Before Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress on Iraq

The following was originally published in The Globalist.

On March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress to speak on what he believes to be the threat of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. It is a theme he has hit often in his career, going back at least as far as the early 1990s.

His concern about Iran – and accompanying determination that Israel and the United States should strike preemptively – was only put on hold briefly around 2002 and early 2003, when he turned his attention instead to Iraq.

Missing the mark

In September 2002, ahead of the U.S. Congress’s October 2002 authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, the then-former Prime Minister offered testimony to members of the U.S. House and Senate at a hearing on Iraq’s purported nuclear weapons program capabilities.

Benjamin Netanyahu testifying to Congress on Iraq in September 2002.

Benjamin Netanyahu testifying to Congress on Iraq in September 2002.

In addition to providing an extremely incorrect account of the program itself, as it turns out, Mr. Netanyahu’s forecasts of the implications of the war he was calling upon the United States to wage were also badly misguided.

In his own words, transcribed from C-SPAN clips, here is why Mr. Netanyahu believed the United States should invade Iraq back in 2002 and what would happen as a result:

And today the United States must destroy the same regime, because a nuclear-armed Saddam will put the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it: if and when Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror network will have nuclear weapons.


Two decades ago, it was possible to thwart Saddam’s nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. Today, nothing less than dismantling his regime will do…


The first victory in Afghanistan makes the second victory in Iraq that much easier. The second victory in Iraq will make the third victory that much easier too, but it may change the nature of achieving that victory. It may be possible to have implosions taking place – I don’t guarantee it, Mr. Tierney, but I think it makes it more likely and therefore I think the choice of Iraq is a good choice. It’s the right choice.”

As it turned out, the conflict in Iraq – a war of choice as he himself characterized it – was not easy. And the only regional effect it had was to increase transnational religious terrorism and provide opportunities to boost the stature, influence, and military strength of Iran and its proxies. It also likely hardened Iranian interest in nuclear deterrence.

The 2003 Iraq War was bad for Israel’s long-term security. A war with Iran would be far worse. The Israeli Prime Minister has been very loud on military affairs in the Middle East, but he has also been very wrong more often than not.

The United States government would be wise to disregard his counsel on Iran now, for the sake of all countries involved – including Israel.

France still stiffing nuclear test victims

Johnny Magdaleno reported extensively on France’s failure to compensate involuntary civilian test subjects in a piece for Al Jazeera America headlined “Algerians suffering from French atomic legacy, 55 years after nuke tests”

If you thought U.S. nuclear tests were bad (and they were), the French nuclear tests make them look like a paragon of ethics by comparison. The U.S. did battlefield nuclear tests on soldiers near fake towns/farms in the desert and tests near island populations in the Pacific. The French just rounded up Algerians and tested nukes near existing villages. Many people weren’t even warned that there would be testing happening nearby and some went blind from the flash(es). 27,000-60,000 Algerians were affected by atmospheric and underground nuclear weapons tests, directly and over time from subsequent effects.

Then, after French military activities ended (shortly after Algeria’s independence from mainland France), the military lightly buried all the contaminated equipment (leaving it to unsuspecting local salvagers) and relocated tests to French Polynesia, much like U.S. tests in/near the Marshall Islands, with similarly devastating effects to islanders.

The United States has at least been making extensive compensation payouts to troops and civilians for decades, while France — as the article details — has barely paid out anything for anyone, to date, despite admitting to responsibility for injuring/harming tens of thousands of people.

Additionally, according to Wikipedia, the 1961 French testing in Algeria may have been responsible for the USSR — and in turn the United States — ending an informal moratorium on atmospheric testing, thus causing scores more nuclear weapons to be unleashed on the planet and escalating tensions ahead of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

January 21, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 114


Topics: Republican State Attorneys General, the NYPD mutiny, US-Russian relations. People: Bill, Nate, Sasha. Produced: January 19th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– How are Republican Attorneys General helping corporations fight common sense regulation?
– Is the NYPD beyond the control of the people of New York City and Mayor De Blasio?
– The end of nuclear partnership: When should the US view Russian actions as threatening versus posturing?

Episode 114 (52 min)
AFD 114

Related links
Segment 1

AFD, by Sasha: State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.
NYT: Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

Segment 2

AFD: NYC: Overwhelming opposition to the NYPD mutiny
The Globalist, by Bill: New York: De Blasio Vs. a Renegade Police Department
AFD: The NYPD: America’s Secret Police
AFD, by De Ana: #BlackLivesMatter means just that, not that police lives don’t
Reuters: Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police

Segment 3

Boston Globe: Russia ends US nuclear security alliance
The Globalist: Kaliningrad: Achilles’ Heel for the West


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Nunn-Lugar “Loose Nukes” agreements are over with Russia

The Boston Globe broke the story today on the suspension of Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction:

In the previously undisclosed discussions, the Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more US help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market. The declaration effectively ended one of the most successful areas of cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries.

“I think it greatly increases the risk of catastrophic terrorism,” said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia and an architect of the “cooperative threat reduction” programs of the 1990s.

Official word came in a terse, three-page agreement signed on Dec. 16. A copy was obtained by the Globe, and a description of the Moscow meeting was provided by three people who attended the session or were briefed on it. They declined to be identified for security reasons.
On hand for the Moscow meeting were nearly four dozen of the leading figures on both sides who have been working to safeguard the largest supplies of the world’s deadliest weapons, according to the three-page agreement.

The group included officials from the US Department of Energy, its nuclear weapons labs, the Pentagon, and the State Department, and a host of Russian officials in charge of everything from dismantling nuclear submarines to arms control.

Specialists said the final meeting was a dismaying development in a joint effort that the United States has invested some $2 billion in and had been a symbol of the thaw between East and West and of global efforts to prevent the spread of doomsday weapons. An additional $100 million had been budgeted for the effort this year and many of the programs were envisioned to continue at least through 2018.

Former Senator Nunn also expressed strong concern about Russia’s budgetary ability to continue the programs without US assistance, particularly given current economic conditions with falling oil prices and sanctions.

Reciprocal nuclear arsenal inspections will continue, however, along with cooperation on trying to prevent dirty bombs (i.e. radioactive material dispersed by conventional explosives) from being produced by non-state actors.

Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar leaving the White House after briefing President George H. W. Bush on the Nunn-Lugar legislation (1991). (US government photo via Wikimedia)

Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar leaving the White House after briefing President George H. W. Bush on the Nunn-Lugar legislation (1991). (US government photo via Wikimedia)

One heartbeat away

In 2008, John McCain picked the person who said this today on the Crimea crisis, to be his next-in-line as president of the United States: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

Let’s just take a moment to give silent thanks that we don’t live in the other universe, where that ticket won.

AFD 65 – Iran, Central Africa, DOMA

Latest Episode:
“AFD 65 – Iran, Central Africa, DOMA”
Posted: Tues, 26 November 2013

Guest co-host Greg joins Bill to assess the Iranian nuclear deal, the chaos in Central African Republic, and recent developments on LGBT rights in America.

Relevant links:
Iran deal…

Central African Republic…

LGBT Rights in America…

Op-Ed: Rohani’s Presidential Pulpit

This op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist.

Any Iranian president is limited in his capacity to enact reforms. Why? Because all policies are ultimately approved or denied by the country’s religious authorities.

But the presidential bully pulpit is still more powerful than it seems at first glance.

Outgoing conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no matter how powerless he became at home, proved that a determined Iranian president could still make a splash on the world stage.

While policy is under the purview of the theocrats in Tehran, the power of words, when wielded by a compelling orator, can still outmaneuver the nominal boundary lines of power.

Ahmadinejad was an incompetent leader domestically and given to wildly overblown rhetoric worldwide, but he made a lasting impression. He became the embodiment of the boogeyman that Iran’s biggest enemies had long warned of.

Words have power. Regardless of Iran’s actual military capacities, infamous comments from the president like those about wiping Israel “off the map” were the gift that kept on giving for the Bomb-Iran-Now lobby in Jerusalem and Washington throughout his eight years in office.

In fact, such comments were one reason Ahmadinejad became persona non grata at home with the true power center of the regime. His over-reaching threats went beyond the ruling clerics’ wishes and backed Iran into a corner.

While bombs did not rain down, economic sanctions did. Ahmadinejad was defeating Iran’s regime himself.

These sanctions have brought the Iranian economy to a breaking point.

This has severely undermined the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of its citizens and helped strengthen the reform movement that put Hassan Rohani over the top in this month’s election.

There’s a key disjunction between the reality and Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, of course.

The bravado of Iran’s president painted the nation as a constant, existential threat to its Arab neighbors, to Israel, to southern Europe and even to Iran’s own friends — regardless of real capacity.

We don’t know for sure how close Iran is to being able to make and deploy a nuclear weapon, but for nearly eight years, the advocates of bombing Iran have never really had to make this case. They merely had to point to the fighting words of Iran’s own president.

Clearly, since Iran still doesn’t have the bomb now, it’s not as if Tel Aviv had been just weeks away from a mushroom cloud, say, five years ago. But one would have thought so between the Israeli and U.S. hawks and Ahmadinejad’s bluster.

Which brings us to Iran’s next president, Hassan Rohani.

Aside from his reform leanings on the home front, which may never come to pass, he’s best known for being Iran’s top nuclear program negotiator in the reform administration of Mohammad Khatami.

In that role, he was generally seen as far more conciliatory than the string of negotiators who followed under the Ahmadinejad administration — and certainly more so than the outgoing president himself.

The Iranian people and the hard-line theocrats alike support nuclear development as a matter of sovereignty and independence from Western interference.

But they also recognize that belligerency on the issue has brought only misery and the constant risk of attack.

Now would be a good time for a conciliatory approach and a fresh start in nuclear talks with the West.

Hassan Rohani seems to be the man for the job of resetting Iran’s foreign image and stance.

He can thread the high-stakes needle of being diplomatic and open to compromise while also standing firmly (but not aggressively) behind a civilian nuclear development program.

Rhetoric paired with reality is strongest, but rhetoric alone, even separated from reality, can be powerful too — especially if people still believe the two are linked.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s globetrotting, Holocaust-denying, nihilist ranting proved that. Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council could keep him away from real power at home, but they could never shut him up on the world stage.

Toward the end of his administration, he likely didn’t even have control over any actual strategic or tactical military decisions or other real foreign policy.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps, allied to the Supreme Leader and not the president, saw to that.

But to Iran’s enemies, whatever propaganda came from the president’s lips could be spun as accurate representations of Iran’s plans and capabilities beyond its borders.

This was a particularly easy sell given the murkiness of Iran’s inner workings for non-expert Americans watching Sunday morning news panels on TV.

If Rohani wants to have a big impact as Iran’s president, his best bet is to use the power of rhetoric to re-shape Iran’s global and regional posture. In doing so, he could ease the pressure of sanctions and spare Iran from war. That’s where he can make a big difference.

If a disempowered fanatical blowhard can, with the power of his speeches alone, make Iran appear to be an imminent horseman of the nuclear apocalypse, then a disempowered reformist who wants reconciliation with the West can use friendlier rhetoric to climb Iran back down off the ledge.

In a mosque, the minbar, or pulpit, is generally designed to raise the visibility of the person speaking and naturally amplify his voice for the audience.

Hassan Rohani may never have full policy control over Iran’s international affairs and he will very likely have little policy control at home, but he still has the power of the presidential bully pulpit if he chooses to use it.

Like a minbar, the Iranian presidency raises the holder’s profile and amplifies his message, even if it might have no other inherent authority.

What is done with that limited, but real, rhetorical power is up to the man in office and how good he is with words.

But seizing the metaphorical presidential pulpit to reset diplomatic relations — with or without the Supreme Leader — would be a fitting result from the only candidate in this year’s field who was actually also a cleric and knows his way around a real pulpit.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist. It was moved here in November 2013.