This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
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The first prime-time Republican primary debate of 2015 was an eye-opener of sorts when it came to the Middle East. After forcefully advocating for the termination of the pending nuclear deal with Iran, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unleashed an almost indecipherable torrent of words. "This is not just bad with Iran," he insisted, "this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who's gonna stand up and do something about it." That prescription, as vague as it was incoherent, was par for the course.
When asked how he would respond to reports that Iranian Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani had recently traveled to Russia in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, GOP billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump responded, "I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite." He then meandered into a screed about trading Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for "five of the big, great killers leaders" of Afghanistan's Taliban, but never offered the slightest hint that he had a clue who General Soleimani was or what he would actually do that would be "so different." Questioned about the legacy of American soldiers killed in his brother's war in Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush replied in a similarly incoherent fashion: "To honor the people that died, we need to -- we need to stop the Iran agreement," and then pledged to annihilate ISIS as well. Senator Ted Cruz seemed to believe that merely intoning the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" opened a surefire path to rapidly defeating ISIS -- that, and his proposed Expatriate Terrorist Act that would stop Americans who join ISIS from using their "passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans." Game, set, match, ISIS.
Of the 10 candidates on that stage, only Senator Rand Paul departed from faith-based reality by observing that "ISIS rides around in a billion dollars' worth of U.S. Humvees." He continued, "It's a disgrace. We've got to stop -- we shouldn't fund our enemies, for goodness sakes." On a stage filled by Republicans in a lather about nonexistent weaponry in the Middle East -- namely, an Iranian A-bomb -- only Paul drew attention to weaponry that does exist, much of it American. Though no viewer would know it from that night's debate, all across the region -- from Yemen to Syria to Iraq -- U.S. arms are fueling conflicts and turning the living into the dead. Military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales. That represents a jump of 57% since 2005. Some of the largest increases have been among U.S. allies buying big-ticket items from American weapons makers. That includes Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in U.S. weapons deals from October 2010 to October 2014), which, by the way, haven't fared so well against smaller, less well-armed opponents. Those countries have seen increases in their arms purchases of 286% and 112%, respectively, since 2005.
With the United States feeding the fires of war and many in its political class frothing about nonexistent nukes, leave it to the indomitable Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular and institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to cut to the quick when it comes to Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the regional balance of power, and arms (real or imagined). He wades through the spin and speechifying to offer a frank assessment of threats in the Middle East that you're unlikely to hear about in any U.S. presidential debate between now and the end of time. Nick Turse
"The Iranian Threat"
Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?
By Noam Chomsky
Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that "the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely."
There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over "the Iranian threat." Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be "the gravest threat to world peace." Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat. After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?
Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that "would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard" of the United States, killing "tens of millions of Americans."
The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting. The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as "a death sentence for the state of Israel," which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts -- and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.
Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretense of functioning as a normal congressional party. They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a "radical insurgency" that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.
Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force. Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that "they" are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society -- though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.
The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency. Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the "pragmatic" conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not "prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement," even though a unilateral military strike is "far less likely" if Iran behaves.
Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that "Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force" even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants. In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, "the greatest single problem with the agreement." He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.
"The Greatest Threat"