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A Path to Peace with Iran

By Scott Ritter

04/20/06 "
Alternet" -- -- It has been more than a week now since the Iranian government announced that it had "joined the nuclear club" by successfully enriching uranium, albeit for nuclear fuel, not a weapon. Once a nation has the capacity to enrich to the former, enrichment to the latter is simply a matter of time; the technology is the same. Iran's declaration immediately made headlines around the world, with stunned punditry engaging in wild speculation about the potential ramifications of this turn of events. From a simple laboratory-scale enrichment experiment, a massive nuclear weapons program grew Pheonix-like from the ashes, prompting dire warnings from US Government officials such as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker, who told a press conference in Moscow, where he was visiting to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue with Russian officials, that Iran "...may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days."

Rademaker was referring to the mathematical possibilities arising from Iran enriching uranium to weapons grade-levels at its centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz, using a 50,000-centrifuge cascade system the United States and others say is capable of being installed at the facility. In a nod to the hypothetical nature of his outlandish remark, Rademaker did note that the Iranians have gone on record as only wanting to install a 3,000-centrifuge cascade at Natanz. In that case, Rademaker said, "We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days." Apparently 271 days isn't as terrifyingly sexy as 16 days, given that the majority of the media reported Rademakers initial statement.

In all fairness to Mr. Rademaker, the full 16 days window he postulated remains open, and so it is perhaps too harsh to pass criticism until it is known whether or not his prediction will come to pass. But I'll wager a dime to a dollar that come 16 days -- or even 271 days -- the world will find Iran no closer to a nuclear bomb than it is today, because the reality is Iran does not possess an active, ongoing, viable nuclear weapons program. In all reality, Iran does not yet even possess the capability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. Its claims regarding the laboratory-scale work that was conducted -- a limited run of some 164 centrifuges which enriched Uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) from 0.7% to 3.5% U235 -- has yet to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is in the process of collecting samples of the enriched gas for further analysis.

The fact that the IAEA safeguard inspections are at play in Iran may in itself come as a surprise to most observers of the ongoing Iranian nuclear saga. Iran is still very much a member, in good standing, of the non-proliferation treaty, and all of its nuclear activities continue to be under the stringent monitoring of the IAEA safeguard inspectors, an odd reality for a nation only 16 days away from being able to replicate the American attack on Hiroshima, if Stephen Rademaker is to be taken seriously. It takes an extraordinary stretch of the imagination to have Iran fabricating a nuclear weapon right under the nose of IAEA inspectors who today manage an inspection process that is not only technologically advanced, but seasoned after years of sleuthing after nuclear weapons programs in Iraq, North Korea, South Africa and Iran. To liken these professionals, as is the habit of many in the Bush administration today, to "keystone cops" is like comparing the US Marine Corps to the Boy Scouts. The IAEA inspectors are the best in the world at what they do. The fact that they have not found a "smoking gun" to back up what has been to date nothing more than irresponsible speculation concerning the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program should ease the fears of those politicians and pundits prone to panic. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and as a result the world finds itself inching ever closer to a tragically unnecessary war between the United States and Iran.

The problems that plague Washington DC on the issue of Iran are the same problems that haunt America overall regarding Iraq -- no clear understanding of why we as a nation are doing what we are doing where we are doing it, and absolutely no system of accountability for those who are implicated, directly through their actions or indirectly through abrogation of duties and responsibilities, in embroiling America in such senseless conflict. There seems to be, especially among the so-called "anti-war" crowd, a tendency to blame the "system" for all that ails us, with a specific trend to isolate particular nodes of economic and/or political power for special indictment.

In this light, the current war in Iraq and the real possibility of war with Iran becomes the responsibility of "Big Oil," the "Neo Cons," the "Military Industrial Complex," and more recently, the "Israeli Lobby." There are more names one can add to the list; everyone, it seems, is to blame. Congress, while not getting a pass, does get special dispensation in so far that we can understand why the elected representatives of the people abrogate the trust and confidence we place in them by noting that they have fallen under the ever expanding control of "special interests," namely the aforementioned power nodes that are to blame for everything. Likewise, since these power nodes also control the mainstream media, one can begin to understand why it is that the pro-war message trumps the anti-war message every step of the way.

Of course, there is much merit in all of the above arguments. There are in fact special interest groups (the so-called "power nodes") which exude influence, both in terms of influencing the legislative agenda of elected officials as well as the overall "thematic" of mainstream media, far in excess of that which is healthy in an ostensibly representative democracy. But it is wrong, and futile, to simply blame these power nodes, or the institutions they have come to so heavily influence. These power nodes did not simply appear out of nowhere. They are a product of American history and culture, a manifestation of the reality that, even more so than the processes of representative democracy, America is a product of unadulterated capitalism.

All that is good and bad about our society today stems from that basic truth. The American capitalist system exists to make money, and that money ends up concentrated in the hands of a few, while the majority of Americans toil in support of this massive capital generating behemoth. As a nation over time we have tinkered with the American system (imperfectly, it may be argued) in a way that seeks to protect the civil liberties of the individual. But in the end we are compelled not to bite the hand that feeds us, and the corporation for the most part has benefited at the expense of the citizen. Some would argue that the gains of the corporation translate into the gains of the citizen. This is true, as long as there remains a system of checks and balances through the vehicle of the rule of law that stays the hand of excessive greed at the expense of individual rights. But in the end the strongest proponent of individual rights must be the individual citizen, and when the system of capitalism dulls the attraction of citizenship based upon the rule of law (a process that is extraordinarily time consuming and difficult) with the allure of consumer-based creature comforts delivered to the masses, the individual is faced with an up-hill struggle of immense proportions that cannot be won unless a helping hand is offered by the very system of capitalism the individual is struggling against.

In short, America as a nation is genetically constructed in a manner that places a premium on greed. However, the DNA that drives this greed gene requires a compliant host, which we could call the American citizenry, if it is to survive. There has always been a complicated Kabuki-type dance occurring between the American corporation and the American citizen, with a Constitutionally mandated system of governance, replete with pre-programmed checks and balances, serving as puppet master in an effort to preserve a relative balance. But, as President Eisenhower foretold when warning America about the ascendancy of the military-industrial complex back in the 1950's, if this delicate balance is disrupted, the system is in danger of collapsing.

The American system has been in collapse for many decades now, with the rise of corporate power occurring in direct relationship with the demise of concept and reality of individual citizenship. How America as a nation reacted to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 clearly put the manifestation of this collapse on center stage. Americans for the most part remained mute and motionless as the rights of the individual were infringed on irrationally by the so-called Patriot Act. The various economic and political power nodes, once held in check by a Congress which at one time recognized its responsibilities to the individual citizen, now ran rough shod over the elected representatives of the people by exploiting the fear of the people generated by the people's own ignorance of the world they lived in. In short, the current war in Iraq, and the looming war with Iran, can be explained as a manifestation of American capitalism gone mad.

Some might argue that this very definition in itself provides justification for a total rejection of the current manifestation of the American system, and the need to seek a new path or direction. There are those in the anti-war movement today who articulate such an argument. I, for one, am not prepared to embrace this way of thinking. I recognize both the good and bad inherent in the difficult blending of capitalistic greed and individual humanism that is modern America, and accept that this system is the best model in existence today, as long as it maintains a system of checks and balances that keeps the forces of excessiveness under control. In likening America to a biological entity suffering from genetic mutation, I not only attempt to identify the problem, but also the cure.

The delicate balancing act that exists between capitalism and individual rights is a pre-requisite for American national survival. Right now this system is out of balance, and America is teetering down a path of self-destruction. Fortunately, like most biological beings, there is an internal mechanism that recognizes when a system is out of alignment, and seeks to make the appropriate adjustments in time to forestall its demise. Since America is, first and foremost, a capitalist system, it is to capitalism that one must look to for these adjustments. We got the first inklings of this very sort of attitudinal wake-up call just this week, when Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican of distinction who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for the Bush administration to "cool it" on the issue of Iran.

Senator Lugar did not base his arguments on grand ideological principles of peace and justice, but rather the more base passion of prosperity. Speaking before an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, Senator Lugar warned that a confrontation between the United States and Iran over its nuclear programs could trigger economic collapse at home and abroad should Iran's oil and gas resources be withdrawn from the global energy market. With global consumption of oil on the rise, not only in the United States but also developing economies such as China and India, spare production capacity has dwindled from 10 percent in 2002 to less than two percent today, Lugar noted. If Iran pulled its oil and gas resources from the market, or had them pulled indirectly through sustained US military intervention, the global energy market would be thrown into a crisis the likes of which have never been seen.

Senator Lugar spoke of the threat that exists simply if the price of oil is sustained at the $60 a barrel level, noting that Americans paid 17 percent more for energy in 2005 than in the previous year, an increase which accounted for more than a third of the American trade deficit. "If oil prices remain at $60 a barrel through 2006, we will spend about $320 billion on oil imports this year." As of this writing, oil prices were just above $70 per barrel, with the Iranian government noting that in their opinion the price of oil was still below its "real value." What Lugar did not engage in directly, but referred to obliquely, was that the forces of capitalism which drive America also drive the global oil market, and that if America, which currently consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, engages in actions with Iran that disrupt the global oil market, the competition which fuels speculative oil pricing would go out of control as the United States, Europe, China and India competed to lock down energy supplies they all need to survive. Lugar spoke of his concerns over oil prices sustained at $60 per barrel. Imagine the consequences of sustained oil prices of $100 per barrel, or more.

This reality is understood not only by Senator Lugar, but also various conservative foreign policy figures, including those who articulated in favor of war with Iraq. Influential persons such as Richard Haas and Richard Armitage have come out recently in favor of broad diplomatic and economic engagement with Iran, versus the extreme confrontational approach of the Bush White House. These conservatives are loathe to take the lead on such a volatile issue on their own initiative. Instead, their posturing away from confrontation with Iran is more likely a manifestation of the reality that the conservative capitalist circles they operate in are becoming increasingly nervous about the damage such confrontation could bring to the economic system that currently sustains them.

It is said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. If there is to be any hope of forestalling a disastrous war between the United States and Iran, there must be an internal realignment of the delicate Kabuki dance between capitalism and individualism in America that seeks to sustain the American way of life, versus destroy it. Today, many in the anti-war movement decry conservative capitalists as being the source of all that ails America, and the nurturing point which feeds the various economic and political power nodes that produce the variety of special interest groups the anti-war movement likes to pin responsibility for war in Iraq (and the possibility of war with Iran) on. Likewise, this total disconnect between many of those that populate the anti-war movement and the conservative circles in which Richard Lugar, Richard Haas, and Richard Armitage operate in means that there is no tendency on the part of these conservatives to reach out to the anti-war movement for help in forestalling a conflict both sides agree is wrong for America.

Many in the anti-war movement seem to recognize that there is a need to expand the base of this movement to be much more inclusive of mainstream America. I suggest that the pace of current events dictate a much more dramatic solution -- that the anti-war movement begin to reach out to the very institutions that it condemns and make common cause for the preservation of a way of life -- the unique blend of corporate capitalism and individual rights -- that is at risk from the policies of the Bush administration. It is not likely that there will be many points of agreement on the long-term path that America should take regarding achieving the ideal balance between these two competing, and somewhat contradictory, concepts. But one thing is certain: if the Bush administration has its way regarding war with Iran, both concepts will be put at risk in the chaos which will follow.

2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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