Iran: New Canary, Old Tale, Dark Secrets

Warnings from the Iran accord’s nuclear coal mine.
John Wohlstetter
The American Spectator
August 3, 2015
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Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that while nearly 99 percent of Syria’s 1,300 metric tons of chemical munitions declared in 2013 have been destroyed, stocks of undeclared agents remain—even more lethal than those declared. To anyone familiar with arms control compliance history this should come as no surprise whatsoever.

Inspectors entered only sites the Assad regime designated, fearing that otherwise they would lose cooperation, and possibly even endanger their own safety. The result was predictable, writes Marissa Newman in the Times of Israel, citing the WSJ report:

Because the regime was responsible for providing security, it had an effective veto over inspectors’ movements. The team decided it couldn’t afford to antagonize its hosts, explains one of the inspectors, or it ‘would lose all access to all sites.’ And the inspectors decided they couldn’t visit some sites in contested areas, fearing rebels would attack them.

Under the terms of their deployment, the inspectors had access only to sites that the Assad regime had declared were part of its chemical-weapons program. The US and other powers had the right to demand access to undeclared sites if they had evidence they were part of the chemical-weapons program. But that right was never exercised, in part, inspectors and Western officials say, because their governments didn’t want a standoff with the regime.”

WSJ pundit Bret Stephens adds telling detail: 

Perhaps the most interesting details in the Journal story concerned the sophistication of the Syrian program. Chemical weapons-production facilities were hidden in the trailers of 18-wheel trucks—exactly of the kind that were rumored to have been moved to Syria from Iraq in 2003. Inspectors were impressed by the quality of Syrian-made munitions. The regime was also able elaborately to disguise its chemical research facilities, even during site visits by inspectors.

The CIA now admits that Syria retains significant quantities of its deadliest chemical weapons. When Mr. Obama announced the Syria deal, he warned that he would use military force in the event that Mr. Assad failed to honor his promises. The threat was hollow then. It is laughable now. What ties the Syrian sham to the Iranian one is an American president bent on conjuring political illusions at home at the expense of strategic facts abroad, his weakness apparent to everyone but himself.

Inspectors accepted a 48-hour advance notice rule as well. Their rationale was that otherwise they would have been blocked from confiscating 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents. To be fair, this line of reasoning is hardly frivolous. We are better off with 1,300 tons gone from Assad’s hands. But this was not lost on the Iranians.

Iran is supposed to reduce its centrifuge stockpile from 19,000 to 6,000; but those destroyed will be primitive IR-1 centrifuges; Iran will be able to continue—and get help in conducting—tests on far more advanced models: IR-4 through IR-8. These are vastly more efficient and spin far faster. Per Syria: out with the old, in with the new.

Animating the Obama policy towards Iran is a false historical narrative about an alleged pivotal CIA role in overthrowing Iran’s supposedly democratic prime minister in the early 1950s, Mohammed Mossadegh. An NRO article by Josh Gelernter contradicts this tale.

In 1951 Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi appointed Mossadegh prime minister. Mossadegh promptly implemented a socialist redistribution reform program. Mossadegh nationalized Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., which had been established in 1901 as Anglo-Persian, discovered oil in 1908 (first Mideast strike), and had been operating under a concession whose terms he judged hugely unfair, despite several upward adjustments in Iran’s revenue participation share.

The British responded by repatriating their employees and imposing an embargo on Iranian oil; Iran’s oil revenues, by far the mainstay of its economy, plunged 96 percent. With elections coming in Iran’s parliament that fall, Mossadegh, facing certain political defeat, suspended them. Gelernter recounts the fateful events that followed:

Nonetheless, Shah Pahlavi allowed Mossadegh to form a new government, and in the summer of ’52, Mossadegh demanded authority to appoint a new minister of war and a new chief of staff, which would give him control of Iran’s military—thitherto under the authority of (and loyal to) the Shah. The Shah refused; Mossadegh resigned, and began to organize anti-Shah demonstrations. Iran was thrown into chaos, and, fearing collapse of the country, the Shah acquiesced, re-appointed Mossadegh, and gave him full control over the military. (Quite the fascist was Shah Reza Pahlavi.) Reinstated, Mossadegh—in the tradition of all great democrats—persuaded the parliament to grant him emergency powers, which he used to confiscate the Shah’s land, ban him from communicating with foreign countries, and exile his sister. Mossadegh also used his emergency powers to institute collective farming.…

It is vital, for historical understanding, to note that in the events of 1951 and 1952 the CIA had done nothing of consequence to intervene. It was the fateful turn of 1953 that drew the U.S. into Iran’s internal struggle. With the U.S. fearing that Mossadegh was in league with the pro-Soviet communist Tudeh party—views held by President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill—the U.S. pressed the Shah to dismiss Mossadegh. Mossadegh, whom, Gelernter notes, the Shah had constitutional authority to dismiss, responded by joining with anti-Shah elements of the military. The Shah fled, to return only when Mossadegh was overthrown. (Italics mine.)

While the CIA did deploy street thugs to supported pro-Shah forces, its role was minor. Ex-CIAer Archie Roosevelt—“for lust of knowing what should not be known” (about Iran, not poet James Elroy Flecker’s Samarkand)—grossly inflated the U.S. role, and his own, in what was a popular 1953 countercoup that upended Mossadegh’s 1952 coup. The Shah returned, and implemented his own, more modern, reforms.

Gelernter concludes: “The CIA was happy to take credit… but a private CIA cable credited Mossadegh’s collapse to the fact that ‘the flight of the Shah… galvanized the people into an irate pro-Shah force.’” Alas for history and for American foreign policy towards Iran, the CIA legend took root as received narrative wisdom and was printed as gospel. It still holds sway among not only leftists like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but rightists like Rand Paul.

We learn anew from Syria’s clandestine cache of nerve gas that arms verification is a slender reed to rest on; and we learn how a legend about a coup six decades ago can drive much of U.S. policy towards a key Mideast player—to America’s and Israel’s great detriment.

And then there is the point Andy McCarthy makes in NRO, on the secret side deals negotiated with the Iranians. He cites statements from two prime architects of the Constitution: Grand Convention nonpareil and Federalist Papers co-author James Madison; and James Iredell, a prominent North Carolinian delegate to the 1787 Convention and one of the original five Supreme Court justices.

Madison opined that were a president “to commit anything so atrocious” as to defraud the Senate over an international agreement it would call for impeachment and removal. Iredell cited a president’s “duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives.” Were a president “to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them,” the president “must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate.”

In real life, there is zero chance that President Obama will be impeached and removed from office. The lesson of the Clinton impeachment by the House (Clinton was acquitted by the Senate) is that any attempt to remove a chief executive that is perceived as partisan by the voters will backfire badly. The president would simply claim patriotic motivation—parts of the deal had to be secret or Iran would have balked and America would again be at war—and a surefire progressive media blitz on his behalf would seal the deal. In terms of practical impeachment politics it matters not that benevolent intent is no legal defense to a charge of fraudulent concealment of information the Senate is constitutionally entitled to receive—and has expressly demanded by statute to receive—from the executive.

In May Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015; it passed the House 400-35 and the Senate 98-1. The sole Senate dissenter was Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, who felt that the bill did not go far enough to prevent the president from circumventing effective Senate review. Voters preoccupied with domestic economic and social issues are unlikely to get deep enough into the national security weeds to hold the president or his party accountable for secret diplomatic bargains, no matter how bad they might be.

We are stuck then, with a president who almost certainly has committed impeachable offenses in his negotiations with Iran. This is the third canary in the Iran accord’s nuclear coal mine.

With an American administration clearly unwilling to use force to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and with Israel under intense pressure to defer military action indefinitely, we can only pray that this canary triad does not augur a nuclear event.