Wednesday, May 16, 2012

That Was Now, This is Then:
Another Pro-War Resolution Hits the House Floor

United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs ranking member Howard Berman and chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives debated H.Res. 568, an AIPAC-sponsored bill designed to outlaw diplomacy with Iran and take the United States Congress one step closer to authorizing an illegal, unprovoked and premeditated military attack on Iran.

Debunking statements about Iran made by House Representatives and Senators on the floor of Congress is tedious and boring. Most of the statements are inarticulate readings of AIPAC-drafted talking points and boilerplate hasbara. M.J. Rosenberg has already excellently addressed the point of this legislation and there is no need to repeat, ad nauseum, why most of what's in the bill is wrong, how 13,000 AIPAC operatives were dispatched through the halls of Congress to garner sponsorship and support for the bill, how shameful it is for elected officials to spout pure propaganda about silly cartoon drawings and absurd assassination plots, and how - despite the many repetitions of the same infamous and long-debunked claim (which has literally appeared in over 50 Congressional resolutions since 2005) - even Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor admitted on Al Jazeera that Iran has never threatened to "wipe Israel off the map."

No, this time around it's best to simply look at how statements made during Tuesday's floor debate compare to statements made a decade ago (and longer).  After so much deceit, destruction and death, how can anyone take this stuff seriously?

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), October 9, 2002:
Saddam Hussein is not far from developing and acquiring the means to strike the United States, our friends and our allies with weapons of mass destruction. Thus, if we do not act now, when?
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), May 15, 2012:
The Iranian regime continues to pose an immediate and growing threat to the United States, to our allies, and to the Iranian people.  We are running out of time to stop the nightmare of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran from becoming a reality...We must meet our responsibility to the American people and protect the security of our Nation, our allies, and the world from this threat of a nuclear capable Iran.
Madeleine Albright, February 18, 1998:
[T]hat the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.
Rush Holt (D-NJ), May 15, 2012:
The threat of nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to world peace. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the region and threaten the United States and our allies.
Howard Berman (D-CA), October 10, 2002:
But under today's circumstances, the best way to give peace a chance and to save the most lives, American and Iraqi, is for America to stand united and for Congress to authorize the President to use force if Saddam does not give up his weapons of mass destruction. Confront Saddam now, or pay a much heavier price later.
Howard Berman (D-CA), May 15, 2012:
What better time for this body to send an unambiguous message that Iran must never be allowed to achieve a nuclear weapons capability and that its nuclear weapons program must end once and for all?
George W. Bush, January 29, 2002:
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.
Howard Berman (D-CA), May 15, 2012:
Iran has flaunted its flagrant disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions, is an active state sponsor of terrorism, has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, and plotted a heinous terrorist attack on American soil.
George W. Bush, January 29, 2002:
By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger...[T]ime is not on our side.  I will not wait on events, while dangers gather.  I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.  The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
Gene Green (D-TX), May 15, 2012:
Iran is developing the capability to quickly produce a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing. Iran's acquisition of such a capability would create a significant new regional danger and be an immediate threat to America's interest and allies in the Middle East.
John McCain (R-AZ), Jesse Helms (R-NC), Henry Hyde (R-IL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Harold Ford (D-TN), Jr., Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Trent Lott (R-MS), Ben Gilman (R-NY) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), December 5, 2001:
The threat from Iraq is real, and it cannot be permanently contained...We have no doubt that these deadly weapons are intended for use against the United States and its allies. Consequently, we believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later.
Howard Berman (D-CA), May 15, 2012:
And so, as the window is closing, we send a clear message that the House is aligned with the administration in thoroughly rejecting containment...In fact, we have no choice but to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program before it ever reaches that point.
Steny Hoyer, (D-MD), October 9, 2002:
[Saddam Hussein] continues his efforts to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction, and he sponsors international terrorism. Saddam Hussein continues to be an unacceptable threat whose duplicity requires action, action now.
Steny Hoyer (D-MD), May 15, 2012:
The most significant threat to peace, regional security, and American interests in the Middle East is Iran's nuclear program...Iran continues to be a sponsor of groups committed to the destruction of our ally Israel and of groups that threaten Americans throughout the world.
John Edwards (D-NC), October 7, 2002:
Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel... Every day he gets closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability. We must not allow him to get nuclear weapons.
Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), May 15, 2012:
[I]t is imperative that the United States and the international community understand that a nuclear-capable Iran is a global threat and a danger to the United States and, just as important, to the State of Israel...This is a direct threat to our closest ally in the Middle East.
Hillary Clinton (D-NY), October 10, 2002:
[I]f left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), May 15, 2012:
We need to stop the regime before it possesses the capability to develop nuclear weapons, not before it makes a decision to develop nuclear weapons, because we may not know that they have actually made that decision until it is too late.
Chuck Schumer (D-NY), October 10, 2002:
[I]t is Hussein's vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations, that make him a terrible danger to the people to the United States.
Ted Deutch (D-FL), May 15, 2012:
[F]ailing to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East, would threaten the very existence of our ally Israel, and would endanger the security of the American people.
Chris Dodd (D-CT), October 9, 2002:
There is no question that Iraq possesses biological and chemical weapons and that he seeks to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. That is not in debate.
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), May 15, 2012:
Iran has been involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, whether they are nuclear or chemical or biological...We must not underestimate their ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.
George W. Bush, March 19, 2003:
The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, May 15, 2012:
For the Iranian regime, the possession of the capability to produce a nuclear weapon would be almost as useful as actually having one...Tehran would be in the driver's seat, and the security of the United States, Israel, and our many other allies would be in their hands.
George W. Bush, March 6, 2003:
[Saddam Hussein's] weapons of terror...are a direct threat to this country, to our people, and to all free people.
Rob Andrews (D-NJ), May 15, 2012:
[Iran's] attainment of a nuclear weapon would be fraught with peril for free people everywhere... [O]ur position must be that we will not support or stand for an Iran with nuclear weapons.
Al Gore, September 23, 2002:
[Saddam Hussein's] continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially a threat to the vital interests of the United States.
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), May 15, 2012:
[I]t is vital to our national interest to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.  It also makes clear that our time is limited and we must act to prevent Iran from acquiring full nuclear weapons capability.
George W. Bush, March 13, 2002:
First of all, we've got all options on the table, because we want to make it very clear to nations that you will not threaten the United States or use weapons of mass destruction against us, or our allies or friends...[Saddam Hussein] is a problem, and we're going to deal with him. But the first stage is to consult with our allies and friends, and that's exactly what we're doing.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, May 15, 2012:
With a nuclear weapons capability, the regime would dramatically increase its ability to threaten the United States and our allies. We are running out of time to stop the nightmare of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran from becoming a reality.
George W. Bush, August 13, 2005:
As I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any president and you know, we've used force in the recent past to secure our country...In all these instances we want diplomacy to work and so we're working feverishly on the diplomatic route and we'll see if we're successful or not.
Barack Obama, January 24, 2012:
Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.
Howard Berman (D-CA), May 15, 2012:
The urgent nature of the Iranian nuclear threat demands that the United States work with our allies to do everything possible diplomatically, politically, and economically to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. No option, as the President has said, can be taken off the table.
It is no surprise - as Congressman Dennis Kucinich pointed out in his own admirable statement from the house floor - that Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, has warned, "This resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran. It's effectively a thinly-disguised effort to bless war."

Actually, it hardly seems disguised at all.

*****

UPDATE:

May 17, 2012 - This afternoon, H.Res.568 overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 401-11.

Below are the eleven Congressmembers who voted against the absurd resolution:


---- NAYS    11 ---

Justin Amash (R-MI)
Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Geoff Davis (R-KY)
John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN)
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Jim McDermott (D-WA)
John Olver (D-MA)
Ron Paul (R-TX)
Fortney Pete Stark (D-CA)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)

Nine Representatives, all Democrats, voted "Present," a meaningless, non-committal exercise in transparent, sniveling cowardice.  These cowards are John Conyers (D-MI), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Mike Honda (D-CA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

But hey, it's better to be a coward than to be firmly in AIPAC's bloody pocket.

*****  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wall Street Journal Shocker: Iranians Have Democratic Values
or, OMG! Iranians are Like Totally Almost Like Real Humans!

A chart from IranResearch.org


"Iranians Have Democratic Values," screams a headline in The Wall Street Journal.  The article that follows, written by "Israeli political strategist" Yuval Porat, publicizes the findings of a recent public opinion poll conducted by the author and his colleagues.

Porat explains that the results of the survey reveal that, believe it or not, Iranian society is actually populated with real human beings who think and feel the way real human beings do.  He writes,
An analysis of the Iranian sample showed that alongside conservative values, such as conformity and tradition, Iranian society is characterized by strong support for pro-liberal values such as a belief in the importance of self-direction and benevolence. For example, 94% of the respondents identified with the sentence "freedom to choose what he does is important to him," and 71% of the respondents identified with the sentence "being tolerant toward all kinds of people and groups is important to him."
The poll was carried out using "a psychological questionnaire" that Porat says was developed by Israeli "cross-cultural psychology expert Shalom Schwartz as part of his 'Theory of Basic Human Values'" and which is designed to "measures the basic values of society without posing a single question in political terms."  Results were then analyzed to create "an index which measures the potential of a society to foster democratization, based on its values."

Porat was "amazed by how forthcoming the Iranian people were" during the polling interviews and was equally stunned by the results, writing,
Remarkably, in comparison to 47 countries surveyed in the World Values Survey, Iranian society's potential for liberal democracy was found to be higher than that of 23 others—including Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, and Asian countries such as South Korea, India and Thailand. In comparison to 29 countries surveyed In the European Social Survey, Iran was found to have higher tendencies toward liberal democracy than Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Romania. 
Neat, huh?  What a fresh perspective on the Islamic Republic...and in The Wall Street Journal no less!

But the article is a smoke-screen and the research it's based on is transparently agenda-driven.  Basically, Porat's piece is one long infomercial for regime change in Iran.  In fact, the author tips his hand in his very first sentence when he references "high-stakes international discussions surrounding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."

As a researcher, Porat should maybe do a little research on the Iranian nuclear program before making such claims.  Western and Israeli intelligence have long assessed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, a conclusion backed up by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But, of course, that's not the point.  Porat knows full well what he's writing and why.  His Wall Street Journal article reads like something out of MAD Magazine or National Lampoon.  'Golly-gee, folks, those Eye-ranians are just like you and me!  Now let's get the regime change planes fueled up and ready to fly!'

The poll cited is one of the most patronizing, if not least scientific, ever conducted.  The research itself has barely been made public and is housed on a strangely amateurish website with hardly any content called IranResearch.org.  There is no press about this enterprise other than the Wall Street Journal article, which is also posted on the website.  Each page of the site is topped by a banner reading, "Could Iran Turn Into A Liberal Democracy?"  Porat's other researchers are mostly students at The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel with past or current connections to the IDF.  The agenda could not be more obvious.

Furthermore, the researchers - in their quest to justify foreign intervention and regime change - seem not to understand (or care) that, for most Iranians, sentences like "It is important to him to make his own decisions about his life" and "Thinking creatively is important to him" are not seen as anathema to the current Iranian political system.  Also, the supposed "findings" of this poll are in no way shocking to anyone familiar with (a) Iranian society, which obviously doesn't include most neoconservative WSJ readers, or Israeli pollsters for that matter, and (b) have read other polls of the Iranian public.

In late 2010, for example, the International Peace Institute together with Charney Research, released an actual poll on Iranian public opinion.  Among the findings was the strong support (67%) for developing "closer connections with developed Western countries," yet this had no effect on the fact that 87% of respondents viewed the United States unfavorably, 68% considered the US "the greatest threat in the region," and a majority (55%) viewed European nations in a negative light.  An overwhelming majority (68%) continued to support Iran's relationship with and support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

In response to a question about whether Iranian society needs "controls to protect Islam and Iran from its enemies" or needs "more democracy, freedom and the rule of law," 51% of those polled chose the former versus 31% who picked the "more democracy" option.  Nevertheless, 54% said they "have real opportunities to improve their lives" and 60% said they "have much hope for the future."

Whereas a plurality of respondents (47%) said that the Rahbar and Guardian Council should have the last word on political decisions, 53% believed that, over the next decade, the elected President and Majlis would assume more powerful roles and make final decisions for the Islamic Republic.

Results like these show that Iranians don't believe themselves to be powerless in their own country (for example, the voter turnout and those voting for Ahmadinejad were found by the Charney report to be nearly identical to the official Iranian results).  Former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani still enjoyed broad support, while opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi were far less popular, each receiving "favorable" reactions from fewer than 40% of respondents.  The so-called "Green Movement" was even less popular, garnering a mere 26% approval rating.

The Israeli poll cited by the Wall Street Journal is yet another example of using an Orientalist frame (those people are almost just like us so we can finally convince ourselves it makes sense to go and save them from themselves!) in order to promote an agenda that the Iranian people across all social strata and the political spectrum reject out of hand - that is, Western-influenced regime change.

In case the purpose of the poll, and its publicity in the Wall Street Journal, wasn't explicit enough, here's how Porat concludes:
Our findings demonstrate that Iranian society as a whole is characterized by a pro-liberal value structure that is deeply at odds with the fundamentalist regime. This presents considerable potential for regime change in Iran and for the development of liberal democracy.
But how do Mr. Porat, his colleagues, and his compatriots actually define "liberal democracy"?  It might be instructive for Mr. Porat to turn his polling sights on his own state to find out if his own state, Israel, really fits the definition of a pluralistic, liberal society with democratic values wherein "being tolerant toward all kinds of people and groups is important" to the majority of the population.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Want My - I Want My - I Want My NPT:
This Weekend's Extravaganza of Crapoganda on Iran's Nuclear Program

 
Two news reports by major wire services this weekend demonstrate just how pervasive misinformation and propaganda are in the mainstream media when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue.

The first:

Reuters reported this week that Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and chief nuclear negotiator for the P5+1, has high hopes for the new round of talks with Iran resuming May 23rd in Baghdad and will approach the meeting as a “serious set of discussions that can lead to concrete results.”

Sounds positive enough, especially when coupled with the statement Ashton made at the end of last month's meeting in Istanbul. "We have agreed that the Non-Proliferation Treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement, to ensure all the obligations under the NPT are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

However, another comment made by Ashton on Friday is cause for considerable concern. She told reporters in Brussels, "My ambition is that we come away with the beginning of the end of the nuclear weapons programme in Iran. I hope we’ll see the beginnings of success.”

Such a statement is certainly alarming. Despite the hysterical cries of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing acolytes here in the U.S., both Western and Israeli intelligence, along with the IAEA, have consistently confirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

One would assume that the chief P5+1 negotiator would understand and acknowledge this simple - and vitally important - fact. Perhaps Ashton's recent private audience with Netanyahu in Jerusalem was more dangerous and detrimental to the negotiations than one would even expect.

(Of course, the sheer absurdity of Ashton's meeting with the Prime Minister of a state that is not a signatory of the NPT, has an undeclared stockpile of hundreds of nuclear warheads, is a constant violator of international law and perpetrator of war crimes, and which is in consistent breach of countless Security Council resolutions goes without saying. That Netanyahu would have any role whatsoever in these discussions, let alone issuing demands to both the U.S. government and Ashton herself, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how designed for failure these negotiations were from the start.)

The second:

In one of the most embarrassing examples of published propaganda over the Iranian nuclear program to date, The Associated Press today "reported" that it has obtained an undated "computer-generated drawing" of "an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that U.N. inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted" at its Parchin military complex.  The news agency says it was bequeathed this rendering "by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists."

One version of the AP exclusive contains this detail:
That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant. The official comes from an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran's assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful and asserts they are a springboard for making atomic arms.
What mysterious country could that possibly be, one wonders?!  The answer is so painfully obvious as to make AP scoopster George Jahn's attempts at anonymity patently ridiculous and pathetic.  Jahn, unsurprisingly, has a long history of silly reporting on the Iran nuclear issue.

This detonation chamber stuff, by the way, has been debunked for half a year now. 

The story also notes that former IAEA official Olli Heinonen, who himself has a long history of pushing dubious information about Iran's nuclear file, said that the computer graphic provided to the press is "'very similar' to a photo he recently saw that he believes to be the pressure chamber the IAEA suspects is at Parchin."  Heinonen added that "even the colors of the computer-generated drawing matched that of the photo."

Pretty convincing, huh?  Ok, here's the computer drawing this whole thing is about:


Yes, really.  That's it.  Really.  No, please stop laughing and believe me.  That's really the thing they're talking about.  Yes, seriously.  I mean it.

These are the depths to which propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program have sunk.  It's not even clever anymore, it's just stupid.

And just in case anyone is interested, I have successfully uncovered the true identities of the crack Israeli computer graphics team that came up with that drawing:



To be promoting such desperate and amateurish offerings like this Parchin drawing is actually unequivocal evidence that the warmongers and propagandists are in dire straits.

I want my NPT.

*****

UPDATE:

May 13, 2012 - For those who have forgotten, "b" over at the excellent Moon Of Alabama blog was quick to remind us about the "rather infamous drawings of mobile bio-weapon laboratories Colin Powell presented to the United Nations Security Council as 'proof' for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."  Powell cited alleged evidence "from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons" that he said proved "the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents." He referenced "what we know from eyewitness accounts" and insisted, "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."  He then presented these graphics to the Council:




Yup.  And then the United States invaded Iraq, occupied it for almost a decade, and killed hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of human beings there.  Take another look at these images and think about that.  For a decade.

*****

UPDATE II:

May 15, 2012 - One more thing: Remember how the mysterious unnamed "official" from "an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran's assertions" and which "asserts they are a springboard for making atomic arms" and who "said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site," also noted (as I already quoted above) that "going into detail" about the source of this ridiculous drawing "would endanger the life of that informant"?

Well, let's recall what Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 at the outset of his 75-minute cavalcade of lies that he subsequently called "one of my most momentous failures" and "the lowest point in my life":
The material I will present to you comes from a variety of sources. Some are U.S. sources. And some are those of other countries.

Some of the sources are technical, such as intercepted telephone conversations and photos taken by satellites. Other sources are people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein is really up to.

I cannot tell you everything that we know. But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling.
"Deeply troubling," is one way to put it.  War crimes and crimes against humanity is another.

*****

UPDATE III:

May 19, 2012 - Hey, remember when The New York Times reported:
The Bush Administration showed reconnaissance photographs to the United Nations Security Council today to back up its assertion that Iraq is trying to conceal equipment used for making nuclear explosives.

At a private briefing this morning, American intelligence officials showed the 15-member Council classified photographs of uranium-enrichment machinery being moved around on trucks or buried to evade detection by United Nations inspectors.
As noted above, that was in early 2003, right?  Wrong.  It was June 27, 1991 and the "Bush Administration" was that of George Herbert Walker Bush, not his imbecilic successor.

At that time, the United States' deputy representative to the U.N. Security Council, Alexander F. Watson, claimed that the U.S. had "'strong evidence' that Iraq was trying to conceal factories for manufacturing these weapons," yet government officials "said the photographs that were shown to the Security Council at the briefing this morning could not be released because they would enable experts to assess American reconnaissance capability."

Furthermore, the Times reported that "a defecting Iraqi scientist" who had given himself up to American troops was insistent that "Baghdad had a secret nuclear weapons program in which it was using about 25 calutrons to produce highly enriched uranium" and "had suceeded in enriching some 90 pounds of uranium to weapons-grade level, providing it enough explosive material for several crude atomic bombs."  The paper of record then qualified its statements with this: "No trace of this uranium has been found by inspectors."

Meanwhile, the Times quoted State Department spokeswoman Margaret D. Tutwiler as declaring, "There is ample evidence from multiple sources that Iraq has been conducting a covert nuclear weapons program that has included activities to produce nuclear weapons material."

Uh huh.

*****

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Biden to Israel: Bomb Away!

Speaking to an international assembly of 1,600 conservative rabbis in Atlanta today, self-proclaimed Zionist Joe Biden said that Israel still had time to attack Iran if it so chooses.

"The window has not closed in terms of the Israelis if they choose to act on their own militarily," the Vice President told the congregation. "I would not contract out my security to anybody, even a loyal, loyal, loyal friend like the United States."

This is not the first time Biden has made such a comment. During an appearance on the ABC's "This Week," Biden told George Stephanopoulos, "Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination — if they make a determination — that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country." Biden's comments were immediately walked back by the Obama campaign.

The claim that Iran somehow poses an "existential threat" to Israel is of course a long-running propaganda line often employed to fear-monger about Iran's nuclear energy program.  This view, however, is not shared by numerous Israeli officials including former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy, and current Mossad head Tamir Pardo.  Even Israel's hawkish Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is now leading the push toward an Israeli attack on Iran, said in 2009, "I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel. Israel is strong, I don't see anyone who could pose an existential threat."

Still, Biden declared, "We will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuke by whatever means necessary, period." A strong claim, to be sure, but one that rings a bit silly considering that according to the United States, the IAEA, and Israel - Iran isn't building nuclear weapons.

The Jewish Telegraph Agency reports that, during his speech today, the "vice president also called efforts to delegitimize Israel 'the most significant assault' on Israel since its independence." In an effort to burnish the Obama administration's Zionist credentials, Biden insisted, "At every point in our Administration, at every juncture, we have stood up for the legitimacy of the state of Israel."

For Biden, it seems, Israel's war crime light is still green...even if its armistice line isn't.

In the strangest comment of the day, though, Biden spoke of internal Iranian politics:
"The dissension between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader is palpable. They will not both be around two years from now, and my bet is that Ahmadinejad is gone."
Clearly, Biden is nothing if not a deft gambler. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will absolutely not be in office two years from now, but it's not because of Biden's prescient prophesy. Iran has constitutionally mandated presidential term limits, just like we do here in the United States. Ahmadinejad is almost three years into his second and final term as president, which means that, by 2014, he will undoubtedly be "gone" from the Iranian executive regardless of what tea leaves Biden is reading...or smoking.

But Biden has long had problems understanding and retaining facts when it comes to foreign policy. For instance, in his 2008 debate against Sarah Palin, he bizarrely claimed, among other things, that prior to 2006, the United States, together with France, "kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon" and insisted that the United States has the right and obligation "to keep the UN in line."  It is unsurprising that, at a campaign stop in Seattle in October 2008, Biden admitted, "I've forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know."

Regarding the Obama administration's pro-Israel efforts, Biden told the crowd of rabbis, "I'm proud of our record. No president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel's physical security than Barack Obama."

Evoking Truman is a bold move, though not necessarily a smart one. Yes, it is true that the only person in history to authorize a nuclear attack on a civilian population (twice) that resulted in calculated, deliberate mass murder dismissed the advice of his own State Department officials when he recognized the nascent State of Israel on May 14, 1948, just eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.  But he also laid out some uncomfortable truths that might not play so well with an assembly of Zionists.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Perceptions of Persia:
The Persistent & Pervasive Orientalism of the West's Iran Policy

A Marketplace in Ispahan (Edwin Lord Weeks, c. 1895)
"[I]ndeed, it is a question whether constant attention to the requirements of diplomacy does not occasionally tend to obscure the vision and narrow the judgment in arriving at a true estimate of those for whose special edification we are moulding our speech and actions. In the case of non-European nation, the difficulties of this kind of study are still more accentuated than with a people more nearly approaching our own standard of civilisation, because we almost invariably (if often unconsciously) commence proceedings by stepping upon a pedestal of quasi-superiority, which prevents the exercise of impartial judgment in any intercourse that may ensue."

- from Major-General Sir Frederic Goldsmid's 1897 introduction to James Justinian Morier's The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824)

Explicit Orientalism has long been a hallmark of the West's condescending and patronizing attitude towards Iran.

In their second volume of "Major Problems in American Foreign Relations," published in 2010, Dennis Merrill and Thomas Paterson explain that Western cultural representations of the Third World are so steeped in "'orientalist' tones - exotic yet primitive, weak, female, childlike, racially inferior, and in need of supervision" that "Cold War era policymakers were themselves socially conditioned and often viewed others through the Orientalist lens" and "tended to perceive fiery Third World nationalists...as emotionally unstable, politically immature, and threatening to U.S. interests."  Consequently, "[t]hese perceptions justified policies designed to control Third World nationalism and equated self-interested U.S. intervention with parental or civilizational duty."

As renewed negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 over the former's IAEA-supervised nuclear energy program are set to continue on May 23 in Baghdad, politicians, pundits and the press have been energetically reinforcing the Orientalist narrative.  Well-connected American journalists Barbara Slavin and Laura Rozen recently penned an article entitled, "Can Western Women Tame Iran’s Nuclear Negotiators?," invoking psychosexual models of "Persian proverb[s]" and Scheherezade as a basis for nuclear talks with the male Iranian negotiators.  Meanwhile, Iran hawks are taking every opportunity to paint Iran and its government as caricatures of irrational, untrustworthy, genocidal, suicidal lunatics - serial liars and deceivers bent on world domination - despite the protestations of top U.S. and Israeli officials, among them IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Mossad head Tamir Pardo, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Defense Intelligence Agency Director General Ron Burgess and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former IDF head Dan Halutz, who insist that Iran is a rational state actor, guided, like any other sovereign government, by self-preservation and strategic cost-benefit analysis.

Perjurer and deputy war criminal Elliott Abrams, writing in neocon flagship The Weekly Standard on April 20, sought to cast a shadow on the diplomatic proceedings even before they began by suggesting it was "worth recalling the classic analysis of Iran's negotiating style sent in from the U.S. embassy in Tehran on August 13, 1979."

In his effort to establish the nefarious and deceitful nature of Iranians - thus dismissing any possibility of genuine diplomacy or potential détente emerging from the talks - Abrams quotes extensively from a cable written and authorized by American diplomats in the turbulent aftermath of the Iranian revolution and just a few months before those two officials, along with 64 others, were taken hostage when the Tehran Embassy was seized that November.

It should be noted that WikiLeaks uncovered the cable that Abrams references as evidence of inherent Iranian duplicity and selfishness.  As such, his reliance on WikiLeaks to condemn Iran is ironic, considering that when these cables were released in late 2010, Abrams wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he claimed that "the WikiLeaks disclosures are less likely to promote more open government than to give aid and comfort to the enemy."

Abram's use of such leaked cables in The Weekly Standard as supposed proof of the intransigence of Iranian interlocutors is even more absurd due to the fact that the very same media outlet has devoted hundreds of thousands of words to the vilification of WikiLeaks as a "criminal enterprise hostile to the United States" which is "dangerous to our democracy" and which urged the U.S. government to employ "all necessary means to respond to and...degrade, defeat, and destroy WikiLeaks."  The Weekly Standard not only reveled in the character assassination of Bradley Manning but its editor and founder Bill Kristol even indicated immoral support for the actual assassination of Julian Assange in an article entitled "Whack WikiLeaks."  Needless to say, the source of the referenced cable is not mentioned in Abrams' piece.

The confidential cable in question is ascribed to political counselor Victor L. Tomseth and charge d'affaires Bruce Laingen who address the diplomatic difficulties experienced between the embassy and the nascent Islamic government by analyzing "the underlying cultural and psychological qualities" of their Iranian counterparts using language befitting the most imperial of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th Century European ambassadors in the mysterious and exotic Middle East.  The Islamophobia is explicit, the Western condescension palpable.

The cable states, "Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism," which manifests in "an almost total Persian preoccupation with self and leaves little room for understanding points of view other than one's own."  The American officials then state that Iranians suffer from extreme paranoia, "a pervasive unease about the nature of the world in which one lives," and a neurotic belief that "nothing is permanent" and "hostile forces abound."

It continues:
This approach underlies the so-called 'bazaar mentality' so common among Persians, a mind-set that often ignores longer term interests in favor of immediately obtainable advantages and countenances practices that are regarded as unethical by other norms.
Iranians are deemed to possess "psychological limitations" which, when combined with "a general incomprehension of causality" that the cable credits to their Muslim faith, results in "difficulty grasping the inter-relationship of events."  "This same quality," the cable says, "also helps explain Persian aversion to accepting responsibility for one's own actions."

The cable also emphasizes a number of "lessons" to be drawn from such an immature Persian psyche, such as this: "Statements of intention count for almost nothing" and this: "[C]ultivation of good will for good will's sake is a waste of effort."

The cable concludes,
[O]ne should be prepared for the threat of breakdown in negotiations at any given moment and not be cowed by this possibility.  Given the Persian negotiator's cultural and psychological limitations, he is going to resist the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) negotiating process.
Such commentary echoes the equivocation of former Mossad cheif Meir Dagan on the subject of Iranian rationality. During an interview with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes in early March, Dagan said that "[t]he regime in Iran is a very rational one," but, he quickly added, "not exactly our rational."  Dagan continued his Orientalist disclaimer: "Maybe not exactly rational based on what I call 'Western thinking,' but no doubt they are considering all the implications of their actions."

Persian Breakfast (James Justinian Morier, 1810-16)
Over a century ago, Major-General Sir Frederic Goldsmid, a longtime representative of the British Empire in the Middle East and India, wrote the 1897 introduction to British diplomat and Orientalist author James Justinian Morier's 1824 picaresque romance The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan.  The introduction included the following observations:
Nothing is perhaps more striking to the Western stranger than the great importance attached by Orientals to trifles. On the other hand, the difficulty of impressing upon the Eastern mind the serious nature and urgency of certain public matters which are heedlessly thrust aside to suit personal convenience, exhibits almost as remarkable a trait of native character. With Persians there is a meaning in our next-to-nothing minutiae, the comprehension of which is of vital import to our envoys and the cause they advocate...

That civilised outsiders might succeed in enlarging and instructing the minds of the younger and more advanced of Persian statesmen, so far as to gain their co-operation in reforming the ceremonial code which they have been inherited, is quite possible; but, to be effective, the task must be committed to joint European action; and this hypothesis involves removal of the stumbling-block of international jealousy.
Western perceptions of Iran and Iranians grew more offensive and propagandistic with time.  One look at our media's presentation of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh - who, in the early 1950s, attempted to nationalize Iran's oil industry and end Western exploitation of its natural resources - demonstrates just how integral Orientalist tropes are in Western conception of the Middle East as the same epithets, phrases, and references are repeated over and over.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Injustice of Israeli Impunity:
Remembering and Mourning the Samouni Family

"IDF soldiers are fighting a very difficult war, day and night, against the basest, vilest murderers. You should admire what the IDF has done and understand the difficulties...IDF soldiers are more moral in their operations than any other army in the world with which I am familiar."
- Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister, 12.09.04
"The Israel Defense Forces is the world's most moral army. It has never had a policy of hurting civilians and it does not do so also today."
- Ehud Olmert, Israeli Prime Minister, 06.11.06
"I can say that the IDF is the most moral army in the world...[The army] is awaiting the results of the investigation, but my impression is that the IDF acted morally and ethically."
- Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, 03.23.09
"I have no doubt that what needs to be probed will be probed, but I also have no doubt in my heart that the IDF is the most moral army in the world."
- Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, 03.25.09
"It is unthinkable to compare a massacre and the Israeli army's surgical, defensive actions against those who use children as human shields."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, 03.20.12

"The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world, whose soldiers desperately work to minimize civilian casualties… despite having to fight terrorists operating within a civilian population."

- Avigdor Liberman, Israeli Foreign Minister, 03.20.12

Amira Hass reports in Ha'aretz today:
Israel's military prosecution announced Tuesday that no legal steps will be taken against those responsible for the killing of 21 members of the Samouni family during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
In response to the ruling, Yael Stein, an attorney for the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, said, "It cannot be that in a well-managed system no person will be found guilty of the army operation that led to the killing of 21 people who were not involved in combat, and resided in a structure on the instructions of the army – even if the attack was not done purposefully."

"The manner in which the army rids itself of responsibility in this case...again illustrates the need for an investigatory body outside of the army," she added.

In a letter informing B'Tselem that the case is closed, Major Dorit Tuval, deputy Military Advocate for Operational Matters, wrote that "the investigation completely disproved any claim about deliberate harm to civilians, as well as haste and recklessness about possible harm to civilians, or criminal negligence" and claimed, "The operational circumstances of Operation Cast Lead, which was conducted mainly in highly-populated urban areas, had direct implications on the manner in which operational decisions were reached during the incident in question."

The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said, "Military Advocate General Danny Efroni has decided that the investigation completely disproved the harsh allegations of war crimes leveled at the IDF by various elements."

The airstrike that murdered the so many members of Samouni family was ordered by Givati Brigade commander Colonel Ilan Malka. In 2009, it was revealed that the Givati Brigade was responsible for a number of t-shirts glorifying and reveling in the killing of Palestinians, including women and children.

Left shirt text: "Sniper's Division" (Hebrew), "1 Shot, 2 Kills". Right shirt text: "Only God Forgives" (Hebrew)
Left shirt text: "The smaller - the harder!" (Hebrew). Right shirt text: "Each Arab Mother Should Know That the Fate of Her Son Is Dependent Upon My Hands" (Hebrew)

With such impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity a benchmark of the Israeli state, any hope for real justice is futile. Below is the story of the Israeli military's willful murder of the Samouni family's men, women, and children, as reported in relevant sections of the Goldstone Report (PDF, pages 159-168).

Read it. Then remember and honor them.