Alarmist editorializing about Iran, its regional influence, and its nuclear energy program have picked up considerably in the past few weeks. Despite the latest IAEA report this past Spring which revealed no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, a hefty Sy Hersh article confirming that all 16 American intelligence agencies still stand by their 2007 assessment that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and the potential for a large-scale U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year, career fear-mongers have been hard at work trying to raise the Iranian threat level from mild khaki to frantic crimson.
An opinion piece published last night in the Wall Street Journal is a perfect example of the heightened hysteria. The article, entitled "America's Intelligence Denial on Iran", was written by former CIA agent Fred Fleitz, a neoconservative Bomb Iran-er who served as John Bolton's State Department chief of staff and is currently a columnist for the right-wing outlet Newsmax.
Fleitz is intent on discrediting the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which has repeatedly found that Iran's nuclear program is, at best, totally benign and, at worst, not an imminent threat to anyone. He leads with this:
Mounting evidence over the last few years has convinced most experts that Iran has an active program to develop and construct nuclear weapons. Amazingly, however, these experts do not include the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community. They are unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue - and so they remain at variance with the Obama White House, U.S. allies, and even the United Nations.Fleitz writes that, "according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control," Iran currently has enough "low-enriched uranium" for "four nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade" and repeats the propaganda line about "an item recently posted to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps website [which] mused about the day after an Iranian nuclear test (saying, in a kind of taunt, that it would be a 'normal day')." Fleitz claims that the "message marked the first time any official Iranian comment suggested the country's nuclear program is not entirely peaceful."
Beyond demonstrating a severe lack of understanding about what the IAEA has actually reported and his willful omission of the huge difference between low-enriched uranium and weapons grade material, Fleitz tips his hand by relying on the over-hyped "Nuclear Test" post on the Iranian Gerdab website last month for his nuclear scare propaganda.
Fleitz writes that the latest NIE assessment is just as "politicized" and "poorly written" as its 2007 predecessor and similarly downplays the "true account of the Iranian threat" due to what Fleitz claims is the U.S. intelligence community's apparent aversion to providing "provocative analytic conclusions, and any analysis that could be used to justify military action against rogue states like Iran [sic]." He accuses the 2011 NIE of "poorly structured arguments and cavalier manipulation of intelligence", all the while boasting of his own objections, which he says were routinely ignored and rebuffed by the report's supervisors. He lays blame on what he determines is the NIE's reliance on "former senior intelligence officers, liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks."
It is unacceptable that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon while our intelligence analysts continue to deny that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists. One can't underestimate the dangers posed to our country by a U.S. intelligence community that is unable to provide timely and objective analysis of such major threats to U.S. national security - or to make appropriate adjustments when it is proven wrong.Reading this, one might be forgiven for wondering why, rather than merely attacking the credentials of NIE sources, Fleitz doesn't introduce any evidence for his declaration that "Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon." Oh right, never mind.
If U.S. intelligence agencies cannot or will not get this one right, what else are they missing?
This sort of "analysis" from Fleitz is far from unexpected. Back in August 2006, Fleitz - then a House Intelligence Committee staffer - was the primary author of a Congressional report entitled, "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States", which served as a veritable catalog of false assertions about Iran's nuclear program and, just like his Wall Street Journal piece, assailed the U.S. intelligence community for not sufficiently fear-mongering about the so-called Iranian threat. Among other exaggerations and outright lies, the report accused Iran of "enriching uranium to weapons grade" and stated that the IAEA had removed a senior safeguards inspector from Iran for "allegedly raising concerns about Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program and concluding that the purposed of Iran's nuclear programme is to construct weapons" and for "not having adhered to an unstated IAEA policy baring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program."
The report contained so many misrepresentations and false allegations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, in fact, that the IAEA's Director of External Relations and Policy Coordination Vilmos Cserveny wrote a letter to the Chairman of House Committee, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), challenging the report's "incorrect" assertions and criticizing it for promoting "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."
Additionally, Cserveny described Fleitz's accusations about the safeguards inspector as "outrageous and dishonest" and noted that "Iran has accepted the designation of more than 200 Agency safeguards inspectors, which number is similar to that accepted by the majority of non-nuclear-weapon States that have concluded safeguards agreements pursuant to the NPT."
It appears that, five years later, Fleitz still chooses fantasy over facts.
Meanwhile, in the pages of the Washington Post, deputy editorial editor and Likudnik ideologue Jackson Diehl has picked up on the amplified push to blame the Iranian government for the recent deaths of American soldiers occupying Iraq. In an opinion piece published earlier this week, he writes, "The larger question is whether Iraq will be forced by a full U.S. pullout to become an Iranian satellite, a development that would undo a huge and painful investment of American blood and treasure and deal a potentially devastating blow to the larger U.S. position in the Middle East."
Apparently, Arabs and Muslims are only truly liberated when under the influence of the United States.
Diehl believes that an Iraqi government that is bullied into allowing U.S. troops to continue occupying their country beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline would be "making the right choice." If there is an American withdrawal, however, Diehl is worried about the potential consequences. He claims (citing a Fox News report) that an "offensive [is] already underway by Iranian-sponsored militias [which] shows that Tehran is ready to fight." He writes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, "like U.S. commanders in the Middle East, understands very well that without an American military presence, Iraq will be unable to defend itself against its Persian neighbor" and laments that, "without U.S. help, Iraqi forces cannot easily counter" Iranian-backed militias since "Iraq's conventional forces are no match for those of Iran."
Of course, what Diehl leaves out - beyond the fact that the evidence linking the Iranian government to recent resistance attacks in Iraq is sketchy at best - is that foreign occupation is what most people and non-U.S.-aligned governments in the region are most offended by, not alleged increasing Iranian influence. Yet, the horror of an Iraq allied with Iran is ever-present in the neoconservative community. Diehl even quotes career militarist Frederick Kagan of the neocon flagship, the American Enterprise Institute, as warning in a recent report that "[i]f Maliki allows the United States to leave Iraq, he is effectively declaring his intent to fall in line with Tehran's wishes, to subordinate Iraq's foreign policy to the Persians, and possibly, to consolidate his own power as a sort of modern Persian satrap in Baghdad."
Oh dear, the Persians! Where are Aristagoras, Leonides and Themistocles when you need them?! It would be unsurprising to assume that Kagan's neocon classicist father Donald is proud of his son's ridiculous historical analogy.
To his moderate credit, Diehl does also present a slightly alternate perspective, one that naturally views Iran as a spooky menace (no other representation of the Islamic Republic is allowed in the mainstream press, of course), but that doesn't necessarily see it as a hegemonic threat of Xerxian proportions. He reports that Antony Blinken, a senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden, resists the notion that Iran is capable of wielding such devious influence over Iraq, even without a massive U.S. military presence. "The danger of Iranian hegemony in Iraq," Diehl writes, "is overstated by analysts such as Kagan," according to Blinken.
Diehl closes by lamenting the recent departure of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whom he describes as "the only Obama administration official who has publicly made the case for a continued U.S. military presence." In a recent speech, Diehl recalls, Gates said that it would send "a powerful signal to the region that we're not leaving, that we will continue to play a part," adding, "I think it would be reassuring to the Gulf states. I think it would not be reassuring to Iran, and that’s a good thing."
What Diehl omits is that Gates (who, lest we forget, was first a Bush administration official) was actually speaking to the American Enterprise Institute when making these comments and that, much to the dismay of its many war-mongering members, has been credited by many as having single-handedly prevented an American attack on Iran.
The specter of a nuclear-armed and hegemonic Iran is still the bread-and-butter of Beltway Middle East reportage and analysis. Consequently, the fever-pitched fear-mongering never stops, despite what the facts are.
July 21, 2011 - Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute is as frustrated as Fleitz with the U.S. intelligence community. Writing on AEI's blog today, Pletka chimes in with yet another well-worn example of neoconservative nonsense when it comes to the constant din of selling the Iranian Nuclear Threat™ to an American public that doesn't pay attention.
She writes, "Most of us who have been watching Iran for years understand that Iran's nuclear weapon is a matter of if not when." Thirty years of this...and still going strong.
Pletka also attempts to bolster her claims by citing the completely overblown Gerbad "Nuclear Test" story and the Fleitz oped.
Naturally, Pletka describes Fleitz's piece as "outstanding" and accuses the U.S. intelligence community of being "cynical, political, and laughably off-target" when it comes to analyzing the Iranian nuclear program. She declares that "everyone" in Washington knows the "truth": that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Alas, she pouts, "no one wants to do anything about it."
But Pletka has long been frustrated with the intelligence community when it hasn't readily produced the answers, analysis, and suggestions that she craves (it rhymes with Flomb Fliran). In 2006, she harangued the CIA in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, accusing its supervisors of "handpicking intelligence to boost their antiwar cause." Yes, the CIA - champion of drone murdering civilians - and its dang "antiwar cause."
At the time, Pletka concluded:
There are challenges ahead in Iran, North Korea, China and in the war on terror. No matter how those issues play out, the American people should be certain that their democratically elected leaders are making decisions based on unbiased intelligence. They won't get that from today's CIA.And still, since the N.I.E. apparently doesn't advocate the immediate aerial bombardment of Iranian nuclear and military facilities by a joint U.S.-Israel attack force, it must be dismissed as ridiculous.
This is Pletka's punchline:
Time to get the intelligence community back into the business of analyzing intel and out of the business of skewing to secure political outcomes.Outcomes like...say...the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, for example? Oh right, she was into that one and remains more than just Facebook friends with Ahmad Chalabi.
In reality, it makes a lot more sense to just dismiss Pletka herself as ridiculous. It's easy, I do it all the time.
July 27, 2011 - The Christian Science Monitor has now jumped onto the "Iranian Weapons in Iraq" carousel. Correspondant Jane Arraf has written a piece entitled "US military officials in Iraq warn of growing Iranian threat" which - in her very first sentence - lays bare the entire purpose of the heightened propaganda. She begins:
As the clock ticks toward full US military withdrawal from Iraq, American officials who want troops to stay longer continue to warn of a growing Iranian threat.The article notes that US officials warn of Iraqi "militias tied directly to Iran's Revolutionary Guard", while "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose rule is dependent on Iraqi parties with ties to Iran, appears unable or unwilling to crack down on the most lethal Iranian-back militias."
In addition to quoting Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, who appears frustrated that Iraqi security forces are not better protecting the American occupation troops (forcing the Americans to engage in "an act of self defense" by sending their Apache helicopters to obliterate Iraqi resistance fighters who were firing rockets at a U.S. military base), as claiming "weapons used in attacks include Iranian-made rockets manufactured as recently as 2010 representing an increase in munitions coming across the Iranian border over the past eight months", Arraf writes, "Analysts say the attacks follow an Iranian strategy of trying to exert security, political, and economic influence in Iraq that the US has found difficult to counter."
She also quotes former Army officer and Council of Foreign Relations member John Nagl, who is now president of the militarist D.C. think tank Center for a New American Security, as saying, "The Iranians are good at this and they are continuing to try to counter balance US influence throughout the region." (Now might be a good time to look at a map of the region and a diagram of what countries are currently being occupied and droned by whom.)
Though the U.S. keeps repeating assertions that there is solid forensic evidence (including fingerprint analysis) connecting "Iran" (as vaguely termed) with the caches of weapons recently found in Iraq, Arraf tells us, "The explosives experts, who insisted on not being identified by name, would talk in only the most general terms on what features identify the rockets and bombs as having been made in Iran."
The piece states, "The US has given assurances to Iraq it will not attack Iran from Iraqi territory. Despite the covert attacks, Iran is also believed to have assured Iraq it will not openly attack US forces," and then concludes with a quote by Abbas al-Bayati, a member of parliament from Maliki's State of Law coalition, who says (in part), "America accuses Iran and Iran accuses America. At the end, this is part of two decades of struggle between America and Iran."
He must have forgotten about the 1980s, the third decade (or first, depending on how you're counting), when his own country invaded Iran with the full support of the United States and proceded to kill nearly a million Iranians with American armaments and chemical and biological weapons.
August 15, 2011 - I literally just stumbled upon a 2006 post by Jeffrey Lewis on Arms Control Wonk entitled "TCB on the Fleitz of Fancy."
This post, in which Lewis quotes Gary Sick at length, deftly addresses the very Fred Fleitz report for the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the above article reflects upon. I was totally unaware of this excellent article before this very second. But, credit where credit is due (and it is often due to Lewis and others over at ACW), I seem to have come up with the title to my post a mere five years after Lewis first did.
Apologies to Lewis for inadvertently stealing his headline half a decade later. My bad.