Iraq War II, Part 11: No Nukes!
To mark the 20th anniversary of the "wholly unjustified and brutal invasion" of Iraq, as George W. Bush himself now characterizes it, we are serializing that chapter from my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism over the next few weeks exclusively here at Substack.
Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen.
Listen to the Audiobook chapter
The larger context of Gen. Petraeus’s repeated accusations against Iran for their interference in Iraq was the role he was playing in Vice President Cheney’s plan to extend the war to Tehran despite Bush’s reluctance. Before and after the EFP subterfuge was the scandal of Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
It is important to emphasize not only that Iran has never tried to make nuclear bombs, but that we all have been told the opposite about this supposed threat for the last 30 years. Even the American National Intelligence Council (NIC) and Israeli Mossad have both conceded that Iran gave up their preliminary research into nuclear weapons production in 2003 and never had a program to develop a nuclear weapon at all.
When the NIC released their National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the issue in 2007, in which they made this judgment with “high confidence,” it was widely seen as a rebuke to the administration’s attempts to gin up a crisis. Bush later lamented in his memoir:
The NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt certain it would immediately leak to the press. As much as I disliked the idea, I decided to declassify the key findings so that we could shape the news stories with the facts. …
Both [Israel and the Arabian states] were deeply concerned about Iran and furious with the United States over the NIE.
President Bush described meeting with the Saudi king:
“Your Majesty, may I begin the meeting?” I asked. “I’m confident every one of you believes I wrote the NIE as a way to avoid taking action against Iran.”
No one said a word. They were too polite to confirm their suspicion aloud.
“You have to understand our system,” I said. “The NIE was produced independently by our intelligence community. I am as angry about it as you are.”
The NIE didn’t just undermine diplomacy. It also tied my hands on the military side. … After the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active weapons program?
But in the book Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, journalist Gareth Porter shows that even those claims about preliminary research before 2003 are overblown. They are based only on the previously mentioned, Israeli-forged “smoking laptop” documents and some fair-but-mistaken guesses about the meaning of some Iranian purchases of dual-use items that were later shown to have been for their originally claimed civilian purposes at Sharif University.
As Porter showed in his article, “When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes” in Foreign Policy, Ayatollah Khomeini had forbidden the creation or use of chemical or nuclear weapons back during the 1980s, even at the height of Hussein’s U.S.-enabled mustard and tabun nerve gas attacks on his troops. When the Reagan administration increased support for Iraq’s chemical weapons attacks on Iranian soldiers and civilians in the late 1980s, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) asked permission to pursue the creation of their own chemical weapons. The Ayatollah forbid it. “It doesn’t matter whether [Iraq’s attacks are] on the battlefield or in cities; we are against this,” Khomeini told the IRGC. “It is haram [forbidden] to produce such weapons. You are only allowed to produce protection.” The second and current post-revolution supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has reaffirmed that edict. We should not take their word for it, but we can see their orders’ implementation. They have not sought to make nuclear weapons.
In the Bush years, the Israelis and their associates in America pushed the lie that the Iranians had a secret, parallel nuclear weapons program that the U.S. and international inspectors did not know about. They were simply bluffing. Certainly, now a decade and a half after the CIA and Mossad admitted Iran had no nuclear weapons program, regular updates from the CIA reaffirming that conclusion, and with three years of expanded inspections before President Trump took the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, it is clear that it was never the case. What they have is a known, open, “declared,” civilian electricity program. David Sanger of the New York Times and George Jahn of the Associated Press have continued for years to claim as a proven fact that Iran does have a nuclear weapons program. They are either liars or lousy journalists.
In 2007, at the height of the threat of war between the U.S. and Iran over their nuclear program, first-generation neoconservative leader Norman Podhoretz admitted that, “If we were to bomb the Iranians as I hope and pray we will, we will unleash a wave of anti-Americanism all over the world that will make the anti-Americanism we’ve experienced so far look like a lovefest.” Apparently remembering the camera, he quickly added, “On the other hand, that’s a worst-case scenario.”
And for what are Americans supposed to make this sacrifice? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his then-defense minister, the former prime minister Ehud Barak, admitted in 2010 that even if Iran were hypothetically to gain atomic weapons, the Israelis were not afraid the Ayatollah would attack them in a first strike, as they constantly tell the public. Instead, they were merely concerned that it would limit their “freedom of action” against other regional adversaries, such as Hezbollah, and could cause a “brain drain” of talented young Israelis to the United States. Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the New York Times that, “Just as Pakistan had the bomb and nothing happened, Israel could also accept and survive Iran having the bomb.” Former Clinton administration State Department official Jamie Rubin also explained in Foreign Policy that the problem was never an Israeli fear of a first strike by Iran, but “Israel’s real fear — losing its nuclear monopoly and therefore the ability to use its conventional forces at will throughout the Middle East — is the unacknowledged factor driving its decision-making toward the Islamic Republic.” Despite years’ worth of war party propaganda about Iran to credulous American TV audiences, Rubin emphasized that
for Israeli leaders, the real threat from a nuclear-armed Iran is not the prospect of an insane Iranian leader launching an unprovoked nuclear attack on Israel that would lead to the annihilation of both countries. It’s the fact that Iran doesn’t even need to test a nuclear weapon to undermine Israeli military leverage in Lebanon and Syria.
Remember that the next time you and your family are being told the U.S. has to go to war with Iran to protect Israel because the theocrats in Tehran are so hell-bent on destroying the Jewish state that they would be willing to start a suicidal nuclear war to get it done. Israeli leaders and their partisans sometimes happily admit they are not in danger of anything but losing the ability to start violent conflicts “at will.” Everyone in the U.S. government knows but is forbidden to say what has been publicly reported since the Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu revealed their nuclear weapons arsenal in 1986: Israel is the nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Their government possesses more than 200 nuclear weapons and has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Vanunu confirmed that number to the author in 2018.
American Enterprise Institute hawk Danielle Pletka did as much as anyone to support Ahmed Chalabi and his group’s claims about Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program. She conceded in 2011 that the real threat was that if Iran made nuclear weapons, and then refrained from using them, it would undermine the Israelis’ and neoconservatives’ narrative of how crazy and irresponsible they are. These are very movable goalposts.
Iran’s strategy after America announced their inclusion in the “Axis of Evil” and claimed they had a secret nuclear weapons program was to put their hands up, open their books wide and shout to the whole world that they have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, have a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and remain within their international obligations. The IAEA regularly inspects all their facilities and “continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material” for military purposes, which renders America’s pretext for regime change null and void. The U.S. and the Israelis confronted the Iranians with 15 years of accusations, threats and “crippling” sanctions over their nuclear program until President Obama finally negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (a.k.a. “the nuclear deal”) in 2015.
Iran did not require a new deal to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons because we already had one — the Non-Proliferation Treaty — and they were already adhering to it. Legally speaking, all the new deal really did was add an “additional protocol” and some “subsidiary arrangements” to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Still, the deal locks down Iran’s civilian nuclear program beyond any other program in history. They poured concrete into the core of their heavy water reactor at Arak, completely disabling it and eliminating the production of potential weapons-grade plutonium waste, which they never had the necessary facility for reprocessing anyway. They scaled back the number of operating centrifuges, accepted new limits on the amount of low-enriched uranium they can stockpile, expanded IAEA access to include their uranium mines and centrifuge facilities and signed up for processes that even allow inspection of their military bases. For this, they got some of their own money returned which had been seized and “frozen” by the Treasury Department mid-weapons purchase during the 1979 revolution and some limited sanctions relief. Yes, those famous pallets of cash were what America had owed Iran for 40 years. None of it was American tax money. Iran got the short end of that deal and signed it anyway.
So, all the accusations you have heard in the last 25 years on this subject have been overblown. Iran is not making nukes. Their nuclear electricity program is simply based on opportunity costs. There is little demand on the international market for Iran’s natural uranium deposits. But they can satisfy their domestic electric power needs with their nuclear facilities and sell their oil — when they are not under blockade, anyway.
The worst one could honestly claim is that Iran has a latent nuclear weapons capability since they have mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and so could potentially make an atom bomb if they thought there was no choice. This is the same semi-ambiguous stance as the Japanese currently have. But Iran’s policy has essentially been that as long as the U.S. does not attack them, they will not make the mistake of trying to make a nuke which they know would provoke the U.S. to attack them. They have a civilian nuclear energy program, wholly “safeguarded” by the International Atomic Energy Agency. We should all be happy to leave it at that.
Yet without the fake threat of an Iranian A-bomb serving as such a major obstacle, the U.S. has no real excuse for its continuing cold war against them. That is why the hawks were so opposed to the nuclear deal of 2015. It was only a first step but put a real reduction of tensions back on the table.
Stay tuned to this space for the rest of Enough Already, Chapter 3 Iraq War II. They will be published every few days until the anniversary of the invasion in mid-March.
Looking to read ahead? Get a copy of my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism on Amazon.
Ready to support? Become a paid subscriber and you’ll get access to every episode of The Scott Horton Show a day early and ad-free.