I must admit that, like most progressives and
antiwar activists in the coalition that played a crucial role in the victory
of President-elect Barack Obama, I have been greatly disappointed with his
national security team (NST). Gone are all the hopeful signs of real change
in the American foreign policy that we saw – as it now appears self-deludedly
– coming with the election of Obama. Instead, we must confront the cold – but
by now very familiar – reality that the main players in U.S. foreign policy
for several years to come will be people we have disagreed with very strongly,
even despised, over the years.
There is not even one progressive or antiwar voice with principled positions
in Obama's NST to counter all the pro-war people he has picked, even though
when introducing his NST, Obama declared that he believes in having "strong
personalities and strong opinions" and that he will welcome "vigorous debate
inside the White House."
I don't want to rehash all the praise that Obama has been receiving for the
selection of his NST from the neoconservatives and the War Party, which is
a glaring sign of how terrible his NST is. Many people, including the author,
have already done that. It should suffice to say that the neocons and the War
Party could not have been happier with Obama's NST. The turncoat Joe Lieberman,
whose sole purpose in life seems to be starting a war with Iran, called Obama's
selections "virtually perfect," and Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard
that the selections indicate "surprising continuity on foreign policy between
President Bush's second term and the incoming administration. … The expectation
is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush…."
Here, I only want to describe the views of Obama's NST about Iran. Sensing
his victory as inevitable, the neocons and the War Party started an all-out
campaign before Nov. 4 to convince Barack Obama that Iran is the biggest threat
to the U.S. That was not, of course, unexpected. It is not even surprising
that many members of Obama's NST routinely speak of Iran's "nuclear weapon
program," a program that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S.
intelligence community have declared to be nonexistent.
What is dumbfounding and disheartening is that Obama himself employs the same
language, which borders on lies and exaggerations. But even this is not really
new. As a presidential candidate, Obama used the same language. For example,
in the Democratic debate in Philadelphia on April 16, 2008, he said,
"I have said I will do whatever is required to prevent the Iranians
from obtaining nuclear weapons. I believe that includes direct talks with the
Iranians where we are laying out very clearly for them, here are the issues
that we find unacceptable. … Now, my belief is that they should also know that
I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from
using nuclear weapons…."
Those are weapons that Iran does not have, and there is no evidence that it
is attempting to get them.
In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America on April 22, 2008, Obama
said, "We shouldn't allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, period. I have
consistently said that I will do everything in my power to prevent them from
having it, and I have not ruled out military force as an option."
More importantly, back in April 2008, the Institute for Science and International
Security in Washington posed two
questions [.pdf] to the presidential candidates:
1. Does the senator have a position on whether Iran should suspend permanently
or temporarily its uranium enrichment activity and development of a plutonium
To which Obama's aides responded, "Iran must verifiably abandon its nuclear
weapons program. To that end, Senator Obama has made clear that he will engage
in direct negotiations with Iran, with the immediate objective of a suspension
of Iranian uranium enrichment activities and a commitment to refrain from reprocessing
2. Does the senator have a policy or suggested proposal for controlling the
nuclear fuel cycle in the case of Iran?
The Obama campaign's response: "[T]he current Iranian regime, a state
sponsor of terror and serious threat to Israel and our other allies in the
Middle East, illustrates the problem with having national control over the
nuclear fuel cycle. Tehran must agree on the immediate implementation of the
Additional Protocol, halt any enrichment activities, and refrain from acquiring
reprocessing capabilities. …"
These responses demonstrate astonishing arrogance, as well as ignorance of
international laws, particularly the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
First, national control over uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing
was granted to the signatories of the NPT, in return for their commitment to
not seek any nuclear weapons. Iran has not violated the NPT – that is, it has
not developed a nuclear weapon, and it has neither helped another NPT member
state to do so nor transferred its nuclear technology to a non-member state.
Iran was found to be in six minor breaches of its Safeguards Agreement with
the IAEA, none of which were meant, according to the IAEA itself, to "further
a military purpose," and all of which have been resolved, according to the
February 2008 report of the IAEA, to its satisfaction. Nor has Iran diverted
any nuclear materials to non-peaceful purposes. Therefore, Iran is lawfully
entitled to both uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies,
which it is developing indigenously under the IAEA's safeguards.
Second, in return for the commitment of the non-nuclear states, Article VI
of the NPT stipulates that the (original) nuclear states must commit themselves
to eventually get rid of their nuclear weapons. The nuclear states have not
done that. In fact, Robert Gates, Bush's – and now Obama's – defense secretary
has advocated modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Third, if control over uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology
is to be taken away from the individual states, the NPT itself must first be
modified. But there is no way that the non-nuclear states will agree to such
modifications without gaining significant and meaningful concessions from the
These were Obama's positions before his election, when he was supposedly
trying to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton and the War Party. How is
he going to approach Iran when he takes office in January? The most important
clue is provided by his NST. So, let us see what Secretary of State-designate
Hillary Clinton has said about Iran.
In an interview on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, on April
21, 2008, Clinton said,
"If Iran does achieve what appears to be its continuing goal of obtaining
nuclear weapons, and I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent
times, what I think the president should do and what our policy should be is
to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation
were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel."
Just to make sure that everybody understood that she is the hawks' hawk when
it comes to Iran, the next day in an interview on ABC's Good Morning America
Clinton made the following
infamous remark [.pdf]:
"Well, the question was if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on
Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if
I'm the president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that.
Because it does mean that they have to look very carefully at their society,
because whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons
program in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching
an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. …"
No matter how hard one may try to sugarcoat this statement, its implication
is obvious. In Clinton's view, an attack on Israel by Iran would entail not
just defending Israel, but obliterating Iran. I suppose when Bill Clinton dodges
military service for his own country but declares that
would take up arms to defend Israel, we should also expect that his wife
would obliterate Iran if necessary.
But Hillary Clinton is not in love only with Israel. In the Philadelphia Democratic
debate, on April 16, 2008, she said,
"I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence
that goes much further than just Israel. Of course I would make it clear to
the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from
the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.
"[W]e've got to deter other countries from feeling that they have
to acquire nuclear weapons. You can't go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE
[United Arab Emirates] and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran
and say: Well, don't acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you're
also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup and we will let the
Iranians know that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation,
but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under this
security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions."
Yes, let's promise all the Arab states of the Persian Gulf that American blood
and money will defend their corrupt regimes against a nonexistent threat. In
the process let's also sell them tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons
that they will never be capable of using, which will only add to the instability
in the region, and let's do all that under the guise of Iran's nonexistent
nuclear weapon program.
In response to the first question of the Institute for Science and International
Security (see above), Clinton replied,
"Given Iran's clandestine enrichment program and the many other violations
of its nonproliferation obligations over a period of close to 20 years, the
only way Iran can now persuade the international community that it is not seeking
nuclear weapons is to suspend both its uranium enrichment and its heavy water-based
plutonium production programs. …"
That is an outrageous lie. Iran's uranium enrichment facilities are fully
safeguarded by the IAEA; they are not clandestine. But based on a lie, Clinton
expects Iran to give up its internationally recognized rights! Some bargain!
Clinton's response to the second question:
"If Iran's motives for acquiring a uranium enrichment capability are
genuinely peaceful – to provide low-enriched fuel for the nuclear power reactors
it hopes to build – then it has no need to build its own enrichment facility.
The six countries that have offered Iran a package of incentives to resolve
the nuclear issue – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and
the United States – have proposed various means of guaranteeing Iran that it
would have reliable access to foreign sources of reactor fuel as long as it
complies with its nonproliferation obligations."
Now, what are the incentives that the six nations have offered Iran? Some
vague promises for the future, in return for concrete facts on the ground,
namely, Iran's uranium enrichment facilities and the plutonium reprocessing
plant that it is constructing.
But Hillary Clinton's anti-Iran stance does not end with the above positions.
She also voted for the Kyl-Lieberman
resolution – a vote that Obama called "reckless" – which declared Iran's Revolutionary
Guards (IRG), part of its legitimate armed forces, a "foreign terrorist organization."
It has been widely reported that Clinton will bring her own team to the State
Department. Three people come to mind as her advisers. George W. Bush's policy
regarding Iran and Iraq was in fact the continuation of Bill Clinton's "dual-containment"
policy designed by Martin Indyk, who was twice the U.S. ambassador to Israel,
according to which Iraq and Iran were to be isolated by tough sanctions and
threats. Indyk has been a close foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on July 11, 2008, Richard Holbrooke, the
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration and
another Hillary Clinton adviser, said, "Obviously, you can't take a force option
off the table completely in any contingency. And obviously, Iran proposes an
existential threat to the state of Israel." The same rhetoric and lies are
repeated again and again by the War Party and Israel's lobby. Another Hillary
Clinton adviser, Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton's special envoy for the Israel-Palestine
recently in Newsweek, "Tehran
clearly wants nukes for both defensive and offensive purposes. … Iran has continued
to pursue nuclear weapons…."
Given such hawkish positions among Obama's inner circle, how can one be optimistic
about a peaceful resolution to the U.S.-Iran confrontation?
What about Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? He has repeated – most recently
last week in a conference in Manama, Bahrain – the baseless accusations that
Iran is causing trouble in Iraq. He also claimed recently that he has "been
involved in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate[s] for 30 years." Clearly,
despite having a Ph.D., Gates does not know how to do research!
In 1995, the "nonexistent" Iranian moderates, wishing to reestablish relations
with Washington, granted a large contract to Conoco to work on an Iranian oil
field, even though another oil company had won the bidding. Bill Clinton prevented
Conoco from doing the work. Instead, he imposed tough sanctions on Iran.
Under former president Mohammad Khatami, another "imaginary" moderate, Iran
provided crucial help to the U.S. when it attacked Afghanistan in the fall
of 2001 by opening its airspace to U.S. aircraft and providing vital intelligence
on the Taliban forces. The forces that Iran had supported for years against
the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, were the first to reach Kabul and overthrow
the Taliban government.
Then, during the UN talks on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, in
December 2001, Iranian representative Mohammad Javad Zarif met daily with U.S.
envoy James Dobbins, who praised Zarif for preventing the conference from collapsing.
Two months later, President Bush, Gates' boss, rewarded these "nonexistent"
moderates by making Iran a charter member of his "axis of evil."
In May 2003, the same "nonexistent" Iranian moderates made a comprehensive
proposal to the U.S., offering to negotiate all the important issues, including
recognizing Israel within its pre-1967 war borders and cutting off material
support to Hamas and Hezbollah. The proposal was rejected. That was when Bush's
"mission accomplished" banner was the toast of Washington.
During the Democratic primaries, Obama declared repeatedly that he would negotiate
with Iran without any preconditions, for which he was ridiculed by Hillary
Clinton. But, as discussed above, he has also insisted on Iran giving up its
internationally recognized rights to uranium enrichment, which is the War Party'
demand. Obama recently said that he would offer Iran important "carrots." Well,
I have news for our president-elect: Iranians do not want nor need "carrots."
What they want is to preserve their NPT rights to nuclear fuel technology.
But the problem does not end with Obama's insistence on Iran giving up its
rights. The same Hillary Clinton who has consistently taken the most hawkish
positions on Iran and has threatened Iran with obliteration is going to lead
the negotiations with Iran? The same Hillary Clinton who voted for declaring
the IRG a "terrorist organization" is going to sit with a straight face
across the negotiating table from Iran's delegation, composed mostly of former
and current IRG commanders? This defies logic.
The War Party constantly declares that negotiations with Iran will fail, implying
that the U.S. must attack Iran at some point. Even George W. Bush decided that
was not a wise idea. But if giving up uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing
technology are going to be the subjects of Obama's negotiations with Iran "without
any preconditions," they will indeed fail, because unless a puppet government
is installed in Tehran, no Iranian government, regardless of its political
leanings, would dare to do so. In that case, what will Obama do? Succumb to
the War Party's and the Israel lobby's pressure and attack Iran?
True, Obama has said, "Understand where the vision for change comes from;
first and foremost it comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in
terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing
[that vision]." True, we should wait to see what Obama will do. But, as a Persian
proverb goes, "A good year is indicated by its spring season." Obama's NST,
particularly Hillary Clinton, had a large role in creating the confrontation
As a candidate, Obama said, "I don't want to just end the [Iraq] war,
but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
Are we to believe that the same people who played a major role in starting
the illegal Iraq war and ratcheting up tensions with Iran will suddenly undergo
a fundamental transformation of their mindset? Not likely. An intelligent man
like the president-elect should know better.