Overstated Iranian 'threat' puts U.S. on path to war

A neocon joke, at the beginning of the Iraq war, was: "Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran." It wasn't funny then, and it isn't funny now. Unfortunately, those "real men" who want to wage war on Iran are making so much noise that they may prevail — and hardly anyone is pushing back.

Take Maryland's U.S. senators. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin are co-sponsors of SR 380, also known as the Lieberman-Graham bill. This resolution moves the goal posts by stating that Iran must be denied the "capability" for nuclear weapons, as opposed to the weapons themselves. "Nuclear capability" is a very vague term, and it is being employed as a way to justify a preemptive war in the absence of any real threat.


What is the situation with respect to the Iranian nuclear "threat"? Here's a brief summary:

•As specified by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), to which Iran is a signatory, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has had regular access to Iran's nuclear facilities and has not found Iran to be in violation of the NNPT. Iran has the right to develop a peaceful nuclear program.


•The U.S. intelligence establishment has not found Iran to be developing a nuclear weapon and has found no evidence that Iran is even considering making nuclear weapons. The last declassified U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reports that there is no change in that position in the 2011 NIE.

•The latest IAEA report on Iran, in November, has been widely misrepresented. According to that report, the IAEA continues to verify the nondiversion of declared nuclear material, and the IAEA has not determined that Iran is in violation of the NNTP.

The report does list some possible areas of concern related to activities that could be relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. There is skepticism regarding those weapons-related allegations, however. Robert Kelley, a nuclear engineer and a former director at the IAEA, has written of having a "sickly sense of déjà vu," recalling the erroneous, low-grade or falsified intelligence (or interpretations of intelligence) used to justify military intervention in Iraq.

The IAEA also expresses concern about Iran's choosing not to follow a voluntary protocol meant to boost the IAEA's ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities. Other non-nuclear-weapons states have chosen not to follow this voluntary protocol and do not face similar scrutiny. Moreover, there are clear indications that Iran would formally adopt the voluntary protocol under negotiated conditions, and in fact has done so in the past. It stands to reason that concerns about the voluntary protocol could be addressed peacefully and practically through negotiation.

•The news media have mischaracterized Iran's responsiveness to negotiated proposals. For example, Brazil and Turkey, with President Barack Obama's initial support, negotiated and signed an agreement with Iran that consisted of a plausible solution to storage of Iran's nuclear fuel. The plan was then rejected by the U.S., despite the fact that the agreement was based on a framework designed by the Obama administration itself.

There is no current nuclear threat from Iran, and war with Iran would be counter to our national security interests. It would further destabilize a highly volatile region, kill perhaps tens of thousands of innocent people in Iran, risk the lives of our own young soldiers, and further weaken our economy. Moreover, any attack on Iran (by Israel, for example) that is not approved by the U.N. and not in response to an imminent threat would be illegal under international law. U.S. support of such action would undermine the rule of law and increase the likelihood of a more violent world.

Many groups and individuals have argued against another "preemptive" war. For example, the nonpartisan Arms Control Association has concluded that military strikes would backfire in that they would "convince Iran's leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons" and "would result in costly long-term consequences for U.S. and regional security and the U.S. and global economy."

The people of Maryland, having learned from the debacle in Iraq, oppose another "war of choice" — that is, a war against a country that does not threaten us. Maryland's congressional delegation, however, is not showing the leadership we need to prevent such military adverturism. We citizens of Maryland should hold our congressional delegation accountable and replace them if they do not show leadership for peace, diplomacy and rule of law.


Jean Athey is co-chair of the board of Peace Action and chair of the steering committee for the Maryland coalition, "Fund Our Communities, Bring the War Dollars Home." Her email is Alex Welsch serves on the steering committee of Peace Action Montgomery and on the statewide steering committee of the Progressive Working Group.