Exclusive: The State of the Union offers President Obama a high-profile opportunity to finally close the deal with Iran over its nuclear program by accepting the need for U.S. concessions on sanctions, but there are doubts he will seize this Nixon-to-China moment, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern notes in this appeal.
By Ray McGovern
Dear Mr. President: As you put the final touches to your State of the Union Address, I urge you to avoid overstating the “threat” from Iran. Indeed, I hope you might take this august occasion to declare your willingness to lift sanctions on Iran as a final step toward a deal permanently constraining Iran’s nuclear program and to begin normalizing relations with this important country.
In recent months, Iranian leaders have signaled a readiness to reach a nuclear accord and open a broader dialogue with your administration on other pressing regional issues if only the United States would start treating Iran with some respect, rather than endlessly buffeting the country with insults, threats and punishments.
People often criticize Iranians for interminable haggling, part of their “bazaar culture,” but this looks like a moment when it is the Americans who won’t take yes for an answer. Iranian officials have repeatedly disavowed a desire to build nuclear weapons, have insisted that they are only interested in nuclear energy and have expressed a willingness to transfer much of their enriched uranium out of the country. But what they want in return is meaningful relief from economic sanctions and a repudiation from U.S. policymakers that their real goal is “regime change.”
Since the stated rationale of the sanctions was to compel Iran to accept guarantees on its nuclear program not to overthrow the country’s Islamic republic it would seem to be a no-brainer: pocket the nuclear guarantees in exchange for sanction relief.
But there is growing bafflement among some involved in these negotiations over what the hold-up is on your end. Yes, you’ve been installing a new national security team, and the likes of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham would get angry if you concluded a peace agreement with Iran. But they’re already threatening to filibuster Chuck Hagel at Defense and John Brennan at CIA over the Benghazi incident. So what do you have to lose? If you unveiled a dramatic gesture for peace and stability in the Middle East, it might make their obstruction look even pettier.
Plus, if you truly do want to change the arc of history, why not show that you can be as forceful as Richard Nixon when he ended years of hostility between the United States and Communist China by engaging its leaders despite his disdain for their political/economic system? Those ideological differences have not prevented the two countries from becoming important trading partners and collaborating on many mutual interests.
You could do the same for the Middle East by striking a nuclear deal with Iran and exploring other areas of possible agreement and cooperation. By delaying further on the nuclear talks, you only give troublemakers on all sides more opportunities to sabotage an agreement and prod the United States and Iran toward a violent confrontation.
This State of the Union also represents a dubious anniversary of sorts, coming a decade after George W. Bush’s address in which he framed his mendacious case for invading Iraq, including his infamous “16 words” based on forged documents: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
You, Mr. President, could put a capstone to that era of unnecessary hostilities in the Middle East by announcing a new framework for peace.
I should note here that a decade ago I issued a public plea to President Bush to change direction from his course toward war. I urged him to “beware the consequences of favoring ideologues and spin-doctors over the professional intelligence officers paid to serve you.” Obviously, my appeal was unsuccessful. The die was already cast. His mind was set on war and the “intel” that he would cite had been carefully crafted to serve that purpose.
It is important that you take this opportunity to travel down a different path, respecting the intelligence professionals who have concluded for half a decade that Iran has over the past decade NOT been building a nuclear bomb.
What you might find a bit disquieting is this: it appears you have a choice between two mutually contradictory tacks to take on Iran. John Brennan, your nominee for CIA director, in his prepared remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7, claimed that Iran is “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons.” (emphasis added)
In making that claim, Brennan has put himself in company with evidence-deprived Bush/Cheney leftovers and lingering neoconservatives who have been largely discredited in their warning of gloom and doom from Iran (as well as, earlier, from Iraq). (See Consortiumnews.com’s, “John Brennan’s Tenet-Like Testimony.”)
You will remember that after fraudulent intelligence was served up ten years ago to “justify” attacking Iraq, new management was put in place in 2005 to manage National Intelligence Estimates. An NIE on Iran became the first order of the day, since it was no secret that Iran was next, after Iraq, on the Bush/Cheney list to attack.
The National Intelligence Estimate completed in November 2007 concluded, unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization in 2003 and had not resumed that work a judgment revalidated each year since by the Director of National Intelligence.
This has not prevented neocons and their favorite media personalities from trying to make Iran’s nuclear program seem more menacing. On Meet the Press on Feb. 3, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the subject of attempted mousetrapping by NBC’s Chuck Todd, who was hoping Panetta could be maneuvered into contradicting the NIE.
It was awkward for Panetta, but to his credit rather than apologize when Todd accused him of believing “the Iranians were not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Panetta held firm, under considerable goading.
Finally, after conferring with co-panelist Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, with some exasperation: “I no, I can’t tell you because I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we we we’re they’re doing right now. ” (emphasis added)
So you have an odd choice, Mr. President. On this crucial issue, you can go with the professional intelligence analysts who have scoured the evidence for signs that Iran had restarted the weapons part of its nuclear development program and who came up empty the position embraced by your outgoing Defense Secretary who also was your first CIA director. Or you can go with the stated view of your current nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan, which dovetails with more alarmist warnings from the same discredited quarters that claimed Iraq had all manner of weapons of mass destruction.
Perhaps the way around this awkward situation is to advance the debate beyond this contradiction over intelligence and to declare that the United States is ready to formalize a permanent deal with Iran to prevent it from resuming work on nuclear weaponization. That would be an accomplishment worth cheering.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the early 60s and then for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals.
For those of you who wish now to learn the likely outcome of all this speculation and hand wringing, I posit that Saturday Night Live has already provided the answer. You should all watch it now, because as I understand it, there are extreme efforts in the works to insure that it is removed from the public arena. This was a SNL Dress Rehearsal: C-Span Chuck Hagel Hearings. AIPAC and CUFI made sure it was never aired.
There is no hope until this malignant symbiosis is identified and detoxified.
You advocate a policy of see no evil. It is absurd.
The IAEA is a UN body. The UN is only slightly less anti-Israel than Iran, which has banners proclaiming “Death to Israel” in every mosque.
The IAEA has substantiated evidence from intelligence reports, interviews with Iranian scientists and on-the-ground inspections that Iran is carrying out a nuclear weapons program in parallel to its civilian energy goals.
The agency will sound the alarm over Iranian scientistsâ€™ work to develop a ballistic missile warhead capable of carrying a nuclear device. It has already uncovered evidence that Iran has been carrying out research into triggers for nuclear weapons.
Inspectors have also questioned Iranian scientists on simulation programs that they believe are designed to design and test a potential weapon.
Jean-Pierre (if that is your name) you are misrepresenting the IAEA findings and feeding misinformation. It doesn’t help any dialogue if your facts and narrative are wrong.
Sorry, the last three paragraphs should have read:
Unfortunately, the Department no longer calls on elder statesmen with special expertise with Iran like William R. Polk, or younger ones like the Leveretts, (or the best and brightest of our intelligence experts, like Ray McGovern or Paul Pillar) to fathom the motivation of the Iranian people and its leaders, or to help craft sensible diplomatic strategies and action plans and solutions. Our people donâ€™t get it that you cannot simply threaten a theocratic leader of a nation whose culture and history predate that of the U.S. and Western Europe by several thousand years (where we were, so to speak, eating the bark off of the trees when they were ruling an advanced empire). Nor does it make sense to hector a religious leader with hypocritical lectures about â€œdemocracyâ€ and â€œhuman rightsâ€ when they know the U.S. is selective in applying any of it, depending upon whether the country is an ally or foe, and does not itself always observe it with its own people.. Moreover, what fool would ever expect a theocratic leader to accept a negotiation if they knew, or believed, the other side (i.e., the fool) was simultaneously implementing measures to destroy their regime, steal their resources and corrupt their people. It may make sense to some graduate from Harvard, Yale or Princeton who received his geopolitical education playing Diplomacy in the student commons, or at the knee of a Thomas Schelling type practicing game theory at the Rand Corporation or Hudson Institute, but to a leader who sees his role in moral as well as realpolitik terms, itâ€™s simply not in the cards. And finally, as with China, India, and so many other countries, the yoke, shadow or memory of Western Imperialism is not one easily forgotten and may always lurk as a powerful subtext in the mind of the former victim.
Whether or not our policies and approaches are modified or reinvented will depend upon how strong a leader John Kerry will prove to be and how much influence that will carry with Obama. In his early years Kerry was highly regarded, but then something happened at the end of Iran Contra, so that he ended up like everyone else reverting to accepted neoliberal dogma and kowtowing to the Israelis. (One might wonder, was it from an ignorance of Palestinian history or a weakness of character, and, will that blind spot seriously hinder negotiations with the Iranians?) His father, the late Richard Kerry was respected as a skilled diplomat. Hopefully, the blessings of the father will be visited upon the son.
As for a roadmap for negotiations, there are a number of distinguished experts (e.g., those mentioned above) who have provided sensible agendas for success, even if they have been in the vocal minority, and if you listen to the Iranians themselves, and the logic of what they have offered directly or through interlocutors, it should be a â€œslam dunkâ€ (and not of the George Tenet variety).
The days for liberal/progressive “Dear Mr. President” pleases have long gone.
The Obama Administration can “close the deal” with Iran (perhaps) only after
the following have taken place (not only been “promised”):
1. KKThe US and other western allies have lifted their unilateral sanctions
on Iran (not approved the the UN)
2. Israel has both SIGNED and RATIFIED the “Non-Proliferation Treaty” (NPT)
3. Israel has completely submitted to dismantling all its nuclear sites as
well as other sites for the manufacture of WMPs (Weapons of Mass Destruction)
subject to complete and random searches and inspection by the UN and the
4. Israel has agreed to join an MENFZ (Middle East Nuclear Free Zone). It has
consistently opposed such proposals at the UN for decades.
Perhaps then we can speak of “serious” negotiations.
None of the above seems likely in our lifetimes and Israel and its patron
the US and its allies are themselves responsible for “serious” negotiations
between equals even a distant possibility.
Iran has made known its intentions more than once, both directly and through credible and sophisticated interlocutors, that it would like to engage in meaningful negotiations. This was not dependent on the sanctions, and, in fact, predated them by a decade or more- i.e., at a time when 9/11 brought the U.S. and Iran together to share intelligence about â€œAl Qaidaâ€. Yet, the â€œGrand Bargainâ€ sought at the time by Ayatollah Khatami was rebuffed by the Bush Cheney gang, who proceeded to rub it in the Ayatollahâ€™s and his countryâ€™s face, labeling Iran as one of the wheels of the “Axis of Evil” tricycle. (Who at the time, other than the neocons, knew that it would turn into an seven, eight, or nine wheeler?). The U.S. strategy since then has been to rattle sabers, ramp up sanctions, and conduct clandestine acts of terrorism and, until last year threaten a hot war, purportedly to bring Iran to the table, and coerce it to give up vested rights to develop nuclear power, and abandon a multiyear, multibillion dollar infrastructure investment for its economic development, in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to forbear from attacking it- except that, with all of the strings and conditions the U.S. was imposing, it seemed that in the end only regime change would suffice.
I recall reading John Brady Kiesling’s “Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower” where he described the conniptions and hoops the U.S. went through to prevent India from acquiring the bomb. Yet, in the end, India still finessed the U.S., and it didnâ€™t end there. If I interpret Sibel Edmonds’ accounts correctly, (information not reported or referenced by Kiesling), the U.S. response was to surreptitiously transfer nuclear secrets and technology to Pakistan through its proxy Turkey (which to this day is still lusting for a bomb of its own). That is, apparently, the U.S. quietly sought to establish some balance of power to avoid another war between the two nations. Yet, with regard to the Middle East, the U.S. has been consistently been unwilling to allow any nation other than Israel, to acquire nuclear weapons, or to share its most advanced military technology and armaments with any nation in the region except Israel. In the face of that reality, Iran has adopted the â€œmoral high groundâ€ with a proposal for a nuclear-free zone for the whole region, while at the same time reiterating that it is not interested in developing a nuclear weapon- and it has done so without making its forbearance conditional on Israeli disarmament.
As for its â€œnegotiationsâ€ with Iran, the State Departmentâ€™s diplomatic efforts under Hillary Clinton seemed to revert to a such state of cultural ignorance and diplomatic unprofessionalism, (witness hers and Susan Riceâ€™s public hectoring, cheap threats, and confrontational and abusive styles, and their lack of sensitivity to Islamic, and specifically, Iranian Shiite, values and traditions)m that any one with any sense would have realized that it could only have had negative influence with the Iranian mullahs. (Even John Brennan with his â€œyears of experienceâ€ and â€linguistic fluencyâ€, albeit in the Arab world, should have known that, though when sometimes asked, it seemed he never could explain what made Sami run.)
Unfortunately, the Department no longer calls on sages like William R. Polk to fathom the motivation of the Iranian people and its leaders, or to help craft sensible diplomatic strategies and action plans and solutions. Our people don’t get it that you cannot simply threaten a theocratic leader of a nation whose culture and history predate that of the U.S. and Western Europe by several thousand years (where we were, so to speak, eating the bark off of the trees when they were ruling an advanced empire). Nor does it make sense to hector a religious leader with hypocritical lectures about â€œdemocracyâ€ and â€œhuman rightsâ€ when they know the U.S. is selective in applying any of it, depending upon whether the country is an ally or foe, and does not itself always observe it with its own people.. Moreover, what fool would ever expect a theocratic leader to accept a negotiation if they knew, or believed, the other side (i.e., the fool) was simultaneously implementing measures to destroy their regime, steal their resources and corrupt their people. It may make sense to some graduate from Harvard, Yale or Princeton who received his geopolitical education playing Diplomacy in the student commons, or at the knee of a Thomas Schelling type practicing game theory at the Rand Corporation or Hudson Institute, but to a leader who sees his role in moral as well as realpolitik terms, itâ€™s simply not in the cards. And finally, as with China, India, and so many other countries, the yoke, shadow or memory of Western Imperialism is not one easily forgotten and may always lurk as a powerful subtext in the mind of the former victim.
Whether or not our policies and approaches are modified or reinvented will depend upon how strong a leader John Kerry will prove to be and how much influence that will carry with Obama. In his early years Kerry was highly regarded, but then something happened at the end of Iran Contra, so that he ended up like everyone else reverting to accepted neoliberal dogma and kowtowing to the Israelis. (One might wonder, was it from an ignorance of Palestinian history or a weakness of character, and, that blind spot seriously hinder negotiations with the Iranians?) His father, the late Richard Kerry was respected as a skilled diplomat. Hopefully, the blessings will be visited upon the son.
As for a roadmap for negotiations, you have many distinguished experts who have provided sensible agendas for success, even if they have been in the vocal minority, and if you listen to the Iranians themselves, and the logic of what they have offered directly or through interlocutors, it should be a â€œslam dunkâ€ (and not of the George Tenet variety).
Ray McGovern, I see you make claim to being a christian man as am I, without quibbling over the soteriological issues that define that claim, I will accept that you are and move on to my comments. The issue is theologically driven at the most foundational level from both ends. The confrontation is inevitable. Your efforts to inculcate even a moments respite are commendable. They will fail, if not sooner than later, and that with a great certainty. You must know that with an even greater certainty yourself.
Absolutely right Ray. There is a big problem the administration has to face and have courage and honesty to stop for once and for ever the industrial military complex that Dwight Eisenhower more than 50 years ago blame as the great culprit of all our evils. They are interested in perpetual war that equals perpetual profits, caring less for our people and the people of the world. Second the administration has to face head on Israel and AIPAC that will love to have regime change in Iran, and consequently they do noot favor any dialogue that can alter their objective of regime change. These are the 2 main factors and we should add the control of oil and oil an gas from central Asia countries in order to control and stop China and Russia influence in the region. Regime change in Iran and permanent military base or regime controllable in Iran will satisfy oil and gas control, ISRAEL survival and hegemony in Middle East with total subjugation of Palestinians and finally the hegemonic corporate military complex of our foreign policy.
In realizing that Middle East “wars” are really spawned by more Republicans in the Oval Office over time so that $$$$$ can be made by large corporations with great interest in being in the Middle East (oil, for instance, comes to mind), and more Low-Middle Class sons and daughters are being killed for these “wars,” what are we doing there?? We, the People, need to get smart and stop supporting war(money)-mongering Republicans! We need to GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST for good! Save the children!
Ray, you’ve got it all right, but I fear they’ll get it all wrong.
The future of energy is nuclear. The fossil energy corporations are desperately trying to burn as much of their product as they can before that future arrives. The fear that Iran will become a world leader in safe and efficient nuclear plant design and construction is the real reason for the efforts to suppress their progress.
Would it not depend on the benefits, costs, including all externalities, and the risks, including what would not be insurable without government subsidy or edict? Supposedly, thorium is a nuclear material that is relatively safe, and China (and India, with our financial help) are beginning to use it in their commercial plants, and China will be using replaceable spheres instead of imbedded rods. To paraphrase (what someone in China said), if it catches the mouse who cares if the cat is white or black (not original)- but the traditional nuclear plants? maybe they aren’t catching the mouse and should be decommissioned, no?
It would be grand if the United States undertook a joint development program with Iran to create a thorium energy generating capacity. Thorium is extremely difficult to weaponize and power production from thorium fission does not contribute to the production of carbon dioxide that is changing life on earth. Nahhh. That makes entirely too much sense.