The N.Y. Times published an op ed calling for the U.S. to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. The op ed, published by a so-called proliferation specialist at the University of Texas, Alan Kuperman, is a hasbarist’s dream. But as with all such hawkish diatribes, it masks glaring weaknesses.
Here are some examples. In this passage, the author derides the west’s proposed nuclear compromise with Iran which involved shipping its enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment:
The proposal did not require Iran to halt its enrichment program, despite several United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding such a moratorium.
Kuperman here contradicts himself due to imprecision. He uses the term “halt” its enrichment program and then the term “moratorium.” Actually, the UN demands that Iran SUSPEND its enrichment program which is closer to a moratorium than a halt. But even these UN demands are controversial and not necessarily in accord with UN procedure according to Muhammad Sahimi, who is well-informed about such matters.
It should be added that only ISRAEL demands that Iran HALT its uranium enrichment program, a demand that contravenes the UN Charter which offers nations the right to perform nuclear research for peaceful purposes. So in this sense, Kuperman’s claim that the UN demands a “halt” to Iran’s nuclear program precisely reflects Israel’s position.
The author maintains a strange argument that far from slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, exporting its uranium would actually facilitate it. The evidence he offers is entirely unconvincing ,ending with an even more questionable conclusion that exporting Iranian uranium would actually have greatly facilitated the country’s mad dash to a nuclear bomb:
…The [Geneva] proposal would not have averted proliferation in the short run, because that risk always was low, but instead would have fostered it in the long run…
A few more questionable assertions mar his work. He claims that the UN has demanded that Iran close its Natanz nuclear plant. Again, I find this questionable since in and of itself having such a plant does not violate NPT. I find it creditable that the UN might have demanded that it make any research or enrichment happening there more transparent. But not that it close the plant entirely.
Kuperman further expounds the bizarre theory that Iran’s statement that it would enrich its uranium to the 20% level (rather than exporting it) was a bluff because crazy Ahmadinejad’s real aim is to:
Compel the international community into providing the fuel…
Say what? This is a tad too conspiratorial for me.
Once again, here the author posits a stark, false policy choice:
…The U.S. faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
That is certainly nowhere near the set of dire choices the U.S. faces. It only faces these choices if one gives up on diplomatic engagement and determines that a nuclear weaponized Iran is something over which it is worth essentially going to war.
More Kuperman errors:
Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes.
Since he doesn’t specify which groups he’s talking about I surmise it is Hamas and Hezbollah. The problem with his statement is that once again it is false. I don’t know whether UN Resolution 1707, which ended the 2006 war required an arms embargo against Hezbollah. I’d like a reader to tell me if this is even true. But certainly the fact that Israel has violated terms of the Resolution with threatening and illegal overflights of southern Lebanon (in one such sortie the UN forces had actually been about to shoot down an Israeli plane), renders Iran’s possible violations less egregious.
But where Kuperman really falls flat is in regard to Hamas. There is no international embargo on aiding Hamas. I would challenge him to list a single UN resolution that forbids it. Yes, there are nations boycotting Hamas and this policy is extremely controversial and even a violation of international law as enforced by Israel. But to call this an international embargo in the absence of any UN decision is sophistry.
From here, of course the academic hawk advances to the claim that a WMD capable Iran would provide Hamas or Hezbollah with a nuclear weapon. While I concede this is a fantasy that any neocon in good standing could dream up, that doesn’t mean the rest of the reasonable people in the world should do anything other than laugh in utter derision at this foolhardy proposition. There is absolutely no proof that Iran could or would provide nuclear weapons to an outside agent. This IS what happened in the case of a Pakistani nuclear physicist who helped Iran and North Korea advance their own programs. But there is no evidence that Iran has ever done such a thing. In fact, Iran is a far more stable country than Pakistan or North Korea and the chances of this happening are very, very small (and that’s if Iran ever develops a nuclear weapon).
Kuperman begins his call for a military strike by acknowledging “aerial bombing may not work.” But the rest of his op-ed ignores this caveat and treats it as if it hasn’t been delivered.
He posits the dubious claim that a knockout blow to Iran could be delivered basing it on the 1981 Osirak reactor attack by Israel against Iraq. He neglects to mention that any attack on Iran would have to be 1,000 times more complicated since the aggressor would not be attacking a single site relatively poorly protected as Osirak was at the time.
The author renders a dubious historical analogy: an attack on Iran would not necessarily destroy the Iranian reform opposition since NATO attacks on Serbia did not prevent the Serbian democratic opposition from toppling Milosevic after that war ended. The differences between the two situations are enormous. Serbia was a relatively small European nation with a relatively weak military force. It was destroyed relatively easily by NATO and in a relatively short period of time. When the west attacked Serbia, there was no democratic opposition to speak of. There was a despot and his tinpot regime and genocide against Kosovo.
Iran is a vast country with a very credible military capability. It could never be cowed as Serbia was without the expenditure of vast amounts of military commitment and force. In addition, in Iran there is a fairly strong reform movement which, while it might not currently be able to overthrow the clerical despots, can certainly wage on ongoing political struggle that will end up with that result. Unlike in Serbia, an attack would undoubtedly, as Muhammad Sahimi stated at the Iran conference I organized last week, set back the reformers by fifty years.
Next, the op-ed hawk acknowledges Iran could mount mischief against U.S. interests in the Middle East:
Iran could retaliate by aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does this anyway.
This is completely bogus. While Iran has a complicated presence in Iraq in which it has sometimes acted against U.S. interests, it has sometimes aided them depending on the differing circumstances it faced. As far as Afghanistan is concerned Kuperman’s claim is entirely bogus. Iran hates the Taliban and has never aided them. Such a pathetic error again renders the author’s entire argument dubious.
He again makes an unfounded claim that Iran wouldn’t dare retaliate against a U.S. attack for fear of “stronger American counter-escalation.” Does anyone doubt that if Iran and the U.S. were in a game of chicken who would win? Who could withstand the most pain before giving up? If you say our side you’re oblivious to recent history.
Here’s another astonishingly vacuous claim:
…Air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try.
Where do these people come up with such lunacy? Keep in mind this guy has a PhD from MIT. He’s not Daniel Pipes, Michael Ledeen or David Horowitz. Yet given the quality of his analysis he might as well be.
Lest anyone believe that the Israeli foreign ministry might’ve had a hand in penning this splendid contribution to the Iran policy debate, Kuperman raises and dismisses the suggestion that Israel attack Iran. No, he replies. Israel doesn’t have the military capacity. Only we here in the U.S. can do it.
One of the op ed writer’s arguments for the U.S. taking responsibility for this matter is that a strike against Iran would deter “other would-be proliferators.” Yeah, that worked with Pakistan and North Korea, didn’t it? Not to mention, as our speakers did at last week’s conference that the lesson most would-be proliferators are learning is that a nation without a nuclear weapon like Iraq under Saddam fares much worse than one having such a weapon (cf., North Korea). For the U.S. to reverse course and announce it was willing to become the world’s anti-proliferation cop replete with threats of military force, risks making a laughingstock out of us. How could we look the world in the face after we’ve allowed so many nations to nuclearize?
I do so love statements like this which could just as easily been made by Bibi Netanyahu or any number of neocon hawks:
Eschewing force [against Iran] is tantamount to appeasement.
I’m prepared to accept that a nuclear Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East just as I believe that a nuclear Israel plays the same role. But to introduce manipulative terms like “appeasement” into the debate is to debase it entirely. Appeasement of course raises the specter of Munich and 1938 (again we’re in Bibi territory). Were Iran to get the bomb, the world would not end. Israel would not be destroyed. Iran would not take over the Middle East. These are all the fever dreams of pro-war hawks. But not the carefully considered views of pragmatists, of whom I hope Barack Obama is one.
I can’t conclude my critique of this execrable article without quoting its ending:
We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.
This is the Benny Morris School of anti-Iran hysteria. I’m certain that such garbage will not receive a serious hearing in Washington policy circles. But as with Morris’ awful N.Y. Times op-ed on this subject, one wonders why the newspaper would publish such war-mongering propaganda. Do the editors believe they have to appear balanced? What is useful, interesting or innovative with regard to this piece? To me, it only further proves the bankruptcy of neocon foreign policy options.
Alan Kuperman should take heart though: his column, which easily could’ve been ghosted for him by the MFA, certainly brought joy to the hearts of the Israeli hasbara apparatus in this country. In fact, if Michael Oren ever gives up the ghost and Kuperman could be persuaded to accept a position at the Israeli neocon Shalem Center along with Israeli citizenship, I’m sure that Kuperman could be in the running to replace Oren as Israel’s ambassador to this country. At the very least, the latter will be invited to Israel and feted for doing such a bang-up job representing Israel’s interests, whether intentionally or unintentionally in the American media.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.