Friday, February 28, 2014

Wide Asleep on Radio Dispatch, again!

I had the sincere pleasure of joining the great John Knefel - investigative reporter, Occupy gadabout, and broadcaster extraordinaire - on today's episode of Radio Dispatch, the stellar progressive daily podcast.

John and I spoke about the ongoing multilateral negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, the constant barrage of disinformation and sabre-rattling from Israel, and the AIPAC push for new sanctions on Iran that would inevitably (and deliberately) scuttle the talks.  You know, the usj.

The interview begins at about 10:17 and runs roughly 22 minutes.

Listen to it below or download it here.

And be sure to check out John and Molly Knefel's amazing archive of past shows here. And listen to the show from now on. C'mon people.


Human Development After the Iranian Revolution

College graduates in Iran
(Hossein Salmanzadeh / Fars News Agency)

Over at Truthout, Tyler Cullis and I have published an analysis of certain societal gains achieved in Iran over the past 35 years following the 1979 revolution. It explores a number of factors, namely that of the United Nations' "Human Development Index," which charts advancements over time with regard to access to education, health, life expectancy, and quality of life.

The piece also points out how the perception of Iran in the West has been myopic and routinely negative ever since the revolution, noting:
...those in the United States saw events in Iran in 1979 through their own distinctive prism, which was far removed from - and often quite antagonistic to - the very real aspirations and grievances of a revolutionary people. It would be hard to argue that much has changed in the interim: 35 years of demonization, distrust and denial have shaped US discourse regarding the revolution and its heir, the Islamic Republic. Consequently an honest and dispassionate assessment of the revolution's myriad and measurable achievements has proven elusive, if not altogether impossible. Meanwhile, exposition of its shortcomings and unforeseeable consequences (like Iraq's invasion in 1980) has been routinized to the point of exaggeration and exploitation.
We argue that "perpetually casting the revolution as merely a backward embrace of medieval theology and a stubborn rejection of modernization and development does a great disservice to the reality (and messiness) of the Islamic Republic." Moreover, we conclude that "fictionalized representations of the Islamic Republic perform no service to Iranians, who struggle for a more just and equitable public space in their beloved country, and disrespects those who, after deposing a puppet dictator, set about improving the lives of their fellow citizens."

Development metrics and statistics don't alone tell the full story or provide a comprehensive accounting of the consequences of the Iranian Revolution, of course. While women have gained substantial access to education, there are still very real and repressive limitations to their presence and roles in the workplace. For instance, as Faezeh Samanian has written, "Although women are unemployed at a rate of roughly twice that of men, one-third of doctors, 60 percent of civil servants, and 80 percent of teachers in Iran are women, according to the British historian Michael Axworthy." Women in Iran still face an upward battle when attempting to break into the political realm.

Brain drain is also a substantial problem. Early this year, Iran’s Minister of Science, Research and Technology Reza Faraji Dana revealed, “Every year, about 150,000 highly talented people emigrate from Iran, equaling an annual loss of $150 billion to the economy.” Though perhaps an exaggeration fiscally, the point is made. "According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran has the highest brain drain rate in the world, writes Bijan Khajehpour. "An estimated 25% of all Iranians with post-secondary education now live in "developed" countries of the OECD."

Of course, brain drain is often tied to economic issues and the influx of foreign investment into Iran provided a successful nuclear deal is struck would do much to stem, if not reverse, the trend. Same goes for personal and social freedoms; access to information must unrestricted and uncensored, human rights for all upheld, and the judiciary’s reliance on capital punishment abandoned. "As such, the country will need political, economic and social reforms to attract many Iranians to return to their home country," Khajehpour points out, adding, "Reconciling with the Iranian diaspora will be important — not just because of this potential brain gain, but also because of its potential to invest in the country and connect the economy to global technological trends."

Nevertheless, as Tyler and I write:
Besides the damage done to an honest appraisal of Iran's history, a failure to acknowledge the very real achievements of the Islamic Republic - including the way it rendered visible entire segments of the population that had before been scorned and denigrated (the rural poor, the religious classes, etc.) - risks exacerbating the rampant ignorance about the country here in the United States, serving only to further cultivate the damaging Manichean view of Iran so prevalent in our politics and press. 
Moreover, ignoring what the Islamic Republic has done right imperils efforts to create a more promising future for all Iranians - a lesson unlearned and thus doomed to go unheeded. Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution not only respects the value of truth but also the will and determination of the Iranian people to throw off the shackles of autocracy and continue their long revolution.
Read our entire piece over at Truthout or here.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

TRUTHOUT: Fruits of Iran's Revolution

The following article was co-authored with Tyler Cullis and originally published at

Fruits of Iran's Revolution
Thursday, 27 February 2014
By Nima Shirazi and Tyler Cullis, Truthout | News Analysis

Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution is crucial to understanding Iran today.

February 2014 marks the 35th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution - an epochal event whose ultimate significance remains unknown. Regarded as the "last great revolution," one that overturned Iran's political, economic, social and cultural order, Iranians will endlessly assess and debate its aftermath, up to and including the clerical rule that soon followed in its wake. Yet, few will regret the revolution itself. Even among those who most vigorously dissent from the Islamic Republic's rule, the revolution remains a source of intense pride - a living testament to the will and determination of a people to break the chains and assert their independence.

(Photo: Wikimedia)
In the United States, however, the Iranian Revolution has much different meaning. It signifies, first and foremost, the fall of arguably the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East — Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah — and the advent of an assertive and revisionist state — the Islamic Republic of Iran — which had little regard for maintaining America’s privileges in the region. Far from sympathizing with Iranians’ yearning to cast off the yoke of dictatorship, the United States saw in the revolution little more than a baffling, chaotic outburst of religious fanaticism — made all the more threatening several months later when revolutionary students seized the American embassy in Tehran following the deposed Shah’s admittance to the United States for medical treatment.

For the past three and half decades, these events - and the political and media reaction to them - have catalyzed Americans' perception of Iran, its government and its people. Describing media coverage of Iran at the time of the hostage crisis, the late Edward Said perceptively noted, "Clichés, caricatures, ignorance, unqualified ethnocentrism and inaccuracy were inordinately evident ... with the result that the distinctive continuities and discontinuities of Iranian revolutionary life never emerged." For example, The New York Times' reporting, according to Said, formed "a collection of attitudes displayed for the benefit of suspicious and frightened readers."

In other words, those in the United States saw events in Iran in 1979 through their own distinctive prism, which was far removed from - and often quite antagonistic to - the very real aspirations and grievances of a revolutionary people. It would be hard to argue that much has changed in the interim: 35 years of demonization, distrust and denial have shaped US discourse regarding the revolution and its heir, the Islamic Republic. Consequently an honest and dispassionate assessment of the revolution's myriad and measurable achievements has proven elusive, if not altogether impossible. Meanwhile, exposition of its shortcomings and unforeseeable consequences (like Iraq's invasion in 1980) has been routinized to the point of exaggeration and exploitation.

Even now, as we pass the revolution's anniversary, the US press privileges and amplifies those Iranian voices that reflect back what Americans have been led to believe about Iran and its revolution. They speak contemptuously of the 1979 upheaval, either regretting its very occurrence or bemoaning the lowly place it has brought Iran in the global order. For the most part, too, their claims are allowed to pass without challenge or substantiation - the prevailing narrative beating out once more the inconvenience of historical fact. Fair appraisal, it seems, proves as rare in 2014 as it was in 1979.

Rewriting History

Two recent cases underscore this phenomenon. In October 2013, Afshin Molavi, a fellow at the New America Foundation and Johns Hopkins' Foreign Policy Initiative, declared that, while Iran's revolution "reordered regional and global geopolitics, and spawned hope, inspiration, joy, terror, destruction, despair and disenchantment .. [t]he one thing it didn't do was improve people's living standards."

Seconding the claim, Iran-born author, Camelia Entekhabifard, wrote of the legacy of the Iranian Revolution in February 2014 in Al-Jazeera English:
"Ayatollah Khomeini promised his followers free electricity and cash from oil revenues. ... Now, poverty, unemployment, inflation and a high cost of living are all what most people, I've spoken to, believe the revolution has brought them."
Then, in a New York Times piece marking the revolution's anniversary on February 11, she doubled-down on her contention: "In an attempt to eliminate what he perceived as Western corruption, Ayatollah Khomeini mismanaged the economy, setting back development and widening the gap between rich and poor - while engaging in a devastating eight-year war with Iraq." (Entekhabifard conveniently thrusts to the side two basic facts that undercut the premise of her argument: first, Iran has been living under US-imposed sanctions since 1979, and second, Iraq was the aggressor during the Iran-Iraq War, as the UN secretary-general pointed out in a report in 1991.)

For both authors, the Iranian revolution - despite whatever promises it may have held - has left Iranians despondent and desperate, worse off than where they started in 1979. But this tale, tall as it is, confounds fact and fiction, ignores historical data on Iranians' living standards, and thus rewrites history. Furthermore, perpetually casting the revolution as merely a backward embrace of medieval theology and a stubborn rejection of modernization and development does a great disservice to the reality (and messiness) of the Islamic Republic and forces us to question the ultimate integrity of the writers themselves.

Decades of Development

It doesn't take long, for instance, to undermine Molavi's claim that the Iranian revolution failed to "improve people's living standards," nor Entekhabifard's contention that the Islamic Republic "setback development." In its 2013 report, for instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which measures long-term societal progress in human development around the world, assessed that - with regard to life expectancy, health, education and living standards - "Iran has made considerable progress in human development when measured over the past 32 years." It did this while under constant economic siege and military threat.

HDI trends for the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1980
Not only is the Islamic Republic of Iran considered a location of "High Human Development," according to the UN's Human Development Index (HDI), but "between the years 1980 and 2012, Iran's HDI value increased by 67 per cent," virtually doubling the annual gains of other countries in the same category and more than twice the global average. The UN notes that "from a human development standpoint - during the period 1980-2012, Iran's policy interventions were both significant and appropriate to produce improvements in human development." In other words, Iran's gains are not haphazard luck but, rather, a direct result of specific policies of the Islamic Republic.

This works to undermine the predominant narrative - subtly hinted at in both authors' pieces - that were it not for the shah's illiberal policies at home, which alienated Iranians, he could have followed through on his modernization scheme and left Iran in a much better place than it finds itself today. (This narrative may likewise explain why the media has been virtually silent about the ravages of the Shah's dictatorial rule, the brutality of his CIA- and Mossad-trained secret police force, SAVAK, and the surveillance, corruption and torture that thrived during his reign. Even today, accounts of the shah's Iran border on the hagiographic - his social policies widely praised for the "modern" attitudes that they are said to resemble. While Entekhabifard, for instance, laments what she deems the destruction by the clerical leadership of Iran's pre-revolution "pluralistic society," few recount, as scholars Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hasspour do, that "during the entire rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, the possession of Kurdish, Turkish or Baluchi publications, gramophone records or even a handwritten poem was proof of 'secessionism' of political prisoners." The benefits of the shah's "pluralism," it seems, were very narrowly targeted.)

In his 1989 study, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution, Misagh Parsa described the stark living conditions faced by Iran's impoverished citizens pre-1979:
"During the 1960s and 1970s, Iranian society was characterized by housing shortages, land speculation, and considerable social and economic inequality. The government's rushed development policy and its strategy of serving the interests of the upper class and wealthier groups were largely responsible for these problems. ...

"Despite increased spending, the housing shortage remained unalleviated for the working classes and the poor. Part of the reason was that most government investments financed the construction of military and "national" buildings."
Parsa adds, "On the eve of the revolution, as many as 42 percent of the inhabitants of Tehran lived in inadequate housing." Furthermore:
"Whereas 80 percent of the city budget was allocated to provide services for the wealthy inhabitants of northern Tehran, shantytowns lacked running water, electricity, public transportation, garbage collection, health care, education, and other services. The contrast between urban shantytowns and rich high rises was an embarrassment to a regime that had promised the advent of a 'great Civilization.' As shantytowns proliferated, the government declared them illegal. Eventually, in mid-1977, the government sent bulldozers to demolish a number of shantytowns in large cities, including Tehran."
Outside of Tehran and other major cities, the situation was even worse. In the rural provinces, basic services proved absent, literacy rates remained at appalling lows, health care was largely unavailable, and schooling for children was dismal. As Ervand Abrahamian noted in his magisterial study, Iran Between Two Revolutions, an International Labor Office report dated from 1972 called Iran "one of the most inegalitarian societies in the world." Whatever his intentions, then, Iran's self-styled Ataturk proved himself remarkably incapable of, or simply disinterested in, meeting the needs and demands of his people.

On the other hand, the Islamic Republic managed to pull together one of the most impressive rural development schemes in modern history, despite being under savage attack by Western-backed Iraqi forces and economic assault from the world's leading power. In doing so, too, the Islamic Republic triggered a profound cultural revolution that enlisted women in the fight to remake society from the ground up and thus undermined the tethers that had for so long tied them to their religious families – a fact that scholars of Iran's gender politics are beginning to uncover.

We see its effects when we look at the hard data. In the two decades between 1984 and 2004, the poorest 25 percent in rural areas saw their access to basic electricity increase from 37 percent to 94 percent and to piped water from 31 percent to 79 percent, highlighting the substantially increased access to basic services for Iran's rural poor.

Improvements in health care are similarly impressive. During the shah's reign, access to health care was deplorable, with rural populations suffering the most. In addition to a dearth of both hospitals and doctors, Parsa reveals that "infant mortality in rural areas was 120 (per 1,000 live births), one of the highest in the world. ... Malnutrition was prevalent in many parts of the country, and anemia was almost universal."

"The real problem," Parsa concludes, "was the regime's failure to commit sufficient resources to meet society's needs. Instead, resources were spent, or rather wasted, on military buildup" - a fact overlooked in the hype and hysteria over the Islamic Republic's meager outlays to its military apparatus.

Health Status of the Iranian Population Before the 1979 Revolution
(Asghar Rastegar, “Health Policy and Medical Education,”
in Iran After the Revolution: Crisis of an Islamic State, 1995)

Today, however, Iranians live longer and healthier lives than they did under the Shah, having added more than two decades to their average life expectancy (up from 51 years to 73 years). Infant, maternal and neonatal mortality rates have dropped dramatically. For every 100,000 live births in Iran today, only 21 women die from pregnancy-related causes. (The average for other High HDI countries is 47.)

"Poliomyelitis has been reduced to the point of near-eradication and the coverage of immunization for children and pregnant women is very extensive," reports UNICEF. "Access to safe drinking water has been provided for over 90% of Iran's rural and urban population. More than 80% of the population has access to sanitary facilities."

Click to enlarge
The contribution of each component index to Iran’s HDI since 1980
(United Nations Development Programme)

More than 85 percent of Iran's rural and vulnerable populations now have free access to primary health care services through an impressive system of "health houses," which have been described by the World Health Organization as an "incredible masterpiece" and replicated for disadvantaged communities in the Mississippi Delta region.

While commentators - such as Entekhabifard - are quick to point out that Iran still experiences a wide rural-urban gap in income inequality, they fail to note, as economy expert Djavad Salehi-Isfahani has, that since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, "poverty has declined steadily to an enviable level for middle-income developing countries."

Iran's literacy programs also have proven a boon. In 1975, 68 percent of all Iranian adults were illiterate; only 35 percent of women were literate; and literacy rates in Iran's poorest provinces typically hovered around 25 percent. Today, however, literacy is practically universal, thanks to the extensive literacy programs put in place soon after the revolution (none more significant than the Literacy Mobilization Organization, which was an outgrowth of the efforts of leftist students in the period 1979-81). Women and the rural poor shared these gains. That is why, for instance, over 60% of college and university students today in Iran are women, many of them studying in the arts and sciences.

Claims that the Iranian Revolution marked an ideological rejection of modernization are even more difficult to substantiate considering that, as the New Scientist reported in 2010, "scientific output has grown 11 times faster in Iran than the world average, faster than any other country." Moreover, scientific "publications in nuclear engineering grew 250 times faster than the world average - although medical and agricultural research also increased." Iranian scientists led the Middle East in published, peer-reviewed articles in 2013. And, far from being an illiterate and backward ruling elite, Iran's leaders tend, on the whole, to be highly educated: that Iran's Cabinet employs more American Ph.D.s than Barack Obama's White House made for a "fun fact" not long ago.

The Revolution, Continued

Acknowledging these basic facts (of which there are many more) does not, by any means, condone the very real repression that exists in the Islamic Republic, nor the tension in values inherent in the Islamic Republic’s very name. It is perfectly true that Iranians face severe limitations on their ability to vigorously engage in political, social, and cultural life; that, despite the rise in women’s health and education standards, gender inequities remain firmly rooted in the Islamic Republic and only a further transformation in cultural values can replace the deep patriarchy and misogyny that underpins much of the leadership’s attitude towards women; that access to information in Iran is restricted due to government censorship; and that upholding human rights and abandoning the judiciary’s reliance on capital punishment remains critical to improving the Islamic Republic’s reputation both at home and around the world.

But, fictionalized representations of the Islamic Republic perform no service to Iranians, who struggle for a more just and equitable public space in their beloved country, and disrespects those who, after deposing a puppet dictator, set about improving the lives of their fellow citizens. In fact, as discerning scholars have noted, much of the recent activism in Iran - including the Green Movement - is thanks to a broadened middle class, "whose empowerment stems from the developmental push of the Islamic Republic over the past two decades." In other words, the growth of Iran's reform movement can be traced back "in part [to] the modernizing efforts of the post-revolutionary state itself." That is not an analysis that is heard all too much in popular discourse about Iran.

Besides the damage done to an honest appraisal of Iran's history, a failure to acknowledge the very real achievements of the Islamic Republic - including the way it rendered visible entire segments of the population that had before been scorned and denigrated (the rural poor, the religious classes, etc.) - risks exacerbating the rampant ignorance about the country here in the United States, serving only to further cultivate the damaging Manichean view of Iran so prevalent in our politics and press.

Moreover, ignoring what the Islamic Republic has done right imperils efforts to create a more promising future for all Iranians - a lesson unlearned and thus doomed to go unheeded. Accurately assessing the fruits of the Iranian Revolution not only respects the value of truth but also the will and determination of the Iranian people to throw off the shackles of autocracy and continue their long revolution.


Nima Shirazi is editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah and publishes foreign policy analysis at

Tyler Cullis is a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Law and has been featured at CNN's Global Public Square, LobeLog and Muftah.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission.


Friday, February 21, 2014

“Constructive and Useful” Talks Continue between World Powers and Iran

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif share a laugh during a press statement after a conference in Vienna February 20, 2014.
(REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader)

"We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement," European Union foreign policy chief and lead negotiator Catherine Ashton announced at a brief joint press conference in Vienna on Thursday morning. Standing alongside Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, she added, "There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy but we have gotten off to a good start." Following Ashton, Zarif repeated the statement in Persian.

With an established framework for resolving outstanding issues and timetable of meetings over the next four months, Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (or EU+3) - Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - are continuing to defy expectations and rely on confident and optimistic diplomacy to reach a comprehensive accord over the Iranian nuclear program and the eventual lifting of international sanctions.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity at a background briefing for journalists, a "senior administration official" (presumably Wendy Sherman) with the U.S. State Department was similarly positive. "I believe we have had constructive and useful discussions over the past few days, and we all do feel we have made some progress," she said. "Although we cannot predict everything ahead and we all know there will be many twists and turns, we do now have a path forward for how these negotiation will proceed."

Describing the talks so far as "constructive and useful," the U.S. official said negotiations had covered "both process and substance." She continued:
We had constructive conversations about all of the issues that will have to be addressed as part of the comprehensive agreement. Those discussions have created the framework and agenda for the negotiations going forward. We are trying to do this in as open and transparent a manner as possible, but for any negotiation to succeed it is critical to leave space for everyone’s points of view to be properly heard and taken into account.
While the recent talks in Vienna did not produce a "formal, written-down framework or agenda, " she said, "we all know what it is and everything is referred to in some way in the Joint Plan of Action," referring to the interim deal signed by Iran and the P5+1 last November in Geneva. "We are at the beginning of a very difficult and complex process," the official noted. "It's going to be both a marathon and a sprint….We have a long distance to cover in a short period of time."

Laura Rozen of Al Monitor, who was in Vienna reporting on the talks, wrote of some next steps. "Political directors from six world powers as well as Zarif and Ashton and their teams will reconvene for the next meeting in Vienna on March 17th," she explained. "That meeting will be preceded by technical experts consultations among the six powers and Iran, that seem like they will become almost ongoing throughout the next months as negotiators aim to advance a comprehensive accord."


Originally posted at Muftah.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wide Asleep on Unauthorized Disclosure

I had the pleasure of joining Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola, two truly amazing reporters, this week for a chat about Iran, Israel and all that fun stuff on the fifth episode of their new podcast, Unauthorized Disclosure.

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist covering disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable communities. Her incredible work can be found at her blog, Dispatches from the Underclass and in outlets such as The Nation, Electronic Intifada, Al Jazeera America, Truthout, Salon, Extra!, and AlterNet.

Kevin Gosztola is a staff writer for, and regularly covers WikiLeaks, whistleblowing, secrecy and various issues created by the U.S national security/surveillance state. He has appeared on Democracy Now!, written for The Nation and Salon, regularly traveled to Fort Meade to cover the court martial of Chelsea Manning and co-authored a book on the Manning case with The Nation's Greg Mitchell.

I can't thank them enough for inviting me on their show - they are both inspiring journalists and I'm honored simply to have been able to share some airtime with them.

Here's Kevin's rundown of the new episode:
An intensive effort by Israel and its backers has been underway to scuttle an international deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Yet, Israel and its major lobby in the United States, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been suffering defeats as it tries to fight a deal, which it does not want because, if the issues over Iran’s nuclear program are resolved, focus will inevitably shift to the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
According to Nima Shirazi, an analyst of US foreign policy toward the Middle East who blogs at “Wide Asleep in America,” what the world has seen for the past thirty years of US and Israeli policy is what could be called a charade. They’ve pretended there is a “looming threat” and “that Iran is just around the corner from either having the capability to build a nuclear bomb, if not having a deliverable nuclear bomb.”
Shirazi writes about this topic all the time and joins Rania Khalek and [me] for this week’s podcast. He highlights AIPAC’s struggle to scuttle this Iran deal. He briefly highlights some of the history of myths around the country’s nuclear program that has served both the interests of the US and Israel. He also addresses the effects of sanctions on the people of Iran.
During the discussion portion of the show, Khalek and I discuss the abduction of drone victim, journalist and activist Kareem Khan in Pakistan, Joint Special Operations Command’s use of NSA metadata for drone killings and a Malaysian doctoral student’s placement on the no-fly list and how the Obama administration abused state secrets and secrecy to get away with violating her rights for about a decade.
Rania also notes that we all "also briefly discuss the coming retirement of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) head Abe Foxman, or as Nima likes to call him, 'the supreme leader of the ADL.' I hope the ADL listens to this episode because we offer our choices for Foxman replacements."

I urge everyone to continue following both Rania and Kevin's work - it is undeniably vital and consistently impressive.

A partial transcript of my interview segment is below. You can (and should) listen to the entire podcast here or download it here.


RANIA KHALEK, Dispatches from the Underclass: I would like you to give us some insight as to what’s happening with the interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. And also, if you could touch on the recent news about AIPAC's [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] massive failure at forcing more sanctions to derail the interim agreement.

NIMA SHIRAZI, US foreign policy analyst: Sure. As your listeners probably know, a massive international deal was signed between Iran and six world powers—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which are all nuclear weapons states, as well as Germany—signed an interim agreement with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program back in November.

Since then, because of that staggering success of diplomacy and a real move away from a lot of the warmongering rhetoric that we have been hearing for pretty much a decade prior to this, it really signaled a shift. And what we’ve since then is this intense effort on the part of Israeli officials, their lobbyist in Washington and the bought and paid for congress members who pretty much do everything AIPAC says.

We’ve seen this really intense effort to scuttle this interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program because without that looming bogus threat, Israel is really hamstrung in forcing the United States to do what it wants it to do and the focus then returns to Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and to the occupation.

So without this looming threat of Iran, which now is being decreased day by day due in large part to the way that the United States and other countries in the West are reacting and responding to the new presidential administration of Hassan Rouhani in Iran, we see again this massive push to ruin this agreement by levying more sanctions on Iran, which would effectively ruin the entire deal as stated. IF any sanctions are put on Iran, the deal is off, diplomacy stops again and all the agreements up until this point are null and void.

So there’s this huge push toward doing this and what we’ve seen in the past few months and more intensively in the past few weeks is this huge failure on the part of AIPAC to actually get not only a veto-proof majority in the Senate to back these new sanctions, but at this point the bill will not even be put to the floor of the Senate.

Harry Reid has completely backed off of this. We thought for a while that he was going to put this forward at the behest of AIPAC, who pretty much wrote the bill. It has leading champions in the Senate from Chuck Schumer to Bob Menendez to Mark Kirk, all these really gung-ho AIPAC shills. And even with that, the veto-proof majority never wound up happening in the Senate.

And, more recently, just this past week, we heard that this bill will not reach the floor, there will be no vote. Effectively this threat of new sanctions is over, at least for now. Obviously that doesn’t mean AIPAC is going away. They’re going to regroup and try again. But for now it’s really good news and really surprising news especially to people like us who follow this stuff and the machinations of AIPAC and their people in Congress quite closely.

Maybe this is too optimistic, but it serves as kind of the third major defeat – the Iran failure is certainly the biggest we’ve seen to date—but it’s kind of the third defeat of AIPAC in the past year I’d say starting with the failure to scuttle the approval of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. They worked really hard on that. They worked really hard on getting Obama to bomb Syria. That wound up not happening after a massive public outcry and namely the British parliament refusing to go along with that. And now Iran.

Obviously, this isn’t going away. AIPAC is here to stay at least for now. But this is a major, major defeat and I think things are moving in a certain positive way.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Firedoglake: Nima, to how we got here, I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts on what I consider to be this charade between Israel and the US and how this hysteria and everything we believe about Iran has just basically been fueled by the releasing of information from official, anonymous sources pumping out propaganda or completely false information about the country—and any examples you would share to that.

SHIRAZI: The number of examples to share are probably far more than we can get to in the time we have. I would actually preface whatever I wind up coming up with by saying that I would urge all of your listeners to go out and buy Gareth Porter’s new book called “Manufactured Crisis”, which actually goes over bit by bit, piece by piece of this ridiculous charade, as you said, about Iran’s nuclear program—

GOSZTOLA: That’s actually how I came up with my question.

SHIRAZI: Oh, well there you have it. Gareth Porter is a fantastic investigative journalist. He works for IPS. He publishes all over the place and he’s been doing this stuff for decades. And he has basically compiled in one very very accessible volume pretty much most if not all of the major propaganda points and debunks them all regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

What we’ve seen over the past basically 30 years of US and Israeli policy, pretending that this is a looming threat, pretending that Iran is just around the corner from either having the capability to build a nuclear bomb if not having a deliverable nuclear bomb. This has been going on for 30 years. I write about out this all the time.

What we’ve seen is effectively this game that is played. It winds up being very very serious because the implications are millions of people’s lives. But its this game where Iran is cast as this insane irrational genocidal suicidal martyred state that basically is so hell bent on getting nuclear weapons that they will lie, cheat and steal to do this and they must be stopped at all costs by the good guys. But the facts are completely anathema to this. They do not track these propaganda points at all.

Iran is an original signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All of their nuclear sites and all of their nuclear material is safe-guarded and internationally inspected and monitored.

KHALEK: And Israel’s is not, right?

SHIRAZI: Right, Israel, which has a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons—I mean one is enough and they have a few hundred—is not safeguarded, never signed on to that treaty and they are not regarded as a proliferation threat, however Iran for some reason is.

Basically what Gareth sets up in his book, it’s actually really amazing, is you really see how once the threat of the Soviet Union started to wane a new enemy was needed and the way that you cast an enemy as being supremely dangerous is you pretend that they’re arming themselves with the most dangerous weapons on the planet.

So it’s not merely that Iran is a threat to US or Israeli hegemony or ideological stranglehold over the Middle East if not the entire planet, but you say they are actively pursuing weapons that can effectively obliterate the entire world.

KHALEK: And they’re really bad at it.

SHIRAZI: Exactly. They must be really terrible at it because apparently they’ve been around the corner from having a massive arsenal of nukes for 30 years and still don’t even have a single one and still don’t even want one. So it really doesn’t work in the propaganda’s favor. However, because of the dutiful media here, a lot of people, if not all of us who consume this media, are fed these lies with very little to challenge them or debunk them.

Iran has never been found to have diverted any element of its nuclear program to military purposes. There are inspectors and monitors there all the time. For the past decade, four reports a year have come out by the IAEA, which monitors nuclear programs around the world, saying that Iran is fully compliant. Where there have been issues with noncompliance in the past, those are all resolved, although we don’t hear that. Those have all been resolved not only between Iran and the IAEA but in Iran’s favor.

The IAEA, which is responsible for safeguarding all this nuclear material and making sure that there is no weaponization threat, has admitted time and again that what Iran says they were doing they are actually doing, which is not pursuing a nuclear bomb but rather acquiring the technology to have a domestic and indigenous nuclear program, fully functional and mastering the nuclear fuel fight so they don’t have to rely on anyone else. And again, all that we hear is that Iran is hell bent on nukes that never seem to appear and there’s no evidence for them.

KHALEK: Going back to the interim agreement, which is a really good thing, but at the same time it’s not all butterflies and roses and rainbows and sunshine and whatever other wonderful things you can think of—

SHIRAZI: Unicorns.

KHALEK: Thank you, unicorns. Because Iran’s still under certain sanctions and I don’t think people really understand how sanctions affect a country like Iran. It actually hurts people, which is something that you have written about pretty extensively. So could you talk about the negative aspects of what’s still happening? I mean we’re still threatening Iran regularly, right? Like the military option’s never off the table—

SHIRAZI: Exactly, John Kerry actually said that recently.

KHALEK: Yeah, there’s always this looming threat. Even though AIPAC was just defeated and had to stand down, there’s still always this looming threat of sanctions from some officials. So I guess could you talk about the negatives that are still taking place and the impact of sanctions on the people of Iran?

SHIRAZI: While we hear that no new sanctions will for the time being will be approved or applied to Iran, that doesn’t really touch the 30 plus years of sanctions that have already been levied on that country of over 70 million people, much more intensely in the past decade and even in the past few years under Obama than has been in the past.

But what we’ve seen in terms of what these sanctions do is it basically to a large part embargoes Iran and takes Iran out of the international trading community. It can’t access money that is Iran’s money because that stuff is held in escrow, it’s basically held hostage by a foreign countries telling banks to not allow Iran to utilize the money that is Iran’s.

What we hear all the time is that sanctions don’t hurt the people they’re only to hurt the government and to change the decision making process of the Iranian government.

As a quick aside, the decision making process in the Iranian government has been determined by all US intelligence agencies, as well as Israel’s and European agencies, to not want at this point a nuclear weapon. So if sanctions are supposed to change that calculation, I don’t think that actually makes sense. But I guess that’s the line we’re fed, that Iranian leaders want a bomb and sanctions are supposed to hurt them and hurt the economy and make the Iranian people turn against their government and force them to abandon these ambitions, which everyone knows Iran doesn’t have, but we’re supposed to think they do.

However, the reality is that these sanctions really, really hurt Iranians and have been for decades now. We hear all the time that unemployment is very high in Iran, it is. We hear that inflation is very high, it is. Inequality is high. And yet what we don’t hear are the reasons why and it’s not only because of policies by the Iranian government, although that does have to do with it, but it’s that Iran has been effectively made a pariah in the international trading community and in the international economy for so long that they don’t have the jobs to give because no money is flowing into Iran and money flowing out of Iran is very difficult.

On the ground, we see these sanctions affecting medical care for Iranians. Cancer patients can’t get treatment because these sanctions block medical care. People who are in favor of sanctions would argue, well there are workarounds and you can have approvals and authorizations done, you just have go through the red tape to do it.

But pretty much all trading partners and banks and institutions that facilitate this kind of trade are so worried about the backlash from the United States that says they will prosecute anyone that breaks the sanctions laws, that basically all of these companies and all of these entities effectively treat Iran as if they don’t want anything to do with it. So even though in certain cases treatment or medicine could get through, the effect of the sanctions is that it makes it virtually impossible for that to happen because they’ve scared the entire world into abandoning Iran.

KHALEK: There’s one thing I do want to ask you about in terms of the sanctions and in connection to AIPAC losing. It seems like it would behoove United States Empire to actually be on better terms with Iran, especially with the way things are in the Middle East right now. And it seems like with Israel constantly beating the drums of war and the pro-Israel lobby constantly trying to beat the drums for war and sanctions, it seems like that’s something where the US and Israel perhaps don’t see eye to eye. So I guess I’m wondering, who benefits at this point? Who benefits from all the warmongering and fear mongering and treating Iran as a pariah? I’m totally against US Empire, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t see how that benefits US Empire at this point.

SHIRAZI: The best thing that could happen in a way for continued US access and privilege and hegemony in the Middle East is to be on really good terms with Iran oddly enough. That would really help. It’s certainly in the United States’ government’s best interest to end this stalemate with Iran.

Who it does benefit is Israel because it completely takes the focus off of their own human rights violations and their own violations of international law and their own obligations.

And it also really helps the Arab dictatorships in the region that can continue pretending that Iran is a looming hegemonic expansionist threat to their own power and as a result continue getting more and more weaponry to repress their own people from the United States government. So we see a lot of these dictatorships using this Iran threat just like Israel does in order to get more military funding and planes and tanks and training and all of this stuff. Saudi Arabia inks billion dollar deals all the time with the United Sates.

Who doesn’t benefit, again, is Iran and the United States. These are two nations that actually have a lot in common, perhaps not governmentally at this point but at least the populations of those two states could easily be on very very very good terms.

It’s also, from a frustratingly neoliberal perspective, would be an unbelievable market to open up to the rest of the world.

Europe is chomping at the bit to get back into Iran as it was during the dictatorship of the Shah before the revolution. And what we’ve seen in the past couple months are delegations after delegations from European states going to Iran and taking photo ops with the foreign minister, photo ops with business partners, oil executives.

France and Italy and Sweden have all recently sent delegations. Even the European Union Parliament keeps sending delegations. This is something that Europe really wants to end. It wants to end having to go along with the United States sanctions and fear mongering about Iran. They really want to end this because the market of Iran, of nearly 80 million people buying products and traveling, really really is something that would be hugely beneficial to Europe.

We’re seeing cracks in this 35-year wall of distrust and hostility, which is all very good, but again we’re going to keep seeing this pressure put on the United States Congress—and the president as well—by Israel and its people in Washington.


Friday, February 14, 2014

The Forgotten History of American Support for the Shah

Anti-Shah graffiti in Tehran, Iran, 1979.

This week marks the 35th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, the popular uprising that successfully deposed the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Shah had ruled the country since September 1941, after Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran and forced the abdication of his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi.

While myriad commentaries lamenting many of the consequences of the revolution have recently filled opinion pages of mainstream news outlets, very few provide any sort of context for why the Iranian people sought to overthrow the Shah in the first place. Even fewer detail the United States’ own culpability in the Shah’s reign, from planning the 1953 coup that ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh to backing the quarter-century of brutal tyranny that followed.

The Pahlavi regime’s reliance on the United States as its benefactor and arms dealer was no secret. The Shah’s Organization of Intelligence and National Security, known by its Persian acronym SAVAK, was created in 1957 with the help of American and Israeli intelligence agents and acted as the dictator’s personal secret police force, tasked with suppressing dissent and opposition to the monarchy.

As early as 1963, a report from the U.S. National Security Council noted that "it must not be forgotten that the Shah’s greatest single liability may well be his vulnerability to charges by both reactionary and radical opposition elements that he is a foreign puppet."

Yet just a year earlier, the President John F. Kennedy, through executive order, created what was known as the Special Group (Counter Insurgency), a senior level advisory board whose task was "to assure unity of effort and the use of all available resources with maximum effectiveness in preventing and resisting subversive insurgency and related forms of indirect aggression in friendly countries."

The Special Group (CI) consisted of the president's senior military representative, the attorney general, deputy undersecretary of state for political affairs, deputy secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of the CIA, the president's special assistant for national security affairs, and the administrator of AID. In one of the group's earliest acts, the Shah of Iran was given $500,000 in riot control equipment in order to allow the expansion of the Iranian capital's local security force "to deal with any likely and foreseeable civil disturbance in Tehran."

Below are slightly-edited excerpts from an October 2012 article that appeared on Wide Asleep in America, covering much of the forgotten (or, at least, often ignored or obfuscated) history of American support for the Shah:
While between 1950 and 1963, the United States provided $829 million in military assistance to the Shah, in addition to $1.3 billion worth of new weapons systems, funding grew exponentially when Richard Nixon (who, as Eisenhower’s Vice President, had visited Iran shortly after the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup that restored the Shah to the Peacock Throne and was convinced of the Shah’s suitability as a regional policeman for U.S. interests in the Middle East) took office as President 15 years later. In the words of Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, describing an agreement made between the American president and the Shah of Iran in May 1972, “we adopted a policy which provides, in effect, that we will accede to any of the Shah’s requests for arms purchases from us (other than some sophisticated advanced technology armaments and with the very important exception, of course, of any nuclear weapons capability).” 
Between 1970 and 1978, the United States bankrolled the Shah’s massive military buildup, agreeing to sell Iran $20 billion worth of sophisticated and powerful weaponry, including 80 F-14s, 169 Northrop F-5E an F-5F fighter planes, 209 McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers, 160 General Dynamics F-16 fighters, 202 Bell Ah-IJ Cobra helicopter gunships, 326 troop-transporting helicopters, and 25,000 antitank missiles. At the time, Massachusetts Congressman Gerry E. Studds called the arms transfers “the most rapid buildup of military power under peacetime conditions of any nation in the history of the world” and journalist Michael Klare wrote, “Never…have arms transfer played such a central role in U.S. foreign policy as they did in Iran.” By the time the Shah was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution, the U.S. had already delivered at least $9 billion worth of armaments. 
Throughout the 1970′s, Iran was the leading recipient of American weapons in the developing world; and by the end of the decade, thousands of American civilian contractors, trainers and advisers were working closely with the Iranian military. It has been reported that “[i]n total, during the 1970s Iran spent about 27 percent of its budget on the military and more than one-third of these purchases came from the United States” and that “[b]etween 1973-1978 Iranian military orders averaged $3.2 billion per year, representing on average 28 percent of all U.S. foreign military sales worldwide.” 
The Washington Post reported on a May 14, 1977 meeting between the Shah and U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that lasted over two hours, during which Vance assured Pahlavi "that the United States would continue its role as Iran's main arms supplier without linking the sales to the human rights situation in the country."
As late as 1977, President Jimmy Carter, speaking at a New Years Eve state dinner, called the Shah’s Iran “an island of stability” in an otherwise turbulent Middle East. The American president declared, “This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you,”and later claimed, "The cause of human rights is one that also is shared deeply by our people and by the leaders of our two nations." 
Noting the “irreplaceable” friendship between Iran and the United States, Carter stressed, “We have no other nation on Earth who is closer to us in planning for our mutual military security. We have no other nation with whom we have closer consultation on regional problems that concern us both. And there is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal gratitude and personal friendship.” 
Carter said this at a time when in Iran, under the Shah, “dissent was ruthlessly suppressed, in part by the use of torture in the dungeons of SAVAK, the [American and Israeli-trained] secret police,” Time magazine reported after the revolution, adding:
The depth of its commitment to the Shah apparently blinded Washington to the growing discontent. U.S. policymakers wanted to believe that their investment was buying stability and friendship; they trusted what they heard from the monarch, who dismissed all opposition as ‘the blah-blahs of armchair critics.’
Such commitment to the belief in the Shah’s “stability” and inevitable longevity was evidenced in many U.S. intelligence assessments at the time. For example, as Jeffrey T. Richelson recalls in Wizards of Langley: “A sixty-page CIA study completed in August 1977, Iran in the 1980s, had asserted that ‘there will be no radical change in Iranian political behavior in the near future’ and that ‘the Shah will be an active participant in the Iranian life well into the 1980s.’" 
That same year, renowned Iranian poet and author Reza Baraheni, writing in The Nation, directly addressed American influence and intervention in Iran, in service of the Shah’s oppression. Noting the “Americans who are working in Iran for the Shah or his Americans allies,” Baraheni explained, “They train the Shah’s army, police and SAVAK (the horrendous secret police); they teach Iranian armed personnel how to apply methods of counterinsurgency, how to interrogate arrested men and women; and they instruct the Shah’s intelligence networks in modern techniques of surveillance.” 
The Americans in Iran, Baraheni wrote, “die for the Shah of Iran, for his intelligence network, for his SAVAK and for the interests of the big corporations; in sum, for the perpetuation of the Shah’s hegemony over more than 34 million people. The 31,000 Americans now in Iran are at war with the people of that country, if not actually and openly, at least potentially and secretly.” In fact, American support and control in the Shah’s Iran was so ubiquitous, Baraheni revealed, “Any state in the United States is more independent from the federal government than Iran could hope to be from the State Department, the Pentagon, or the big corporations.” 
A mere eighteen months before the revolution began, the Inspector General of the U.S. Foreign Service concluded, “There is no effective internal challenge to [the Shah's] leadership.” Another CIA report from mid-1978 and entitled “Iran After the Shah,” affirmed that “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a ‘prerevolutionary’ situation.” 
As Time pointed out in its January 7, 1980 report:
Even after the revolution began, U.S. officials were convinced that ‘there is no alternative to the Shah.’ Carter took time out from the Camp David summit in September 1978 to phone the Iranian monarch and assure him of Washington’s continued support.
Popular street demonstrations against the Shah’s rule became frequent throughout Iran in 1978 (as was the killing of protesters by government forces) and, eventually, many cities were placed under martial law. During a peaceful demonstration in Tehran on September 8, 1978, government security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing and wounding hundreds. 
Nevertheless, that very month, the U.S. State Department expressed its confidence that the Shah would retain his control over Iran, though perhaps without “the same position of unquestioned authority he formerly enjoyed.” 
At the same time that nationwide strikes spread throughout bazaars, banks, the oil and gas industry, newspapers, customs and post offices, mining and transportation sectors, as well as most universities and high schools, an “Intelligence Assessment” released by the Defense Intelligence Agency declared that the Shah “is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years.” 
As the Shah’s position continued to weaken, there were many in Washington who encouraged more brutal tactics to put down dissent and restore the monarchy to unquestioned authority and stability. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, was an advocate of this “iron fist” approach. As recalled by Henry Precht, the State Department’s Iran Desk Director at the time, Brzezinski and others were advising the Shah “to send troops out and shoot down as many people as necessary and bring an end to the rebellion once and for all.” 
On October 27, 1978, as the revolution surged, the CIA issued another report, this one suggesting that “the political situation [in Iran] is unlikely to be clarified at least until late next year when the Shah, the Cabinet, and the new parliament that is scheduled to be elected in June begin to interact on the political scene.” Still, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan maintained, “It is our destiny to work with the Shah.” 
Shortly thereafter, on November 2, 1978, President Carter wrote in his diary, “The shah expressed deep concern about whether to set up an interim government, a military government, or perhaps even to abdicate. We encouraged him to hang firm and count on our backing.” Four days later, he wrote, “Over the weekend, I sent the shah a message that whatever action he took, including setting up a military government, I would support him. We did not want him to abdicate, which he had threatened to do. He is not a strong leader but very doubtful and unsure of himself.” (White House Diary, p. 257-8) 
Going so far as to consider empowering the Iranian military to stage a coup to save the Shah’s reign in early 1979, Carter insisted, “We are sticking with the shah until we see a clear alternative.” (p. 272) 
Just a few weeks later, in the face of a massive popular uprising representing the end of millennia of monarchy in Iran, the Shah and his wife Farah fled Iran in early 1979, never to return. They flew to Egypt, where they received a warm welcome by Anwar Sadat.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Iran Still Not Building Nuclear Weapons or Developing ICBMs

James Clapper, February 11, 2014

Just as he has done year after year - and most recently a couple weeks ago - U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has told two Congressional committees that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. Still, the official statement of the American intelligence community continues to be a study in conditional clauses; hypotheticals cloaked in alarmism.

Speaking before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on February 4 and then the Senate Armed Services Committee a week later, Clapper reiterated verbatim the assessment he delivered on January 29 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so... We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.
Of course, acquiring "the ability to build" these weapons is inherent and inseparable from having a domestic uranium enrichment capability and having mastered the fuel cycle, as Iran has, and has nothing to do with any actual intention of assembling a deliverable nuclear bomb.

Another copied-and-pasted assessment noted:
Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas—including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles—from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.
"We judge that Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if Iran ever builds these weapons," the statement read for the umpteenth time.

If if if if if if if if if if if.

Despite the constant flurry of hysterical, evidence-free reporting on the danger of an Iranian program to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the facts don't support such fears.

A recent Daily Beast article, written by Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, is illustrative. "A new U.S. intelligence report warns North Korea could resume exporting nuclear technology and material," the subheadline screams. "That could spell trouble for U.S. efforts to keep Iran from getting the bomb."

Rogin and Lake quote from the intelligence community's very same Worldwide Threat Assessment, presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on January 29 by James Clapper:
North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor... illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities.
They add that, despite reaffirmation of its commitment "not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how, North Korea might again export nuclear technology."

Damning, no? No.

Here's what last year's intelligence assessment had to say:
North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor... illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities. Despite the Six-Party Joint Statements issued in 2005 and 2007, in which North Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how, we remain alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology.
Look familiar? What about 2012?
[North Korea's] export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria—now ended—in the construction of a nuclear reactor... illustrate the reach of the North’s proliferation activities. Despite the October 2007 Six-Party agreement—in which North Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how—we remain alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology.
And 2011?
North Korea's export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor... illustrate the reach of the North’s proliferation activities. Despite the October 2007 Six-Party agreement in which North Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how, we remain alert to the possibility that North Korea could again export nuclear technology.
The only substantive difference between 2012 and 2011? The word "could" was replaced with the word "might."

Incidentally, what did Clapper's predecessor, Dennis Blair, have to say about this in 2010? This:
North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries including Iran and Pakistan, and its assistance to Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor... illustrate the reach of the North’s proliferation activities. Despite the Six-Party October 3, 2007 Second Phase Actions agreement in which North Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how we remain alert to the possibility North Korea could again export nuclear technology.
Doesn't seem like much has changed over the past four years, despite Rogin and Lake's breathless "reporting." One need not wonder why. As Gertrude Stein once wrote, albeit in a much different context, "There is no there there."

The alarmist fixation on a North Korea-Iran nuclear missile connection is nothing new. Back in 1992, the New York Times reported, "According to Israeli officials, the Iranian [nuclear] program is vigorous, and it includes purchases of Chinese and North Korean missiles capable of hitting targets in Israel, roughly 600 miles away. The Israelis say that the North Korean missiles are the latest in Scuds, and that some have been passed along to Syria..."

Fast forward over twenty years: In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 18, 2013, Clapper was asked by Joe Donnelly of Indiana, "With North Korea, what is the extent, in however much you can tell us, the extent of North Korea and Iran’s collaboration on nuclear missile technology?"

Clapper's reply? "Not much. The Iranians are a little wary of the North Koreans," he said.

Two years ago, Paul Pillar, former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, admitted, "The bottom line is that the intelligence community does not believe [the Iranians] are anywhere close to having an ICBM."

And Pillar should know. Between 2000 and 2005, he was the CIA's senior analytical officer on the National Intelligence Council and responsible for coordinating and producing precisely the assessments that Clapper is now tasked with presenting.

Last July, Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association reminded us, "Missile expert Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has expressed doubts about whether an operational Iranian ICBM is even likely within the current decade."

To date, "Iran has never flight-tested a long-range ballistic missile—neither a 5,500 km range ICBM nor a 3,000-5,500 km range intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)," Thielmann wrote. "Moreover, in striking contrast to its active pursuit of short- and medium-range missiles, Iran has never declared or demonstrated an interest in developing longer-range systems."

An even more recent analysis by Elleman, produced in November 2013, revealed that "neither the U.S. nor Israel cite evidence that Iran is actively developing or 'building' ICBMs." He also told journalist Gareth Porter, "I've seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability."

Considering the U.S. intelligence community's assessment regarding the Iranian nuclear program hasn't changed at all in years - and no evidence showing any Iranian intention to militarize its program - it is clear that the bellicose rhetoric and baseless fear-mongering heard constantly from the mouths of Israeli officials, their lobbyists in Washington, fawning puppets in the press, and acolytes in Congress are purely political, exploiting fictitious threats with no connection to reality.



A quick reminder:

The history of Iranian ICBM hysteria is long. Back in 1993, a CIA estimate delivered to Congress claimed that Iran was "10 to 15 years" away from possessing such capability. A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, drawn from the conclusions of all 16 American intelligence agencies, assessed Iran would have long-range missiles by 2010. Three years later, in 1998, a Republican-sponsored commission on ballistic missiles - chaired by none other than Donald Rumsfeld - concluded that Iran would have ICBMs within the next five years.

Still waitin', folks.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's Missing from Reports on Rouhani's Donation to Tehran's Jewish Hospital?

Mainstream media outlets are abuzz with the recent news that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has presented a substantial governmental donation - reportedly as much as $400,000 - to the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, Tehran's only Jewish hospital.

Commenting on the news, nearly every article notes the seemingly stark difference between Rouhani and previous Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The New York Times writes,
Since taking office in August, Mr. Rouhani has embarked on a campaign to engage the world after years of isolation under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who never missed an opportunity to denigrate Israel and deny that six million Jews had died in the Holocaust.
"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he ain't," crowed New York Faily News's Stephen Rex Brown. The U.S. government-run Voice of America reported, "President Rouhani's promise to attend to the needs of Iranian Jews is a sharp contrast to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust and called for Israel's destruction."

Yet these articles all fail to note a bit of crucial information. Rouhani is not the first Iranian president to donate money to Sapir. Ahmadinejad himself also did that.

In 2007, Christian Science Monitor journalist Scott Peterson revealed that, during his first term as president, Ahmadinejad presented Sapir with a government subsidy of $27,000. It is unclear whether further donations were made during his presidency, though further government funding has been hinted at, either during this tenure or early in Rouhani's last year.

While the amount of Rouhani's reported donation totals exponentially more than Ahmadinejad's, the point remains that the caricature of Ahmadinejad as a nuclear-armed Hitler with similarly genocidal intentions has been continually cultivated by the media in the service of political agendas.

In its piece on the latest funding, cribbed mostly from wire reports, the Times of Israel states that the donation stands "in contrast to Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who prompted an international outcry by denying the Holocaust took place while also calling for the destruction of Israel."

The constant claim that Iranian leaders, and mostly notably Ahmadinejad, has called "for the destruction of Israel," demonstrates the almost sociopathic allegiance to propaganda ubiquitous in discourse about Iran.

Though seldom noted, anyone paying attention to Western allegations and Iranian rhetoric knows full well that Iran has never threatened to attack Israel. The oft-repeated "wipe Israel off the map" line itself - misquoted, misinterpreted and endlessly exploited - has long been exposed and debunked.

In September 2013, Ahmadinejad told CNN's Piers Morgan that "when we say 'to be wiped,' we say for occupation to be wiped off from this world, for war-seeking to wiped off and eradicated, the killing of women and children to be eradicated. And we propose the way. We propose the path."

He explained (just as he and others, including Rouhani, have consistently for years): "The path is to recognize the right of the Palestinians to self-governance. Allow the people of Palestine to make decisions regarding their own future. Imagine one day in Palestine there is no longer occupation, occupation no longer exists in Palestine."

That an end to occupation and the implementation of international law and equal rights would signal "Israel's destruction," says far more about the the inherent injustice and institutionalized discrimination of the Israeli state than it does about Iranian intentions.

There are indeed clear differences between the Rouhani and Ahmadinejad administrations, their political agendas, policy platforms, and approach to public relations. But the media's willingness to ignore some of their positive similarities and consistencies reinforces a manufactured Manichean narrative and does a disservice to truth.