Thursday, March 26, 2015

Neoconservative Nihilism is Alive and Well

Today’s New York Times Op-Ed column by former US Ambassador John Bolton reminds us that neoconservative policy forces are alive and well and pressing hard for more, not less, violent, global conflict.  Specifically, Bolton calls for US bombing of Iran, an illegal and reckless act of war.  And in a remarkable act of selective judgment, Mr. Bolton takes speculation as a form of argument to new heights.

“In theory, comprehensive international sanctions, rigorously enforced and universally adhered to, might have broken the back of Iran’s nuclear program. But the sanctions imposed have not met those criteria. Naturally, Tehran wants to be free of them, but the president’s own director of National Intelligence testified in 2014 that they had not stopped Iran’s progressing its nuclear program. There is now widespread acknowledgment that the rosy 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which judged that Iran’s weapons program was halted in 2003, was an embarrassment, little more than wishful thinking.”

Yes, but what is the nature of the enrichment program?  Mr. Bolton cites the National Intelligence Estimate 2014 as evidence, but that report, written by James Clapper, explicitly states "we do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."  The unsupported presumption by Bolton is that nuclear weapons are being developed, or that their development could be imminent, an assertion for which there is no evidence and which his own sources refute.  While Mr. Bolton relies on speculative articles written in the Guardian, he misuses them and conveniently overlooks a front page article by that same paper, written this February, referring to leaked documents from Israel’s Mossad, which contradict his own speculations.  In order to accept Bolton’s premise, we have to view Iran through the narrow and troublesome lens of demonization, while ignoring other relevant factors, such as Iran’s national aspirations and need to develop as other nations do.  Conveniently overlooked are any rational factors related to Iran’s energy needs. 

We must also ignore existing deterrents, like the fact that Iran is surrounded by fixed and floating US Military bases and installations and would face immediate extinction if it even attempted to deploy nuclear weapons. 

Despite Iran’s oil production capacity, it has virtually no petroleum refining industry and relies utterly on imports for gasoline and diesel fuel.  The import of nuclear medicines for use in advanced diagnostics and the treatment of numerous cancers has been limited due to blistering sanctions and these do not factor into Bolton’s calculus either.  Never mind that tens of thousands of Iranians await cancer treatments.

Once we have overlooked these countervailing factors, it is easier to accept what amounts to blatant fear mongering.

“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident. Now the arms race has begun: Neighboring countries are moving forward, driven by fears that Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is fostering a nuclear Iran. Saudi Arabia, keystone of the oil-producing monarchies, has long been expected to move first. No way would the Sunni Saudis allow the Shiite Persians to outpace them in the quest for dominance within Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitical hegemony. Because of reports of early Saudi funding, analysts have long believed that Saudi Arabia has an option to obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan, allowing it to become a nuclear-weapons state overnight. Egypt and Turkey, both with imperial legacies and modern aspirations, and similarly distrustful of Tehran, would be right behind.”

This is highly speculative and Mr. Bolton is asking us to commit an illegal act of war on the basis of his unfounded assertions.  It should be noted that Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  He presumes to speak on behalf of Egypt and Turkey, while it is clear that those countries can speak for themselves and have made their own views clear to the US and the UN.  The “source” that Bolton uses (“analysts have long believed”) is actually not a source but an article written in the Guardian by its diplomatic editor.  The article itself is speculative and its primary thrust is to call into question the likelihood of Egypt moving forward with a nuclear program, while it discounts the possibility that Turkey will build nukes.  The article then focuses on purported discussions between the Saudis and Pakistan with regard to Pakistan providing ready-made nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia under certain conditions that might emerge in the future.  The editor then goes on to question whether Pakistan would actually take such a risky step.  Never mind.  This is not important to Bolton who will grasp at straws and twist media reports to justify more illegal military action in the same way he did in the run up to the Iraq war.  

It seems that we need to be reminded of the speculation and trumped up evidence that was used to justify the Iraq war.  Ironically, Bolton’s Op-Ed appears in the same week as a new report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility detailing their comprehensive examination of deaths related to the Iraq war.  The report, using very conservative estimates, places the death toll at 1.3 million, with a more likely figure being two million, figures significantly higher than those used by the US government and mainstream media thus far.

What are the likely consequences of an illegal military attack on Iran?  Bolton doesn’t say.  Recent history should offer a renunciation of such posturing, but as historian Barbara Tuchman and others have demonstrated, history is no antidote to the march of folly.

What is most remarkable about Bolton is that he is a former ambassador and an expert in foreign policy who was given important responsibility as a diplomat.  Diplomacy is often our only alternative to war and those given such responsibility are tasked with using their skills and imagination to engage friend and foe alike in order to secure peace and normalized relations to the greatest extent possible.  Not only does Mr. Bolton exhibit a remarkable lack of imagination, he invites us to be as incurious as he is in pursuing alternatives to war.  The specter of unending war is, on its face, unsustainable and has been proven to increase chaos, instability, violent extremism, massive loss of civilian life and human suffering. 

The beneficiaries of such policies are few and powerful.  Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, the largest producers of arms in the world, collectively represent slightly more than 1% of the US $10 Trillion GPD, thanks to US taxpayers. 

While we can rail against the likes of Mr. Bolton, we must also recognize our own complicity in Perpetual War, Inc., whether benign or otherwise.

“One of the most horrible features of war is that all of the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” - George Orwell