The Booster

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Obama is by nature a booster—like the first stage of the missile lofting its payload into the upper atmosphere. A huge bang, a mighty whoosh and then a few miles up, a fizzle as the Obama-booster burns out and drops back to earth. Who knows what happened to the payload? He doesn’t seem to have much stamina or even strategy for getting useful things done. No wonder he leaped on the “secret Iranian nuclear facility.” It was a perfect setup for a booster.

Half-close our eyes and we could have been back in Bush time, amid the ripest hours of the propaganda barrage for the U.S.-led onslaught on Iraq. (Though this time, the venue was the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh not the U.N. General Assembly since Obama wanted to reserve that for a message of uplift.) Theme: disclosure of fresh, chilling evidence of the duplicity of a pariah nation and of the threat it poses to the civilized world. Then it was G.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, obediently dispensing lies and blatant forgeries about Iraq’s WMD. Last week, it was President Barack Obama flanked by his Euro-puppets, rolling out alarms that were relayed to the world by a compliant press, albeit sometimes with sidebars puncturing the essential claims. Within minutes of Obama’s Pittsburgh ambush, the White House’s scenario about a terrifying new nuke factory near Qom began to crumble; a few days later, it was rubble.

U.S. intelligence knew about the mountainside site back in Bush time. Former CIA officer Bob Baer says the site was noted in a 2008 national intelligence estimate. Work had started on it, then stopped. Obama was briefed about it during the transition. Last spring, U.S. surveillance—from satellites and maybe from spies on the ground—concluded a speed-up in the plant’s construction was under way. U.S. intelligence then supposedly learned that the Iranians knew the plant was under U.S. observation. Of course they did. Who doesn’t know about American eyes in the skies?

Both Iran and the U.S. were planning a disclosure schedule matching their political needs. Iran’s letter of notification to the IEAA was probably timed to strengthen the theocracy’s domestic political position; also, Iran’s hand in the upcoming Geneva summit. Claims that Iran violated its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and the treaty’s subsequent annexes are questionable at best and will give international legal experts plump incomes for decades. One of the U.S.’s tactics has been to rearrange the legal requirements of the treaty, then to insist that each new arrogant stipulation is retroactive. Iran naturally enough objects to this and responds with dense legal barrages, some depending on whether or not the Iranian parliament ratified the successive amendments to the treaty. Their case is pretty good—certainly a hundred times stronger than Obama’s wild accusations, dutifully echoed by his equerries, Sarkozy and Brown. (The most persuasive outline of the legal issues comes from Los Angeles-based Muhammad Sahimi, on the anti-theocracy site Frontline: Tehran Bureau.)

In reality, the public disclosure of something the U.S. knew about years ago—knowledge it shared with its prime NATO allies and Israel—changes nothing. The consensus of U.S. intelligence remains that there is no hard evidence that Iran is actively seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran has agreed to inspection of the plant at some appropriate point.

In a larger perspective, there’s the absurdity of Obama thundering against Iran, which signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and has allowed inspections, while remaining entirely silent about Israel. This country has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty and has an arsenal of somewhere between 200 and 300 nuclear weapons about which it has been serially deceptive for nearly half a century and has adamantly refused all inspections. Behind Obama, discoursing on nuclear responsibility, were Sarkozy and Brown, whose nuclear subs recently collided in the Atlantic Ocean.

Obama’s policy remains tightly in sync with that of his predecessor in the White House. Spasms of ferocious bluster toward Iran raise public anxiety. Stories about imminent Israel raids on Iran are balanced by leaks to the effect that the White House is keeping Israel on a leash. Then sanctions are tightened on Iran. These strengthen the political hand of the theocracy, which can put extra muscle into its repression on the grounds that the country is under siege. What other effect do they have? Professor R.T. Naylor of McGill University, who has written Economic Warfare, a book on sanctions, tells me: “Iran, of course, has had U.S. sanctions against it before, without any sign much happened. Of its exports to the U.S., the main thing was always the profits U.S. firms earned on corrupt contracts, so this was a classic case of the U.S. shooting itself in the foot in those early sanctions. Also, Iran stopped putting its oil surpluses in U.S. banks.” California is growing more pistachios, caviar comes from Russia and a lot of other countries are knocking off Iranian styles and patterns in carpets.

Meanwhile, this supposedly rational president is already having to pay the political bills for his reckless boosterism during his campaign, of a wider war in Afghanistan. Anyone wanting to understand how JFK plunged into the Vietnamese quagmire, and how LBJ got in even deeper, has only to follow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlessly trumps common sense.

By common agreement, the situation in Afghanistan from the U.S. point of view is rapidly getting worse. In terms of military advantage, the Taliban have been doing very well, helped by America’s bizarre policy of trying to assassinate the Taliban’s high command by drones, thus allowing vigorous young Taliban commanders to step into senior positions.

Alas, we have a booster president who turns out to have painfully few fixed principles but an enthusiasm for news management that gave him high ratings last week, but which leaves more and more sensible people wondering if he has any constructive long-term strategy to lower tensions and reduce the likely prospect of savage bloodletting across the Middle East. The passing months have been brutally unkind to such expectations.


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