This weekend we got word that, in the ever-fragile negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 cohort of Western allies, the latest round of which occurred in Vienna last week, the Obama administration has now belatedly added ballistic missiles to the discussion, a non-starter for Iran. Already the fireworks have begun between the State Department and Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister called discussion of Iran’s “defensive” capabilities a clear red line for the nation. A senior administration official claimed ballistic missiles were on the table, as did U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman and White House spokesman Jay Carney. Shades of Syria, no? Smuggling dialogue-destroying issues into the debate at the last minute or by virtue of some calculated misinterpretation of previous resolutions, in this case the Joint Plan of Action agreed to in November.
Of course, the wider context of this conference is forever ignored in Western mainstream media. A few contextual asides might be worth noting. For one, the utter imbecility of the idea that Iran is a grave threat to the region, let alone an imminent one. Not only has it not invaded another nation unprovoked in centuries, but it has been described by our own national intelligence community as—not only being years away from possessing a bomb—but as assuming a military posture of pure deterrence. This, of course, is the point of the ballistic missiles, not the ability to weaponize them with nuclear warheads, as the now deeply compromised IAEA has been suggesting it has undertaken with the help of a Russian nuclear weapons expert, a claim now cast in considerable doubt and sunk in a morass of technical jargon. Of course, this hasn’t stopped the Wall Street Journal and other global media outlets from repeating the alarmist report. The IAEA should have known better. It’s own late 2011 report contained zero evidence that Iran had diverted any nuclear material toward the production of a nuclear weapon. Why would it be feverishly working to modify a missile to carry a bomb it didn’t have and wasn’t developing? Likewise, although it had confirmed that Iran was fully in compliance with standard IAEA protocols for the use on non-weapons grade fissile material, it had, perhaps under the direction of nefarious Western influences, added needless additional protocols to make the noose even tighter on a compliant member. (One of which is the demand to verify the absence of nuclear bomb-making activities, eerily reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld’s remark that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” the latter of course being unverifiable.) As though cyberwarfare, debilitating sanctions, and incessant mischaracterizations in the media weren’t enough to convince the Tehranians they are in the cross-hairs of an angry hegemon.
Should the fact-finding missions of the American intelligence community not provide sufficient assurance of the superfluous need to secure agreements on Iranian fissile materials as part of some national security measure, consider the opinions of Arabs. For years now they have in poll after poll overwhelming aimed an accusatory finger at the United States as the greatest threat to the region, while generally no more than 10 percent of those polled consider Iran a threat. And why should they? Some have even responded that a nuclear-armed Iran would help generate a balance of power in the region and perhaps help constrain American hegemony and the fanatics inside the Likud.
If you want a convincing look at who might be the aggressor in the region, have a close look at this map. Or this slightly attenuated one, thankfully due to the draw-down of troops from Iraq. Each nicely illustrates the smothering dragnet of military bases that the U.S. has cast across the region, dropping stakes in any territory willing to be bribed, vulnerable to intimidation, or incapable of evading bombs. Within this appallingly aggressive context, we are demanding that Iran concede their main defensive weapon, long-range ballistic missiles. There is simply no justifiable pretext by which America can attempt to determine Iranian foreign policy.
Israel even recently made the absurd demand that Obama issue new sanctions against Tehran if he could not verify that Iran had not tested ballistic missiles at ranges beyond 500 kilometers. Of course they had, as doubtless have many of the 31 nations that possess them, especially since even short-range ballistic missiles travel twice that. Nor does anyone bother to note the regional monopoly of WMDs held by Israel. This is a country with dozens if not hundreds of nuclear weapons, and a track record of both unprovoked violence and disproportionate response, not to mention serial violations of international law and cynical disinterest in any sort of nonproliferation. Given this profile, why isn’t the United States harrying Israel to cut its nuclear stockpile, as the Arab League reasonably recommended?
You can easily see how blithely unscrupulous and degrading our initiatives must seem to the Iranians. Not that Iran is an angelic nation or hasn’t got its own devices (they are certainly guilty of heinous repression of their own people), but the U.S. is hardly bargaining in good faith. The U.S. behaves rather like a capering and knavish rogue, making a mockery of international relations and the institutions that ostensibly exist to guide them. One has to ask on what legitimate authority the United States initiated this latest round of talks in the first place? Why, when Iran is compliant and with its NPT guardrails?
But these questions never arise. Mainstream doyens like Charlie Rose now banter with beltway imperial enthusiasts like Republican representative Mike Rogers about daft scenarios in which Iran would “sprint” to a nuke, while presumably pacific Western interests rubbed their palms in consternation, if Rogers were to be believed. Although vulgar ideologues like John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu pretend they are part of a community of nations that want to pinion the Iranians in a complex of impossibly difficult demands, they are virtually isolated on the international landscape. Aside from slavish American allies in London and Paris, neither the non-aligned movement, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa), the African Union, Latin America, or the Arab League have seconded the United States’ hectoring aggression toward Tehran, but have in many cases submitted to reductions in Iranian imports for fear of being themselves sanctioned or excluded from American financial markets. The Arab League even declared that Israeli nuclear weapons—overseen by the feral, cartoon-wielding Bibi—should be a more pressing priority than the faint hint of Iranian bombs.
If we were remotely serious about peace in the Middle East, we might accept and consider what all of those organizations avidly support: a nuclear weapons-free zone across the Middle East. Anything less is just another ruse by a disingenuous State Department and its feckless gang of imperial dissemblers.
Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.