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Iraq, Iran And The End of Sanctions

September 14, 2015
Iraq-Iran Border

Iraq-Iran Border

1.

For those who wonder why the Obama Administration was so intent on negotiating what is essentially a modest improvement in its relations with Iran, think Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. It might help. These words represent a failure in U.S. Middle East policy, and one that has led to both the continued devastation of the region, the rise of ISIS (and like groups), who ironically own their very existence and early rumblings both to the U.S.-led wars and to funding and training by U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey.

The road to wars has long been strewn with deception.

Thirteen years ago, a campaign orchestrated by the Bush Administration, claimed that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” – a term which usually refers to chemical and biological weapons but can include others – to whip up support both in the United States and abroad, for a major military offensive against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. This campaign filled with half-truths and outright fabrications was orchestrated from the highest levels of government that included the President, Vice-President (the active agent), two secretaries of state (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice), a variety of toxic neoconservatives and a willing media. It worked, at least enough to build the popular support in this country necessary to go to war.

Twelve years later, in an effort perhaps to compensate for its own role in perpetrating the half-truths and lies that led to war – too little too late – the NY Times called for the leading members of the Bush Administration to be investigated and prosecuted for their role. Specifically named in the editorial were former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, George Tenet the former C.I.A. director, John Yoo and Jay Bebee, attorneys who tried to give a legal basis for it and “many others.”

After the war was launched and the pretexts for launching it proved to be phony in the main, the Bush Administration still defended its policies. That war led to the collapse of Iraq as a nation as well as its infrastructure, the taking over of its energy industry by largely foreign corporate and financial interests, untold suffering – greatly under-counted in the U.S media and by government circles – the deaths, easily of more than a million people. A centralized state virtually no longer exists and in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion and military occupation of Iraq, groups like ISIS took hold. Twelve years after the U.S. military stormed Baghdad, Iraq is a wreck, one that will not soon recover, and the policy which led to the invasion of Iraq viewed as complete failure. The U.S. signed, sealed and delivered Iraqi government put in place by the military occupation has proven inept and corrupt. Out of the ashes of a horribly failed U.S. policy rose the ISIS phoenix. (More on that later).

It should be kept in mind that the support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a bipartisan one.

If Republicans viewed the military action with greater enthusiasm, their Democratic counterparts in Congress and the national leadership supported the war effort too and bought into most of the lies, including a number of presidential hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. It was only a good five years into the Iraqi war, and long after public opinion had shifted against the war, that a number of Democrats began to voice their opposition to the carnage they had sanctioned. There is no doubt that it was the shift in public opinion against the war which propelled a generally unknown Illinois U.S. Senator, Barack Obama, first to the nomination beating out a well-organized Hillary (and Bill) Clinton machine, and then to the presidency.

If Iraq suffered untold destruction and damage, the United States politically did not fair well either. Despite claims to the contrary, and frankly these are few in number, the United States did not “win the war.” With pictures of the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, the horrors of Guantanamo both revealed, the excesses of American troops and private security firms, the United States suffered a loss in prestige from which it has yet to recover. This can be seen by the fact that now, years after that war had essentially ended, that its initiators, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld are limited in their foreign travel for fear of being arrested for war crimes in a number of countries.

For U.S. foreign policy, the Iraq war was a failure. It damaged U.S. prestige (what little was left of it). The global outpouring of sympathy which the September 11, 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon elicited were replaced by Vietnam-War-era-like condemnation over war crimes. As a result, those in power in Washington began to reconsider the danger that all these military engagements were producing. A different approach to military policy was needed. It resulted in what has been referred to as “the Obama Doctrine.” The essence of the doctrine is to tone down direct U.S. military intervention, to be more reliant on U.S. allies and regional players (in the Middle East, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) to fulfill a military role (think Libya, Syria). It is not so much a withdrawal in U.S. policy as much as slight tactical shift in emphasis concerning who will be doing the killing.

As a part of this shift, new approaches towards the long-term U.S. hostility towards Iran began to emerge as well. The earlier goal – either through sanctions, subversion, or as a last resort, through direct military action was to overthrow the current Iranian government. But the Obama Administration began to have its doubts about the feasibility and possible consequences of such a line of reasoning. The Islamic Republic of Iran has already survived 36 years of attempts to bring it down. For all its weaknesses, it is no Libya, Iraq or Syria – ie, it would not be easily militarily conquered.

While the basic neo-colonial policies remained in tact, one element of the ruling class began to think more cautiously about future major “Iraq-like” military engagements. This was reflected in the writings of people like Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich and the nomination of Chuck Hagel, the latter a conservative Republican from Nebraska, but one whose policies supported the U.S. choosing its wars more carefully. Certainly one aspect of the Obama Presidency, admittedly not a great success, has been to reduce Iraq-like major U.S. military entanglements.

While the outcome of a U.S. led military confrontation with Iran would probably result in the latter’s defeat, it could cost Washington dearly. Iran could close shipping in the Persian Gulf, it could seriously damage the Saudi (and Kuwait and Iraqi) oil fields within striking distance of its missiles. Less appreciated is the damage that Iran could do to U.S. initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq, its neighbors and countries in which it has no small amount of influence. Then there would be the human and economic consequences of such a war. Coming to the conclusion that a military solution was not an option, or at least, not a viable option, as Roosevelt did with the USSR in the 1930s and Nixon and Kissinger did with China in the 1970s, the Obama Administration shifted gears – or has tried to – to improve its ties with Iran, a rational and pragmatic decision, at least a little bit.

2.

There was so much obfuscation of what the negotiations with Iran were about and why they took place in the first place, that, without going through all the details, it is worth clearing the air a little. Iran’s current nuclear enrichment program has been purposely and maliciously distorted.

• the negotiations were NOT about an Iranian program to build nuclear weapons, they concerned the Iranian nuclear energy program, a program, interestingly enough started and encouraged by the United States at a time when Iran a U.S. ally under the rule of the Shah
• it is quite different to enrich uranium, either for use as an energy source, or for medical purposes than to do so to produce what is referred to as “weapons’ grade” quality. Uranium used as an energy source is less than 5% enriched, used for medical purposes, 20%. Weapons’ grade uranium is 95% enriched. To go from the 5% to 95% enrichment levels is a much more complex process, virtually impossible to conceal.
• At no time, has it been proven that the Iranians are enriching uranium to weapons’grade levels
• Under the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – to which Iran is a signatory – the country has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

The essence of the negotiations was that in exchange for Iran not extending its nuclear energy program, different sets of sanctions would be lifted. Actually there are three sets of sanctions – U.N. Security Council sanctions, European Union sanctions and finally the sanctions placed on Iran by the U.S. Congress. The negotiations that took place were NOT, as appearances suggest, bilateral negotiations between just the United States and Iran but multilateral negotiations involving the participation of seven parties: the five members of the U.N. Security Council (USA, Russia, China, France, Great Britain), Germany and Iran. The result of these negotiations was approved by the U.N. Security Council.

While certainly one goal of these negotiations was to monitor Iran’s nuclear program, lost in the shuffle, at least here in the USA, was its more salient political goal: to normalize relations – economic and political, with the Islamic Republic of Iran and to integrate it back into the global economy as a full participant. Such normalization requires what are referred to as “confidence building” measures – ie, essentially steps to build a modicum of trust between the negotiating partners. A key element to confidence building is ratcheting down hostile rhetoric. To negotiate while attacking, as viciously as the U.S. media has, Iran is a poor way to achieve a solution, but that is exactly what happened here in the United States, where, throughout the negotiations, the tone in the media concerning Iran remained – and remains – at shrill levels.
For the past eight years – and before it the Bush Administration – the Obama Administration has hammered away at creating a narrative concerning Iran, that smears it with being “the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world today,” and that it is on the path to building a nuclear weapons, this combined with characterizations of the Islamic Republic painting it as something akin to Nazi Germany. The latter claim has been made repeatedly by this and that Israeli government for decades who have repeated the mantra that Iran is “on the verge” of acquiring nuclear weapons capacity.

As I wrote elsewhere:

“Part of the problem for the Obama Administration (and every one since Jimmy Carter’s presidency) is that having vilified Iran for so long and told so many half-truths and outright lies about its intentions, that this seeming sudden shift to negotiate with a country deemed “the enemy” confuses much of the American public. It is as if all these years, different administrations – Democratic and Republican – have dug themselves into a deep hole concerning Iran, one largely of their own making. Now seemingly suddenly, they (the Obama Administration in this case} shifts gears.”

36 years of attacking Iran, considering it a “threat” either to Israel or to the US makes it difficult to shift gears from what is a decades’ old tradition: the myth of the Iranian threat.

3.

Although it is “not in the bag” – it appears more and more likely that the agreement reached between what is referred to as the P5 +1 (Five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran that would put limits on the Iranian nuclear energy program in exchange for lifting sanctions will not be blocked by the U.S. Congress. As the number of Senators supporting the agreement continues to grow, the Republicans there will not have the votes necessary to override a presidential veto of the Senate’s rejection. Understanding that these legislative machinations get complicated, let’s put it all in a more clearly stated framework: Congressional Republicans and their allies among Democrats do not have the political support to sabotage the U.S. participation in the agreement.

In what amounts to a major political struggle on the same level as the ObamaCare health insurance initiative, this time right-wing Republicans, Neoconservatives joined with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Christians United For Israel in an aggressive effort to derail U.S. participation in the agreements despite the fact that it was John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State that took the lead in negotiating with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Although a great deal of money, political energy and media – bordering on hysteria – went into the efforts to kill the agreement, these efforts failed. Poll after poll showed that the American people in their majority and the country’s Jewish Community in its majority supported an agreement with Iran, and that by a large margin. The opposition might have been energetic in its approach, but, frankly, despite what can only be described as a furious, and often deceptive media campaign, the opposition was never able to break out of its isolation to win support among the American mainstream.

The odd thing about all this, is that if somehow the Congress, egged on by the media, actually is able to torpedo this agreement, it is Washington – and not Iran – that will be shooting itself in the foot for the United States is essentially isolated in their hostility towards the agreement. It will lose both in prestige and practically. What kind of world power could the United States be, which after its administration negotiated an agreement, its Congress rejected it? Furthermore – the coalition which Washington slammed together to support sanctions in the past has for a multitude of reasons, already become unglued. It is unlikely that Washington – Republican or Democratic administrations – can put Humpty-Dumpty back on the wall again.

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