Last week, the US Attorney General announced that they had foiled an unlikely plot by the Iranian government to murder the Saudi Ambassador, here in Washington DC. The information released amounted to a highly circumstantial case with no clear evidence to support the involvement of the Iranian government, or the precise objective of the plan. The Iranian American at the center of the plot is not someone any reasonable person would choose to carry out a serious act of espionage, there was an FBI/DEA informant involved from the beginning. In the recorded conversations between the two men, the informant consistently takes the lead in formulating an agenda, and the conversations do not clearly lay out the plan that is the basis for charges. Apparently, the case is entirely based on the testimony of the central character and an informant/provocateur.
Numerous experts on Iran stood up to say that the story presented seemed highly unlikely. Even so, the government has proceeded as if the charges are a conviction. Even as we at FOR, and members of other anti war, pro peace organizations are formulation our concerns about this unexpected event, and the upwelling of anti-Iran propaganda and saber rattling, it appears they have taken the situation to the next level. With US troops on the verge of leaving Iraq and the wild celebrating over the NATO supported 'victory' over Muammar Qaddafi's regime in Libya, this is cause for serious concern. The pairing of these significant events in Iraq and Libya right now is, or should be, illuminating. Who can look at Libya, recently the most prosperous and egalitarian state in Africa, now in ruins, and not see the reflection of Baghdad after Shock and Awe had accomplished their mission? Who can look at the barbaric torture and murder of Muammar Qaddhafi, after a US Drone strike had delivered him neatly into the hands of the 'rebels', and not remember the equally barbaric execution of Saddam Hussein at the hands of his enemies? And who can watch the gleeful pronouncements of victory by Nicholas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Hillary Clinton without remembering George Bush's premature pronouncement of victory in Iraq in November of 2004, before the war had even warmed up?
But apparently those in the halls of power have already forgotten the dark days of the past. Every day, for them, is a new day, unencumbered by the cold lessons of earlier ventures. This is very bad news for Iran. And it's bad news for us as well. As people begin taking to the streets to demand social justice and economic equity in this country, an occupational vacuum ready to close with a Bang! in Iraq, Pakistan and India ready to kiss an make up to join China and Russia's circle of trade and security, and a whirring maelstrom reminiscent of the Night on Bald Mountain evolving from the Arab Spring, a new (old) boogie man is being blown up like the giant Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters with a Whooooosh! to come stomping through town, boom boom boom . . . . Call out the National Guard! Pay attention!
In that light, we can read today's headline "Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil
". Yes, today, the Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management will hold a joint hearing entitled "Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil." These are congressional hearings, I assume, though the article is on the homepage of the Homeland Security Website. We have the Committee on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on . . . and another subcommittee with a more business like name. It's quite dense. I wonder who assigns these subcommittees to oversee subcommittees. But guess who's chaired this hearing, Peter King, the very same Peter King who held a series of McCarthy like hearings, much to the horror of the large Indian Muslim community in his district, who had supported him and even befriended him, based on the assumption that every Muslim is a potential terrorist and should be scrutinized as such. Not surprising, really, when you think about it. That was probably his first action as chair of the Committee on the Homeland Security Subcommittees . . ." for whatever.
So, we have a biased, nay, bigoted leadership with very limited credibility. That said, I will proceed to deconstruct the testimony at these hearings. But first, who are the experts whose testimony was heard? Well, we have a retired General and a retired Colonel, and a representative of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank founded by AIPAC, and a representative of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, another organization funded by prominent conservative Zionists. Lastly, there is a representative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a for profit sister of The Center for American Progress, which, according to Wikipedia is a progressive, left leaning organization that has been highly influential in appointments to the Obama administration. As I see it, this is a serious conflict of terms.
Our first Witness, retired General James Keane 1
says that Iran called the US an enemy of the Revolution (quite accurate), and "Therefore they have been systematically killing us for 30 years." That's a big statement. Iran just emerged as more dangerous than Al Qaeda and the Taliban, more dangerous than Bin Laden, and more dangerous than Saddam Hussein. The first several events that he relates to back up his contention were actually committed by Shia fighters in Lebanon, who were receiving support from Iran. However, there is no reason to assume that Iran had more than a peripheral role in these events as the perpetrators had plenty of reason of their own to target the US, as we were supporting a brutal Israeli occupation of a large part of their country.
He also mentions the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia which was blamed on Iran using local Shia operatives in a group called the Saudi 'Hezbollah', misleading as it sounds like a relative of the infamous Lebanese organization where, in fact, the Saudi 'Party of God' would not necessarily have any connection with the Lebanese 'Party of God'. I read several articles talking about whether Iran would every cosponsor an action with Al Qaeda, who would have a much stronger motive for the action at Khobar Towers. The answer is 'No', but I found a series of investigative articles by Gareth Porter, a respected historian and journalist, who makes a good case that the bombing was done by Bin Laden's people and the Saudi Government covered it up. 2
He then goes on to raise the charge, debunked shortly after it was raised, that Iran was providing IEDs to Iraqi militias during the early part of the war. It turns out the IEDs were made with American parts taken from American weapons stashed buried in the Iraqi desert when we left in 1991. And, he mentions that Iran was training Shia militias in Iran during the Iraq war. This charge, though most likely true, leaves out 2 significant points. First, Iran formed a relationship with the Badr Organization during the Iran Iraq war, fueled for most of it's duration by Western military assistance and supplies to both sides. The Badr Brigade was formed by Iran of defectors from Iraq during the Iran Iraq War. Second, the US made the Badr Brigade the nucleus of the new army they formed after Saddam's army was disbanded. This is common knowledge and I'm not even in the military.
After making some unverifiable statements about the Iranian general accused of participating in the current plot, General Keane makes a series or bizarre statements. He says that Iran is supporting the Taliban. He refers to Iraq and Afghanistan as 'fledgling democracies'. And he says that the 'Arab Spring' is a repudiation of radical Islam. Given that Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria were all secular states to begin with, this remark is hard to fathom. Just yesterday, the NTC in Libya declared that it would be governed by Sharia Law henceforth.
General Keane goes on to say that Iran was defeated politically and militarily in Iraq in 2009. I was in Iraq that year, and I have no idea what he is talking about. Finally, I am wondering what General Keane's experience with these events is. Was he involved in any of the investigations? Was he actually in Lebanon? Does he know that the Saudi Hezbollah would not have been the same organization as the Lebanese one? Was he involved directly in the Iraq war? Has he ever even visited the Middle East? None of the questions are answered. But I dare say the answer is no, and no, and no again. In fact General Keane never served in the Middle east.
The second witness 4
, Dr. Mathew Levitt of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, begins by rehashing the current plot scenario, apparently oblivious to the fact that his predecessor just described it. He goes on to cite the string of politically motivated assassinations of Iranian expatriates living in the West, who were considered to be traitors by the post revolutionary regime. These assassinations were carried out in various places around the world, but they were internal business from the Iranian standpoint. He seems to forget that at least one other country conducted a similar rampage of targeted assassinations around the world. But Israel didn't focus on particular individuals who betrayed them, but rather they just assassinated any Palestinian with credibility in the international community. And, he mentions the Khobar Towers bombing which I spoke about above.
Dr. Levitt also speaks about the bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina, another crime where there is no clear evidence of their participation, but there is a Lebanese connection, and a conceivable motive for Hezbollah in the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. He refers to Hamas and Hezbollah as 'transnational terrorist organizations', which entirely misses the fact that both organizations are focused specifically and completely on liberating their homelands from Israeli occupation. Then he proceeds to iterate documents produced by various American agencies that state that Iran is a Terrorist organization. One was actually published around the same time, in late 2007, as the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate)5
was released stating that Iran is not a threat, and is not working on a nuclear weapon.
Dr. Levitt says that Iran's anger in the 1980s was due to the accidental downing of the Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes. Now, he says, they are upset about the Stuxnet virus and the assassinations of their nuclear scientists. He seems to be saying that we are not responsible for our actions when we target Iran, but they are dangerous and malevolent because they might retaliate. He thinks we should somehow force them to close their embassies and end their relations with the countries in South America. In fact, he wants to remove them from the international community completely. He lists the organizations they should be banned from, including several United Nations Committees, Interpol, The World Health Organization and the World Customs Organization, the World Organizations for Agriculture and Tourism. Add to this Financial isolation, internationally monitored checkpoints on their borders (like the ones maintained for Bosnia/Herzegovina) and UAV (drone) surveillance. Talk about wiping a country off the face of the earth, I think Dr. Levitt has defined the process specifically for Iran. But no, its the same program already applied to Palestine.
Next, there is the testimony of Dr. Lawrence Korb 6
of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Would it be rude to ask why a member of the Lobbyist branch of the organization is testifying rather than a member of the think tank? Moving along, Dr. Korb congratulates the DEA on their successful investigation (no mention it was a sting) and then stresses the need for a rational response to this threat. He says it is clear that Iran is building a bomb because they are enriching uranium to 20%. Apparently he doesn't know that the uranium has to be enriched to 20% for their medical reactor. While General Keanes thinks that we defeated Iran in the Iraq war, Dr. Korb believes that we strengthened their hand by our "unthinking military action" in Iraq. (Darn lefties!)
Dr. Korb points out that this is a problem because Iran has one of the strongest military forces in the Middle East, but unfortunately (for Iran) far from the best armed. United Arab Emirates probably has more high tech military toys than Iran. We've made a fortune selling these high tech toys to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Kingdoms. Then there is Israel with their fleet of Apache Helicopters, F16s and UAVs along with several hundred Nukes. Egypt and Turkey are long time clients of American and Israeli arms. Anyway, I agree with Dr. Korb that Iran can put up one heck of an insurgency 9
, if push comes to shove. They have lots of young men, and a strong nationalist spirit of unity, the likes of which don't exist in any other country in the region, except maybe Turkey.
Dr. Korb describes at length, his sense of the massive damage caused to Iran by the current sanctions. One has to wonder what kind of progressive would have such a positive feeling about massive unemployment, inflation, reductions in gas and food subsidies and young people with bleak futures and no jobs. He points out that the subsidies are interfering with Iran's oil business. You bet, but they have oil and despite the struggle, those that don't are finding ways to buy it from them. 7
He talks about the disputed Iranian election in 2009, and the current tensions within the Iranian Government. Ironically, it doesn't seem important that neither faction of the current squabble is acceptable to the West. It's the demonized Ahmadinejad vs the evil Theocracy.
From here he really starts to lose his connection with reality. What is it about the Arab Spring that causes people to completely lose their reason? He says, that if only Bashar Assad is struck down, power will shift away from Islamists in the regions. Since the Assad government is about as secular as you can get, this is a hard point to argue. In any case, Iran would lose a faithful ally.
Dr. Korb doesn't want more war, but he doesn't want to do nothing either. He thinks we should use this dastardly, if clumsy, plot to convince our allies AND Russia and China to take a firmer stand against Iran and to abide by the sanctions more strictly. Apparently Dr. Korb doesn't watch Russia Today (inexplicably available on standard cable in the US), so he isn't aware of the low regard in which Russia holds this particular conspiracy theory. And of course there is India, struggling to find a channel through which to pay for the oil it needs, and Turkey, I believe, who finally made such a channel available. But we won't think about all that.
I shouldn't make fun as I am glad that Dr. Korb opposes military action against Iran. At the same time, I have a serious problem with the program he supports. Use economic distress to break the people, then call it a fight for freedom and say you are on their side when they turn on one another to get out of the vice. It's a virtual siege. And it is technically an act of war.
Speaking of the military, the final testimony is from Col. Timothy Geraghty, a retired Marine. Col. Geraghty is, for starters, also stuck back in the early 80s when Lebanese militants,with Iranian backing, made some serious attacks against American forces in Lebanon. And he makes strong statements about Iran funding and training Al Qaeda, a scenario very unlikely to have any substance. More significantly, he describes a network of activities in South America, that my instinct tells me are exaggerated. However, I think the South American connection actually is a primary reason for the current flap. It is a more significant fact, I would wager, than Iran's nuclear program or anything they might be up to in the general chaos of the Middle East. It does appear that Iran has initiated significant trade relationships with a number of South American countries, and not just Venezuela.
This is important because South America is our back yard. It is far more important because Iran is not only a resource connected to a regional network that is independent of US control, but they are also connected through a number of diplomatic and trade networks, to Russia and China. Through Iran, they have a seat, however ephemeral, in our back yard. I often wonder how China and Russia must feel, surrounded by US protectorates and bases and wars. But Iran is actually functioning at around the same level as the recently emancipated South American Countries. They very likely have a resonance, an understanding. Meanwhile, Russia and China, though they keep Iran at arms length as far as appearances go, have many investments in Iran.
They share the soft power model of gaining influence through positive support rather than coercion. So, in a way, for Iran to be doing a brisk trade in South America is equivalent to NATO members having military bases and missile defense systems on Russia's borders, to South Korea or Taiwan conducting joint military exercises with the US in China's local waters. And, in fact they do, and we do. The BRICS 8
are becoming more and more independent, self defined and assertive. The BRICS are on several continents, and guess who has favorable trade relationships with all of them. Iran does. Iran can't be included because of the sanctions, but they operate as networking potential that can be instantiated at any point.
If this is the problem, and I think it is, it is our own fault. Iran has repeatedly attempted to mend their relationship with the US, and been rebuffed every time. Iran has been forced onto the very path that is so distressing to US policy makers by the policies they have enacted, and particularly by the ongoing sanctions. Iran has dealt much more effectively with international sanctions than Iraq ever did. I believe this is because Iran is secure as a nation. Iran has been a relatively well integrated entity for 10 times the history of the United States. Governments come and go, but Iran is an entity (I hesitate to use the term 'nation' which has a lot of baggage related to western style modernity) that has endured for millenia. You see it when you go there. It is in the people's eyes, and in the architecture and in the art and poetry.
That is why Iran is a threat, no matter how charming and friendly the people are, and why attacking Iran militarily would be beyond foolish. That is why I support Fellowship of Reconciliation's program in Iran, and why I believe that we, as an organization, have to support the sovereignty of Iran and other threatened nations, as well as the human rights of the people who live there. It is an unbreakable continuum. The people, the government, the land. They are separate, but connected. You can't attack one without harming the rest; breaking the system and causing it to fail. The system is failing in Iran at present. These attacks are exacerbating, if not causing the failure. They are not, and cannot be the solution.
8 BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, the organizational keepers of the vast majority of humanity and resources on the earth.