Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place....
-- T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"
In a surprise move, Vice President Joe Biden signaled that the United States would not intervene to stop Iran from launching a "pre-emptive" attack on Israel. Biden's declaration came during an appearance on the ABC news-talk show, "This Week," with former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos. Here are Biden's exact words, as reported by the New York Times:
“Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination — if they make a determination — that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”
It is of course well known that Israel possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal -- which it developed illegally, in secret, "rogue-state" style. It is also well-known that an Israeli attack on Iran is a constant, open topic of discussion -- and advanced planning and war-gaming -- at the highest levels of the Israeli government and military.
Given the fact that a nuclear-armed nation is openly discussing and planning an attack on their country, the Iranians could quite logically "make a determination that they are existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country."
Thus, by Biden's logic, it would be quite legitimate for the Iranians to mount an attack to "take out the nuclear program" in Israel, given the ever-present existential threat this poses to their survival. And the United States, according to Biden, would not do anything to stop such an attack, because Washington "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation" what it can do when it feels threatened to such a degree.
This then is the actual, logical meaning of the actual words that Biden used on Sunday: If Iran's Supreme Leader "made a determination" that his nation's existence was in peril from attack by a very hostile nuclear-armed nation, then he would be justified in taking pre-emptive action to save his people.
This Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog logic could also apply to any other potential conflict in the world. Any nation whose leaders declare is under "existential threat" is thereby justified in any pre-emptive attack to quell the threat. That's it. That's all it takes. That is the quintessence of the philosophy of international statecraft voiced by Biden on Sunday.
But in practice, of course, this justification for military aggression is not meant to apply universally. It is reserved solely for the United States -- indeed, it is the very heart of the U.S. government's officially promulgated "National Security Doctrine" -- and for any favored American clients and allies. Israel is the prime example of the latter category; any and all acts of aggression by its government are always justified -- and usually praised to high heaven -- by Washington. But this exception also applies to other nations whose aggression serves America's agenda at any given time: Ethiopia's American-aided invasion of Somalia, for example, a brutal act of aggression that killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, radicalized thousands, exacerbated sectarian strife, and sparked off a new, vicious civil war -- all in service of America's Terror War "regime change" agenda.
The machtpolitik philosophy enunciated so clearly by Biden underlies the Terror War operations being continued -- and expanded -- by his boss, Barack Obama, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now, once more, in Somalia. Obama continually affirms that America is under an "existential threat" if Afghanistan is not conquered and the "recalcitrant tribes" of Pakistan not bombed and droned into submission.
But nations outside the golden circle of imperial favor are not allowed to make such claims -- even if nuclear weapons really are aimed at them, by governments who really do call for their destruction. Thus once again we see American leaders trying to justify their own (and their favorites') military aggression by referring to some grand, universal principle -- which they immediately subvert by failing to apply it universally.
Yet it is certain that no one in the upper reaches of the American power structure will note -- or even recognize -- the howling illogic of Biden's position. Why should they? It is their own underlying, animating principle, the very air they breathe: whatever We and Ours do is good, is true, is right, is righteous.
If We torture, it is good; in fact, it's not even torture. If We invade other countries without provocation, it's not aggression; it's liberation. If We kill innocent people to further Our political agenda, it's not terrorism; it's heroism, it's a "defense of the realm," of "our way of life." If We and Ours openly call and plan for "regime change" in other countries, those countries have no right to feel threatened; they should simply fall into line with Our wishes. This, again, is the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable core assumption of the American political, corporate and business classes.
This can be seen in the New York Times story on Biden's interview. Reporter Brian Knowlton makes what he believes is a telling point. After devoting a couple of paragraphs to some of the dangers of an attack on Iran that various American officials have expressed, Knowlton says:
Still, the disputed Iranian election result has raised concerns in Israel. Officials there say that the victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel, underscored the Iranian threat and bolstered the argument for tough action.
Here of course, Knowlton repeats the blood libel that Ahmadinejad has "called for the destruction of Israel." As Juan Cole and many others have constantly pointed out, Ahmadinejad has done no such thing:
...the actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.
In other words, Ahmadinejad was indulging in the flatulent, high-falutin rhetorical bilgewater favored by politicians around the globe, from the dawn of time. In doing so, he expressed the same kind of hope that the American government and the United States government have formally expressed in the Iran Freedom Support Act, in which the nation's leaders committed $10 million of the public's money to support the removal of the current Iranian regime. Unlike Ahmadinejad's cloudy evocation, the Americans openly put cold hard cash on the line to help make the Iranian regime "vanish from the page of time." (All of this is in addition to the far larger covert efforts -- including terrorism, sabotage and other black ops -- also being carried out in Iran by the United States and local proxies.)
In any case, for all his manifold faults, Ahmadinejad did not and has not "called for the destruction of Israel," nor issued any "existential threat" against the people in Israel -- nor could he actually destroy Israel or even threaten its existence even he wanted to. Israel, on the other hand, has the aforementioned rogue nuclear arsenal, and a bipartisan leadership that constantly declares its strong intent to "eliminate the Iranian threat" -- and which is backed to the hilt by the most powerful military in the history of the world, whose vice president has just publicly affirmed that America will not stop any Israeli attack on Iran.
Who then, by Biden's own logic, is actually facing an existential threat which, by Biden's own logic, would justify a pre-emptive attack?
But the grim NYT story -- presaging, as it does, a monstrous act of folly and hubris that could kill thousands upon thousands of innocent human beings -- does end with a bit of comic relief. Dig this:
In May, Mr. Obama told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a meeting at the White House that “we’re not going to have talks forever” with Iran; in the absence of cooperation from Tehran, he said, the administration would not rule out “a range of steps.”
"We're not going to have talks forever"! That's a hoot, ain't it? These "talks," presumably, are the "talks" that "we" are not actually having at all. Obama appears to believe that talking about the possibility of having talks is the same thing as actually having talks -- and is eager to assure his warlike allies, at home and abroad, that he will not drag out these non-existent talks any longer than necessary.
And earlier in the story, Knowlton points out that Obama "has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." Please note well the usage here; in the midst of so much slipping, sliding and perishing of words, our leaders' imprecision is sometimes chillingly precise. Obama says that he is -- graciously, imperiously -- willing to give diplomacy a few more months to stop Iran's nuclear program. Not its nuclear weapons program, which, by all evidence, does not exist, but its nuclear energy program in general -- which by international treaty Iran has every right to pursue, and has pursued under the most stringent international supervision.
Obama is thus leaving open the possibility of overt American moves "beyond diplomacy" if Iran is still pursuing its perfectly legal, internationally sanctioned nuclear program next year -- that is, if Israel is not given the green light for a proxy shot first.
Certainly the trial balloons to habituate the public to the idea of a strike are going up again; on the very day that Biden was signalling American acquiescence to an Israeli strike on Iran, the Times of London -- a frequent stovepipe for the Anglo-American militarist elite -- headlines this little item: Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran.
This in turn dovetails with news that Israel's much-preferred candidate, Japanese diplomat and sanctions maven, Yukiya Amano, has just been named director-general of the International Atomic Energy Association, which is overseeing the draconian strictures on Iran's nuclear program. It is thought that Amano will be much tougher on Iran than outgoing director Mohamed El Baradei, who occasionally committed the cardinal sin of adhering to law, and logic. There will no more of that nonsense from IAEA now. In fact, Amano is off to a flying start, as Gordon Prather notes at Antiwar.com, pointing us to this piece from Bloomberg: UN’s Amano Says Iran ‘Under Obligation’ to Suspend Nuclear Work.
The strenuous effort to get the pliable Amano in place -- as Bloomberg notes, he "previously failed to win majority support in three meetings of the IAEA board" -- eerily recall the machinations to oust the head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons as a prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As I noted in the Moscow Times in April 2002:
Jose Bustani is an accomplished Brazilian diplomat, a man of learning and enlightenment, with extensive experience in international affairs, including postings in Vienna, Montreal, the United Nations and Moscow. For decades, he has served as a high-level negotiator on a number of international treaties, hammering out agreements on disarmament, pollution, scientific research and maritime law. In 1997, he became director general of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
In that post, as The Guardian reports, Bustani engineered the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and the dismantling of two-thirds of the world's production facilities for biological mass murder. He was so well regarded by his colleagues that he was re-elected to a five-year term – unanimously – in May 2000. Just a few months ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly lauded him for his "very impressive work."
There was one thing wrong with Jose Bustani, however. He was negotiating to bring Iraq into the Chemical Weapons Convention. That was his job, after all: to get as many nations as possible under the treaty's umbrella. So he was trying to persuade Iraq to accept the Convention and its strictures – including the destruction of chemical weapons stores and facilities, and constant independent monitoring to ensure compliance. If he had succeeded, the Middle East – and the world – would have been an immeasurably safer place.
But there were sinister forces – thugs – who didn't want Bustani to succeed. These thugs have big plans for Iraq, you see. They're going to puff up their chests, beat their hairy bellies and rape Iraq, force it down into the dirt and have their way with it. But they can only do that if Iraq remains a threat – or at least can be credibly framed as a threat to the little ones back home.
[Note: Yes, it was that obvious, that early, that the United States was going to invade Iraq. Although the Bush Regime did make a big show of insisting that "diplomatic efforts to [disarm Iraq] should be given to the end of the year," the fix was firmly in. Remember Iraq's frantic disclosures at the end of that year -- thousands of documents sent to the UN to prove the dismantling of its WMD programs, and Iraq's complete acquiescence to all UN inspections? Remember how much good it did them, responding to such "diplomatic efforts"? Well, of course no one in America remembers the pre-history of the act of aggression that Barack Obama now calls an "extraordinary achievement;" but you can be the Iranians do.]
And so George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the pack started in on Bustani. First they softened him up with some bureaucratic brass knuckles: they illegally withheld U.S. funding for the Convention, leading to a cash crisis at the agency. Next came a boot in the groin: having themselves engineered the Convention's money troubles, they accused Bustani of "financial mismanagement" and demanded that Brazil recall him. The Brazilians refused.
Then the switchblades came out. Last month, the thugs called for a vote of "no confidence" in Bustani from the Convention's 145 member nations. This was foiled – like the gang's recent attempt to muscle in on Venezuela – by an unexpected show of nerve from the "little guys" who normally quake when the thugs start to bellow. The no-confidence vote failed.
Now the pack was in full cry. They called an unprecedented (and illegal) "special session" of the Convention to force Bustani's ouster. In good thug fashion, they put the squeeze on, threatening to bankrupt the agency or pull out of it altogether – a move that would have collapsed the treaty and set off a world-wide explosion in chemical weapons production. (Even as it is, the thugs have arbitrarily excluded themselves from most of the treaty's provisions – including the very same inspection programs that Iraq is condemned for rejecting.)
And this week, they finally unloaded with both barrels. At the "special session" in The Hague on Monday, the thugs strong-armed 47 of the little guys into voting against Bustani. Seven countries, including Russia, stood their ground for the man they had all unanimously elected less than two years before, while 43 other countries abstained. More than 50 countries boycotted the shameful spectacle altogether.
Just as in those heady days of yore, we can now see several dangerous ducks being put in a row. The process is being helped by the current election crisis in Iran, which has greatly exacerbated the ongoing, never-ending demonization of perfidious Persia. The hardliners' crackdown on dissent has been a particular godsend in this regard. Ahmadinejad, a loose-tongued, bellicose fundamentalist, has always been a most serviceable villain for Western militarists, who need easily caricatured hardliners in charge of their regime change targets. Which is why they stonewalled the Iranian reformists when they held the presidency, rejecting every opportunity to nurture a genuine, peaceful evolution of Iranian democracy, and were cock-a-hoop when a poltroon like Ahmadinejad took over. (As Muhammad Sahimi details here.) Now his goon squad tactics in the election aftermath are doing more to help the American militarists than a thousand warmongering Bill Kristol columns or whole boatload of screeching AEI forums could do.
(Isn't it marvelous how hardliners always buttress their counterparts among the "enemy"? Like the old "we will bury you" Commies providing endless ammo for American reactionaries -- and vice versa. Both sides strenuously fought reform of their systems and called for more repression -- pointing to the ravings of opposing hardliners as justification. The same dynamic is also at work in the Terror War's intimate dance between Western militarists and Islamic extremists, each pointing to the other's depredations as justification for....more depredations.)
Again, let us not forget that America's vast covert forces are sponsoring deadly terrorist attacks inside Iran -- an ongoing provocation that is guaranteed to rouse hardliner ire, undermine all genuine, independent reform movements, and make a mockery of Obama's ludicrous rhetoric about "dialogue." The Iranians -- scraping the bodies of their policemen, and the inevitable "collaterals," from the streets after yet another terrorist attack -- know full well that the Americans are not sincere about "dialogue" and "negotiations." They know the only negotiations the Americans are interested in are terms of surrender.
The Tehran regime's only hope is to make it clear that an attack on them would cost the West more than it is willing to pay, in terms of lives lost, heightened domestic insecurity from reprisal threats, and economic turmoil. This survival strategy inevitably leads to more militarism, the mentality of a fortress besieged: hardly a conducive atmosphere for peaceful reform and better lives for ordinary Iranians. But of course, none of the American militarists -- including, most emphatically, the "progressive" leaders now in charge of the ever-expanding war machine -- give a damn about that, despite the rivers of crocodile tears we've seen since the Iranian election.
At any rate, our new "Tail Gunner Joe" says it's A-OK for the Israelis to strike Iran whenever they feel like it. Looks like surf's up on the old blood-dimmed tide this summer.
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This story was published on July 6, 2009.