Iran nuclear agreement: war averted?

Given the unfolding mayhem that is currently devouring the Middle East, yesterday’s framework agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is a positive development that should be cautiously celebrated.   Ordinary Iranians have special reason to celebrate, because they are the ones, as always, who  have borne the brunt of sanctions   that should never have been imposed in the first place, to the point when Iran is not even able to repair its fleet of passenger planes.

It also means that the prospect of another major war in the Middle East that at one point seemed almost inevitable has been averted, at least for now.   That is good news for the Iranians who would have died in large numbers had a US-led coalition struck at Iran’s nuclear facilities.   It’s also good news for the rest of the region, because air strikes on Iran would almost certainly have exacerbated a wider conflagration that had the potential to become unstoppable.

Had the talks collapsed, then those who have been virtually baying for Iran to be bombed for more than ten years would have been able to argue that war was now the only option, a case that some of them were already making long before negotiations even began.   Call me a lily-livered, appeasing, pinko pacifist lacking in moral backbone, but the spectre of a ‘nuclear Iran’ never bothered me that much.

For one thing, it’s never been proven that Iran even had these intentions.     And even if it had nuclear weapons, I fail to see why that would make the world any more or less dangerous than a world in which Israel, Pakistan – or Britain and the United States – already has them.   I’m all for nuclear non-proliferation, but that doesn’t mean those countries who already have the bomb can impose sanctions on the countries that might or might not have it just because they happen to be their enemies – and ignore the countries that also have the bomb just because they happen to be their friends.

I always suspected that the ‘don’t let Iran get the bomb’ alarm – and the sanctions that accompanied it – had the same purpose as the previous manufactured panic about Iraq’s WMD ie. to make the Iranians an offer they had to refuse in order to justify military action and regime change.

The Bush/Cheney clique may well have wanted that, but the US failure to achieve its aims in post-Saddam Iraq has made their successors more cautious about getting into wars without clear goals or endpoints, and that is one reason why Obama has pursued diplomacy.

Of course this caution may be only temporary.   Congress may try to undermine or unravel the deal, using some of the conditions that John McCain raised yesterday.   But even ‘bomb, bomb, bomb,bomb Iran’ McCain presented these objections as an attempt to ensure a ‘good agreement.’     He and his fellow troglodyte conservatives would undoubtedly prefer no agreement at all, but the onus is now on them – and the hawkish Democrats who are not very far apart from them – to convince their constituents why the war they want so much is necessary when diplomacy appears to be working.

Some of them will definitely try to do this, such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has promised to work ‘to protect Americans from this very dangerous proposal.’   But many Americans may conclude that they need protecting from men like Tom Cotton.     In the months leading up to a definitive agreement in June we can expect to hear a lot of talk about Munich, Neville Chamberlain and Obama’s lack of ‘moral clarity’.

Much of this will come from Binyamin Netanyahu, a politician who most Republicans have far more respect for than they do for their own president.   Netanyahu, unsurprisingly   has condemned the deal as a ‘threat to Israel’s existence.’   Like so much that comes out of his mouth, this is an unadulterated, unseasoned lie.     Even if Iran acquired nuclear weapons –   the idea that it would have used them to attack Israel and condemn itself to nuclear annihilation is a ridiculous fantasy, that only makes sense if you regard Iran, as Netanyahu and so many Republicans do, as an insane ‘ideological’ state intent on nuclear martyrdom just for the hell (heaven) of it.

Netanyahu insisted that the deal would ‘legitimise Iran’s nuclear programme, bolster Iran’s economy and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond.   It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war.’

Lies once again.   The man just can’t help himself.   Netanyahu has been actively seeking a war with Iran for years, regardless of how horrific it might be, and he has been trying to get the US to wage it for him.   Now, for the time being at least, he has been stymied, and reduced to citing a pledge supposedly made by Mohammed Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’

Well Naqdi can say what he likes, but Netanyahu knows – and has always known – that Iran cannot do any such thing, and wild statements like this do not prove that its leadership wants to.   So we should be grateful that the likes of Netanyahu, Tom Cotton, McCain and John Bolton have been ignored, and that they must now withdraw into their intellectual caves to beat their hairy chests and gnaw on red meat and growl at each other.

Let them growl.   Let them fret. Let them choke on their own bile and shake their war tambourines.     But the rest of us should breathe a sigh of relief that something like common sense has prevailed.     Because the Middle East does not need any more wars than it already has, and the world doesn’t need them either.

Joshua Muravchik: War Zombie

You have to admire the neoconservative imagination.   Alright, maybe not admire exactly.     But in any case you have to acknowledge that these guys are in it for the long haul.     Neither age nor failure can wither them.     No amount of death and destruction can ever dampen their ardor or lead them to question their own assumptions.   Whole countries and regions may collapse into violent chaos as the result of the wars that they have advocated, but they won’t say sorry because they have nothing to be sorry for.

Like Martin Luther King they have had a dream that has nothing to do with sitting at the table of brotherhood.   Their dream is a world in which America fulfills its ‘destiny’ and has absolute military hegemony over every corner of our troubled planet, and there no more rivals and challengers, and no more evil and tyranny and every country will be a thriving market democracy, watched over by American military power.

These beautiful dreamers don’t know the meaning of   defeat.   When their dreams turn into nightmares they come springing out of the ruins like Terminator, ready to fight evil and march on towards the next target.     Don’t expect them to weep for the dead and wounded their wars have left behind them,   either on the enemy’s side or their own, because empathy is not their strong point, and they always know that no matter how far the outcomes of wars differ from their predictions, there will always be the next war, the one that will be better than the last, the one we must fight before it’s too late.

This weekend the writer and commentator Joshua Muravchik gave a classic demonstration of what makes the neocons great   in a piece for the Washington Post which argued that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are pointless and that war is ‘probably our best option.’

Muravchik has been making the same argument for years, not only about Iran, but also about Iraq and Libya.     Now after careful consideration – ok maybe after very little consideration – he argues that negotiations with Iran are doomed because

 [stextbox id=”alert”]  ‘ The Iranian regime that Netanyahu described so vividly — violent, rapacious, devious and redolent with hatred for Israel and the United States — is bound to continue its quest for nuclear weapons by refusing any “good deal” or by cheating.'[/stextbox]

Yep, a regime that is ‘redolent with hatred’   is clearly not to be negotiated with, any more than you would negotiate with a rabid dog.     And even worse

[stextbox id=”alert”]‘Ideology is the raison d”etre of Iran”s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond.‘[/stextbox]

As an analysis of Iran this is about as profound and insightful as a xmas cracker joke, and certainly nothing to justify the Wall Street Journal’s description of Muravchik as ‘ maybe the most cogent and careful of the neoconservative writers on foreign policy’.   Muravchik’s Iran is another variant of a cliché put forward by Niall Ferguson, Bernard Lewis and others from the let’s bomb Iran crowd; namely that Iran is an inherently irrational when compared with rational states, without any state or security interests of its own.

This nonsense once reached a crescendo of stupidity, when Ferguson and Lewis suggested that Iran was bent on acquiring nuclear weapons in order to carry out an act of nuclear ‘martyrdom’ and bring about the return of the twelfth Imam.   Muravchik’s record on Iran – and his strident support of everything Israel does – is not without a certain amount of ‘hatred’ itself.       As for comparisons with communist and fascist attempts to ‘transform the world’, he and his ghoul-like fellow militarists have spent much of the last twenty-odd years advocating that America should do just that – with catastrophic results that go way beyond anything Iran has been responsible for.

For Muravchik however,   ‘visionary regimes’ like Iran cannot be deterred by sanctions and   ‘an air campaign targeting Iran”s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.’   No need to worry whether such an attack might ’cause ordinary Iranians to rally behind the regime’ because ‘military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists.’

So to put it crudely, Muravchik would like America to kill a lot of Iranians, excuse me, I meant inflict ‘military losses’ on Iran because that might turn Iranians against the regime and get them to love America and democracy.   It makes sense when you think about it, or rather when you don’t think about it too much.

And as for   the argument that destroying Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would only delay its acquisition of the bomb or even facilitate its acquisition, Muravchik recognizes that this is a possibility, but it’s not a serious one because   ‘ we can strike as often as necessary’ and even if Iran concealed its nuclear facilities ‘ we might have to find new ways to discover and attack them. Surely the United States could best Iran in such a technological race.’

What if   ‘Iran retaliated by using its own forces or proxies to attack Americans’?   Well that’s ok too because ‘ We could attempt to deter this by warning that we would respond by targeting other military and infrastructure facilities.’

So all in all, war would ‘probably’ be the best option, says Muravchik.   But don’t think this is a man who doesn’t takes risks without thinking them through.     He recognizes that ‘Nonetheless, we might absorb some strikes. Wrenchingly, that might be the price of averting the heavier losses that we and others would suffer in the larger Middle Eastern conflagration that is the likely outcome of Iran”s drive to the bomb.’

I love that ‘wrenchingly’,   with its suggestion that war would be as hard to bear for Muravchik as it would for everyone else.     Because this glibly horrific piece of homicidal militarism suggests very different conclusions: that for Muravchik and his fellow-intellectuals war is not the last resort but the first; that they are reckless gamblers with other peoples lives; and that even as they pay lip service to its costs and ‘risks’, they do so knowing that for them there will never be any costs or any ‘risks’ at all.

Given the record of the last fourteen years, such men ought to be regarded as a danger to their own country as well to others.   But the fact that what was once one of the great US liberal newspapers chose to publish his call to arms suggests that they are still being given way more respect than they have ever deserved, and that, in a way, is almost as alarming as Muravchik’s own crazed pronouncements.



The United States of Israel

There is no polite way to say this, but Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most repellent and dangerous politicians in the world today.     He is a man who trades on fear and war, a cynical and amoral manipulator without a trace of honesty in his entire body,   who lies as easily as he breathes.   In 2012 he warned the United Nations that Iran was a year away from manufacturing a bomb, even though his own security services had told him something entirely different,

Last year he deliberately used the murders of three Israeli teenagers to manipulate Israeli public opinion into supporting the ferocious and strategically meaningless slaughter in Gaza.

He also manipulates his most powerful ally.   In public Netanyahu never ceases to express his love and gratitude to the United States, which props up Israel’s military machine.   Yet in private he’s not always so respectful.   Back in 2001 he told a group of settlers in the West Bank ‘I know what America is.   America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’

Netanyahu cannot be ignored entirely, not as long as Israelis are crazy enough to keep voting for him.   But no country with any respect for truth or even its own national interest would actually invite a man like this to speak to its own elected representatives if it didn’t have to, let alone invite him in order to undermine the policy of its elected president. But this exactly what happened yesterday when Netanyahu went to Washington, following an ‘invitation’ arranged between Republican speaker of the House John Boehner and the Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.

This demarche was deliberately intended to torpedo the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and pave the way for a new bill imposing harsher sanctions on Iran. His audience knew what he was going to say,   because everyone always knows what Netanyahu is going to say when it comes to Iran.     Yesterday all the usual buttons were pushed; references to the Holocaust and condemnations of the ‘genocidal’ Iranian regime; Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘march of terror’; five-minutes-to-midnight warnings of nuclear war; and ominous references to ‘Munich’, because Israel’s enemies are always Hitler in Netanyahu’s eyes.

And not only to him.     To the moronic Republican party, whose collective brain is now so rotted by the paranoia, war and militarism and Zionist propaganda that it has been injecting into its veins for years that it no longer even knows how to think, Netanyahu’s was deep, deep stuff, a real clarion call.

Never mind that on Sunday 200 former Mossad veterans took the unprecedented step of staging a public press conference to condemn their own prime minister’s visit as a danger to Israel’s security and argue against imposing new sanctions. None of this had any impact on the glassy-eyed zombie-politicians who sat there in their silk ties and suits and their world-historical facial expressions, sucking up Netanyahu’s fearmongering, warmongering poison like alien seed pods in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Because make no mistake about it, politicians who allow the leader of another country to insult and undercut their own elected government have had their minds well and truly snatched, or maybe they never had any to begin with.

When it was over the congressmen and senators got to their feet like one man, because they are in fact one man, and delivered no less than 26 standing ovations of the type that Stalin used to get when he announced a new five-year-plan.   Of course with Stalin it was Russians praising a Russian and the penalty might have been death if you didn’t stand up.

For the bozos who paid homage to the Great Liar yesterday, the worst that could happen was that their career trajectories might be altered.     But such is the hold that Israel now exercises over the Republican Party that even showing up wasn’t enough, you had to physically express your joy and rapture.   So Kentucky senator Rand Paul was criticized afterwards for looking ‘less than enthused’ and ‘clapping halfheartedly.’

Oh give me an absolute break already.     Whether they actually believed Netanyahu or were merely concerned about their careers and the cash that comes with them, these congressmen and senators effectively colluded with the leader of a foreign state in order to promote its foreign policy objectives and undermine those of their own.

It ought to be disturbing, and alarming, even from the point of view of America’s own national interest, that the leader of a nominal ally would be prepared to do this, and would receive support in doing so.   It ought to provide pause for thought as to why this has happened and what its potential ramifications are, and whether this relationship is entirely healthy.   But none of this is likely to come from those who participated in the weird spectacle that took place yesterday, who showed no evidence that they were capable of thinking anything at all, beyond what the Great Liar wanted them to think.

Barack Obama gives the world a hug

You have to hand it to Barack Obama – the guy can talk.     When George W. Bush appeared on the world stage,   the spoilt frat-boy was always embarrassingly visible beneath the presidential veneer, and his attempts to sound statesmanlike were often undermined by the disturbing smirk that tended to accompany even his more serious moments.

Obama by contrast, is serene, confident and convincing, emanating gravitas, sincerity and moral purpose in equal measure, with an ability to make even the most vacuous bullshit sound like the sermon on the mount.     All these rhetorical talents were on display during his address to the UN yesterday,   in which he exhorted our troubled world to put aside its differences and celebrate the ‘common heartbeat’ of humanity.   Take note of this characteristic flourish, you cynics, and repent:

So much attention in our world turns to what divides us. That’s what we see on the news, and that consumes our political debates. But when you strip that all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes from faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people and not the other way around.

Now if that doesn’t fill you with a warm glowing feeling then you are truly lost brothers and sisters.     Destiny.   Freedom. Dignity. Faith.   Justice –   it’s better than listening to ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ on a cold December evening.   And naturally there was also ‘hope’ too. With Obama there always is.

This cuddly Obamaspeak was littered with condemnations of the ‘mindless violence’, ‘extremism’ and ‘killing of innocents’ that are preventing humanity from coming together – activities that for Obama are the exclusive preserve of the evil ones that the world’s ‘indispensable nation’ has been so selflessly fighting these last few years.

On the same day that Obama was decrying the Islamic extremists who killed the US ambassador to Libya,   the Law Schools at Stanford and New York universities published a joint report on the horrific consequences of America’s drone wars in northern Pakistan.   Entitled Living Under Drones, the report describes how

US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.     Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

The report also notes that

These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.

Obama is directly responsible for the escalation in this campaign, and not only in Pakistan.     Every week, and sometimes every day, he personally approves drone   strikes in targets selected on the basis of ‘life patterns’ or what the report calls ‘groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.’

There is no way of knowing how many victims of these strikes were ‘militants’ or ‘terrorists’ or how many were simply designated as kill-able targets because the US military and intelligence services regard anyone living or moving within a certain geographical area as an enemy.

The authors of Living Under Drones rightly condemn the drone wars as ‘counter-productive’.   But America’s reliance on such weapons is only one more example of the hollowness and hypocrisy of Obama’s speechmaking, in which condemnations of violence alternated with thinly-veiled threats that the US will ‘do what it must’ to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Obama rightly condemned the ‘extremists’ who killed the US ambassador in Libya.   But he did not mention that the White House has just removed the violent cult-like Mujahideen e-Khalq from its list of terrorist organizations.

This decision undoubtedly has more to do with the MEK’s willingness to participate in the covert bombing and assassination campaign being waged in Iran by Western and Israeli intelligence agencies than it does to its commitment to the ‘common heartbeart’ of humanity. Iran is also an obvious priority behind the massive US arms sales to America’s Gulf State allies over the last three years.

All these developments reflect a concept of statecraft that is generally concealed from the American public, and which was entirely absent amid Obama’s narcissistic outpourings yesterday.   For all his insistence on the role of   diplomacy and dialogue in international affairs, Obama is as wedded to the use of violence as an instrument of state policy as his predecessors, but unlike Bush he is much better at concealing it.

When he talks about the ‘common heartbeat’ of humanity and condemns the killing of ‘innocents’, he really sounds like he believes it, and perhaps he actually does.

But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to do the same.