Again, Seeking War with Iran

Modest but real progress appears to have been made at the latest round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program, but that didn’t stop congressional war hawks in thrall to the Israel Lobby from seeking more sanctions and proposing a green light for an Israeli attack on Iran, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The biggest set of obstacles to achieving an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program involves each side’s inclination to believe the worst regarding the other side’s intentions.

A major body of opinion in the United States holds that Tehran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and that any indications to the contrary, including the Iranian denials of an intention to build a nuclear weapons, the fatwas by the supreme leader saying that such weapons are un-Islamic, the continued adherence to the nonproliferation treaty, the acceptance of international inspectors, and the Iranians’ restraint in accumulating any stockpile of medium enriched uranium, constitute posturing, lying or stalling.

A corresponding body of opinion in Iran, which may include the supreme leader, believes that the United States is determined to achieve regime change and intends to squeeze and punish Iran until such change is indeed achieved. The Iranians have been given plenty of reason to believe that, and so when they see or hear something about the United States instead wanting to reach agreements with the Islamic Republic, the Iranians suspect that this is just posturing, lying or stalling.

With such a deep hole of distrust out of which to dig, the results of the negotiations in Kazakhstan this week between Iran and the P5+1 were encouraging. The P5+1 had the good sense to make at least modest changes in its previous negotiating position, by putting a bit more sanctions relief on the table and reframing a key demand regarding one of the critical Iranian nuclear facilities.

The parties still have a long way to go, especially regarding the sanctions side of things. But the Iranians strove to put a positive spin on the results. The movement in the P5+1 position may have been small, but it caught their attention. When the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made his customary post-round appearance before the press, this was the first time he did so without displaying photographs of any of the assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists.

With this situation of discernible but reversible progress at the negotiating table, the worst thing that anyone, especially anyone who supposedly favors restricting Iran’s nuclear program to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon, could do at this moment would be anything that stokes the Iranian suspicions about true U.S. intentions.

But that is what is being done right now in Congress, with two draft measures in particular. One is a bill, a kind that members by now could write in their sleep, to pile still more sanctions on Iran. Probably even worse is a Senate resolution introduced by Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez that for most part is just another expression of congressional love for Israel but that ends with a clause that gives a green light for Israel to launch a war against Iran.

That latter resolution would be extraordinarily inappropriate even if it came at a less promising and critical time, a “turning point,” according to Jalili, than now. The resolution condones what would be an act of aggression that, despite supposedly being taken in the name of nuclear nonproliferation, would be committed by a state that has long had an arsenal of nuclear weapons that is totally outside any international control regime, against a state that has no such weapons and hasn’t even decided it wants to build any. The resolution also means happily surrendering to a foreign state the decision to start a war that would have serious repercussions for the United States.

If Iran took comparably provocative steps in the wake of a negotiating round, many voices in the United States would be yelling about how this shows how hostile are Iranian intentions, how Iranians are not serious about negotiating an agreement, and how the United States must respond by making its own posture even more hard line and inflexible. We should not be surprised if when the provocation is in the other direction, Iranians might react similarly.

Bashing of Iran and coddling of aggressive Israeli action is now second nature to many members of Congress, who need no additional stimulus for that sort of thing any more. But AIPAC is giving them such a stimulus anyway. What better time than now, with AIPAC’s annual policy conference coming up next week, for the organization to try to demonstrate anew that it hasn’t been cowed by the Hagel nomination contest, in which it decided early to fold what it correctly determined was a losing hand.

Abba Eban famously observed that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Unfortunately we are getting to where we might be able to say the same thing about the United States with regard to Iran.

The biggest past instance of missing an opportunity came in 2002, when a brief period of fruitful U.S.-Iranian cooperation was ended by George W. Bush’s declaration of the axis of evil. With initiatives such as we are seeing today on Capitol Hill, there might be another big missed opportunity in the making.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

10 comments for “Again, Seeking War with Iran

  1. Otto Schiff
    March 4, 2013 at 21:41

    Eisenhower had it right.
    Beware of the military industrial complex.
    This includes “ALL” war mongering lobbyists.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    March 2, 2013 at 17:22

    Sounds like the march on Coburg.

  3. Vinayprasad
    March 2, 2013 at 09:38

    The non binding resolution may be introduced, but will never become a bill. The Senate will not pass the bill under the present wording of the bill. THIS IS FOR SURE. The resolution is supposed to be passed before 20th March 2013, the day when Obama visits Israel. Highly doubtful it will be passed.

  4. incontinent reader
    March 2, 2013 at 07:37

    For those who want to send a letter, there is a petition (which can be revised as desired) now circulating from NIAC which could be signed. To learn more visit:

    There is a link from that article to the petition.

  5. majeed
    March 2, 2013 at 04:41

    wow someone must stop these kind of terminology against the people of my nation.The history confirmed that we are invincible power. Military doesn’t work we are in 21st century and still there are still some idiots talking about war.

  6. elmerfudzie
    March 1, 2013 at 21:42

    There’s only one way to stop these chicken fights, deliberately planned well in advance. Top rooster in this epoch of time happens to be the USA. It’s owner, the international banksters, have pitted our blood and treasure against all comers. More than a blood thirsty thrill to create some new pecking order, war has become a global gambling scheme, where we, the proles are put into a cage to fight our way out of something with no exit. It’s time to add confusion to this plan by switching the casino chips during the chicken fight. Consumers should consider buying and exchanging foreign currencies to perform local business transactions. Using an assortment of currencies with the least blood on them, weakens the call to war, anywhere, everywhere.

  7. Manuel Otero
    March 1, 2013 at 21:40

    I appreciate your position but believe that the US, like every other nation, NEVER does anything unless it is in their interests. Israel urged the US, long before Iraq was attacked, that it was Iran who was the ultimate enemy, not Iraq. Yet the US plunged ahead. Now Israel is saying that Iran is just engaging in elaborate stalling and needs the pressure of threats. The major potential victims are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. They can, as usual, go about their affairs quietly, but all the US bluster is about protecting the Saudis. Israel with three and soon a fourth new sub with potential atom missles constantly cruising through the area is much more fearsome than strutting Iran. Long ago, we should have helped restore Iran to its former glory instead of frustrating its efforts and coddling the Saudis instead.
    The moment you suggest that Israel has ANY real influence, your whole observation, however well grounded, becomes immediately suspect. Israel influences us only as much as our government wishes to be informed by them. I have been in Israel for four months now, and I have yet to meet a single soul who does not earnestly want peace. Personally, I think they are tired or naive.

  8. Karin
    March 1, 2013 at 20:14

    They sure have enough Military muscle stashed in Egypt not so far away. Articles says 4th largest but I though isreal already held that honor.

    Cato Inst. 2/28

    high rent or hush money ?

  9. F. G. Sanford
    March 1, 2013 at 18:54

    There’s one word I could probably never find a way to use in a sentence about this latest Congressional ploy to demonstrate subservience to Israel. That word is, “manly”.

    • Bill Mack
      March 5, 2013 at 21:48

      If Lindsey Graham would just come out and declare his true feelings for John McCain sure,some of his colleagues would snigger; but little Lindsey might be less conflicted and maybe less inclined to be “manly”. Iran would be safer as would we all.

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