Today, The New York Times ran a piece by David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon calling attention to the alleged weaknesses in the Obama administration’s case for the Iranian nuclear accord. While, editorially at least, the Times has come out strongly for the deal, today’s report mostly consists of the latest neoconservative talking points, and is featured on page A1, repackaged as “News Analysis.”
Readers are informed that President Obama’s problem is that “most of the significant constraints on Tehran’s program lapse after 15 years—and, after that, Iran is free to produce uranium on an industrial scale.”
The piece purports to poke holes in the administration’s case by relying on statements from the likes of Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, who claims he will support the deal, because he believes that the “deal is in the best interest of Israel, as well as the best interest of the United States.”
According to Schiff, in 15 years, Iran “will have a highly modern and internationally legitimized enrichment capability…and that is a bitter pill to swallow.” Schiff, a seven-term congressman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, is surely aware that Iran, as signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1968, has had a “legitimized enrichment capacity” for close to half a century.
Dennis Ross, who during the late Clinton years earned a reputation as “Israel’s lawyer,” also spoke to Sanger and Gordon. Regurgitating claims he’s already made to The Washington Post, Politico, and Time in July, Ross insists that he sees “vulnerabilities” that “must be addressed. The gap between threshold and weapons status after year 15 is small.”
Perhaps. But not nearly as small as the threshold would be if Iran were allowed to continue with its pre-deal program, where it possessed around 19,000 centrifuges (which the deal cuts to roughly 6,000) and a stockpile of 12 tons of enriched uranium (which the deal cuts to 660 pounds). Ross, much like his interlocutors at the Times, also seems to assume that Iran, 15 years hence, will forthwith turn its attention to producing a nuclear weapon, thereby putting at grave risk any economic progress it may have achieved during those years. To take it as “for granted” that the Iranians will pursue a nuclear weapon at the risk of a war in which it would possibly be facing both Israel and the United States strains credulity.
Sanger and Gordon also turn their attention to the so-called 24-day delay, writing, correctly, that it is “the issue that has garnered the most attention” in the debate so far. Yet Sanger and Gordon, relying on unnamed “experts,” paint a bleak picture of the 24-day period, warning that the delay may allow Iran to “cover up…work on the specialized high-explosives that might serve as a trigger in a nuclear bomb.”
Of course, Sanger and Gordon fail to mention that, regardless of the much-touted 24-day delay, the International Atomic Energy Agency can request access to any suspicious site within 24 hours. The 24 days is the limit which Iran can delay, and without it, Iran could conceivably push off inspections indefinitely.
All this aside, evidence suggests that what drives states toward nuclear weapon capacity are their perceptions of insecurity; in the case of Iran, that insecurity could stem from being grouped in as a member of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil,” or by the fact that Israel, which never tires of accusing Iran of being the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” possesses roughly 100–200 nuclear warheads.
Tendentious as it is, the Times piece is very much in keeping with the theme of Michael R. Gordon’s recent reporting on the Iran deal, which has habitually highlighted Israeli and neocon objections, while seeming to dismiss the views of the deal’s proponents.
Alas, this is unsurprising given his long history of promoting the neoconservative war party’s agenda. As longtime Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn pointed out in several brutally frank examinations of Gordon’s work, Gordon (along with the disgraced Judy Miller) played a key role in bringing such fictions as the notorious “aluminum tubes” story before the public in September 2002. By 2007 Gordon had taken the lead in plumping for the failed Petraeus “surge” by hyping Iran’s role in supplying the Iraqis with IEDs. Hyping Iran’s role in upending Middle Eastern stability, while ignoring America’s, has been something of a Gordon specialty for close to a decade.
For his part, Sanger has, at least as far back as 2009, been lending Times readers the impression that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was well underway, breathlessly reporting in May of that year that “Iran test-fired a sophisticated missile on Wednesday that was capable of striking Israel and parts of Western Europe,” questioning whether “Iran’s weapons-development program is fast outpacing the American-led diplomacy.” Sanger’s reporting on the supposed US-Israeli agreement over how to deal with Iran prompted Yale’s David Bromwich to ask: “Is the Times trying once again to commandeer public opinion for U.S. or Israeli military action against a large country in the Middle East?” The answer, according to Bromwich, seemed to be “yes.”
Nevertheless, what is most disingenuous about the Sanger and Gordon piece is that it never gets around to presenting a plausible alternative to the P + 5 Joint Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program.
Because there is none, other than war.
And given Gordon and Sanger’s track record, that is exactly what today’s front-page story in the Times seems to be pushing for.