Top Ten Republican Myths about Obama and Iran

1. It is alleged that Obama’s willingness to negotiate with the Tehran regime encouraged the Ayatollahs to be even more obstreperous. In fact, the regime was split by the offer to talk, and Wikileaks State Department cables show that President Ahmadinejad was much more enthusiastic about seeking a diplomatic solution than were the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a commander of which gave Ahmadinejad a slap.

2. It is alleged that Iran is ‘four years closer to having a nuclear weapon.’ There is no solid evidence that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program, as opposed to a civilian nuclear enrichment program to produce fuel for electricity-generating plants (the US has 100 of these and generates the fuel for them). If it doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, it can’t be closer to having a bomb. The question is being begged here, which is a logical fallacy and bad policy.

3. The same logic, of Iran steadily getting closer to a bomb because of administration inaction, could be applied to the terms of George W. Bush. How did Bush ignoring Iran and occasionally rattling sabers at it for 8 years affect Iran’s nuclear enrichment program?

4. It is assumed that Mitt Romney could do “more” with regard to sanctions on Iran. But the current financial blockade on Iranian oil sales are the most extensive form of sanctions imposed on a country since FDR cut the Japanese off from petroleum and equipment in 1940. FDR’s aggressive sanctions on Japan led to the Pearl Harbor attacks. What more would Romney do and how would he avoid such steps spiraling into all-out war? Romney is simply talking more aggressively, without actually proposing any concrete policies.

5. One of the lines of attack by Republicans on President Obama’s foreign policy is that he was insufficiently supportive in public of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. But the Obama administration did reach out behind the scenes to Green Movement to encourage it. Obama also referred to it positively in speeches. But an aggressive announced support of the sort the Republicans say they wanted would have simply raised questions in the minds even of Green supporters as to whether the movement was a CIA-backed ‘color revolution.’ Such charges were made by the Khamenei faction, but were mostly dismissed by Iranians as a result of Obama’s low-key approach.

6. In the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign, it is alleged by Dan Senor and others that ‘this was the last chance we had to get rid of that regime.’ The Green Movement was a reform within the Islamic Republic, not an attempt to overthrow it. The Green Movement leaders said they supported Ayatollah Khamenei. There was no prospect of getting rid of the regime.

7. Even had the Green Movement succeeded, there is no reason to think it would have mothballed the nuclear enrichment program, which is popular with the Iranian public.

8. Iran is continually accused of being the biggest supporter of terrorism in the Middle East, and its support for Hizbullah in Lebanon is instanced. Obama is accused of putting up with all this. But if terrorism is defined, as it is in the US civil code, as the deployment of violence against civilians by a non-state actor for political purposes, that simply is not true. Hizbullah primarily deployed violence against Israeli troops occupying Lebanese territory, which is warfare, not terrorism. There wasn’t any Hizbullah before Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in 1982-2000. Moreover, the Lebanese government has formally recognized Hizbullah as a sort of national guard for the southern borders of Lebanon. And, it has seats in parliament and on the cabinet. It isn’t exactly a non-state actor. As for Iranian support of Hamas in Gaza, that alliance seems to have collapsed as Hamas has turned against Syria and turned toward the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

9. Paul Ryan and others have said that the Obama administration resisted the financial blockade on Iranian petroleum mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act, which went into effect July 1. That allegation may well be true. But this blockade has clearly raised tensions to a fever pitch in the Gulf, and the Obama administration may have seen them as risking military escalation. Might that not be a more prudent stance? Nevertheless, Obama signed the bill and has implemented it, so it is hard to see what the cavil is.

10. The NDAA financial blockade on sale of Iranian petroleum won’t alter the regime’s commitment to nuclear enrichment either. Sanctions cannot bring down the regime, which can use smuggled petroleum to cushion its high officials, just as Saddam’s Iraq did under sanctions. Iran is going for a ‘Japan option’ or ‘nuclear latency,’ where it has the capability to make a warhead quickly if it looks as though the country were about to be invaded. Its government won’t give that up without, as one US general put it, being invaded and occupied. Is Romney willing to go that far? If not, how is he really different than Obama?

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20 Responses

  1. No. 8 is tendentious. Hezbollah coerced its way into any role as a quasi-state actor and is involved in all sorts of violent activities with respect to civilians in Lebanon and Israel. As you know, the so-called Party of God has been accused, not unreasonably, of complicity in or being directly responsible for Hariri’s assassination.

    • Arguably, without Hizbullah, southern Lebanon would still be under Israeli military occupation. The real subtext of the accusation of ‘terrorism’ against Iran for supporting Hizbullah is that the West was supportive of that Occupation. All the Lebanese civilians who were killed, maimed or had their lives ruined by Israeli state terrorism in the south of the country are discounted by this rhetoric.

      • I am with Juan on this issue. Consider the following:
        -From 1985 until its withdrawal in 2000, Israel maintained its ‘security zone’ in southern Lebanon which comprised 10 per cent of all Lebanese territory and 6 percent of its people. The Israelis set up a 2,000-man South Lebanese Army (SLA) that was overwhelmingly Maronite-officered, and Israeli ‘advisers’ remained in the security zone to oversee it. “If the situation in the South quieted, as it did periodically, Israeli officials held up the zone as a success that could not be safely terminated. When the situation became hotter, the zone became a necessity. [Hezbollah officials reasonably argued] that, without effective…resistance…Israel would have little incentive to consider withdrawing…” (The Egyptians in 1973 and the Palestinians in 1987 came to the same conclusion.)
        -Israel’s general strategy in Lebanon from 1985 to 2000 was two-fold: “militarily to smash the guerillas themselves, their bases and their personnel; politically to persuade the Lebanese state and people, by punishing them too, to turn against Hizbullah, and then to make a final peace with Israel independently of Syria.” For an example of civilians being punished, consider Israel’s 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” campaign which caused “some 500,000” Lebanese to flee north. During the 16-day campaign “25,132 artillery rounds and 2,350 air sorties” resulted in killing only thirteen Hizbollah fighters. “Once again…it was Lebanese civilians who bore the brunt; 165 died, compared with not one Israeli, military or civilian.” link to

      • While that may, indeed, be the subtext of Romney and the neocons’ rhetoric, that doesn’t get the blood off Hezbollah’s hands.

        Sometimes, two bad guys can get into a fight.

  2. The “real subtext?” While I freely admit that I can’t divine the intentions of today’s inane GOP, but I doubt that the accusation concerns Israel’s now ancient occupation of southern Lebanon (not to discount the suffering of its and Israeli victims.) The proxy Party of God remains a violent organization and for all its demonstrated capabilities against Israel civilians, it is a much more toxic presence in Lebanon.

    • I don’t disagree that Hizbullah is bad for Lebanese civil politics.

      But I also think that without it and its rockets, Netanyahu would grab the Litani in a split second.

  3. Steve, should we not let the Lebanese decide their own fate? Our intervention has only made life worse for the Lebanese. As for Hizbullah being ‘a toxic presence’, one could accuse Israeli occupation of the west bank and Golan height (not to mention illegal blockade of Gaza) being a very toxic presence in the neighborhood, Israel just happens to be our toxic presence.

    • Spiral007, should the Assads and Iran not let the Syrians decide their own fate?

      “Our intervention has only made life worse for the Lebanese”. The american Intervention in Iraq and in Afghanistan benefited Iran and Hezbollah greatly.

      “one could accuse Israeli occupation of the west bank and Golan height (not to mention illegal blockade of Gaza) being a very toxic presence in the neighborhood, Israel just happens to be our toxic presence.”

      Stop using the Palestinians for your regional Power-games.

      From Hezbollah Fanboy As`sad Abu Khalil`s Angry Arab Blog on Monday, August 29, 2011:

      “I so deeply and strongly disagree with this statement in Hasan Nasrallah’s speech from last Friday: “As for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories of 1967, it is a Palestinian affair that is decided by the Palestinian people.” Oh, no. It is our business and we shall oppose any mini-entity on 22% of Palestine.”

      This was before the Arab Spring occurred.

    • Hizbollah, like Hamas, seeks power in its own territory and is only called terrorist for US political reasons. What could be more violent and invasive than the USA/NATO?

      • How about russian War on Chechnya for example. What happened to the Tartars in Russia. I doubt you ever heard from them. Muabrak was a Puppet of the US right?. What about the russian Puppets like Karimov of Uzbekistan or the Puppets of all the other nearby countries. All dictators, corrupt and brutal. But somehow the left never talks about russian puppets.

  4. Without the specialized knowledge of either Steve or Juan, I might just mention that most armies are “violent organizations”. Israel engendered that “violent organization” by its invasion.

  5. No doubt Iran’s putative “nukes” will be raised in tonight’s debate. Hopefully, Pres. Obama will slap down both the question and Romney by pointing out that as recently as this weekend, Haaratz (sp?) was reporting that the Mossad and CIA agree that Iran has made no decision regarding building a nuclear weapon.

    Furthermore, as Dr. Cole has written about frequently, there is a fatwa in existence in Iran banning the country from developing a nuclear weapon.

    No doubt Romney will also raise the issue of the US response to the days of the Green Revolution in Iran; Paul Ryan brought it up again the other day. The fact is that leaders of the protest cautioned both the US and EU from doing anything to help, indicating that such support could jeapordize support inside Iran by giving the regime an excuse to blame outside forces on causing trouble.

    As for Hizbullah, it’s always struck me that its formation and strength has been the result of Israeli policies rather than because of any circumstances inside Lebanon. If Washington and the EU would stand up to Israeli and demand it reach a peace deal with its neighbors – especially the Palestinians – the country would have little choise. But the region would quiet down considerably, including any desire Iran might have to build an A-bomb.

    Finally, as was reported elsewhere last week (mostly in Europe), the tough sanctions on Iran are hurting mostly the Iranian people rather than the government. It was the same thing with Cuba for decades: US sanctions did nothing to change government policy but made life miserable for the Cuban people.

  6. Peggy – I have no specialized knowledge aside from a subscription to the NYT and a peruse of most of Cole’s columns. I’m just a shady Wall Street employee.

    Spiral007 – the Lebanese should decide their own fate, which is to say, not at Iranian-Syrian gunpoint.

    Professor Cole – Bibi sucks, what can I say. If you have Brendan Gibbons in one of your classes, give him my regards.

  7. Am reading an interesting history, The Twilight War, tracking the parry & thrust of US/Iranian relations since 79. The author, David Crist, is enamored with the narrative of political/military tactics executed, which is certainly interesting, but the Big Point is the fundamental geopolitic conflict between the US and Iran.

    Iran is shown as striving for regional hegemony, or at least security through dominance. Surrounded as it is by very real competitors and outright enemies, nuclear and conventional, not to mention the US, with its need to secure the Gulf for its own purposes, Iran’s motivations are clear.

    The US might theoretically achieve a modus vivendi (sp?) with them, but for US domestic politics. As I write this, NPR is having an “even-handed analysis” of the situations with the guest experts being Aaron David Miller and Dennis Ross. So much for hearing a discussion of potential US policy based on US national interests.

    Israel wants to maintain its own implicit regional hegemony, and by successfully confusing Israel’s wants/needs with those of the US, its hard to see this working out as it rationally might.

    All that said, Crist’s book is very carefully and thoroughly researched, and goes far to illuminate the complexity of the situation, and how a peaceful resolution should be forthcoming. He doesn’t incorporate so much the influence of US domestic politics, but the way he documents the duplicity with which the US has dealt with Iran over the last 30 years, is quite sobering.

  8. There’s a problem with #2: If it doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, it can’t be closer to having a bomb.

    The initial stages of both a civilian energy program and a military weapons program are exactly the same, at least in terms of developing the capacity to enrich uranium and then doing so. It it only relatively late in the game that the activities of the two diverge. If the steps necessary to develop an energy program are a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, and i, then the steps necessary for a weapons program are a, b, c, d, E, F, G, and H. Moving from a through d does, indeed, bring you closer to Capital H, even if you don’t have a weapons program, distinguishable from an every program, until you get to e/E.

  9. In regards to point number 8, “…Hizbullah primarily deployed violence against Israeli troops occupying …” So, I seems that 44 Israeli citizens died from unknown causes in the 2nd Lebanon war. Since Hizbullah did not shoot on every city in Israel rockets, Mortars and missiles, indiscriminately in order to kill as much as possible Israeli citizens

  10. My understanding is the Obama’s red line would allow the IRI to have the “Japan Option” capabilities but Romney’s red line would allow any nuclear weapon capability??

  11. Prof. Cole, you have touched on many aspects about Iran, yet in such a nutshell version one can only do injustice to a great nation. What would the region look like if US policy would have opted for friendship with the Iranians and distanced itself from the Saudi Kingdom? I sure would appreciate your vision on such a development. Basically, how would the world have changed with a second term for the Carter presidency?

    President Obama is not loved by the Netanyahu regime and the Israeli people. Nice to have one Israeli take a different stance – former Mossad chief Halevy urges dialogue with Iran, calls Obama policy ‘brave’.

  12. My guess – agreeing with Juan Cole – given the fatwa against nuclear arms and the state of the evidence, is that Iran does not have a nuclear arms program. The one likely truth to the fearmongering is that the centrifuge programs, while not aimed at making a bomb, have as one intention among others developing the scientific expertise by which Iran could make a bomb if it felt it needed to.

    I view a nuclear Iran as undesirable primarily because the world needs fewer, not more, nuclear powers. The U.S., refusing to do anything serious about the disarmament provisions of the non-proliferation treaty, has no moral credibility to make demands of Iran. But I wouldn’t mind a deal, and I think one could be had along these lines: a serious guarantee that regime change was off the table, maybe some kind of limited non-aggression agreement. The recent Bush described Iraq, Iran, and Korea as an axis of evil, and wanted to overthrown all 3 govts. We did Iraq, which had no nuclear arms, but took a pass on Korea, which did. While cause and effect are complicated, Iran could easily conclude that having the bomb is their best guarantee that we won’t invade and install a new regime. If we could take away the fear of our doing that, we might get somewhere asking for giving up having a nuclear option.

    What do you think?

  13. I think “we” ought to send a bunch of Marines to Beirut, park ‘em in a big old hotel building all clumped together, and let’s just SEE if there are any “terraists” still moping around in Lebanon. Then la voila, “we” have a casus belli, all neat and clean! Hey, it worked before…
    Hey, think that’s a bad idea? then what the hell? After spending hundreds of billions through the IEDiocracy the War Department calls the JIEDDO (Joint IED Defeat Organization, or “JIEDDO Knights”), which generates a buttload of really cool careers and documents and all kinds of fly-away technological approaches to asymmetry, it appears the best way to detect IEDs is to have GIs walk or drive over or adjacent to them, which serves the dual purpose of EOD and detection. And if the GIs in the field are really lucky and really observant and haven’t, by violent arrogance and ignorance, pissed off the locals who sometimes tell where the explosives are concealed, they may actually find some of those artfully placed Devices before they “go off” and add to the numbers of shattered and maimed and damaged carcasses of “our brave troops” that at least “serve” to keep money flowing into the VA into the far future. Unless the buttheads inside the Beltway cut it off, with a smarmy “thank you for your service” and a stern warning about how GIs are contributing to the Omygawd Deficit by being stupid enough to enlist and go kill Wogs and get blown up valiantly in this, that or the other asymmetric idiocy.

    (In case it’s not clear what it’s all about and why the Juggernaut is looping on autopilot with constant refueling, lookie here, link to
    and here, with clear charts showing the “success” of a mission that exists only because stoopid people think they can run an empire on mental flatus), link to (Lots of things to argue about as to what they show, but the brown curve area is still pretty flat, the color of dried blood…)
    and here’s where the tax dollars meet the road, or path, or compound — link to

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