On February 28, TIME reporter Massimo Calabresi published a lengthy piece on the Iranian nuclear program and the Obama Administration's attitude toward it, notably reflecting the same, tired mainstream myopia and uncritically accepted false choice over the Iranian nuclear program. Calabresi quotes Netanyahu cipher Dennis Ross, who served as Obama's senior Middle East adviser, as saying, "There was a debate within the Administration over prevention vs. containment."
Never, in the course of Calabresi's report, is there a question that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons (or, at least, "capability"), despite the fact that no evidence exists to support this assumption. No one quoted in the article ever suggests Iran is anything but intransigent, its intentions are obviously assumed to be nefarious. It comes as no surprise then that TIME would title the piece, "The Path to War: Inside Barack Obama's Struggle to Stop an Iranian Nuke."
Calabresi, whose access to senior officials appears to rely on his fealty to government talking points and never questioning American benevolence, claims that Obama "has worked hard to avoid war" with Iran before praising the president's efforts "to slow or derail the Iranian program through a combination of diplomacy, sanctions and covert action." One wonders how the United States would classify having its economy deliberately targeted and being the victim of collective punishment, cyberattacks, industrial sabotage, surveillance, espionage, and lethal operations conducted by foreign-backed terrorist organizations. The word "war" certainly comes to mind.
Nevertheless, Calabresi credits Obama for "pushing the timeline for war back at least 12 months," despite his ominous determination that "eventually time will run out," leaving Obama to "soon face the hardest decision of his presidency."
While there is nothing new revealed in Calabresi's report, he readily repeats a number of disingenuous claims and some outright falsehoods right off the bat which set the tone for what follows.
He writes that, throughout 2009, "Obama had been delivering on his dovish campaign pledge to reach out to the regime in Tehran." Calabresi explains,
He beamed in a conciliatory greeting to the entire country on the Persian New Year and had offered unconditional talks. In Cairo that June, he offered to let Iran keep a peaceful nuclear program. But Iran's leaders rebuffed Obama's efforts, and in the fall of 2009 the Obama Administration revealed that Iran was building a secret uranium-enrichment plant deep in a hillside outside the holy city of Qum.The misinformation and mythology contained in these mere three sentences is staggering.
What Calabresi leaves out of his glowing assessment of Obama's noble outreach to Iran is that just nine days before delivering his much-touted March 2009 Nowruz message to Iranians and their government in which he declared that his commitment to diplomacy and "pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community" would "not be advanced by threats," Obama had already announced the extension of economic sanctions on Iran in place since 1995. It has also been reported that the earliest versions of the Stuxnet computer virus were deployed in June 2009, less than three months after Obama supposedly extended an open hand.
Furthermore, Calabresi oddly believes that the President of the United States of America is somehow responsible for doling out nuclear programs to those nations he deems worthy of such an honor. This is not actually true. Iran's program is not, under any circumstances, subject to the beneficence, generosity, or magnanimity of any other state, government or world body. Its right "to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination" is "inalienable" and enshrined in international law by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The idea that Obama is in a position to "offer" Iran anything in this regard is not only patronizing, it is pure imperial arrogance.
In his Cairo speech, President Obama declared,
No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.What both Obama and Calabresi apparently don't know - or willfully ignore - is that Iran has never been found to have breached its NPT obligations as such a violation could only occur if Iran began "to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons."
Obama's own intelligence and military agencies have consistently concluded that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. On February 3, 2013, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta begrudgingly reaffirmed this assessment on Meet The Press in response to ignorant leading questions from Chuck Todd. "What I’ve said, and I will say today," Panetta told Todd, "is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. They’re developing and enriching uranium. They continue to do that."
After Todd curiously wondered why Iran would possibly be enriching uranium, Panetta explained, "I think-- I think the-- it’s a clear indication they say they’re doing it in order to develop their own energy source," adding his own factually incorrect opinion, "I think it is suspect that they continue to - to enrich uranium because that is dangerous, and that violates international laws."
Still, Todd pressed harder. "And you do believe they’re probably pursuing a weapon, but you don’t-- the intelligence doesn’t know what...," he said before Panetta cut him off. "I-- no, I can’t tell you because-- I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we-- we-- we’re-- they’re doing right now," Panetta said.
The third sentence in Calabresi's litany is perhaps the most absurd. First, Iran hardly had a chance to "rebuff" any American diplomacy since there never was any to begin with that didn't consist of intimidation, ultimatums, threats and take-it-or-leave-it demands, hardly the stuff of honest (let alone "conciliatory") negotiation.
Moreover, the enrichment facility outside Qom was not "revealed" by the Obama Administration, but rather by Iran itself on September 21, 2009, days before the sensationalist press conference held by Obama, Nicholas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, on September 25, 2009. At that time, IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire had already told reporters, "I can confirm that on 21 September, Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country."
Obama even acknowledged this, noting, "Earlier this week, the Iranian government presented a letter to the IAEA that made reference to a new enrichment facility." He omitted, however, the inconvenient fact that Iran was well within its legal obligations as it had announced the facility to the IAEA far in advance of the 180 days before becoming operational as required by Iran's Safeguards Agreement. At the time, the facility was still under construction and did not actually begin uranium enrichment until early January 2012, a full 840 days after it had been officially declared.
As journalist Gareth Porter has noted, IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei later recounted that "Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, had informed him on Sep. 24 about U.S. intelligence on the Fordow site – three days after the Iranian letter had been received." When ElBaradei "demanded to know why he had not been told before the Iranian letter...Einhorn responded that the United States 'had not been sure of the nature of the facility', ElBaradei wrote."
ElBaradei subsequently described the facility at Fordow as "a hole in a mountain" and "nothing to be worried about." Since then, the IAEA has consistently confirmed that "all nuclear material in the facility remains under the Agency's containment and surveillance."
Calabresi also claims that Obama "made bolstering the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a top priority," in spite of Obama's clear refusal to advocate and encourage a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East even though every single country in the region, save Israel, supports its establishment.
The voice of Dennis Ross (or is it Netanyahu?) is prevalent throughout the article and it is clear he is the primary source for most ofCalabresi's information. The piece is premised upon the notion that the Iran-U.S.-Israel stand-off is in its "final stages," thereby presenting a situation that demands tough choices by Obama. This is straight out of the Ross (or is it Netanyahu?) playbook.
In December 2012, Ross told The Times of Israel that 2013 would be a critical year for Washington and Tehran. "I think there's the stomach in this administration, and this president, that if diplomacy fails [to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons] — to use force," Ross said at a gala dinner for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an AIPAC-spawned D.C. think tank, that was held in his (and convicted criminal Elliott Abrams') honor.
Such a statement is nothing new for Ross. At a WINEP event in January 2012, he said that "the Iranians should never think that there’s a reluctance [on the part of Obama] to use the force." Ross has long advocated a policy of economic warfare against Iran while pretending to conduct negotiations, all for the purpose of making what he believes is an inevitable military confrontation more palatable and justifiable to the American public.
When determining the risks and consequences of American military attack on Iran, Calabresi warns that such an act "would likely mean the deaths of American service members--and civilians too," as well as precipitating a spike in oil prices and having a negative effect on the United State's "reputation." He also points out that an attack "could mean the devastation of [Iran's] nuclear program and much of its armed forces, plus unimaginable costs to its economy."
Never once does Calabresi mention the lives (or deaths) of Iranian civilians in his calculus, even though such an assault would potentially kill tens of thousands of Iranians (at minimum). Such is the level of concern for Iran's population in both government policy and mainstream reporting.
Calabresi's article is yet another example of how facts about Iran and its nuclear program are routinely dismissed, ignored or misrepresented in our current discourse. Such irresponsible journalism has misinformed and terrified the American public into believing that Iran poses a looming threat that must be dealt with through force, threat or coercion, an impression that bares little resemblance to the truth.
Unfortunately, the path to war - all too present under our feet these days - continues to be paved by people like Massimo Calabresi.