Obama is by nature a booster–like the first stage of a missile lofting its payload into the upper atmosphere. A huge bang, a mighty whoosh and then, a few miles up, a fizzle as the Obama-booster burns out and drops back to earth. He doesn’t seem to have much stamina or even strategy for getting useful things done. No wonder he leaped on the “secret Iranian nuclear facility.” It was a perfect setup up for a booster.
Half-close our eyes and we could have been back in Bush-time, amid the ripest hours of the propaganda barrage for the US-led onslaught on Iraq. (Though this time the venue was the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, not the UN General Assembly, since Obama wanted to reserve that for a message of uplift.) Theme: disclosure of fresh, chilling evidence of the duplicity of a pariah nation and of the threat it poses to the civilized world. Then it was Secretary of State Colin Powell obediently dispensing lies and blatant forgeries about Iraq’s WMDs. On September 25, it was Obama flanked by his Euro-puppets, rolling out alarms that were relayed to the world by a compliant press, albeit sometimes with sidebars puncturing the essential claims. Within minutes of Obama’s Pittsburgh ambush, the White House’s scenario about a terrifying new nuke factory near Qom began to crumble; a few days later, it was rubble.
US intelligence knew about the mountainside site back in Bush-time. Work had started on it, then stopped. Obama was briefed about it during the transition. Last spring, US surveillance–from satellites and maybe from spies on the ground–concluded that the plant’s construction was nearly complete. US intelligence then supposedly learned that the Iranians knew the plant was under US observation. Of course they did. Who doesn’t know about American eyes in the skies?
Both Iran and the United States were planning a disclosure schedule matching their political needs. Iran’s letter of notification to the IAEA was probably timed to strengthen the theocracy’s domestic position and Iran’s hand in the upcoming Geneva talks. Claims that Iran violated its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty and subsequent annexes are questionable at best and will give international legal experts plump incomes for decades. One of the United States’ tactics has been to rearrange the legal requirements of the treaty, then to insist that each new arrogant stipulation is retroactive. Iran naturally objects to this and responds with dense legal barrages, some depending on whether or not the Iranian Parliament ratified the successive amendments to the treaty. Its case is pretty good–certainly a hundred times stronger than Obama’s wild accusations, dutifully echoed by his equerries, Sarkozy and Brown. The most persuasive outline of the legal issues comes from Los Angeles-based Muhammad Sahimi, on the (anti-theocracy) site for Frontline‘s Tehran bureau.
In reality, the public disclosure of something the United States knew about years ago–knowledge it shared with its prime NATO allies and Israel–changes nothing. The consensus of US intelligence remains that there is no hard evidence that Iran is actively seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran has agreed to inspection of the plant at some appropriate point.
In a larger perspective there’s the absurdity of Obama thundering against Iran, which signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and has allowed inspections, while remaining silent about Israel. That country has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty, has an arsenal of somewhere around 200 nuclear weapons about which it has been serially deceptive for nearly half a century and has adamantly refused all inspections. Behind Obama, discoursing on nuclear responsibility, were Sarkozy and Brown, whose nuclear subs collided in the Atlantic in February 2009.
Obama’s policy remains in sync with that of his predecessor in the White House. Spasms of ferocious bluster toward Iran raise public anxiety. Stories about imminent Israeli raids on Iran are balanced by leaks to the effect that the White House is keeping Israel on a leash. Then sanctions on Iran are tightened. These strengthen the hand of the theocracy, which can put extra muscle into its repression on the grounds that the country is under siege. What other effect do they have? Professor R.T. Naylor of McGill University, who has written Economic Warfare, a book on sanctions, tells me, “Iran, of course, has had US sanctions against it before, without any sign that much happened. Of its exports to the US, the main thing was always the profits US firms earned on corrupt contracts, so this was a classic case of the US shooting itself in the foot in those early sanctions. Also, Iran stopped putting its oil surpluses in US banks.” California is growing more pistachios, caviar comes from Russia and a lot of other countries are knocking off Iranian styles and patterns in carpets.
Meanwhile, the supposedly rational president is already having to pay the bills for his reckless boosterism, during his campaign, of a wider war in Afghanistan. Anyone wanting to understand how JFK plunged into the Vietnamese quagmire, and how LBJ got in even deeper, has only to follow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlessly trumps common sense.
By general agreement, the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly getting worse. Militarily, the Taliban have been doing very well, helped by America’s bizarre policy of assassinating members of the Taliban high command by drones, thus allowing vigorous young commanders to step into senior positions.
Alas, we have a booster president who turns out to have painfully few fixed principles but an enthusiasm for news management that gives him high ratings but that leaves more and more sensible people wondering if he has any constructive long-term strategy to lower tensions and reduce the likely prospect of savage bloodletting across the Middle East. The passing months have been brutally unkind to such expectations.