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Michael Klare: A Climate Change-Fueled Revolution?

7:15 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Family standing in Typhoon Haiyan rubble

Can revolution save us from climate change apocalypse?

There’s a crossroads moment in our recent history that comes back to me whenever I think of our warming planet.  (2013 is shaping up to be the seventh warmest year since records began to be kept in 1850.  The 10 warmest years have all occured since 1998.)  In the six months from July 1979 to January 1980, as Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency was winding down, he urged two approaches to global energy on Americans.  One was dismissed out of hand, the other taken up with alacrity — and our world is incommensurately the worse for it.  Here’s a description I wrote back in May that is worth quoting again:

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East.  ‘To give us energy security,’ he announced, ‘I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun…’

It’s true that, with the science of climate change then in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of ‘alternative energy’ wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one.  Even then — shades of today or possibly tomorrow — he was talking about having ‘more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.’  Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today?  Instead, the media dubbed it the ‘malaise speech,’ though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American ‘crisis of confidence.’  While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long.  In the end, the president’s energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

Carter would, however, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined.  Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: ‘Let our position be absolutely clear,’ he said. ‘An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.’

No one would laugh him out of the room for that.  Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough.  Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command.  More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s ‘alternative’ North America.  They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a ‘new Saudi Arabia.’

Could there have been a sadder choice in recent history? If, in 1979, the U.S. had invested in a big way in solar, wind, tidal power, and who knows what else, imagine where we might be today. Imagine a world not facing a future in which storms like Super-Typhoon Haiyan, which recently leveled part of the Philippines, its winds devastating, its storm surge killing staggering numbers, threaten to become the norm for our children and grandchildren.

So oil wars, yes! — which meant transforming the Greater Middle East into a region of chaos, instability, and death.  An oil-ravaged planet, yes indeed! — which meant potentially transforming a future version of Earth into a planet of chaos, instability, and death!  A green energy revolution, not on your life! — not while the giant energy corporations have so much invested in underground reserves of fossil fuels and such gigantic profits to make, not while so many governments are deeply intertwined with those energy giants or are themselves essentially giant energy companies.  No wonder TomDispatch regular Michael Klare suggests that it falls into our hands to ensure that a green energy revolution arrives ahead of a human-created, fossil-fueled apocalypse. Tom

Surviving Climate Change
Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda?
By Michael T. Klare

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware! Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

Read the rest of this entry →

William Hartung: Why No One Notices Our MAD Planet

6:42 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

I can still remember sneaking with two friends into the balcony of some Broadway movie palace to see the world end.  The year was 1959, the film was On the Beach, and I was 15.  It was the movie version of Neville Shute’s still eerie 1957 novel about an Australia awaiting its death sentence from radioactive fallout from World War III, which had already happened in the northern hemisphere.  We three were jacked by the thrill of the illicit and then, to our undying surprise, bored by the quiet, grownup way the movie imagined human life winding down on this planet.  (“We’re all doomed, you know. The whole, silly, drunken, pathetic lot of us. Doomed by the air we’re about to breathe.”)

It couldn’t hold a candle to giant, radioactive, mutant ants heading for L.A. (Them!), or planets exploding as alien civilizations nuclearized themselves (This Island Earth), or a monstrous prehistoric reptile tearing up Tokyo after being awakened from its sleep by atomic tests (Godzilla), or for that matter the sort of post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic survivalist novels that were common enough in that era.

It’s true that anything can be transformed into entertainment, even versions of our own demise — and that there’s something strangely reassuring about then leaving a theater or turning the last page of a book and having life go on.  Still, we teenagers didn’t doubt that something serious and dangerous was afoot in that Cold War era, not when we “ducked and covered” under our school desks while (test) sirens screamed outside and the CONELRAD announcer on the radio on the teacher’s desk offered chilling warnings.

Nor did we doubt it when we dreamed about the bomb, as I did reasonably regularly in those years, or when we wondered how our “victory weapon” in the Pacific in World War II might, in the hands of the Reds, obliterate us and the rest of what in those days we called the Free World (with the obligatory caps).  We sensed that, for the first time since peasants climbed into their coffins at the millennium to await the last days, we were potentially already in our coffins in everyday life, that our world could actually vanish in a few moments in a paroxysm of superpower destruction. 

Today, from climate change to pandemics, apocalyptic scenarios (real and imaginary) have only multiplied.  But the original world-ender of our modern age, that wonder weapon manqué, as military expert, TomDispatch regular, and author of Prophets of War: Lockheed and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex Bill Hartung points out, is still unbelievably with us and still proliferating. Yes, logic — and the evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki — should tell us that nuclear weapons are too staggeringly destructive to be usable, but in crisis moments, logic has never been a particularly human trait. How strange, then, that a genuine apocalyptic possibility has dropped out of our dreams, as well as pop culture, and as Hartung makes clear, is barely visible in our world. Which is why, on a landscape remarkably barren of everything nuclear except the massive arsenals that dot the planet, TomDispatch considers it important to raise the possibility of returning the nuclear issue to the place it deserves in the human agenda. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hartung discusses the upside-down world of global nuclear politics, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Beyond Nuclear Denial:
How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not Our World

By William D. Hartung

There was a time when nuclear weapons were a significant part of our national conversation.  Addressing the issue of potential atomic annihilation was once described by nuclear theorist Herman Kahn as “thinking about the unthinkable,” but that didn’t keep us from thinking, talking, fantasizing, worrying about it, or putting images of possible nuclear nightmares (often transmuted to invading aliens or outer space) endlessly on screen.

Now, on a planet still overstocked with city-busting, world-ending weaponry, in which almost 67 years have passed since a nuclear weapon was last used, the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.

Today, nuclear destruction finds itself at the end of a long queue of anxieties about our planet and its fate.  For some reason, we trust ourselves, our allies, and even our former enemies with nuclear arms — evidently so deeply that we don’t seem to think the staggering arsenals filled with weaponry that could put the devastation of Hiroshima to shame are worth covering or dealing with.  Even the disaster at Fukushima last year didn’t revive an interest in the weaponry that goes with the “peaceful” atom in our world.

Attending to the Bomb in a MAD World

Our views of the nuclear issue haven’t always been so shortsighted. In the 1950s, editor and essayist Norman Cousins was typical in frequently tackling nuclear weapons issues for the widely read magazine Saturday Review.  In the late 1950s and beyond, the Ban the Bomb movement forced the nuclear weapons issue onto the global agenda, gaining international attention when it was revealed that Strontium-90, a byproduct of nuclear testing, was making its way into mothers’ breast milk.  In those years, the nuclear issue became personal as well as political.

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy responded to public pressure by signing a treaty with Russia that banned atmospheric nuclear testing (and so further Strontium-90 fallout).  He also gave a dramatic speech to the United Nations in which he spoke of the nuclear arms race as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the human race, poised to destroy us at any moment. 

Popular films like Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove captured both the dangers and the absurdity of the superpower arms race.  And when, on the night of October 22, 1962, Kennedy took to the airwaves to warn the American people that a Cuban missile crisis was underway, that it was nuclear in nature, that a Soviet nuclear attack and a “full retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union” were possibilities — arguably the closest we have come to a global nuclear war — it certainly got everyone’s attention.

All things nuclear receded from public consciousness as the Vietnam War escalated and became the focus of antiwar activism and debate, but the nuclear issue came back with a vengeance in the Reagan years of the early 1980s when superpower confrontations once again were in the headlines.  A growing anti-nuclear movement first focused on a near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania (the Fukushima of its moment) and then on the superpower nuclear stand-off that went by the name of “mutually assured destruction” or, appropriately enough, the acronym MAD.

The Nuclear Freeze Campaign generated scores of anti-nuclear resolutions in cities and towns around the country, and in June 1982, a record-breaking million people gathered in New York City’s Central Park to call for nuclear disarmament.  If anyone managed to miss this historic outpouring of anti-nuclear sentiment, ABC news aired a prime-time, made-for-TV movie, The Day After, that offered a remarkably graphic depiction of the missiles leaving their silos and the devastating consequences of a nuclear war.  It riveted a nation.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of that planetary superpower rivalry less than a decade later took nuclear weapons out of the news.  After all, with the Cold War over and no other rivals to the United States, who needed such weaponry or a MAD world either?  The only problem was that the global nuclear landscape was left more or less intact, mission-less but largely untouched (with the proliferation of the weapons to other countries ongoing).  Unacknowledged as it may be, in some sense MAD still exists, even if we prefer to pretend that it doesn’t.

A MAD World That No One Cares to Notice

More than 20 years later, the only nuclear issue considered worth the bother is stopping the spread of the bomb to a couple of admittedly scary and problematic regimes: Iran and North Korea.  Their nuclear efforts make the news regularly and garner attention (to the point of obsession) in media and government circles.  But remind me: when was the last time you read about what should be the ultimate (and obvious) goal — getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether?

This has been our reality, despite President Obama’s pledge in Prague back in 2009 to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” and the passage of a modest but important New START arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia in 2010.  It remains our reality, despite a dawning realization in budget-anxious Washington that we may no longer be able to afford to throw money (as presently planned) at nuclear projects ranging from new ballistic-missile submarines to new facilities for building nuclear warhead components — all of which are slated to keep the secret global nuclear arms race alive and well decades into the future.

If Iran is worth talking about — and it is, given the implications of an Iranian bomb for further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East — what about the arsenals of the actual nuclear states? What about Pakistan, a destabilizing country which has at least 110 nuclear warheads and counting, and continues to view India as its primary adversary despite U.S. efforts to get it to focus on al-Qaeda and the Taliban?  What about India’s roughly 100 nuclear warheads, meant to send a message not just to Pakistan but to neighboring China as well?  And will China hold pat at 240 or so nuclear weapons in the face of U.S. nuclear modernization efforts and plans to surround it with missile defense systems that could, in theory if not practice, blunt China’s nuclear deterrent force? 

Will Israel continue to get a free pass on its officially unacknowledged possession of up to 200 nuclear warheads and its refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?  Who are France and the United Kingdom targeting with their forces of 300 and 225 nuclear warheads, respectively?  How long will it take North Korea to develop miniaturized nuclear bombs and deploy them on workable, long-range missiles?  And is New START the beginning or the end of mutual U.S. and Russian arms reductions?

Many of these questions are far more important than whether Iran gets the bomb, but they get, at best, only a tiny fraction of the attention that Tehran’s nuclear program is receiving.  Concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and a fear of loose nukes in a destabilizing country is certainly part of the subtext of U.S. policy towards Islamabad.  Little effort has been made of late, however, to encourage Pakistan and India to engage in talks aimed at reconciling their differences and opening the way for discussions on reducing their nuclear arsenals.

The last serious effort — centered on the contentious issue of Kashmir — reached its high point in 2007 under the regime of Pakistani autocrat Pervez Musharraf, and it went awry in the wake of political changes within his country and Pakistani-backed terrorist attacks on India.  If anything, the tensions now being generated by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands and other affronts, intended or not, to Pakistan’s sovereignty have undermined any possibility of Washington brokering a rapprochement between Pakistan and India.

In addition, starting in the Bush years, the U.S. has been selling India nuclear fuel and equipment.  This has been part of a controversial agreement that violates prior U.S. commitments to forgo nuclear trade with any nation that has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a pact India has not signed).  Although U.S. assistance is nominally directed towards India’s civilian nuclear program, it helps free up resources that India can use to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The “tilt” towards India that began during the Bush administration has continued under Obama.  Only recently, for instance, a State Department official bragged about U.S. progress in selling advanced weaponry to New Delhi.  Meanwhile, F-16s that Washington supplied to the Pakistani military back in the heyday of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance may have already been adapted to serve as nuclear delivery vehicles in the event of a nuclear confrontation with India.

China has long adhered to a de facto policy of minimum deterrence — keeping just enough nuclear weapons to dissuade another nation from attacking it with nuclear arms.  But this posture has not prevented Beijing from seeking to improve the quality of its long-range ballistic missiles.  And if China feels threatened by continued targeting by the United States or by sea-based American interceptors deployed to the region, it could easily increase its arsenal to ensure the “safety” of its deterrent.  Beijing will also be keeping a watchful eye on India as its nuclear stockpile continues to grow.

Ever since Ronald Reagan — egged on by mad scientists like Edward Teller and right-wing zealots like Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham — pledged to build a perfect anti-nuclear shield that would render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete,” missile defense has had a powerful domestic constituency in the United States.  This has been the case despite the huge cost and high-profile failures of various iterations of the missile defense concept.

The only concrete achievement of three decades of missile defense research and development so far has been to make Russia suspicious of U.S. intentions.  Even now, rightly or not, Russia is extremely concerned about the planned installation of U.S. missile defenses in Europe that Washington insists will be focused on future Iranian nuclear weapons.  Moscow feels that they could just as easily be turned on Russia.  If President Obama wins a second term, he will undoubtedly hope to finesse this issue and open the door to further joint reductions in nuclear forces, or possibly even consider reducing this country’s nuclear arsenal significantly, whether or not Russia initially goes along.

Recent bellicose rhetoric from Moscow underscores its sensitivity to the missile defense issue, which may yet scuttle any plans for serious nuclear negotiations.  Given that the U.S. and Russia together possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, an impasse between the two nuclear superpowers (even if they are not “super” in other respects) will undercut any leverage they might have to encourage other nations to embark on a path leading to global nuclear reductions.

In his 1960s ode to nuclear proliferation, “Who’s Next,” Tom Lehrer included the line “Israel’s getting tense, wants one in self-defense.”  In fact, Israel was the first — and for now the only — Middle Eastern nation to get the bomb, with reports that it can deliver a nuclear warhead not only from land-based missiles but also via cruise missiles launched from nuclear submarines.  Whatever it may say about Israel’s technical capabilities in the military field, Israel’s nuclear arsenal may also be undermining its defense, particularly if it helps spur Iran to build its own nukes.  And irresponsible talk by some Israeli officials about attacking Iran only increases the chance that Tehran will decide to go nuclear.

It is hard to handicap the grim, “unthinkable” but hardly inconceivable prospect that August 9, 1945, will not prove to be the last time that nuclear weapons are used on this planet.  Perhaps some of the loose nuclear materials or inadequately guarded nuclear weapons littering the globe — particularly, but not solely, in the states of the former Soviet Union — might fall into the hands of a terrorist group.  Perhaps an Islamic fundamentalist government will seize power in Pakistan and go a step too far in nuclear brinkmanship with India over Kashmir.  Maybe the Israeli leadership will strike out at Iran with nuclear weapons in an effort to keep Tehran from going nuclear.  Maybe there will be a miscommunication or false alarm that will result in the United States or Russia launching one of their nuclear weapons that are still in Cold War-style, hair-trigger mode.

Although none of these scenarios, including a terrorist nuclear attack, may be as likely as nuclear alarmists sometimes suggest, as long as the world remains massively stocked with nuclear weapons, one of them — or some other scenario yet to be imagined — is always possible.  The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.

The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them — not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them.  It’s a daunting task.  It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Hartung discusses the upside-down world of global nuclear politics, click here or download it to your iPod here.)

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook, and check out the latest TD book, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2012 William Hartung

Noam Chomsky: Imperial Hegemony and Its Discontents

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

On Tuesday, Part 1 of Noam Chomsky’s piece on American decline, “‘Losing’ the World” was posted at this site. It can be read by clicking here. Now, Part 2 begins. When you’re done, you might check out Chomsky’s earlier TomDispatch piece, “Who Owns the World?” which could be considered a companion to this one. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeat in the Greater Middle East, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Imperial Way
American Decline in Perspective, Part 2

By Noam Chomsky

In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all U.S. military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard.”

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries — Middle East/North Africa — which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.

To be sure, if the projections of a century of U.S. energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome — so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to U.S. influence and control. Read the rest of this entry →

Tomgram: Tony Karon, The Bomb-Iran Debate From Hell

1:07 pm in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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[Book update for TomDispatch readers: As of now, you can read my latest work, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, on the Apple iPad.  Just visit the Apple store by clicking here.  Alternately, you can download it to your Kindle by clicking here, or simply buy the superannuated Gutenberg version by clicking here.  If you buy either the Kindle version or the ye-olde-paper book at Amazon.com via the links above, or any other TD book link, this website gets a small percentage of your purchase, which means you support us without paying an extra cent.  In addition, don’t miss the most recent review of my book at Foreign Policy in Focus.  (“Full of potency is [Engelhardt’s] combined cultural and political critique of the U.S. imperial war culture that has permeated our nation. People in the United States are blind, perhaps intentionally, to the empire their country has assembled. Such a reminder of its true nature and cost, both to people in the United States and to those affected by it around the world, is invaluable…”) Finally, if you want to catch me discussing the book and other war issues of our moment, check out the radio show Culture Shocks (one of many radio interviews I’ve been doing of late).]

For Star Trek fans, the news is grim.  Some set of maniacs on planet Earth is ready to take all the pleasure out of that low-budget TV show and its ensuing set of big-budget movies.  They are actually planning someday to manufacture phasers, ones large enough to vaporize incoming missiles and others small enough to be hand-held and, if not vaporize, then inflict terrible pain.  Sooner or later, they expect to beam them down to this planet and set them to work. 

Oh, sorry, those aren’t maniacs; they’re the weaponizers at defense giant Raytheon (in conjunction with the U.S. military).  As the National, the English-language newspaper of the United Arab Emirates, reported recently, Raytheon is in an arms race with Boeing to produce such weaponry perhaps for the coming decade.

One of the strangest aspects of these last years when two administrations, the U.S. intelligence community, and the American media have focused on, obsessed about, speculated wildly about, and generally chewed over a single potential proliferation story — Iran’s nuclear program — is how little other weapons proliferation stories even qualify as news. I’m excepting, of course, the usual alarums over possible nuclear weapons developments in North Korea, Syria, and the like.  And I’m certainly not referring here to the estimated 200 to 400 nuclear weapons in Israel’s undeclared arsenal that hardly rate a peep in our media. 

I’m thinking about us.  We are, after all, the numero uno weapons proliferator on the planet.  I’m thinking about — to pick a few weapons systems almost at random — the U.S. Air Force’s next generation bomber, an advanced "platform" slated for 2018; or the truly futuristic bomber, "a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere," on the drawing boards for 2035.  I’m talking about the coming generations of ever more powerful, ever more independent pilot-less drones which the Air Force is now planning out until 2047.

As with the drones today, the story of those Raytheon “phasers,” large and small, if they ever come on line, will be reasonably predictable.  Ever since the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, the world has been experiencing an arms race of one.  A single great power, the United States, continues to develop new weapons technology, often for the distant future, that is staggeringly advanced and strikingly destructive (potentially reaching, in some cases, an almost nuclear level of local devastation).  It continues to act, that is, as if it were still in an arms race with another threatening superpower.  Once our latest wonder weapon is developed, whatever it may be, it is sooner or later sold to allies — after all, we now control almost 70% of what’s still dubbed the “global arms trade – while other states rush to develop their own versions of the same.  (Just last week, for instance, Iran proudly unveiled its first “drone bomber.”)  Sooner or later, such weaponry will predictably drop down to the level of non-state groups.  Just wait for the first "suicide" drone to hit something American, or the first terrorist to unsheathe a “phaser” on some airplane.  Then, of course, a drone or phaser proliferation panic will set in, “rogue states” will be threatened for having the nerve to develop such weapons, and we will redouble our anti-drone or anti-phaser research, while our media discusses appropriately aggressive actions that need to be taken ASAP. 

Hence, Iran’s present nuclear adventure (which, by the way, began in 1957, thanks to the Eisenhower administration’s Atoms for Peace program).  As you read TomDispach regular Tony Karon’s deconstruction of the present “debate” over whether to bomb Iran back to the pre-nuclear age, take a second to wonder why there is no media debate over whether to bomb the U.S.  After all, we are the planet’s foremost weapons proliferator; we have a reputation for using what we produce and parceling it out as well; and, as it happens, we’re still investing money in improvements to our vast nuclear arsenal.  Tom

Two Minutes to Midnight? 
Cutting Through the Media’s Bogus Bomb-Iran Debate 

By Tony Karon

America’s march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, TIME’s Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities was "back on the table."  In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an "inexorable" dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de résistancein the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly.  A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel’s corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was a more than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer. 

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one.  After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn’t believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

It’s not lost on many of his progressive critics that, when it came to supporting a prospective invasion of Iraq back in 2002, Goldberg proved effective in lobbying liberal America, especially through his reports of "evidence" linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Then and now, he presents himself as an interlocutor who has no point of view.  In his most recent Atlantic piece, he professed a "profound, paralyzing ambivalence" on the question of a military strike on Iran and subsequently, in radio interviews, claimed to be "personally opposed" to military action.

His piece, however, conveniently skipped over the obvious inconsistencies in what his Israeli sources were telling him.  In addition, he excluded perspectives from Israeli leaders that might have challenged his narrative in which an embattled Jewish state feels it has no alternative but to launch a quixotic military strike.  Such an attack, as he presented it, would have limited hope of doing more than briefly setting back the Iranian nuclear program, perhaps at catastrophic cost, and so Israeli leaders would act only because they believe the "goyim" won’t stop another Auschwitz. Or as my friend Paul Woodward, editor of the War in Context website, so brilliantly summed up the Israeli message to America: "You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will."

Goldberg insists that he is merely initiating a debate about how to tackle Iran and that debate is already underway on his terms — that is, like its Iraq War predecessor, based on a fabricated sense of crisis and arbitrary deadlines.

Last Friday, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration had convinced Israel that there was no need to rush on the issue.  Should Iran decide to build a nuclear weapon (which it has not done), it would, administration officials pointed out, quickly make its intentions clear by expelling the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who routinely monitor its nuclear work, and breaking out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  After that, it would still need another year or more to assemble its first weapon.

In other words, despite Goldberg’s breathless two-minutes-to-midnight schedule, there’s no urgency whatsoever about debating military action against Iran. And then, of course, there’s the question of the very premises of the to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb “debate.”  Perhaps, after all these years of obsessive Iran nuclear mania, it’s too much to request a moment of sanity on the issue of Iran and the bomb.  If, however, we really have a couple of years to think this over, what about starting by asking three crucial questions, each of which our debaters would prefer to avoid or ignore?

1. Does the U.S. have a right to launch wars of aggression without provocation, in defiance of international law and an international consensus, simply on the basis of its own suspicions about another country’s future intentions?

Or to put it bluntly, as former National Security Council staffers Flint Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have: Does the U.S. have the right to attack Iran because it is enriching uranium?

The idea that the U.S. has the right to take such a catastrophic step based on the fevered imaginations of Biblically inspired Israeli extremists — Goldberg has previously suggested that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes Iran to be the reincarnation of the Biblical Amalekites, mortal enemies the ancient Hebrews were to smite — or simply to preserve an Israeli monopoly on nuclear force in the Middle East is as bizarre as it is reckless. Even debating the possibility of launching a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as a matter of rational policy, absent any Iranian aggression or even solid evidence that the Iranian leadership intends to wage its own version of aggressive war, gives an undeserved respectability to what would otherwise be considered steps beyond the bounds of rational foreign policy discussion.

Perhaps someone in our media hothouse could take just a moment to ask why, outside of the United States and Israel, there is no support — nada, zero, zip — for military action against Iran. In Goldberg’s world, this may be nothing more than the eternal beast of anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head in the form of disdain for the rise of yet another Amalek/Haman/Torquemada/Hitler. A more sober reading of the international situation would, however, suggest that most of the international community simply doesn’t share an alarmist view of what Iran’s nuclear program represents.

Indeed, it is notable that, in Goldberg’s world, Arabs and Iranians never get to speak. The Arabs, we are told, secretly want Israel or the U.S. to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities out of fear that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would embolden their Persian rivals.  They are, so the story goes, just not able to say so in public. Of course, when Arab leaders do publicly express their opposition to the idea of another war being launched in the Middle East, they are ignored in the Goldberg-led debate.

Similarly, their rejection of Washington’s long-held premise that Israel’s special security must be exempted from any discussion of the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East remains outside the bounds of the Iran-debate story. And don’t expect to see any mention of the authoritative University of Maryland annual survey of Arab public opinion either.  After all, it recently reported that, contrary to claims of an Arab world cowering under the threat of Iranian nukes, 57% of the Arab public actually believe a nuclear-armed Iran would be good for the Middle East!

The idea that Iran’s regime might exist for any purpose other than to destroy Israel is largely ignored as well. Bizarrely enough, Iranians don’t actually feature much in the American “debate” at all (beyond citations of Mad-Mullah-like pronouncements by some Iranian leaders who wish Israel would disappear). The long, nuanced relationship between Israel and the Islamic Republic, as explained by Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, is simply ignored. So, too, is every indication Iran’s leaders have given that they have no intention of attacking Israel or any other country. In fact, in the Goldberg debate, domestic politics in both the U.S. and Israel is understood as an important factor in future decisions; Iran, with the Green Movement presently suppressed, is considered to have no domestic politics at all, just those Mad Mullahs.

2. Even if Iran were to acquire the means to build a nuclear weapon, would that be a legitimate or prudent reason for launching a war?

If Iran is actually pursuing the capability to build nuclear weapons, its leaders would be doing so in response to a strategic environment in which two of its key adversaries, the U.S. and Israel, and two of its sometime friends/sometime adversaries, Russia and Pakistan, have substantial nuclear arsenals. By all sober accounts, Iran’s security posture is primarily focused on the survival of its regime. Some Israeli military and intelligence officials have been quoted in Israel’s media as saying that Iran’s motivation in seeking a nuclear weapon would be primarily to head off a threat of U.S. intervention aimed at regime change.

Most states do not pursue weapons systems as ends in themselves, and most states are hardwired to prioritize their own survival. It is to that end that they acquire weapons systems — to protect, enhance, or advance their own strategic position, or up the odds against more powerful rivals. In other words, the conflicts that fuel the drive for nuclear weapons are more dangerous than the weapons themselves, and the problem of those weapons can’t be addressed separately from those conflicts.

An Iran that had been bombed to destroy its nuclear power program would likely emerge from the experience far more dangerous to the U.S. and its allies over the decades to come than an Iran that had nuclear weapons within reach. The only way to diminish the danger of an escalating confrontation with Iran is to address the conflict between Tehran and its rivals directly, and seek a modus vivendi that would manage their conflicting interests.

Unfortunately, such a dialogue between Washington and Tehran has scarcely begun, even as, amid alarmist warnings, Goldberg and others insist it must be curtailed so as to avoid the Iranians “playing for time.”

3. Is Iran actually developing nuclear weapons?

No, it is not. That’s the conclusion of the CIA, the IAEA, whose inspectors are inside Iran’s nuclear facilities, and most of the world’s intelligence agencies, including the Israelis.  U.S. intelligence believes that Iran is using a civilian nuclear energy program to assemble much of the infrastructure that could, in the future, be used to build a bomb, and that Iran may also be continuing theoretical work on designing such a weapon.

Washington’s spooks and its defense establishment do not, however, believe Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons, nor that its leadership has made the ultimate decision to do so. In fact, the consensus appears to be that Iran will not weaponize nuclear material, but will stop short at "breakout capacity" — the ability, also available, for instance, to Japan, to move relatively quickly to build such a weapon. Currently, as the New York Times reported, the time frame for “breakout,” if all went well (and it might not), would be about a year, after which Iran would have enough fissile material for one bomb.  (The Israelis, by comparison, are believed to have 200 to 400 nuclear weapons in their undeclared program, the Pakistanis between 70 and 90, and the United States more than 5,000.)  In addition, a credible nuclear deterrent would require the production of not one or two bombs, but a number of them, which would allow for testing.

For ex-CIA Director Hayden, such a breakout capacity would be "as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon."  His is a logical leap that’s hard to sustain, unless you believe that it’s worth launching a war to prevent Iran from, at worst, acquiring a defensive trump card that might prevent it from being attacked.

Iran’s enrichment activities are, of course, a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions backed by sanctions. Those were imposed to demand that Iran suspend its enrichment program until it satisfied concerns raised by IAEA inspectors over its compliance with the disclosure and transparency requirements of the NPT — especially when it came to aspects of its program which have been developed in secret, raising suspicions over their future use.

Three years before North Korea was in a position to test a nuclear weapon, it had to withdraw from the NPT and kick out IAEA inspectors. Iran remains within the treaty. Even as the standoff over its nuclear program continues, renewed efforts are underway to broker a confidence-building deal to exchange Iranian enriched uranium for fuel rods produced outside the country to power a Tehran reactor that produces medical isotopes.

None of this will be easy, of course. The two main parties are trying to impose their own, mutually exclusive terms on any deal: Washington wants Iran to forego its treaty-guaranteed right to enrich its own uranium because that also gives it the potential means to produce bomb materiel; Iran has no intention of foregoing that right. Such longstanding pillars of foreign policy sobriety as Senator John Kerry  and Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, have publicly deemed the U.S. position untenable.

To suggest that Iran’s present nuclear program represents the security equivalent of a clock ticking down to midnight is calculated hysteria that bears no relation to reality. Ah, says Goldberg, but the point is that the Israelis believe it to be so. Yes, replies former National Security Council Iran analyst Gary Sick, now at Columbia University, but the Israelis and some Americans have been claiming Iran is just a few years away from a nuclear weapon since 1992. 

The premises of the debate just initiated by Goldberg’s piece are palpably false.  More important, they are remarkably dangerous, since they leap-frog over the three basic questions laid out above and move straight on to arguing the case for war amid visions of annihilation. This campaign of panic is not Goldberg’s invention.  It’s been with us for a long time now.  Goldberg is just the present vehicle for an American conversation initiated by others, among them those known in the Bush years as neocons, who have long been dreaming of war with Iran and  are already, as Juan Cole recently indicated, planning for such a war under a future Republican administration, if not sooner.

Similarly, among Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in particular, believes that Americans are politically feeble-minded; he said as much to a group of Israeli settlers in a video that surfaced recently: "I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in [our] way.”

Through Goldberg, the Israeli leader and his aides are seeking to "move America in the right direction" with dark tales of Auschwitz and Amalekites, and of Netanyahu himself as a hostage, in the Freudian sense, to a fierce and unforgiving father who won’t tolerate any show of weakness in the face of perceived threats to the Jews. Goldberg’s sources, including Netanyahu, make it perfectly clear that they don’t believe Iran would attack Israel. Instead, they warn that an Iranian nuclear weapon would embolden Hamas and Hizballah, although the logic there is flimsy indeed.  After all, if Iran would not attack Israel on its own with a nuclear weapon, why would it do so to defend its insurgent allies?

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would prompt the best and brightest Israelis to emigrate, because they are clever people who can make a good life for themselves anywhere in the world. Indeed, and they have been doing exactly that for many years now.  Some 750,000 Israeli Jews now live abroad — one in every six Israelis — precisely because anti-Semitism is no longer a threat to Jewish life in most of the industrialized world. None of this has anything to do with an Iranian bomb. It has to do with the frustration of Israel’s leadership that 63% of the world’s Jews have chosen to live elsewhere.

Despite Goldberg’s panic-inducing prediction, there are plenty of reasons to believe that, for all its bluster and threat, Israel won’t, in fact, bomb Iran next year — or any time soon. But would the Israelis like to see the United States take on their prime regional enemy? You bet they would. Indeed, Netanyahu continually insists that the U.S. has an obligation to take the lead in confronting Iran.

It’s patently clear in Goldberg’s piece that the Israelis are trying to create a climate in which the U.S. is pressed onto the path of escalation, adding more and more sanctions, and keeping "all options on the table" in case those don’t work.

In an excellent commentary that dismantles the logic of Goldberg’s argument, David Kay — the American who served as an UNSCOM arms inspector in search of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the U.S. invasion — suggests that:

"Israel is engaged in psychological warfare with the Obama administration — and it only partly concerns Iran… [B]eyond Iran, of probably greater importance to the current Israeli government is avoiding the Obama administration pushing it into a choice between settlements and territorial arrangements with the Palestinians that it is unwilling to make and permanent damage to its relationship with the U.S. Hyping the Iranian nuclear program and the need for early military action is a nice bargaining counter… if the U.S. wants to avoid an imminent Israeli strike, it must make concessions to Israel on the Palestinian issues."

Creating a sense of crisis on the Iran front, narrowing U.S. options in the public mind, and precluding a real discussion of U.S. policy towards Iran may serve multiple purposes for various interested groups. Taken together, however, they reduce all discussion to one issue: when to exercise that military option kept "on the table," given the unlikeliness of an Iranian surrender. The debate’s ultimate purpose is to plant in the public mind the idea that a march to war with Iran, as Admiral Hayden put it on CNN, "seems inexorable, doesn’t it?"

Inexorable — only if the media allows itself to be fooled twice.

Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes Middle Eastern and other conflicts. He also blogs on his own website Rootless Cosmopolitan.

Copyright 2010 Tony Karon