Friday, March 14, 2008

If You Won't Bomb Iran for Us,
We'll Find Someone Else Who Will:
The Early Retirement of Admiral Fallon

The ebb and flow of this country's attention span and awareness of certain issues, directly controlled by the mass media's 'wash-rinse-repeat' tactics, is no more apparent than when considering news coverage of the potential (possible? probable? inevitable?) US attack on Iran.

For a long time, we were told repeatedly that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was a lunatic fanatic with his finger on the proverbial button, inciting anti-American and anti-Israeli violence across the globe. Ok, so that wasn't at all true. Then we heard that Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust and called to physically destroy Israel. Again, not true (though both of those lies still accompany each and every mention of the Iranian President in the US and Israeli media - in fact, it seems to have become somewhat of a epithet). Then there were British hostages. Nonsense. Then baseless and proofless accusations of Iranian IEDs being used in Iraq to harm our benevolent, civilian-killing, foreign country-occupying US soldiers. Then bogus claims of a nuclear weapons program, followed by two (now three) sets of US-bullied UN Security Council sanctions. Then came the NIE report, discrediting the allegations of Iranian weaponization of nuclear energy, so there was a trumped up speed boat incident in the Strait of Hormuz (damn you, Filipino Monkey!).

After the third set of UN sanctions, Iran continues to pursue its wholly legal right to achieve nuclear energy and does so while unveiling the utter hypocrisy of Security Council actions and exposing the true source of trouble in this world. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on March 5th, not only called for "a special committee for total nuclear disarmament" but stated:

Developing military doctrines based on preemptive attacks and imposing illegal sanctions clearly contradict the terms of the UN charter...Today, the international community is deeply concerned about the production of thousands of nuclear warheads at the arsenals of some nuclear countries.

Imposing illegal and unjustifiable sanctions against other countries, using international organizations for serving the interests of certain powers, making baseless accusations against other countries under the pretext of alleged concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, distorting reality to accuse other countries of breaking disarmament agreements, and misleading public opinion [have worried the global society].

Today, having veto power and possessing nuclear weapons have become a means of bargaining for the illegitimate rights of some powers.
Of course, this speech was not reported on in any way in the US media. A foreign official speaking the truth...a truth that contradicts the lies of the American government? An Iranian suggesting universal act that would include the US and Israel (and the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea)? Naturally, that can't be reported here. As far as we are led to believe, all Iranians must be busy at work, hunched over thousands of their own spinning centerfuges, eagerly rubbing their hands together, and salivating over the possibility of World War III. In this absurd Strangelovean fantasy, the Iranians in question (which is all of them) are most likely wearing burkas or turbans (or both?), carrying AK-14s, and speaking Arabic...all because Americans are pretty stupid.

Still, the US public opinion seems to be generally against attacking Iran for no reason other than further imperialism and US/Israeli hegemony, despite all three remaining presidential candidates keeping the Iranian demonization machine in full throttle, and as a result the issue of bombing Iran has dropped out of the new for a little while. So, with everyone's attentions preoccupied with pictures of Obama dressed like a Hibachi chef, the fact that Roger Clemens has never heard the word vegan, dutifully ignoring the Israeli murders of over a hundred and fifty Palestinians, and now focusing squarely on Ashley Dupre's MySpace and Facebook pages, the Bush administration has moved one step closer to attacking Iran by removing, what appeared to be, the highest-ranking obstacle to their sinister plans.

A lot of hubbub has surrounded the early retirement of Admiral William Fallon, the top military official of United States Central Command in the Middle East, this week. The claims that Fallon was forced to retire from active service due to his previous statements regarding his preferred avoidance of war with Iran, which many see as directly at odds with the aggressive military policies of his commander-in-chief, seem well-founded regardless of what the Washington spinbots are trying to say. Fallon first attracted attention when asked about a potential US attack on Iran, by stating, "Not on my watch" and by opposing the troop "surge" in Iraq. Since then he has urged straightforward diplomacy with the Iranian government, which is obviously a serious threat to Bush's bellicose dreams. A recent article in Esquire, written by former professor at the Naval War College and ex-Pentagon official Thomas P.M. Barnett, further exposed Fallon's dissenting beliefs on Middle East military plans and, in the piece's opening lines, placed the Admiral at the forefront of US policies in the region:
If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it'll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it'll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance.
The article continues to place Fallon and the Bush cabal at odds and is eerily prescient of what quickly followed the piece's publication:
So while Admiral Fallon's boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century's Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it's left to Fallon -- and apparently Fallon alone -- to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: "This constant drumbeat of not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."

What America needs, Fallon says, is a "combination of strength and willingness to engage."

Those are fighting words to your average neocon -- not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to "nuclear holocaust."

How does Fallon get away with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief?

The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough.

Just as Fallon took over Centcom last spring, the White House was putting itself on a war footing with Iran. Almost instantly, Fallon began to calmly push back against what he saw as an ill-advised action. Over the course of 2007, Fallon's statements in the press grew increasingly dismissive of the possibility of war, creating serious friction with the White House.

Last December, when the National Intelligence Estimate downgraded the immediate nuclear threat from Iran, it seemed as if Fallon's caution was justified. But still, well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.
Apparently, this article cast too much doubt on Fallon's willingness to launch an unprovoked attacked on Iran, and as a result he was swiftly and effectively removed from his post (though this reasoning is obviously denied by the White House as are the allegations that the US is furiously planning for an attack). Naturally, a high-ranking commander who urges "restraint and diplomacy" when dealing with a country with which the Bush administration is obviously intent on picking a military fight, is not long for this world.

Journalist Mark Thompson, in his article for Time, while believing that Fallon's 'retirement' was due wholly to the incompatability of his views with those of the administration that signed his paychecks, ends the piece with somewhat of an optimistic coda to the story:
The betting inside the Pentagon is that despite Fallon's departure, war with Iran is no more likely next month than it was last month. The U.S. military, its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, could only engage in an air war against Iran's nuclear sites. The ramifications of attacking a third Muslim nation since 9/11 are so extreme, military officers believe, that no President would launch such a war in his final months in office.
I wonder when any ramifications and rationale have ever made their way into the previous decisions of the Bush administration and if an attack on Iran is truly out of the question, now or in the future (judging from the rhetoric of McCain, Clinton, and Obama).

As the Esquire piece itself asks, "Who will prevail, the president or the admiral?" The answer, unfortunately as always, is clear.


Iran Crisis Nearing Climax

By Bill and Kathleen Christison

Time after time we have heard statements from Israeli officials, spokesmen of the Israel lobby in the U.S., and Israel’s supporters in Congress that Iran “must” never obtain nuclear weapons. On March 3, 2008, all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus nine of the ten non-permanent members approved a new round of sanctions against Iran. Chalk up the final vote of 14-0 with one abstention (the Muslim nation of Indonesia) as another victory at the U.N. for the Israel-U.S. partnership.

The spectacle of the five “permanents” in the antiquated Security Council hierarchy -- all of whom refuse to eliminate their own nuclear weapons -- adopting a double standard with respect to Iran does not, of course, raise more than a peep in the mainstream media of the U.S. Iran, a nation of proud people in a neighborhood of proud peoples, sees only absurdity in the discrimination against it when the nearby nations of India, Pakistan, and Israel have all developed their own nuclear weapons without the U.S. stopping them. Israel’s nuclear weapons program particularly sticks in the Iranian craw, because Iranians know that Israel, an enemy but a far smaller country, acquired nuclear weapons over 40 years ago, considerably earlier than either India or Pakistan. Most Iranians also know that Israel accomplished this only with public and/or private aid from the U.S. It’s all seen as just one more example of the U.S. favoring Israel and picking on Iran.

The issue of the moment is not even actual production of nuclear weapons by Iran, but the “enrichment” of natural uranium so that it contains a higher percentage of one particular uranium isotope, U-235, than is found in nature when the ore called “uranium” is first mined. Such enrichment provides the single most-difficult-to-obtain product used in most nuclear weapons. (In the natural state, the raw ore contains other uranium isotopes as well, and usually has by volume less than one percent U-235. When concentrated to around three percent U-235, the product is widely used in common forms of nuclear power reactors. When concentrated to much higher levels -- 90 percent is the figure often cited -- the product becomes the “weapons-grade” material used in nuclear weapons. The equipment used in this “enrichment” process is not only complicated to build, manage and maintain; it also requires large amounts of electric power to operate. But all of this is within the capabilities of numerous nations and, probably increasingly, some subnational groups as well.)

Iran now possesses, has tested, and is using all the equipment required, and it has the necessary electric power, to produce enriched uranium. It claims it has already reached an enrichment level of around four percent U-235 in early tests. It also claims that it does not want nuclear weapons and will use the enriched uranium only to produce larger amounts of electric power for the nation in a series of nuclear power plants. But if one chooses to believe that Iran really wants nuclear weapons, another element comes into the equation: the ease with which an enrichment operation can be converted to produce weapons-grade uranium. Various Western experts commonly believe that if a nation or group is capable of going from less than one percent to a three or four percent enrichment level, then the technical difficulties of moving from three or four to 90 percent enrichment are not at all major.

The actual design and manufacture of the explosive device, and then of a deliverable weapon, would not be a simple task, but neither would it be terribly difficult. Precise estimates of the time the entire process might take are generally useless. There are too many variables. All such estimates depend heavily on the types of delivery systems available, the degree of targeting accuracy demanded, and the redundancy, or lack, of safety features assumed necessary to prevent unauthorized or accidental use. But for Iran, a simple guess of three or four years probably would be in the ball park.

While the U.S. and other nations demand that Iran cease all production of enriched uranium, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that came into effect in 1970 does not prevent anyone from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. Iran, as already noted, claims that is all it is presently doing, and there is no hard evidence to the contrary. The U.S., however, and most other signatories of the treaty who already possess nuclear weapons have made no serious efforts to work toward global nuclear and general disarmament as called for in the NPT. The treaty, of course, has no timetable or deadlines in it. But the fact that the major powers who signed the treaty have not even begun multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament in 38 years gives Iran a good excuse, if it needs one, to abrogate its participation in the treaty. Some day Iran may do just that. The fact that Israel, India, and Pakistan, who have refused to sign the treaty from the start, have now become known nuclear powers, gives leaders in Teheran yet another excuse to get out of the NPT if it wishes.

While some U.S. empire builders talk about the need to change the global system, the world today is still composed of legally independent states where nationalism is the dominant force underlying relationships among states. In such a world, it is logical to assume that Iranian leaders either already secretly want nuclear weapons or will soon come to want them. They will not indefinitely accept that the smaller state of Israel has any greater right to nuclear weapons than they have. Nor will they even accept that the much larger U.S. has a greater right to such weapons. Short of being forced abjectly to surrender to the U.S.-Israeli partnership, no Iranian government leaders could accept such views.

The possibility of negotiating a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East (including Israel), or even, conceivably, a nuclear-free world, is often suggested as the only true final solution to the Middle East’s or the entire globe’s nuclear dilemma. And the people who make such suggestions can often cite polls or surveys showing that a majority of people everywhere support these ideas. The tragedy is that at the moment there is simply not enough trust among the governments of the globe, or even within one region thereof. Take the United States alone, or the U.S.-Israel partnership. It is inconceivable that the present government of either partner would be able even to begin negotiations on eliminating its nuclear weapons, no matter what the possible benefits might be. The same would apply to China, Russia, Britain, France, India, and Pakistan to greater or lesser degrees.

Even in this time of distrust, however, the U.N. should set up a permanent conference of ambassador-level experts on Disarmament and Global Crises. Once it is up and running, spokespeople for this conference should direct public attention on a daily basis to the relationship between arms spending and the three major crises facing the globe -- the energy, climate, and water crises that will make it increasingly necessary for the peoples of the world to work together in overcoming the crises and drastically cutting back the outrageous and wasteful military expenditures of too many nations. The immediate task of the conferenceshould be to define areas of agreement and disagreement on disarmament and on the other three issues in different regions of the world. The chairperson should be a very senior U.N. official, and the unusual feature of the conference -- its permanence -- should receive great emphasis on every public occasion.

It is likely that before long new and unforeseen developments will occur in one or more of the three crises that will intensify thinking among at least some people about the wastefulness of present military spending. Costly new difficulties in any of the three areas might even lead in fairly short order to a rolling snowball of global opposition and disgust over new nuclear spending. No one can foresee how great will be the changes in daily life caused by the three crises but we should, as best we can, work to make the changes add to rather than detract from harmony among the world’s peoples. We should all specifically try to use these crises to encourage everyone to think first as citizens of the world, only second as citizens of a particular nation or region.

But none of this deals with the present -- or with the remaining months of Bush’s presidency. Since the present group of Republicans and copycat Democrats in Congress refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney, the danger of a war against Iran instigated by the U.S. and Israel remains real. The overextended state of U.S. ground forces, and Bush’s probable willingness to treat at least small nuclear weapons as ordinary weapons, mean that a war would possibly not be a ground war at all, but would begin with large air attacks and early use of nuclear weapons. While the longer term results of using nuclear weapons would be utterly disastrous, both for the world and for the U.S., the immediate results might be seen as a quick and cheap victory for the U.S. If the apparent military victory occurred before the November 2008 U.S. election, it would probably guarantee a Republican electoral victory. Given Bush’s interest in his own place in history, such a scenario could easily appeal to his gambling instincts.

Noise, and lots of it, seems to be the only weapon we have to make it less likely that such a scenario actually happens. Let’s make that noise, do it globally, and do it every day. Pound out the message through every medium we can access, including music and literature, that ordinary people around the world DO NOT WANT THE U.S. AND ISRAEL TO KILL A SINGLE PERSON IN IRAN, regardless of the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 35 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.


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