AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
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In Election 2012’s theatre-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than forty-seven times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top US national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea.”)
Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: Can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current US policy (we don’t want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don’t want a bomb—the Supreme Leader said so—and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)? Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of… potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”
Tehran won’t, of course, “end” its (legal) nuclear program. As for that “potentially,” it should be a graphic reminder of how the establishment in Washington loathes even the possibility of bilateral negotiations.
Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall
Let’s start with the obvious but important: on entering the Oval Office in January 2009, President Obama inherited a seemingly impregnable three-decade-long “Wall of Mistrust” in Iran-US relations. To his credit, that March he directly addressed all Iranians in a message for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, calling for an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect.” He even quoted the thirteenth-century Persian poet Sa’adi: “The children of Adam are limbs of one body, which God created from one essence.”
And yet, from the start he was crippled by a set of Washington misconceptions as old as that wall, and by a bipartisan consensus for an aggressive strategy toward Iran that emerged in the George W. Bush years when Congress ponied up $400 million for a set of “covert operations” meant to destabilize that country, including cross-border operations by special forces teams. All of this was already based on the dangers of “the Iranian bomb.”
A September 2008 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, was typical in assuming a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran as a fact. It was drafted by Michael Rubin from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, the same AEI that had unashamedly promoted the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Several future Obama advisers “unanimously approved” the report, including Dennis Ross, former senator Charles Robb, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Anthony Lake, future UN ambassador Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by all US intelligence agencies stating that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003 was bluntly dismissed.