Thursday, September 30, 2004

Iran as Bush's nuclear bogeyman

Iran as Bush's nuclear bogeyman: "Iran as Bush's nuclear bogeyman

William O. Beeman, Donald A. Weadon
Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Bush administration continues an escalating spiral toward conflict with Iran, using Iran's nuclear policy as its primary focus. At the same time, the administration is reducing restrictions on other emerging nuclear states that pose a far more serious and immediate threat to world peace.

The consequence of this badly inconsistent policy is increased nuclear danger for the entire world. Since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has lacked convenient villains to be "against, " and the essential mechanics of American foreign policy seems to lose focus and founder.

Iran has become an on-again, off-again focus of American international discomfiture. It is a purported linchpin in international terrorism, a defiant nation who refuses to submit to years of U.S. economic warfare, a state run by theocratic functionaries, and now a nuclear felon. In short, Iran is a perfect villain, just what America needs, and the nuclear issue is a perfect pretext for this hostile behavior -- one that plays well to a nervous American public.

What the Bush administration is not telling Americans is that while it is directing attacks and calling for sanctions against Iran, it is touting meaningless nuclear containment efforts on the one hand and is consciously ignoring illegal and far more dangerous nuclear weapons development on the other. None of this is being done to guarantee public safety, but rather for partisan political reasons.

The silliest example of "progress" in nuclear containment is that of Libya. On Sept. 20, just after removing them from the list of terrorist nations, President Bush revoked a number of restrictive executive orders against Libya in part for Libya's abandonment of its nuclear ambitions. The Bush administration claims this as a diplomatic success. In fact, the Libyans gave up a fledgling and inconsequential program in exchange for political acceptance by the Western world and decreased trade restrictions.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq also did nothing to contain nuclear weapons development, since Saddam Hussein's progress on this front was negligible. Nevertheless, Iraq's "nuclear threat" was one of the reasons given by President Bush to justify the Iraq invasion. These examples of "noncontainment" containment are the purest political spin. The choice of the United States to ignore real and significant weapons development elsewhere for equally political reasons has far more serious consequences.

The United States also recently removed nuclear restrictions imposed upon India for their thinly disguised nuclear weapons program. Much of the impetus for this reportedly came from the head of the export licensing arm of the Commerce Department, who is lobbying for a job as ambassador to India and who has a very cozy relationship with the Defense Department's neoconservative leadership.

And then there is North Korea. Washington continues to huff and puff at Pyongyang, but mindful of the intelligence community's long-held determination that we have no real strategic options, we continue to appease North Korea's frankly aggressive nuclear weapons ambitions.

The United States imposed no real sanctions upon Pakistan even though their none-too-secret proliferation, "Dr. A.Q. Khan's Road Show," spanned from South Africa to Taiwan and was responsible for a frightening East Asian nuclear race with India. But Pakistani assistance in the war on terrorism has been so essential as a point of political spin for the Bush administration that the Pakistan government has been granted a pass on their nuclear weapons program.

What about Taiwan? Their decades-old nuclear program included not only weapons development at the Chung Shan Institute, but also production of American Society for Mechanical Engineering Code Part III nuclear components - - the international standard -- at Kaioshung for nuclear programs throughout the world. The open-market availability of these parts through Taiwan is a key element of the world proliferation problem. Sanctions? Absolutely not.

Brazil is now defying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding questions over its nuclear program, which is not benign. This would violate the long-standing U.S. determination to keep South America nuclear- free. And the U.S. response? No seismic rumbles of the kind directed toward Iran are apparent here. And forget South Korean enrichment efforts -- clearly they were "just a mistake."

Finally, Israel has a robust nuclear weapons arsenal and is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty, with nary a word of disapproval from Washington.

But, oh, those mad mullahs in Iran! From the rhetoric pouring out of the Bush administration, one would think that they constitute the greatest nuclear threat on the planet.

The Iranian program, in comparison to so many others, is less developed and less dangerous. It is ironic that the United States propelled Iran on a nuclear course years ago, urging them to sink billions into a handful of energy-producing reactors which we now demand they dismantle. Iran has specifically renounced the development of nuclear weapons, and is a signatory to the most stringent nuclear nonproliferation agreements. Even if Iran wanted to develop nuclear weaponry, the CIA estimates that it would take years before anything of any significance could be produced.

Yet speculation is widespread that a military strike by the United States or Israel against Iran's reactors is a possibility, despite the fact that such a strike is fraught with great risk. The U.S. intelligence community was reported in the Sept. 27 issue of Newsweek to have concluded, after months of "war-gaming," that no military strategy exists that would keep a strike on Iran from escalating.

The Bush administration has so mishandled matters that it has now touched the most powerful symbolic nerve for Iran -- national "face." The United States has pushed Iran so hard and with such discriminatory prejudice that the leadership of the Islamic Republic has shown itself willing to partially act against their own interests to rescue Iran's national honor. Threats from the United States, or from its surrogate in this struggle, Israel, are met with escalating defiance by Iran. The Reuters disclosure on Sept. 21 that the United States has agreed to send 500 "bunker buster" BLU-109 bombs, presumably to attack Iranian nuclear facilities has only served to further infuriate the Iranians.

Iranian President Khatami said on Sept. 20, "They [the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United States] have to explicitly recognize our natural and legal right [to peaceful nuclear energy] to open the way for greater understanding and cooperation." He added, "We've made our choice. Now it is up to others to make their choice." Iran then resumed its nuclear enrichment program.

The Bush administration's pursuit of Iran on this issue is counter- productive, and may become deadly dangerous. Through its exclusive targeting of Iran, leading perhaps to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the Bush administration is not making the world a safer place. They are giving a pass to powers far more dangerous than Iran, and goading Iran to retaliate for any violence directed against it. If Iran chooses to answer these attacks, it is not likely to be in a way that will improve prospects for peace in the Middle East, or in the rest of the world.

William O. Beeman is professor of anthropology and director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. Donald A. Weadon, a former naval officer, is a Washington-based international lawyer specializing in technology, defense, and trade sanctions."

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