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Time to Worry

Dennis Ross Moves to the White House

by GARY LEUPP

There was a time when the most ridiculous accusations against Iraq as prepared by the White House Iraq Group of neocon-led propagandists were accepted  by the entire Washington power elite. Remember? It was not so long ago. Iraq and al-Qaeda were in cahoots and Saddam had weapons of mass destruction powerfully threatening the world. A significant minority of intelligent Americans doubted these charges, the essence of the case for war, and for anyone paying attention, they have long since been exposed as lies. But respectable politicians and leading columnists, makers of public opinion, parroted them for a certain crucial delusion-forming interval as obvious truths.

Now again we have the leadership of both political parties with much of the journalistic establishment in tow promoting what will likely be exposed in the near term as another slough of lies, this time about Iran. At the center of them is this: Iran has a nuclear weapons program threatening Israel with nuclear holocaust.

That’s a staggering allegation, and designed to be so. It’s the son of the earlier allegation born of the White House Iraq Group propaganda team: Let’s not let the “smoking gun” be a mushroom cloud over New York City. Sheer fear-mongering.

Iraq didn’t threaten New York. The U.S. threatened, invaded and occupied Iraq, slaughtering at least tens of thousands in the process.  And Iran does not threaten anyone with a nuclear weapon. It should be repeated again and again: the National Intelligence Estimate concerning the question of Iran’s nuclear program, representing the consensus of the 16 different U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007 concluded in “high confidence” that Iran does not even have an active nuclear weapons program. (The report appeared after nearly a year’s delay due to apparent obstruction by Dick Cheney’s office, the neocon headquarters).

Unfortunately, regime change in Iran is the single most urgent, outstanding item on the neocon agenda left unfulfilled after eight years of Bush-era empowerment. Its proponents refuse to allow a mere change of administrations to deflect them from their goal. Hence somehow a neocon has insinuated himself into the center of Iran policy, first as a Hillary Clinton advisor and “diplomat,” and now as an advisor to the president working for the National Security Agency.
Dennis Ross is an NIE-denier. With no real expertise on Iran or Persian linguistic competence, and no understanding of nuclear science—but lots of experience in U.S.-Israeli relations and settler advocacy garnering him the nickname “Israel’s lawyer”—Ross was principal author of an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal eight months after the NIE appeared.

Sensationalistically entitled “Everybody Needs to Worry about Iran,” it alluded blithely, offering no evidence, to the Iranian regime’s drive to become “a nuclear state” and announced a drive to “mobilize the power of a united American public in opposition.” Co-signators included Richard Holbrooke, currently Obama’s special envoy to “Af-Pak;” former CIA director and Project for a New American Century operative James R. Woolsey and Mark D. Wallace, a former UN ambassador who heads up with Woolsey and others something called “United Against a Nuclear Iran.” (All were major proponents of the Iraq War.)

This group, in other words, wants to mobilize and unite U.S. public opinion against the consensus of the intelligence community about the nature of empirical reality, substituting for it the need to worry about Iran.

I can’t help but recall the insightful words of Hermann Goering, interviewed during the Nuremberg trials.  “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” It worked very well after 9-11, when the masses could really be terrified and manipulated by the color-coded alerts and grim warnings about mushroom clouds over New York. Bush went to war with Iraq with solid domestic support generated by fear.

The terror mongering strategy may work less well now, after so many lies have been exposed. And the Iran attack advocates are emphasizing Iran’s threat not to the U.S. (that is, you can’t realistically tell Americans the U.S. itself is in danger of Iranian attack) but to (nuclear) Israel. It’s an “existential” threat to Israel which, in their more dramatic moments, the attack advocates embellish into a second Shoah threatening global Jewry.

This is a risky strategy in that it assumes that popular zeal for Israel rooted in the Christian-Zionist community in the U.S. exceeds the domestic inclination towards non-interventionism during this era of military over-extension and global economic crisis, and that the ruling class in general including the intelligence community and Pentagon will go along. It assumes that despite the indignation aroused by the AIPAC spying scandal, the neocon sabotage of the Charles Freeman’s appointment as director of the National Intelligence Council, and Jane Harman’s smug dismissal of her exposure as Israeli agent as normative American political practice the Lobby and its arguments retain their persuasive power over time.

Maybe mounting diversity in this country, growing exposure, lingering images of the Gaza blitz are threatening all that. But maybe such things only increase the Bomb Iran Faction’s desperation.
Ross is known to favor a policy of ultimatums to Iran followed by a naval blockade to prevent gasoline imports, then a blockade of oil exports, then massive air strikes on the nuclear facilities and military facilities. The goal would be not only the crippling of the nuclear program for a few years but the destruction of the military and government.

Ross’s change of jobs was announced in the midst of the street demonstrations following the contested election results in Iran last week. He will now literally move into the White House and provide day to day counsel to Obama on how to “deal” with a leadership he wants to topple.

During Obama’s very first press conference as president-elect November 7, when asked to respond to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s letter congratulating him on his victory, he sidestepped the question but took the opportunity to declare, clearly by scripted forethought: “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.”

George Bush had ignored the NIE, promising Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert he would do so soon after its annoying appearance. Obama has been doing so as well, acting as though an ongoing Iranian nuclear weapons program is an established fact, even while his National Security Advisor James Jones upholds the report. It is as though the new administration has decided it can maybe take on AIPAC on one issue (the West Bank settlements) but cannot challenge it in its drive to use U.S. power to bomb Iran on Israel’s behalf.

Everybody needs to worryabout Dennis Ross having the president’s ear, day to day in the Obama White House, promoting an attack on Iran.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu