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Tilting at Windmills

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December 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN AND THE NPT....Headline Junky sounds a note of caution about the new NIE on Iran's nuclear program:

It's important not to overlook, though, the fact that Iran's entire nuclear program is the result of a decades-long clandestine procurement effort that was in direct violation of their legal obligations under the NPT, that at no time since the program was revealed has Iran ever been in full compliance with its obligations under the NPT, and that they have repeatedly backtracked on promised concessions both to the IAEA and EU.

....There's no question that the Bush administration's approach to the standoff has been needlessly bellicose, and remarkably uncreative, given the openings for a broader kind of bargain that seemed possible in 2003....But in the rush to celebrate Cheney's defeat, we shouldn't treat Iran with kid gloves. My thoughts have evolved on this question over time, it's true, primarily due to getting pretty deep into the weeds on the issue. A unilateral strike would be disastrous. But so would a nuclear-armed Iran outside the NPT. Of the two, the second would probably be more manageable, and therefore less undesirable. But it's by no means a benign option.

There's more at the link, and it's a pretty reasonable roundup. It's worth remembering that just because the Bush administration has pursued an indefensible policy regarding Iran doesn't automatically make Iran a sympathetic figure in all this. They have plenty to answer for too.

Kevin Drum 8:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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just because the Bush administration has pursued an indefensible policy regarding Iran doesn't automatically make Iran a sympathetic figure in all this

The Bush administration?

Didn't we topple their President and install a dictator a few decades ago, ushering in a reactionary theocratic regime?

Nobody could have anticipated...

Posted by: scarshapedstar on December 4, 2007 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

Check out Gravel and Kucinich's statements in the NPR debate:
Gravel: "Iran is not a problem, never has been and never will be."
Kucinich: "there is no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program."
Is anybody still supporting these guys? Clinton has probably been too bellicose about this, but these guys are downright ignorant. Anybody have any good links on Obama's and Edward's positions on Iraq beyond the debate stuff?

Posted by: Bush Lover on December 4, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Despite the aptly named Bush Lover's contention, Kucinich is absolutely right. Iran has always maintained that it is developing a nuclear weapons facility in order to facilitate its nuclear energy program. Even if Iran were somehow going to build a nuclear bomb, who is the United States to dictate to another country that it should not be doing that, considering that Israel has over 100 nuclear weapons and the United States, that beacon of democracy, has over 10,000, more than every other nation combined. Which is the only country to have ever used a nuclear bomb? Could that have actually been the United States, that promoter of democratic ideals, which actually dropped not one but two nuclear bombs on Japan? The answer to that last question is yes, the good old U.S. of A. Does Bush Lover actually believe that if Iran were to actually build a nuclear bomb, that that fact would somehow frighten Israel or the U.S. from illegally attacking Iran as it did Iraq? Yet he has the gall to accuse Kucinich of being ignorant.

Posted by: Erroll on December 4, 2007 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Even stipulating that Iran is a problem and should be addressed, we can not fall into the trap of giving this administration the necessary support, through rhetoric like this, to move forward with whatever awful plans they may be cooking up. The proper response is that there is no crisis, that Iran can be managed, and that we need to take any military option off the table.

Posted by: dmh on December 4, 2007 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why would a "nuclear-armed Iran outside the NPT" be more of a concern than an Israel, an India, or a Pakistan "outside of the NPT."?

Given the USA actions in the Middle East, if I was leading Iran I'd order development of nuclear weapons ASAP, for defensive purposes. Such seems to have worked for the North Koreans.

Besides, where does the USA get off lecturing others about nuclear weapons?

Posted by: Chris Brown on December 4, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Iran has never been in full compliance under the NPT because they have been denied their right under the NPT to develop civilian nuclear power. The US-led sanctions forced them to hide legitimate procurement. They couldn't announce their legal procurement because then the US would have pressured suppliers to withhold shipments. So Iran's failure to comply by revealing all its procurement is somewhat understandable.

Posted by: Reid on December 4, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

The phrase "legal obligations under the NPT", without further elaboration, is misleading. Participation in the NPT is voluntary, and countries can walk away from in on 3-month notice.

So "legal obligations" under the NPT are nowhere near obligations -- such os those of Saddam's Iraq -- to comply with UN Security Council binding resolutions.

Yet while there was a lot of hoopla about the need for a binding UN resolution for invading Iraq (and even the most extreme hawks tried hard to find some UN resolution which they claimed authorized an invasion), in the case of Iran there is no such effort. The possibility of a war on Iran has been framed around Iran's nuclear activity -- with no need to demonstrate non-compliance with any UN SC resolutions. Talk of "legal obligations" under the NPT does nothing but further obscure this issue and consolidate Cheney's terms of framing it.

Both the press and the blogs that were screaming about international law (and need for SC resolutions) in the case of Iraq are strangely quiet about it in the case of Iran.

Posted by: JS on December 4, 2007 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

...needlessly bellicose... sounds so much nicer than "brink of war". It's almost like an argument over a speeding ticket, as opposed to engulfing a region and perhaps the world into war.

Posted by: AC on December 4, 2007 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, Kevin, sometimes you're so softheaded. No fucking person has been suggesting that "we treat Iran with kid gloves." That's a god-damned STRAW MAN (translated as, "Democrats and lefties are still wrong, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah") that you should not be dignifying with this notice.

The press I've heard has been all over the -- "Iran is still BAD, BAD, BAD" -- end of the story, and you don't have to do it too. Just keep kicking Cheney in the shins or something. He's dangerous as hell.

Posted by: David in NY on December 4, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

I gotta agree with David in NY here. The press seems to think that the only two approaches are Cheney's rush to war and singing Kum-Bay-Yah with Ahmadinejad.

Democrats will have to keep pointing out four truths. 1)Foreign affairs and national security are rolling issues; they didn't start on 9/11. 2)We need executives that constantly examine new data and interpretations and incorporate these data into national security and diplomatic efforts. For all the 9/11 conspiracy theories, the real tragedy of 9/11 is that the Bush, CHeney, Rice et al. were just as clueless as they say they were. 3)US standing must be sufficient that countries might credibly fear becoming ostracized diplomatically by a US coalition. But diplomacy aimed at getting a country to do something that it has already done is stupid. 4)Finally the military must be in sufficient condition that it can present a credible threat. These are all important issues and the GOP candidates don't have the courage to deal with them.

Posted by: rk on December 4, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

"They have plenty to answer for, too."

To whom and for what? You're starting to read like Elisabeth Bumiller or Nedra Pickler.
To you Kevin? Your Iran rhetoric is strikingly similar to your pre-invasion Iraq rhetoric - wrong then and wrong now.
For being a Shiite? Friendly with China? For supporting Hezbollah? They're standing in a long line, including the Saudis, Kuwaitis, etc.

Maybe you're simply angling for a favorable chapter in Howie's next literary classic.

Posted by: dick tuck on December 4, 2007 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

Iran's so-called violations of international agreements have been mirrored by almost all nations, not least the US. Let's not even start with the suggestion that that a country that seeks to maximise its own position is doing so because of a voracious appetite for conquest, because that way lies a very ugly reality.
The fact is that Iran has for the past 7 years been knocking on Washington's door, looking for an agreement and offering up for negotiation every single contentious point and policy. That Bush has told Tehran to get lost is the real sin here, and yet more evidence of what a mendacious and ignorant moron he is.
How long will sensible people prefer to believe that a theoretical proposal that "Iran still has the option of developing weapons", is somehow more of a worry than the proven reality of a belligerent, nuclear armed administration bent on re-shaping the planet along bizarre and absurd lines?

Posted by: billy on December 4, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Mr. Drum needs to keep his "liberal" hawk membership card, afterall.

Posted by: luci on December 4, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

What's funny to me is that, if a Democratic administration had made bellicose noises toward Iran for seven years and had announced at the end of the seven years that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program, Kevin Drum would be hailing the brilliance of that administration's foreign policy. And yet, Drum, like most politically active people, has so little self-awareness that he will never see the truth of the preceding sentence, though it's obvious to anyone who isn't very politically active.

Posted by: y81 on December 4, 2007 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

It ain't invisible to some of us who are.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 4, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

The IAEA has not declared Iran in violation of the NPT. The blog cited by Kevin is simply wrong.

Posted by: thomas c on December 4, 2007 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

It's important not to overlook, though, the fact that Iran's entire nuclear program is the result of a decades-long clandestine procurement effort that was in direct violation of their legal obligations under the NPT, that at no time since the program was revealed has Iran ever been in full compliance with its obligations under the NPT, and that they have repeatedly backtracked on promised concessions both to the IAEA and EU.

No links provided in said blog post. I guess we'll take it at face value. Which means nothing to me. I have no idea what NPT is, and only a vague idea about IAEA. I'm pretty sure what EU means, but what concessions did Iran promise them? And how am I to know they didn't conform to them, since there's no link and no information about what Iran did that was in violation of those concessions?

My fault, no doubt. I'm just a guy. Unfortunately, all I know is that Bush consistently lies about everything and whatever he says I should believe the opposite. Am I wrong? So far, I see no evidence that I am.

Posted by: edub on December 4, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks to the great majority of you who have intelligently addressed the issues with the NIE, NPT, etc. The Bush spin on this today has been absolutely surreal. And I'm waiting to see PROOF that Iran actually had a nuclear weapons program in the works in 2003.

Posted by: nepeta on December 4, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

But Iran has to be held accountable for its commitments under the NPT.

Quite right. And what is the US doing to help hold Iran accountable? Bluster aside, embarrassingly little of substance. It's clear the administration doesn't trust that the IAEA can do its job, or that Iran can be held accountable, regardless of what safeguards are in place. Until that changes the relevance and effectiveness of the NPT, the IAEA and safeguards will continue to deteriorate, and the saber-rattling on both sides will continue.

Posted by: has407 on December 4, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I'm disappointed that you think we need to be reminded that Iran isn't "automatically... a sympathetic figure." David in NY above is right - please, they're a fundamentalist theocratic (albeit non-totalitarian) regime, their (non-supreme leader) president wishes he could eliminate Israel, they're sponsoring militias in Iraq, and they sponsor Hezbollah.

Yes, unfortunately there are a few knee-jerk anti-Americans who pop up in your comments and elsewhere in the Intertubes willing to assume that any enemy of Bush is good, and there are other morons who think that only a neo-con could acknowledge bad deeds by foreign governments, but the grownups - the ones who don't see the world in a stark chiaroscuro, the ones you presumably try to reach with your nearly-always intelligent and level-headed posts - know perfectly damn well that U.S. imperialism is bad and some other countries do lots of bad things that we ought to oppose by non-military means, even if they don't deserve U.S. invasion.

I don't mind you pointing out that Iran does bad things - I'm not a child, and I don't think that stating a simple truth on a lefty blog will give Cheney the green light - I just mind you pointing it out in a tone that strongly implies that some of (the people worth trying to reason with) need to be reminded of it. That is the kind of thing that will get repeated by the wingnutosphere.

Posted by: The Navigator on December 4, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

Iran is a sovereign nation and can do whatever it god damn wants. Why SHOULD they give a damn about any Nuclear Proliferation Treaty? The United States backs out of treaties all the time and we consider it our due.

Every nation on earth has the right to develop nuclear weapons should they so desire. If they are a technologically primitive nation, then they'll have difficulty in developing and/or blowing up the things.

But it's THEIR right. If we don't think they have the right to develop weapons as they see fit, then we don't think they have a right to exist as a sovereign nation, period.

So we should just invade them and get embroiled in quagmires. Oh, wait, that's our policy right now.

Let everybody else do what they like. We are NOT the policemen of the world--a task that would be impossible to fulfill in any case.

Posted by: Anon on December 4, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

A truly annoying thing about this whole mess is that guess who comes out looking like a sensible, mature leader? One who dismisses the idea of any sort of existential threat, any sort of advanced weapons program, Lord knows any kind of WW III rhetoric? One who, at the same time, today in fact, continued to urge Iran to be more transparent and open about its activities? And one who is standing to make big bucks on the deal? Vladimir Putin.

And we, the U.S., come out of it, once the chronology gets itself together, and the public statements start getting put together with the successive NIE drafts and the timing of Asghari's interrogation/confirmation, looking like alarmist fools. Thanks, Bush/Cheney!!

Posted by: Wendell on December 4, 2007 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, please? Post about the fresh Beauchamp story bro! I've got an "theAmericanist" jones...

Posted by: elmo on December 4, 2007 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

I notice that in his previous entry, "Junky" also notes that France has remained seriously skeptical of Iran's claims of innocence right up to the present. Question: could Iran be playing the same fan dance with regard to a nuclear program that Saddam did with his biological and chemical WMDs -- that is, deliberately leaving the rest of the world uncertain as to whether or not it has one, thus trying to deter potential attackers without provoking the US or Israel into a flat-out deterrant attack?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 4, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Anon -- The NPT is voluntary, as must be the case among sovereign nations. Iran is a party to the NPT.

This is a two-way street. While a party to the NPT, states have rights and obligations. Obligations include not pursuing development of nuclear weapons and related technology, and declaring nuclear-related activities and materials. Rights include technical assistance from the IAEA for nuclear-related activities that are not otherwise prohibited (of which Iran has availed themselves).

If Iran doesn't like the NPT, they can withdraw. There is nothing stopping them from doing so. They would not be the first, and undoubtedly (although unfortunately) would not be not the last.

You really want a world where the state trumps all? And that leaves us with what... a dog-eat-dog free-for-all where might-makes-right? I seriously doubt you'd find many buyers outside some fringe nut cases in the US, Russia and China.

Posted by: has407 on December 4, 2007 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

You really want a world where the state trumps all? And that leaves us with what... a dog-eat-dog free-for-all where might-makes-right?

That is what we have.

Posted by: Jason C. on December 5, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "[Iran has] plenty to answer for too."

Why is thst, Kevin? Iran is neither occupying Mexico with 175,000 troops, conducting daily military surveillance flights that violate our airspace, nor have three or four carrier groups and naval task forces on station off our Atlantic and Pacific seaboards.

Straddle the fence too long on this particular issue, buddy, and you run a serious risk of numbing out your own cojones.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii, & currently in Chicago on December 5, 2007 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think one has to make any kind of statement about Iran being sympathetic to point out that the best way to encourage a country to abandon nuclear weapons development probably does not involve invading and occupying two of its neighbors, while continuing to make increasingly bellicose statements. This is probably particularly true if your country has within living memory been involved in the overthrow of a government in said country.

Posted by: biggerbox on December 5, 2007 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, biggerbox, the hypocrisy is enormous, isn't it?

Posted by: nepeta on December 5, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

The NIE is just a face-saving way to punt on this. The next President is still going to have a difficult problem.

Posted by: bob h on December 5, 2007 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK
Straddle the fence too long on this particular issue, buddy, and you run a serious risk of numbing out your own cojones.
Donald has a good point, and to further it, there's a risk that the fence could become electrified. You'll have to take my word for it, but that is one kind of fence you do not want to find yourself straddling.

Posted by: kenga on December 5, 2007 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

How quickly some "forget" in their haste to extend the benefit of the doubt to our scheming NeoCoNazi Reichsfuehrers:

Cheney Tried to Stifle Dissent in Iran NIE
by Gareth Porter [Inter Press Service]
November 9, 2007

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and thus make the document more supportive of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts of the process provided by participants to two former Central Intelligence Agency officers. ...

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi ... told IPS that intelligence analysts have had to review and rewrite their findings three times, because of pressure from the White House.

"The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy," says Giraldi. Despite pressures on them to change their dissenting conclusions, however, Giraldi says some analysts have refused to go along with conclusions that they believe are not supported by the evidence.

"The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy." Sound vaguely familar?? And Kevin, did you so mich as raise an eyebrow when the SOUTH Koreans were discovered to have been dabbling in nuclear weapons technology a few years ago? Did THEY also "have a lot to answer for"?

This kind of mindless Bush apologism -- "Well, THEY did it too!!!" -- is unworthy of a serious political blog.

Posted by: Poilu on December 5, 2007 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

But Iran has to be held accountable for its commitments under the NPT.

When will the US be held accountable for its own commitments under the NPT?? Contrary to the propaganda of it holding some mythical "moral high ground", this country has YET to fulfill its own disarmament obligations, and is in fact largely in defiance of the treaty, owing to its failure to significantly reduce its existing nuclear stockpiles and its current designs to augment its arsenal with all-new types of nukes..

"Do as we say, not as we do" is a visibly constant theme of US foreign policy.

Posted by: Poilu on December 5, 2007 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

...and what is the evidence of the nuclear weapons program that supposedly was "halted" in 2003?

Posted by: CKR on December 5, 2007 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

..he will never see the truth of the preceding sentence

What's funny to me is that you claim your sentences as 'truth'. What part of 2003 do you not understand? And pray tell what was Bush's foreign policy toward Iran up until that time short of childishly and stupidly labeling them part of some "axis of eeeeevvvvil"? Lord knows when the administration knew the program was shuttered. They have been needlessly ratcheting up the tension with Iran for years. With all the bellicosity and 150K troops on their borders, I'm surprised Bush aggression hasn't pushed Iran into restarting the program

Posted by: ckelly on December 5, 2007 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK
A unilateral strike would be disastrous. But so would a nuclear-armed Iran outside the NPT.

No moreso than would be a nuclear-armed Israel or Pakistan outside of the NPT. Actually, with a sane US leadership not overtly bowing and scraping to Israel, the combination of a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed Israel could provide a huge opening for the US in the Arab world.

Posted by: cmdicely on December 5, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

this is pre-Iraq Drum at his finest. And after the invasion of Iran and the inevitable quagmire, we'll get to hear his whinge all over again: "oh, they LIED to me..." (meaning the US government)

Drum is such a schnook.

Posted by: slammin' sammy on December 5, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

If you believe in America's god given right to maintain colonies in the middle east to feed our oil thirst, regulate our friends and harm our enemies, then this post makes sense. Otherwise, it is hogwash. Iran has a right under international law to do what it is doing and we are trying to prevent Iran from exercising that right. In addition, we impose a standard on Iran that we do not impose on Israel, India and Pakistan. Why do they hate us -- it ain't a tough question.

Posted by: steve on December 5, 2007 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I see I'm not the only one wondering whether Iran is emulating Saddam in deliberately keeping everyone uncertain as to whether it really has a Bomb program or not: http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2007/12/05/the-wmd-bluff-is-iran-doing-the-exact-same-thing-iraq-did.aspx .

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 5, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's also important to note that in the past few das the leaders ofboth Iran and Saudi Arabia have been photographed leaving mid-east events, hand-in-hand. These two countries are not all warm and friendly. So, the timing of their public show of friendship, together with the failed Annapolis event, together with the most recent NIE, is a bit suspect.

Check www.debka.com for updates on this developing friendship between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: zane on December 6, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK



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