U.S. Policy Towards Iran Isn’t About Placating Israel

by May 26, 2012Foreign Policy6 comments

The policy has been perfectly consistent for a very long time now, and it’s not about Israel, it’s about empire.

Obama Netanyahu

Gareth Porter argues that the P5+1 talks with Iran failed because the U.S. policy is being “Driven by Israel” (quoting from the title). It’s a good article and Gareth is one of the best journalists we have, but I don’t agree with his conclusion on this one. Gareth points out that

After being lobbied by 12,000 activists attending the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, the House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding a policy of preventing Iran from having a “nuclear weapons capability” by a vote of 401-11.

However, I don’t agree that this supports the thesis, since the Obama administration’s policy is the same now as it was before this resolution was passed, which is also essentially the same policy as the Bush administration (if anything, Obama’s policy is an escalation of Bush’s). Gareth writes:

U.S. officials dismissed as irrelevant the news that Iran and IAEA Director General Yukia Amano are close to an agreement on the terms of Iranian cooperation in clarifying allegations of past nuclear weapons work….

The idea that U.S. negotiations with Iran would not be affected by whatever it did to prove allegations of past nuclear weapons work wrong implies that Washington is firmly committed to its present diplomatic course mainly in order to placate Israel and the U.S. Congress.

I don’t think the policy represents a desire “to placate Israel and the U.S. Congress” at all. I think if you removed Israel and even our own Congress from the equation, the policy would still be the same. Yes, placating Israel and the Congress are a factor, but not a determinative one. The policy has been perfectly consistent for a very long time now, and it’s not about Israel, it’s about empire. I won’t take the time to restate my argument, as I’ve written on it consistently for many years, including in the following articles:

Iran Insists on Rights Under NPT, June 15, 2008

The Bush administration has long issued an ultimatum to Iran that it must halt uranium enrichment before it will be willing to engage Iran diplomatically…. In other words, before entering into “negotiations” with Iran, the US is demanding that Iran succumb to its demands on one of the major points to be negotiated, which is to say that the US effectively refuses to engage Iran diplomatically whatsoever. The Bush administration has repeatedly said that it prefers a “diplomatic” approach to dealing with Iran, while refusing to deal with Iran diplomatically and repeatedly reiterating that “all options are on the table” with regard to using military force against the country.

Biden Vows to Continue Bush Policy Towards Iran, February 9, 2009

Echoing the previous administration’s policy, Biden offered an ultimatum, saying the U.S. would be “willing to talk to Iran” but only if Iran acquiesces to the Obama administration’s demands to abandon its nuclear program. Translated into meaningful terms, this effectively means the U.S. will continue to refuse to talk to Iran, since its nuclear program would be one of the major points Iran would like to negotiate.

‘Shift’ Towards Iran Under Obama Is Change in Tact, Not Policy, April 10, 2009

Under the Bush administration, the three European members of the P5+1 had a dialogue with Iran, but the U.S. refused to participate in direct contacts. President Obama, by contrast, has said his administration is “committed to diplomacy”, and the State Department announced this week that the U.S. would join in the talks.

But that is so far the only extent to which there has been any identifiable change in approach. The policy goal remains the same, which is to force Iran to acquiesce to Western demands that it halt uranium enrichment activities.

Clinton Says Iran Policy Goal to Gain Support for ‘Crippling Sanctions’, April 23, 2009

The current administration is operating under the same set of assumptions as the Bush administration in formulating its policy towards Iran….

Iranian leaders have repeatedly expressed their desire to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. and other world powers, but at the same time have made it clear that they have no intention of surrendering their right, guaranteed under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear energy program.

With no significant shift in U.S. policy, therefore, towards acknowledging Iran’s rights under the NPT, any such talks are extremely unlikely to result in any kind of agreement or understanding between the U.S. and Iran.

There is little to indicate that actually improving relations or coming to any kind of agreement with Iran is actually a goal of U.S. policy. As the administration has candidly admitted, the objective of engaging in the P5+1 process is to garner support from allies for harsher sanctions.

But engaging in the charade, the U.S. will be able to say that it tried, but that diplomacy failed. The calculation of the Obama administration is that it will be able to some extent heal the tattered image of the U.S.in public perception around the world after eight years of the Bush administration, and thereby help to create the political atmosphere necessary to get other nations on board with its policy, indistinguishable from that of the previous administration, of attempting to change Iran’s behavior through threats and intimidation.

Obama Administration Statements on Iran Nukes Not Backed by Intelligence, May 14, 2009

President Barack Obama and other members of his administration, contrary to the acknowledgment that there is no evidence Iran today has a nuclear weapons program, have repeatedly made statements suggesting that Iran is actively pursuing the bomb and has based its policy on that assumption.

Clinton Outlines Continuation of Bush Policies Under Obama at CFR, July 17, 2009

In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which has been widely touted as a sharp break from that of his predecessor’s. Judging from commentary in the media, Obama has ushered in a new age of diplomacy and international engagement. Clinton herself suggested as much.

But setting aside the platitudes that comprised most of Clinton’s speech and looking closely at her remarks that actually spoke meaningfully towards U.S. policy under the Obama, a different picture emerges, one not of a change of course from Bush but rather of near perfect continuity between the two administrations.

U.S. Seeks to Punish Iran with New Sanctions Resolution, June 10, 2010

The Obama administration’s policy of demanding that Iran halt enrichment is a continuation of Bush administration’s policy towards the Islamic Republic. Like Bush, Obama has preferred the dual threat of sanctions and military action to serious engagement with the Iranian leadership.

My Interview With IRNA on Obama’s Iran Policy, July 14, 2010

Every fruit of the Obama administration’s policy, including most recently pushing for and getting further U.N. sanctions and implementing further unilateral sanctions, demonstrates rather conclusively that it has no interest in negotiating with Iran.

The Obama policy is virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s policy, which was to reject negotiations in favor of an ultimatum. The demand from Washington was that Iran must surrender its right, recognized and guaranteed by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium. The Obama administration has effectively continued to make the same ultimatum to Iran.

Most commentators argue that Obama, unlike Bush, has been willing to talk with Iran, but this is nonsense, and representative of the absolute myopia of most mainstream analysis in the U.S. There is a difference in that Bush refused to even acknowledge the possibility of talks, but it’s a very marginal difference with no practical significance, since the starting point for any such talks between the U.S. and Iran as the Obama administration has in the past proposed would remain the ultimatum that Iran must surrender its right to enrich uranium. Thus, the policy remains effectively as it was under Bush.

Iran is singled out because it defies Washington, July 6, 2011

Like Iraq, Iran is being punished for failing to prove that it isn’t guilty of the charges the U.S. and its western partners accuse it of, like Iraq, without evidence. This policy persists despite the fact that the U.S.’s own intelligence community assessed in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had no active nuclear weapons program, and as Seymour Hersh just very recently reported in the New Yorker, an updated 2011 NIE reiterates that judgment.

The reason Iran’s nuclear program has become so controversial, therefore, has nothing to do with nuclear nonproliferation, any more than the war on Iraq had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction or terrorism. The problem with Iran is the same as that posed by Iraq, which is that it is too independent, too willing to defy orders from Washington, D. C.

Obama’s Ultimatum to Iran: ‘Last Chance’ to Obey Orders from Washington, April 9, 2012

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration has reiterated its ultimatum to Iran to surrender its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and is also demanding the dismantling of Iran’s Fordo enrichment facility, “the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes”, the New York Times points out. The Times also notes that the Obama administration is defining this ultimatum as Iran’s “last chance” to obey orders from Washington, we don’t need any reminding that “all options are on the table”, meaning that the U.S. threatens the use of force (illegally, in violation of the U.N. Charter) to back up its ultimatum. There is no chance that Iran will accept this ultimatum, and the administration knows it. This is what the administration considers to be “diplomacy”. This is “negotiation”, a euphemism for issuing ultimatums and threatening violence if not obeyed.

The talks with Iran are designed to fail (a casus belli?), April 12, 2012

Iran must prove that its program is for peaceful purposes by surrendering its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. If Iran does not surrender its right to enrich uranium to 20% for its Tehran research reactor (as opposed to the 90% or so it would need to enrich to for weapons’ grade uranium), obviously, that would just prove that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, the same way Saddam Hussein’s refusal to surrender alleged stockpiles of Iraq’s WMD proved that he was trying to hide them.

How the Media Will Blame Iran for the Failure of ‘Negotiations’, April 14, 2012

Now the U.S. has upped the ante, issuing an even stronger ultimatum to Iran. Iran must now, the U.S. demands, renounce its right to enrichment and close down and dismantle its Fordow enrichment plant, “the one facility that is most hardened against airstrike” (New York Times), which Iran constructed precisely because it the U.S. and Israel constantly threaten to bomb its nuclear facilities.

As I posted a couple days ago, the talks will fail because the U.S. is not serious about negotiating. But this will be reported in the media as Iran not being serious about negotiating, despite the extraordinary efforts of the U.S. to engage in “diplomacy”, and when “diplomacy” fails, the only “option” remaining “on the table” will be violence….

And U.S. policy towards Iran has about as much to do with its nuclear program as its policy towards Iraq with WMD and ties to al Qaeda. Iran’s sin is that it won’t follow marching orders from Washington, and this will not be tolerated.

There Are No ‘Talks’ With Iran, Only U.S. Ultimatums, May 21, 2012

As for the U.S. policy going into the talks, it is not one of diplomacy, but of offering Iran a final chance to comply with its ultimatum to surrender this “inalienable right”. As the Times puts it, “American officials insist the United States has not done that [‘endorsed Iran’s right to enrich uranium’] and has been deliberately ambiguous about whether it would ever grant Iran the right to enrichment.”

Notice the assumption there. It is the U.S. which “grants” rights to other nations. The will of Washington trumps international law, international treaties such as the NPT. The U.S. is God. It owns the world, and every other nation must bow down and worship the Beast, from whence national “rights” are derived. Notice the Times relays this assumption of the U.S. government without batting an eyelid, totally unquestioningly. It is simply axiomatic that the U.S. is the Master of the Universe.

The Times continues: “In addition to halting enrichment [i.e. surrending its rights under the NPT], officials said, Iran must agree to ship out its stockpiles of 20 percent uranium and cease operations at an enrichment facility buried in a mountainside near the holy city of Qum, which Israel says could be impregnable to an airstrike.”

So not only must Iran surrender its rights under the NPT, but it must bow down in humiliation and kiss the feet of the Master of the Universe by making sure that its nuclear program is vulnerable to an Israeli airstrike….

The result of these talks is already known. Iran will not do obey Washington’s dictats, but will insist on its rights under the NPT. Iran will then be blamed for the failure for its “intransigence”. The failure of talks will place Washington in a predicament where its “credibility” will be called into question and the only way it could reaffirm its position as the Master of the Universe will be to punish Iran severely for its disobedience. If Iran doesn’t learn its lesson through sanctions—one may recall the similar U.S. sanctions regime on Iraq that had the consequence of killing half a million Iraq children, a price Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said was “worth it”—then, also as in the case of Iraq, force will be used. And the U.S. will justify this use of force by declaring that “diplomacy” had been exhausted. And the media will take that absurd claim perfectly serious and report it as a matter of fact, another unquestionable axiom, as the U.S. status as God.

Fly and Kroenig WaPo Op-Ed: God Must Rain Fire and Brimstone on Iran, May 23, 2012

The Obama administration’s definition of “diplomacy” is issuing Iran an ultimatum to surrender its “inalienable right” under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes or face a military attack….

Fly and Kroenig state that “the United States must not only lay out the curbs on Iran’s nuclear program that Washington would be willing to reward, but also clearly outline what advances in Iran’s nuclear program it would be compelled to punish with military force.”

Notice that the assumption is that internationally recognized rights are something other countries on planet Earth receive as a “reward” from the U.S., the Lord of the Universe. But if a country dares to disobey Washington by insisting on those same rights without the Lord’s blessing, the Lord must “punish” it “with military force”. The Lord must with fire and brimstone strike down the wicked nations of the Earth who dare to worship false idols of international treaties rather than bow down to the one, true God, whose Prophets have ascended Mt. Washington, D.C., from whence they have brought down to us the only Law the world must obey inscribed in stone by the finger of the Almighty: Thou shall worship no other God before the United States of America.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

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  1. Ellen Rosser

    I wonder why you disagree with Gareth’s accurate analysis? Israel has wanted to debilitate Iran since the l980’s: it is the last on the list of Islamic countries that the US has attacked in recent years, and Israel pushes the US by threatening to bomb Iran itself if sanctions don’t work. And then Obama applies more sanctions. Israel does not want any strong Islamic neighbors.. And the US follows its leader–Israel.

    • Jeremy R. Hammond

      What’s to wonder? I explained why I disagree in the post.

  2. Jett Rucker

    If I understand the gist of this article, then the years-long agitation of Israel against Iran’s purported nuclear program might be inspired by Israel’s desire to support US policy, rather than the other way around.

    Ignoring differences in size and geographic proximity (to Iran), a tail-versus-dog question arises on this matter. Of course, it isn’t absolutely necessary that one as between Israel and the US be the tail, and the other the dog. It COULD be two DOGS – each with its own tail.

    A (very evil) concordance, if you will – sort of like Baptists and bootleggers.

    • Jeremy R. Hammond

      Jett, no, you certainly don’t understand this article if you conclude from it that Israel’s policy is out of a desire to support U.S. policy, as I certainly did not write or imply any such thing.

      • Jett Rucker

        “might” (see my comment) >< "conclude"

        I even MENTIONED OTHER possible conclusions. You could choose between these, reject them both, and/or offer YOUR OWN vis-a-vis US and Israeli policies regarding Iran. All I make out from your post is that Israeli policy is NOT driving US policy. Clear enough, as far as that goes. IS there some OTHER connection?

        A certain parallelism in time and military threat seems evident to me, and not just from your post.

      • Jeremy R. Hammond

        You said, “If I understand the gist of this article, then…”

        So, again, no, since what you got from it was “that Israel’s policy is out of a desire to support U.S. policy”, then you obviously didn’t understand the article.

        That’s just a logical observation. I neither said nor implied any such thing, and I certainly don’t think that’s true.

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