It has been nearly seven months since I wrote, "The Phantom Menace: Fantasies, Falsehoods, and Fear-Mongering about Iran's Nuclear Program" (posted here on Mondoweiss), a time-line of false U.S., Israeli, and European assertions regarding the supposed inevitability and immediacy of a nuclear-armed Iran, hysterical allegations that have been made repeatedly for the past thirty years. Whenever new predictions and claims about Iran's nuclear program are released, I have added updates to my original piece. To read all 47 updates, click here. Here is the latest:
Alarmist editorializing about Iran, its regional influence, and its nuclear energy program has picked up considerably in the past few weeks. In the wake of the latest IAEA report this past Spring which revealed no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, a hefty Sy Hersh article confirming that all 16 American intelligence agencies still stand by their 2007 assessment that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and the potential for a large-scale U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year, career fear-mongers have been hard at work trying to re-raise the Iranian threat level from mild khaki to frantic crimson.
An opinion piece published last night in the Wall Street Journal is a perfect example of the heightened hysteria. The article, entitled "America's Intelligence Denial on Iran", was written by former CIA agent Fred Fleitz, a neoconservative Bomb Iraner who served as John Bolton's State Department chief of staff and is currently a columnist for the right-wing outlet Newsmax.
Fleitz is intent on discrediting the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which has repeatedly found that Iran's nuclear program is, at best, totally benign and, at worst, not an imminent threat to anyone. He leads with this:
Mounting evidence over the last few years has convinced most experts that Iran has an active program to develop and construct nuclear weapons. Amazingly, however, these experts do not include the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community. They are unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue - and so they remain at variance with the Obama White House, U.S. allies, and even the United Nations.
Fleitz goes on to write that, "according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control," Iran currently has enough "low-enriched uranium" for "four nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade" and repeats the propaganda line about "an item recently posted to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps website [which] mused about the day after an Iranian nuclear test (saying, in a kind of taunt, that it would be a 'normal day')." Fleitz claims that the "message marked the first time any official Iranian comment suggested the country's nuclear program is not entirely peaceful."
Beyond demonstrating a severe lack of understanding about what the IAEA has actually reported and his willful omission of the huge difference between low-enriched uranium and weapons grade material, Fleitz tips his hand by relying on the over-hyped "Nuclear Test" post on the Iranian Gerdab website last month for his nuclear scare propaganda.
Fleitz writes that the latest NIE assessment is just as "politicized" and "poorly written" as its 2007 predecessor and similarly downplays the "true account of the Iranian threat" due to what Fleitz claims is the U.S. intelligence community's apparent aversion to providing "provocative analytic conclusions, and any analysis that could be used to justify military action against rogue states like Iran." He accuses the 2011 NIE of "poorly structured arguments and cavalier manipulation of intelligence", all the while boasting of his own objections, which he says were routinely ignored and rebuffed by the report's supervisors. He lays blame on what he determines is the NIE's reliance on "former senior intelligence officers, liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks."
It is unacceptable that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon while our intelligence analysts continue to deny that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists. One can't underestimate the dangers posed to our country by a U.S. intelligence community that is unable to provide timely and objective analysis of such major threats to U.S. national security - or to make appropriate adjustments when it is proven wrong.
If U.S. intelligence agencies cannot or will not get this one right, what else are they missing?
Reading this, one might be forgiven for wondering why, rather than merely attacking the credentials of NIE sources, Fleitz doesn't reveal a shred of evidence for his declaration that "Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon." Oh right, never mind.
This sort of "analysis" from Fleitz is far from unexpected. Back in August 2006, Fleitz - then a House Intelligence Committee staffer - was the primary author of a Congressional report entitled, "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States", which served as a veritable catalog of false assertions about Iran's nuclear program and, just like his Wall Street Journal piece, assailed the U.S. intelligence community for not sufficiently fear-mongering about the so-called Iranian threat. Among other exaggerations and outright lies, the report accused Iran of "enriching uranium to weapons grade" and stated that the IAEA had removed a senior safeguards inspector from Iran for "allegedly raising concerns about Iranian deception regarding its nuclear program and concluding that the purposed of Iran's nuclear programme is to construct weapons" and for "not having adhered to an unstated IAEA policy baring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program."
The report contained so many false allegations and misrepresentations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, in fact, that the IAEA's Director of External Relations and Policy Coordination Vilmos Cserveny wrote a letter to the Chairman of House Committee, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), challenging the report's "incorrect" assertions and criticizing it for promoting "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."
Additionally, Cserveny described Fleitz's accusations about the safeguards inspector as "outrageous and dishonest" and noted that "Iran has accepted the designation of more than 200 Agency safeguards inspectors, which number is similar to that accepted by the majority of non-nuclear-weapon States that have concluded safeguards agreements pursuant to the NPT."
It appears that, five years later, Fleitz still chooses fantasy over facts.
Meanwhile, in the pages of the Washington Post, deputy editorial editor and Likudnik ideologue Jackson Diehl has picked up on the amplified push to blame the Iranian government for the recent deaths of American soldiers occupying Iraq. In an opinion piece published earlier this week, he writes, "The larger question is whether Iraq will be forced by a full U.S. pullout to become an Iranian satellite, a development that would undo a huge and painful investment of American blood and treasure and deal a potentially devastating blow to the larger U.S. position in the Middle East."
Apparently, Arabs and Muslims are only truly liberated when under the influence of the United States.
Diehl believes that an Iraqi government that is bullied into allowing U.S. troops to continue occupying their country beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline would be "making the right choice." If there is an American withdrawal, however, Diehl is worried about the potential consequences. He claims (citing a Fox News report) that an "offensive [is] already underway by Iranian-sponsored militias [which] shows that Tehran is ready to fight." He writes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, "like U.S. commanders in the Middle East, understands very well that without an American military presence, Iraq will be unable to defend itself against its Persian neighbor" and laments that, "without U.S. help, Iraqi forces cannot easily counter" Iranian-backed militias since "Iraq's conventional forces are no match for those of Iran."
Of course, what Diehl leaves out - beyond the fact that the evidence linking the Iranian government to recent resistance attacks in Iraq is sketchy at best - is that foreign occupation is what most people and non-U.S.-aligned governments in the region are most offended by, not alleged increasing Iranian influence. Yet, the horror of an Iraq allied with Iran is ever-present in the neoconservative community. Diehl even quotes career militarist Frederick Kagan of the neocon flagship, the American Enterprise Institute, as warning in a recent report that "[i]f Maliki allows the United States to leave Iraq, he is effectively declaring his intent to fall in line with Tehran's wishes, to subordinate Iraq's foreign policy to the Persians, and possibly, to consolidate his own power as a sort of modern Persian satrap in Baghdad."
Oh dear, the Persians! Where are Aristagoras, Leonides and
To his moderate credit, Diehl does also present a slightly alternate perspective, one that naturally views Iran as a spooky menace (no other representation of the Islamic Republic is allowed in the mainstream press, of course), but that doesn't necessarily see it as a hegemonic threat of imperial proportions. He reports that Antony Blinken, a senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden, resists the notion that Iran is capable of wielding such devious influence over Iraq, even without a massive U.S. military presence. "The danger of Iranian hegemony in Iraq," Diehl writes, "is overstated by analysts such as Kagan," according to Blinken.
Diehl closes by lamenting the recent departure Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who he describes as "the only Obama administration official who has publicly made the case for a continued U.S. military presence." In a recent speech, Diehl recalls, Gates said that it would send "a powerful signal to the region that we're not leaving, that we will continue to play a part," adding, "I think it would be reassuring to the Gulf states. I think it would not be reassuring to Iran, and that’s a good thing."
What Diehl omits is that Gates was actually speaking to the American Enterprise Institute when making these comments and that, much to the dismay of its many war-mongering members, has been credited by many as having single-handedly prevented an American attack on Iran.
The specter of a nuclear-armed and hegemonic Iran is still the bread-and-butter of Beltway Middle East reportage and analysis. Consequently, the fever-pitched fear-mongering never stops, despite what the facts are.
Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His analysis of United States foreign policy and Middle East issues is published at WideAsleepInAmerica.com. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.