Thursday, September 27, 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu: Master of Show-and-Tell

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really likes using visual aids.

In laying out the perennial threat of an ever-imminent, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Iranian nuclear bomb that will set the stage for a second Holocaust with the deftness and finesse of a third-grade show-and-tell artist, Netanyahu has brought to the podium Xeroxed copies of old letters, meeting minutes and, now, a dazzlingly crude drawing of a cartoon bomb to illustrate this fearsome inevitability.

If we're lucky, perhaps he'll bring a geode to Herzliya next year.

Here's a quick look at years past:

United Nations General Assembly, 2009
NETANYAHU: Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

United Nations General Assembly, 2009
NETANYAHU: A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

AIPAC Conference, 2012
NETANYAHU: Some commentators would have you believe that stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting Iran have the bomb. They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway; that it would be ineffective; and that it would provoke an even more vindictive response by Iran. I've heard these arguments before. In fact, I've read them before - In my desk, I have copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the United States War Department.  Here are the letters.

United Nations General Assembly, 2012
NETANYAHU: In fact, the only way that you can credibly prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, is to prevent Iran from amassing enough enriched uranium for a bomb.  So, how much enriched uranium do you need for a bomb and how close is Iran to getting it?  Well, let me show you. I brought a diagram for you.  Here's the diagram.  This is a bomb.  This is a fuse.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

That Was Now, This Is Then: Netanyahu Edition

"Would I counsel, necessarily, a preemptive strike on Iran? I'm not sure. I would be very careful about that."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002

Journalist Jim Lobe has done a tremendous service to those of us who follow the warmongering propaganda of American and Israeli officials over the Iranian nuclear program.  This week, Lobe reminded us of the testimony then-former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered before the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight on September 12, 2002 in which he marshaled nearly every hackneyed talking point about weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorists and the benefits of regime change in an effort to push the United States to illegally invade and occupy Iraq.

Six months later, he got his wish.

While Lobe has already masterfully laid out the ignorant assumptions, egregious lies, hysterical hasbara, and shameful bellicosity of Netanyahu's performance, it should also be noted that, when it comes to trying to bully the United States into setting "red lines" or even perhaps initiating a war of aggression, thereby committing once again - in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal - "the supreme international crime," Netanyahu has not only issued alarmist predictions about ever-imminent Iranian nukes for over twenty years, but has stuck to the same exact script for a decade now.

Of course, as we all know, then it was Iraq and now it is Iran.  In his frenzied and frustrated warmongering efforts, Netanyahu has apparently forgotten to come up with some new zingers, instead hoping that what worked for him in 2002 would work again in 2012 (spoiler: it won't).

Here are some of his greatest hits.

Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:

"[I]t is simply not reflecting the reality to assume that Saddam isn’t feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons, as we speak."
Benjamin Netanyahu, April 18, 2012:
"Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"How imminent is it [the threat from Iraq]? Look, do you want to wait and find out?  The answer is no."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 11, 2012:
"The world tells Israel, 'Wait, there's still time,' and I say, 'Wait for what, wait until when?'...The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002
"[Iraq] happens to be one of the two - now, as we know, one of the three - regimes that is racing to build nuclear weapons."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2012:
"And for me, the issue is, as the prime minister of a country that is threatened with annihilation by a brutal regime in Tehran that is racing to develop nuclear bombs for that and, obviously, we cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran if all else fails to someone else."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"Make no mistake about it,  if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons."
Benjamin Netanyahu, March 5, 2012:
"A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase terrorism by giving terrorists a nuclear umbrella."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk."
Benjamin Netanyahu, March 5, 2012:
"For fifteen years, I’ve been warning that a nuclear-armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and to the peace and security of the world."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002:
"Every indication we have is that he [Saddam] is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2012:
"Come on. We know that they're working towards a weapon. We know that. It's not something that we surmise. We have absolutely certainty about that. And they're advancing towards that nuclear program."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002
"There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever."
During a March 7, 2012 interview on Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked Netayahu about the case for illegally attacking Iran in light of what the world now knows about the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq.  "Do you have any doubt they [Iran] have a nuclear weapons program?," Van Susteren wondered.  The Israeli Prime Minister replied: "I think there is no question."

Van Susteren continued, "[I]n 2003, with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there was so much certainty and it turned out, our intelligence was wrong on that. So I am trying to balance the two."

The response from Netanyahu was immediate.  It was also confounding, considering his testimony to Congress ten years ago.  He told Van Susteren:

"First of all, there is no question. There is no comparison. In the case of Iraq, I was on the Israeli cabinet when we discussed this issue. We didn't know. We couldn't say that they didn't have a nuclear weapons program, we couldn't say if they did. In the case of Iran there is absolutely no question."
Over the past decade, Israel has made great strides in recycling.  In regurgitating his jingoistic talking points from a decade ago urging an illegal military assault on yet another Middle Eastern nation, there is no question Netanyahu is leading that charge.



September 27, 2012 - Speaking at the UN General Assembly today, Netanyahu continued to recycle the same propaganda about the never-ending Iranian quest for nuclear weapons.

As noted above, in 2002 Netanyahu issued this warning to Congress:

"Make no mistake about it,  if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons."
Earlier today, he said this at the United Nations General Assembly :
"[J]ust imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons. Imagine their long range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, their terror networks armed with atomic bombs."

Benjamin Netanyahu, September 12, 2002

"[Saddam] no longer needs one large reactor to produce the deadly material necessary for atomic bombs. He can produce it in centrifuges the size of washing machines that can be hidden throughout the country. And I want to remind you that Iraq is a very big country. It is not the size of Monte Carlo. It is a big country. And I believe that even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of death."
Benjamin Netanyahu, September 27, 2012:
"Iran could produce the nuclear detonator - the fuse - in a lot less time, maybe under a year, maybe only a few months. The detonator can be made in a small workshop the size of a classroom. It may be very difficult to find and target that workshop, especially in Iran. That's a country that's bigger than France, Germany, Italy and Britain combined. The same is true for the small facility in which they could assemble a warhead or a nuclear device that could be placed in a container ship. Chances are you won't find that facility either...
The red line must be drawn on Iran's nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target...Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we would find in time a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe?"


October 4, 2012 - Israeli blogger Barak Ravid has published an article in Ha'aretz today entitled, "Iraq 2002, Iran 2012: Compare and contrast Netanyahu's speeches," in which he writes:

"Netanyahu's remarks during the 2002 congressional hearing sounded very similar to his UN speech. The arguments are the same, the intonation is the same, even the advisers are the same – Netanyahu’s current diplomatic adviser, Ron Dermer, who wrote the prime minister’s UN address, can be seen in the 10-year-old video sitting behind Netanyahu in the congressional hall. "
Ravid - who gives due credit to journalist Jim Lobe to unearthing Netanyahu's 2002 Congressional testimony - astutely adds, "Aside from the fact that both Dermer and Netanyahu look 10 years younger, the primary difference between the two videos is one word: 2002’s Iraq has been replaced by Iran in 2012."

Even though I already covered this ground two weeks ago, it's certainly a positive development to see this information making it into the mainstream press (well, mainstream Israeli press, at least, where such discussion of these issues is often far more open and illuminating than here in the US).

Unfortunately, Ravid is still beholden to quite a bit of misinformation regarding alleged "Iran’s nuclear ambitions," which he claims "are real and a serious problem" as he believes they demonstrate Iran's "desire to acquire nuclear weapons," despite the fact that there is no evidence to back up this allegation.
(r-l) Barak Ravid; Guy Smiley

Ravid even cites IAEA reports as proof of such dubious "ambitions," which unfortunately shows that even seasoned and well-connected reporters (perhaps them most of all) are prone to alarmism rather than understanding the facts.

As has been pointed out by Gareth Porter and others, the IAEA has reported that Iran has converted roughly half of its medium-enriched uranium (~20% enriched) to fuel plates, an technological advance that prohibits that uranium from being enriched further towards weapons-grade, thereby substantially reducing Iran's capacity to "breakout" towards weaponization.

Porter explains:

When 20-percent uranium is used to make fuel plates, however, it is very difficult to convert it back to a form that can enriched to weapons grade levels.
When data in the Aug. 30 IAEA report on the "inventory" of 20-percent enriched uranium is collated with comparable data in the May 25 IAEA report, it shows that Iran is further from having a breakout capability than it was three months earlier.
"Nobody has put out the story that their stockpile is shrinking," Porter quotes nuclear proliferation expert Joe Cirincione as saying.

Earlier this year, Paul Brannan, an analyst with the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), told reporter Laura Rozen that the Tehran Research Reactor which will be powered by the nuclear fuel plates Iran has produced "is used not for any weapons purpose, but for nuclear medicine, to treat Iranian cancer patients."

Also, in a letter to The New York Times on February 16, 2012, Clinton Bastin, former director of numerous United States Atomic Energy Commission programs for production of nuclear materials and nuclear components for weapons, wrote:

Iran's production of fuel for a research reactor from 20 percent enriched uranium is not insignificant. Instead, this action, combined with Iran's use of low-enriched uranium for production of fuel for its power reactor, and the intent to continue both, eliminate any hypothetical threat of a nuclear weapon from Iran's fully safeguarded nuclear programs.
The United States and its allies should support these actions and end dangerous threats and sanctions against Iran’s important nuclear programs.
Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out that the real fear over the Iranian program (embodied perfectly in Ravid's handwringing over Iran's monitored, inspected, and safeguarded facilities) is that "Iranian nuclear weapons would prevent the US from attacking Iran at will, and that is what is intolerable."

Actually, it is no secret that what scares advocates of eternal American (and Israeli) hegemony over the entire world most is the prospect of not being able to invade, occupy, overthrow bomb, blockade and murder at will.

In his December 2011 call for the United States to soon launch an unprovoked attack on Iran, Matthew Kroenig wrote in Foreign Affairs that a "nuclear-armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East. With atomic power behind it, Iran could threaten any U.S. political or military initiative in the Middle East with nuclear war, forcing Washington to think twice before acting in the region."

Oh, horror of horrors.

Yet even the mere "breakout capacity" is what worries Israel the most.  Writing in Asia Times this past summer, Richard Javad Heydarian explained (forgive the lengthy blockquote):

What makes the Iranian nuclear conundrum an issue of international significance isn't really the possibility of Tehran acquiring a nuclear warhead to purportedly wipe out the state of Israel from the face of earth. This narrative - most aggressively forwarded by the Benjamin Netanyahu government and his hawkish allies in the West - is primarily a propaganda exercise to intensify international pressure on the Islamic regime.
First of all, there is a consensus among all major Western intelligence agencies - including Israel's own security establishment - that Iran has not made the decision to develop nuclear weapons. Crucially, Iran has neither established a decision-making structure around a prospective nuclear weapon program, nor has it developed a credible delivery system.
Second, Iran will be shooting itself in the foot if it develops a nuclear-weapon capability, because that will eliminate its regional conventional superiority once weaker neighboring states start to develop their own nuclear deterrence in response.
Most importantly, Iran will stand no chance of survival if it decides to target Israel with nuclear missiles, given the latter's superior stockpile of nuclear warheads (and rapidly-advancing second-strike as well as pre-emptive nuclear strike capacity). In an event of an (impending or actual) Iranian strike on Israel - directly or through surrogates - America will not hesitate to 'wipe-out' the Iranian regime to protect its most vital regional ally.
So, the Iranian nuclear issue is fundamentally about the balance of power in West Asia. Israel is essentially concerned with the emergence of a "virtual" - possessing a "break-out" capacity to develop a warhead on a short notice - nuclear-armed state in Tehran, eliminate Israel's regional nuclear monopoly. This would undermine Israel's four decades of strategic impunity to shape the regional environment to its own liking.
Thus, it is crucial for Israel to prevent any Iran-West diplomatic compromise, which will give Tehran a free hand to enhance its regional influence and maintain a robust nuclear infrastructure. 


Saturday, September 1, 2012

The "Only in America" Myth

"Only in America" is a refrain heard time and again in this country's political discourse.  According to both Democrats and Republicans, the United States is a singular nation: one in which anyone can achieve anything if you have a dream and the will to work hard; a place wherein upward mobility is assumed and someone born into crushing poverty and brutal socioeconomic conditions can reach the highest levels of wealth, success and power by sheer grit and determination.

Obviously the reality in this exceptional nation of ours is quite different.

Nevertheless, an MSNBC montage perfectly illustrates the ubiquity of this mythologized narrative of American up-by-your-bootstrapism at this past week's Republican National Convention. Watch here:

Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is worth millions due to investments and inheritance from his wife's trust fund, spoke of menial labor as a stepping stone for greatness:
When I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself. That's what we do in this country. That's the American Dream.
Only in America.

This idea was hammered home by the final two speakers on Thursday night. Senator Marco Rubio touted the United States as an outlier in world history, a country founded on the principle that we, the people, were no longer "trapped in the circumstances of our birth" and that "we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us." In America, said Rubio, no longer was "[y]our future was determined by your past."

Only in America.

Early in his acceptance speech, newly-minted official GOP presidential candidate and multimillionaire Mitt Romney described a desire to work hard, the confidence in future success, and indelible optimism as "uniquely American." The United States is where driven people go to shake off the shackles of poverty and mediocrity, Romney declared. It's not where a better life is yearned for, it's where it is achieved.

Only in America.

Romney spoke of his Mexican-born father who "never made it through college and apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter," but had "big dreams" and eventually "led a great automobile company and became Governor of the Great State of Michigan."

Only in America.

Back in April, Romney tread the same ground during a speech in New Hampshire:
I'll tell you about how much I love this country, where someone like my dad, who grew up poor and never graduated from college, could pursue his dreams and work his way up to running a great car company. Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of the state in which he once sold paint from the trunk of his car.
Only in America.

Earlier on Thursday evening, before Clint Eastwood scolded an empty chair for invading Afghanistan and Romney accepted his party's nomination, Mitt's son Craig told the RNC that, through his grandparents' "hard work and perseverance they lived the American dream, and gave opportunities to their children they wouldn't have had anywhere else."

Only in America.

Of course, the narrative of Barack Obama's rise to power also relies on mythologizing the unique power of American opportunity. In his "A More Perfect Union" speech, delivered at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008, then-Senator Obama declared, "[F]or as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Only in America.

Writing in The New York Times just days before the election that would see Obama win the presidency, columnist Roger Cohen repeated those words and affirmed them. "Nowhere else," Cohen wrote, could a child of parent of different races and ethnicities, only "a generation distant from the mud shacks of western Kenya," ascend to such prominence, with the potential of gaining even more power and prestige through the will of a popular vote. "Nowhere else could this Barack Hussein Obama rise so far and so fast," Cohen concluded.

Only in America.

After winning the presidential election on November 4, 2008, Obama began his victory speech in Chicago's Hyde Park with these words: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

Only in America.

But not really. People all over the world who come from impoverished and working class families have achieved massive political and financial power. When 14-year-old Julián Slim Haddad arrived in Mexico from his native Lebanon in 1902, he was all alone and spoke no Spanish. In 1911, Julián, along with his older brother José who had immigrated to Mexico years earlier, founded a dry goods store in Mexico City. He eventually married Linda Helú, herself the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Their son, Carlos Slim Helú, is currently the richest person on the planet, worth $69 billion.

Only in America?

Stephano Maino was a penniless mason who started a small construction business in an industrial suburb of Torino, Italy. He was a hard-working traditional Roman Catholic. At the age of eighteen, one of his daughters, Antonia Edvige Albina Maino (nicknamed Sonia), enrolled in a small college in Cambridge to study English, working as a babysitter and a waitress in a Greek restaurant to make ends meet. She met her husband, future Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was then a student at Trinity College, at that restaurant in 1965. Since 1998, despite her religion, skin color, and European heritage, Sonia Gandhi has been the President of the Indian National Congress Party, the longest serving leader in its 127-year history. Both of her children, Rahul and Priyanka, are also politicians.

Only in America?

Only one son of Austrian parents Alois Schicklgruber, an uneducated customs inspector, and Klara Pölzl, a house servant of peasant ancestry, beat the odds and survived childhood. Despite barely graduating from his technical high school, he became a decorated soldier, survived a battle wound and chemical weapons attack, entering politics at the age of 30. Just nine years after being jailed for high treason, he was leading a major political party, ran for the presidency and was appointed Chancellor of Germany. His name, of course, was Adolf Hitler.

Only in America?

Diocletian, a low born Roman citizen from Dalmatia (modern day Croatia) became a successful and well-regarded cavalry commander and was named Emperor of Rome 284 CE. Joseph Stalin's father was a cobbler. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mother was an English and Latin teacher, her father was a pastor. French President François Hollande had a middle class upbringing.

Only in America?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was born poor, the son of a coastguard who moved his family to Istanbul for a better life. In his youth, Erdoğan sold lemonade and simit on the streets of the city's rougher neighborhoods.

Only in America?

Benjamin Disraeli's paternal grandfather and namesake immigrated to England from Italy in the mid-18th Century. 120 years later, Disraeli, the son of Jewish parents, began his first of two terms as British Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Only in America?

From a lower middle-class family, Isabel Perón was a fifth-grade dropout and former nightclub dancer before becoming the President of Argentina and the Western Hemisphere's very first non-royal head of state and government.

Only in America?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was born in the small rural village of Sabaneta to impoverished parents, both of whom were schoolteachers. Japan's current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is the grandson of farmers. He has said that his parents were too poor to pay for their own wedding reception and that he too has suffered poverty, at times unable to provide clothing for his own children.

Only in America?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose grandmothers were both illiterate, parents were born into rural poverty and is of mixed German, Gola, and Kru ancestry, is currently the President of Liberia. She is Africa's first elected female head of state.

Only in America?

Lula da Silva, who had nearly no education, dropped out of school after fourth-grade, and didn't learn to read until he was 10 years old, became a popular union leader after working for years as a street vendor, shoe shiner, and factory worker. Lula was elected President of Brazil in 2002. After serving two terms, Lula left office as not only the most popular leader in his nation's history, but also as arguably the most popular politician in the world.

Only in America?

Born of humble roots in the small town of Aradan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the son of a man who, at different points in his life, was an ironmonger, owned a barbershop then a grocery, became a blacksmith and was a Qur'an tutor. Ahmadinejad has an PhD in civil engineering from Iran University of Science and Technology where he was previously a lecturer and is currently the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. After his second term is up next year, he plans on returning to academia.

Only in America?

The daughter of a Grantham greengrocer, Margaret Thatcher, had careers as a research chemist and lawyer before becoming the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Only in America?

Evo Morales, an indigenous Aymara Bolivian, grew up in a rural working class community of subsistence farmers. His family lived in an adobe hut with a dirt floor and straw roof. In his youth he sold ice cream, later taking jobs as a brick-maker, day laborer, baker and trumpet player for the Royal Imperial Band while attending a technical institute. He did not excel academically, returned to the family farm, became heavily involved in social activism, was elected General Secretary of a local coca farmers union, and eventually entered politics. Without having obtained a high school diploma, Morales was elected President of Bolivia, its first leader of indigenous ethnicity.

Only in America?

Nelson Mandela, from the small South African village of Mvezo, worked as a security guard for a mine and an articled clerk in a law office, completing a college degree by mail. After being imprisoned for 27 years for his militant resistance to the Apartheid regime, Mandela was the first ever President of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative poll wherein all citizens had equal voting rights.

Only in America?

The current South African president is Jacob Zuma. His father, a policeman, died when he was very young, leading his mother to take up work as a maid. He had no formal education and, by the age of 15, Zuma was working odd jobs to supplement his mother's meager income. At 17, he joined the African National Congress and served ten years in prison for his political activism against Apartheid.

Only in America?

In 1970 when the National Assembly elected him President of Guyana, Arthur Chung, born to Chinese parents, became the first person of Asian descent to become head of state of a non-Asian country. The son of Japanese immigrants, Alberto Fujimori, was elected President of Peru in 1990.

Only in America?

Adrienne Clarkson, whose family came to Ottawa as refugees from Hong Kong in 1941, was appointed Governor General of Canada by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. Michaëlle Jean, a Haitian refugee who came to Canada when she was 11, succeeded Clarkson in 2005.

Only in America?

This litany is obviously far from comprehensive as the potential of gaining extraordinary power and influence from humble beginnings has long been known the world over. Furthermore, despite what self-aggrandizing politicians may imply, gaining access to the upper echelons of governmental power is not the true measure of success. The only thing exceptional about Americans, it seems, is our unyielding capacity to convince ourselves that we're more driven and more determined than the rest of the world and that we alone are masters of our own destinies. It's about time Americans embraced being a part of the world, rather than pretending we're better than the rest of it.