IAEA on Iran: A ‘Colossal Non-Event’ As Casus Belli

Flynt Leverett, professor of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University and Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis, write of the IAEA report on Iran:

Ever since Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei stepped down as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late 2009, the United States and some of its allies have pushed Baradei’s successor, Yukiya Amano, to ratify Western arguments that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  Today, Amano authorized the release of an IAEA report, see here, purporting to do just that.

…But the report—arguably the most anticipated document of its kind since the NPT was first advanced in 1968—does not in any way demonstrate that Iran is “developing a nuclear weapon”.  Rather, it once again affirms, as the IAEA has for decades, Iran’s “non-diversion” of nuclear material.  In other words, even if the Islamic Republic wanted to build nuclear weapons (and Tehran continues to deny, at the highest levels of authority, that it wishes to do so) it does not have the weapons-grade material essential to the task.

Nevertheless, Amano chose to focus the report on unsubstantiated intelligence reports, provided almost entirely by the United States, Israel, and other Western governments, alleging that the Islamic Republic is working on a nuclear weapons program…

…There are many reasons to question virtually every detail in the IAEA’s accounting of the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.  But, more importantly, the stories do not indicate that Tehran is currently trying to produce nuclear weapons.  (And, remember, Iran does not have the weapons-grade fissile material needed to build a nuclear bomb.)  In fact, no one has ever produced a shred of evidence that Iran has ever actually tried to build a nuclear weapon or taken a decision to do so.  And that is why—notwithstanding the efforts of the Obama Administration, some allied governments, neoconservative and pro-Israel constituencies in Washington, and others to hype IAEA report to the maximum extent possible—the new IAEA report is, substantively, a colossal non-event.

…Even if every single point in the IAEA’s report were absolutely, 100 percent true, it would mean that Iran is working systematically to master the skills it would need to fabricate nuclear weapons at some hypothetical point down the road, should it ever decide to do so.  This is how we ourselves have long interpreted the strategic purposes of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program—to create perceptions on the part of potential adversaries that Tehran is capable of building nuclear weapons in a finite period of time, without actually building them.  As Baradei himself has pointed out, see here, having a “nuclear weapons capability” is not the same as having nuclear weapons.

Update: Flynt Leverett spoke to Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio on Tuesday just prior to the release of the IAEA. Listen here.

Mixed Messages on Terror

While Germany continues to present itself as a key partner in the “War on Terror” and waxes judgmental about factions within NATO-occupied Afghanistan that launch terrorist attacks that kill civilians, they seem to be operating at cross-purposes, having dedicated a new “monument” to Georg Elser, celebrating a 1939 terrorist attack he carried out.

Elser, a communist watch factory worker, heard that Hitler was going to be at a bar in Munich one evening. Not being a fan of Hitler’s (a reasonable thing) he decided it’d be great if Hitler was dead so (and here comes the unreasonable part) he built a big time bomb and hid it in the bar.

Now, if Elser had succeeded in assassinating Hitler in 1939, he might well be remembered fondly (certainly in Poland, which was in the process of being invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union at the time). But he didn’t. Hitler was at the bar (which actually turned out to be a surprise as he had cancelled the visit beforehand and then decided to go anyhow), but he and his entourage left well before the bomb went off. Instead, Elser killed eight random bar patrons and wounded 63 others.

Suppose that happened today, some guy built a big bomb and put it in a public place in some Western nation because he hoped to assassinate some reprehensible public figure and instead ended up killing a bunch of bystanders. Does anyone think he’d be getting a statue?

Thirty Years of Misleading the Public on Iranian Nuclear Capabilities

The Christian Science Monitor has a brilliant timeline up covering warnings of Iranian nuclear weapons capability for over thirty years. According to western intelligence, they’ve pretty much always been on the verge of having the bomb. Below is a summary.

1984: West German intelligence sources say Iran’s production of a bomb “is entering its final stages.”

1992: Israeli parliamentarian Benjamin Netanyahu tells his colleagues that Iran is 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tells French TV that Iran was set to have nuclear warheads by 1999.

1995: New York Times reports US and Israeli concerns that “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought” – about five years away.

1998: New York Times reports that long-range missile development indicates that “Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile – one that could hit the US – within five years. The CIA gave a timeframe of 12 years.

2002: CIA warns that the danger from nuclear-tipped missiles from Iran is higher than during the Cold War. Dubious claims from the MeK (now widely believed to be passed on by Israeli intelligence) say that Iran has undisclosed uranium enrichment facilities in breach of IAEA safeguards.

2004: Secretary of State Colin Powell claims Iran is working on technology to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile. “We are talking about information that says they not only have [the] missiles but information that suggests they are working hard about how to put the two together,” he said.

2005: U.S. presents 1,000 pages documentation allegedly retrieved from a computer laptop in Iran, which detail high-explosives testing and a nuclear-capable missile warhead.

2006: New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh quotes US sources saying that a preemptive strike on Iran is all but inevitable.

2007: Bush and Cheney imply an impending attack on Iran if it doesn’t give up it’s nuclear program. A month later, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran is released, which controversially judges with “high confidence” that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons effort in fall 2003.

Then for the next few years we have the hawkish officialdom lay off on claiming Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons capability. But the threats of attack do not stop. Now, in November 2011, the IAEA reports that Iran has coordinated weapons-related research and development for years (continuously since 2003) and may still be doing so now (although only circumstantial evidence is offered).

Uranium and Beeswax

Too bad ol’ Doc Prather is retired now. If he wasn’t, I guarantee to you that he would point out that buried in all the scaremongering about what Iran “may” be up to, the new IAEA report [.pdf] says:

“[T]he Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs [locations outside facilities where nuclear material is customarily used] declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement.”

He might also point out that all the implosion systems in the world are worthless without some actual fissile material to implode, and that nothing else in the IAEA report is any of the IAEA’s “beeswax” (That’s a funny way of saying “business” for those readers who didn’t grow up on American playgrounds.) He’d be right.

See also John Glaser here and Sy Hersh from May here [.pdf].

Cleared for Release in ’07, Detainee Still Caged at Gitmo

And apparently it’s because he wasn’t obedient enough to his illegitimate, abusive masters. Amnesty International:

Shaker Aamer, a former UK resident of Saudi descent, has been held without charge at the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 10 years. He was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007 but is still inexplicably incarcerated more than four years later.

…Indeed, the central complaint against Shaker appears to be how he has behaved in detention in Guantanamo – he is described by the US authorities as being “non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff” and to have amassed more than 100 disciplinary infractions.

Shaker was a central figure in organizing detainee protests against poor conditions at the Guantanamo detention facility. This seems to have provoked the ire of the prison authorities and he has spent extended periods locked up in solitary confinement as a result.

In September 2006 Shaker’s defense counsel filed a motion alleging that Shaker had been held in solitary confinement for 360 days at the time of filing, and was tortured by beatings, exposure to temperature extremes, and sleep deprivation, which together caused him to suffer to the point of becoming mentally unbalanced.

This is apparently the dominant policy of the Obama administration with regards to Guantanamo. I wrote last week about Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, charged with plotting the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. He has been a detainee about as long as Aamer has, he was brutally tortured and he is only now facing trial. But the U.S. government told his lawyers that even if he is found not guilty and acquitted of all charges, they don’t have to release him.

Even if found not guilty and acquitted of all charges – or if detainees have in fact never been charged with any crime and have been officially cleared for release by the U.S. government – Obama keeps them caged.

Arab Spring Lies Are Getting Pretty Old

Josh Rogin reports on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the Arab Spring. It is being billed by State Department officials as one that “takes on the hard questions that people in the region — and people back here — have been asking about the U.S. government’s policy response to the Arab Spring.” She posed questions for herself, and then answered them. I’m skeptical it will be as remarkable and straightforward as the State Department promises, but I’m in a generous mood. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt…

Here’s one of the questions she posed for herself, along with her answer:

Why does the United States seem to promote democracy in some Arab countries — such as Egypt, Libya, Syria — but not in others, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen?

“Situations vary dramatically from country to country. It would be foolish to take a one-size-fits-all approach and barrel forward regardless of circumstances on the ground,” Clinton said. “Our choices also reflect other interests in the region with a real impact on Americans’ lives — including our fight against al Qaeda; defense of our allies; and a secure supply of energy… Fundamentally, there is a right side of history. We want to be on it.”

I spoke too soon; that generous mood has dissolved rather quickly. First of all, the U.S. is not promoting democracy in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. In Egypt, they supported a brutal dictator for decades and continued that support even throughout the Arab Spring, as Hosni Mubarak had his security forces (trained and equipped by the United States) murder over 900 protesters (a crime for which he is now on trial). Once he was ousted, the U.S. tried to have his deputy torturer in chief, Omar Suleiman, take his place. When that failed, the U.S. simply continued to support Egypt’s ruling military council who has at almost every turn continued Mubarak’s suppression of democracy.

In Libya, the U.S. dropped its well-established support for the dictator Muammar Gadhafi in support of fractious rebel militias, at least some of whom had ties to al Qaeda. The war was fought in violation of U.S. law. The U.S. and NATO dropped tens of thousands of bombs on the country (I love the smell of democracy in the morning), undoubtedly killing many civilians (the International Criminal Court is apparently conducting a probe into NATO war crimes). The rebels have engaged in mass detentions of black immigrants, serially committing extra-judicial executions of Gadhafi supporters, among various other crimes. The prospects for democracy, thanks to the U.S. supported coup, are by no means encouraging.

In Syria, I’m not aware of any democracy promotion by the U.S. Are you?

While the answer seems like a dodge (and is), it actually is indicative of U.S. foreign policy. She admits that at least it “seems” like the U.S. doesn’t promote democracy in certain cases, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The Obama administration welcomes democracy, the rule of law, and open markets in those circumstances where it doesn’t conflict with the interests of the political and corporatist elites. If, on the other hand, it gets in the way of our oil supply or what Israel wants, support for tyranny is the obvious necessity.

The speech consists mostly of this kind of talk. Read more here. I’ll leave you with this little ingenious non-answer:

What about the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians?

“Of course, we understand that Israel faces risks in a changing region — just as it did before the Arab Spring began. It will remain an American priority to ensure that all parties honor the peace treaties they have signed and commitments they have made. We will help Israel defend itself. And we will address threats to regional peace whether they come from dictatorships or democracies,” Clinton said. “But it would shortsighted to think either side can simply put peacemaking on hold until the current upheaval is done. The truth is, the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict is one more status quo in the Middle East that cannot be sustained.”