objections to the deployment. Most importantly, in 2004 France and the U.S. cosponsored UN resolution 1559 designed to force Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Appropriately enough, as if to point out that imperialist countries can collude as well as contend, all these countries were formerly French colonies. Quite possibly France has traded an agreement not to stand in the U.S.’s way if it decides to attack Iran for a U.S. agreement to award France some privileges in its former Middle Eastern territories once their regimes are overthrown. France, which recently enjoyed cordial relations with Syria, has taken the lead in challenging Bashar Assad. Syria, too, is on the neocon hit list, and it once looked like it was next up. But (partly due to Israeli insistence that Iran was the greater threat to the Jewish state) focus shifted to Iran and Syria’s been off the front pages for a while. Anyway an attack on Iran will inevitably bring Syria into a general war and France as well as Israel would probably like some say in what happens to post-Assad Syria and Lebanon.
A turning point came in early 2005 when the U.S. agreed to support the EU-Iran talks, which it had treated with official skepticism to that point, by giving the Europeans some bargaining chips. Washington agreed that, in support of the Europeans’ efforts to persuade Iran to abandon uranium enrichment, it would agree to support Iran’s entry into the WTO and allow the sale of civilian aircraft to Iran, if that goal was accomplished. In return, Europe agreed to list the popular Lebanese political party Hizbollah (which had just organized a half-million rally in support of Syria in Lebanon) on the EU terror list, and to cooperate with the U.S. on Iran policy if the Iranians continued to insist on their NPT rights.
So here, now, we have the U.S. with its NATO allies in tow (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland all voted in favor of the November IAEA report), armed with a UNSC report critical of Iran, announcing that it’s finally willing to actually sit down for talks with Iranian officials for the first time since 1979. It’s agreed to join Europe, Russia and China for multilateral negotiations. The administration wants us to see this as a concession to Europe, almost as an act of grace. It will talk to the Iranians, having spurned their 2003 overture, and the more recent, public appeal for talks from President Ahmadinejad. All it demands as a precondition to such talks is that Iran suspend its (again, perfectly legal) uranium enrichment program!
Now, no doubt the Europeans, Russians and Chinese are all saying, “Look, we’ve gotten the Americans to acknowledge your right to have a peace nuclear program. Cheney was denying even that, but Rice has publicly recognized your right. We’ve come up with a good package of incentives for you to stop enriching uranium, but have nuclear energy and lots of trade and diplomatic benefits. We don’t want war. Let’s call the Americans’ bluff, satisfy their concern about your nuclear project, and help your people through this package. All you have to do is suspend uranium enrichment, as you have before, with no loss to national honor.” And no doubt the Iranians are thinking, “We could suspend enrichment, saying it’s just a temporary good-faith measure. It won’t be a popular move, but we could do that. We could go into these negotiations, try to convince the Americans we’re not producing nuclear weapons but just want to enrich uranium the way Brazil and the Netherlands and Japan do without anyone fussing about it. But they’ll demand that we sign some humiliating agreement to renounce our rights. Then the talks will break down, and the U.S. establishment will declare that we, insisting on our rights, rather than they, who insist on denying us our rights, are the intransigent ones. They’ll use the anti-Muslim bigotry in American society to win support for an attack on us. So maybe we should just reject the precondition of the talks, and make a counter-offer for talks without preconditions.”
The comments by the (interim, unconfirmed) U.S. UN Ambassador John Bolton to Fox News’s salivating warmonger Neil Cavuto last week make the administration’s intentions pretty clear:
Bolton: The president’s made it very clear he wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear weapons program [sic] though peaceful and diplomatic means, but he’s also said that Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable.
Cavuto: But unacceptable means that if it keeps going on you’re going to do something about it . . .
Bolton: No option is taken off the table.
Cavuto: Military as well?
Cavuto: Unilateral military action?
Bolton: Secretary Rice made that point . . . that’s why . . .
Cavuto: That we would act alone if we had to?
Bolton: That’s why he says no option is taken off the table. But it’s also why the president has reached out to [Russian] President Putin and other leaders in the past couple of days to say, “We’re making a significant step here” -- that will be criticized by many of the president’s staunchest supporters here at home, but he’s taking this step to show strength and American leadership. He’s doing it to say "We gave Iran this last chance to show they are serious when they say ‘We don’t want nuclear weapons.’” This is “put up or shut up” time for Iran.
What Bully Bolton is saying, in other words, is that the whole plan of deceit is coming to a head. The administration wants the American people to think it’s bending over backwards to allow the evil Iranians to end their evil nuclear weapons program without drawing down upon themselves the terrible swift sword of godly America. Unless they “put up” and agree to end forever their enrichment program, they will invite unilateral U.S. military action upon themselves. Thus barring a very difficult concession on the part of a proud ancient nation, in the very near future the next phase of the pre-advertised “Long War” will begin. It will spread immediately to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel. The plan is for a ferocious attack that will destroy not just nuclear sites but the entire Iranian leadership, freeing up the Iranian people to cast off their hated abaya or shave their beards, dance in the streets waving U.S. flags, blare out American rock n’ roll, and crack open the beer in public places. It is a crazy plan, but these are crazy times, and crazy people are in power.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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