Gareth Porter has been the most conscientious follower of the purported danger of Iran's purported "nuclear weapons program." In his new, meticulously documented book, Manufactured Crisis (New York: Just World Books, 2014) he exposes the many lies and half-truths that have been promulgated over more than two decades to try and convince the American public and the world that Iran is the chief danger to international peace through its nuclear program.
One of Porter's surprising implications is that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have been the prime mover in the 20-year-old attack on Iran based on unsubstantiated claims that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons.
Before plunging into the details of Porter's book or his information about Mr. Gates, let me state the book's conclusions unequivocally: Iran has never been proven to have a nuclear weapons program. Any claim to the contrary is absolutely false. The attempt to claim that such a weapons program exists was the result of a decades long effort on the part of American neoconservatives allied with right-wing forces in Israel to legitimize hostile actions against Iran designed to effect regime change there.
Porter's overall account of the evolution of consensus about the threat of Iran's nuclear program is fascinating and appalling reading. It is fascinating because he has created a compelling narrative showing how the framework for attacking Iran compounded lies and misinformation over many years. It appears in this account that Robert Gates had a continuing central role.
Robert Gates had been employed by the CIA since college. He was witness to the Iran-Contra affair under President Reagan, and was called to give testimony about his knowledge of the affair. Despite continual questions about the conduct of the CIA during the 1980's and early 1990's in which he had a central role, Gates rose through the ranks of the intelligence community. He served as Deputy National Security Adviser (1989-1991) -- a promotion from his role as Deputy Director of National Intelligence (1986-1989), and finally became Director of Central Intelligence in 1991 after contentious hearings
One of the most telling episodes in Porter's book concerns President George H.W. Bush. In 1989 he was willing to improve relations with Iran eliminating sanctions that had been in place since the Revolution of 1978-79. At that time American hostages were being held by Shi'a forces in Lebanon. Then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati intervened, and all American prisoners were released. Bush was grateful and was supported by his National Security Advisor, Brent Snowcroft but suddenly his administration reversed course.
This is the point at which Robert Gates becomes a major player in the attacks against Iran. As Porter describes it, though Snowcroft and Bush wanted improved relations, everyone else on the National Security team -- and one assumes that this includes Gates -- insisted that Iran was "deeply engaged in other acts of terrorism that made it very, very difficult to improve the relationship" (p. 87). Porter goes on to demonstrate that these "other acts of terrorism" were unsubstantiated. Essentially the decision not to go forward with improved relations with Iran was a political one and not based on any proven Iranian actions.
After Gates became CIA Director, the disinformaton about Iran continued. Porter documents that in 1992 it was Gates who first declared in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 27, with no hard evidence, that "Iran is developing a capability to produce weapons of mass destruction," and was "seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability." The phrase "nuclear weapons capability" likely originated here.
In this way the juggernaut against Iran was launched. Although the National Intelligence estimate for 1992 declared that Iran would not seriously threaten U.S. interests, Gates' estimate became gospel for the balance of the Bush administration, carrying forward into the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Gates' influence was indeed extremely telling.
After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration was dominated by neo-conservatives who had been active since the administration of his father and were anxious to see regime change throughout the Middle East. They ignored the fact that the Iranian nuclear energy program had started in earnest during the last years of the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and declared that Iran had been undertaking "secret" nuclear developments. In fact, these were not at all secret, and had been governed by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran and the United States (but not Israel, Pakistan, India or North Korea) were signatories, and which guaranteed Iran the "inalienable right" to the peaceful development of nuclear power.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with carrying out inspections of Iran's nuclear program (and indeed, the nuclear programs of all signatories to the Treaty). They never once found the slightest evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program or had diverted any nuclear material for military use.
Still Gates' 10-year old assertion that Iran was seeking to acquire a "nuclear weapons capability," though completely unproven, was seized upon by the neoconservatives who wanted to bring down the Iranian regime.
As Porter documents, the IAEA quickly became politicized. Its head, Mohammad elBaradei was excoriated by the George W. Bush administration who tried to get him fired because he would not assert that Iran was building nuclear weapons. His eventual successor Yukio Amano was more compliant. Though still not able to say that Iran had a demonstrable nuclear weapons program, IAEA reports after he took office used convoluted language to suggest that they "could not eliminate the possibility" that Iran might be building nuclear weapons. Several attempts on Iran's part during the Bush administration to negotiate over misunderstandings of its program were rebuffed by Washington, partially due to those same neoconservatives in his administration, notably John Bolton who served as United Nations Ambassador on a recess appointment during a the crucial period from 2005-2006 and made it his mission to attack Iran with falsehoods at every turn.
Porter presents example after example of the U.S. Press, notably the New York Times, distorting the facts about Iran's nuclear activities. Every action and decision was placed under a microscope, and though Iran had only completed one reactor in development since before the Revolution, and was far from completing any facility for additional generation of nuclear power, the hyperbole in the press made it seem that Iran would have a bomb tomorrow. Lobbying groups such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) influenced these writings and lobbied the U.S. Congress for more stringent sanctions on Iran with the aim of completely dismantling Iran's forty-year old nuclear program. They also supported military action against Iran either by the United States or by Israel. Porter's book features the famous picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointing to a picture of a Warner Brothers cartoon bomb and inveighing against Iran.
In 2006 President George W. Bush nominated Robert Gates to be secretary of defense. Gates had been serving as president of Texas A&M University, and was persuaded to leave that post to return to national service. He was retained by President Obama after the 2008 election. It is notable that although President Obama had pledged to engage Iran diplomatically, in his first term, no serious diplomatic efforts were undertaken. To the contrary, increased rhetoric claiming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program issued from the White House and the Department of Defense. It was only after then Secretary Gates left office that the Obama administration began to engage in serious diplomatic talks with Iran. This process was aided by the election of Hassan Rowhani as president of Iran and the appointment of Javad Zarif, American educated former Iranian U.N. Ambassador, as Minister of Foreign Relations.
Aside from the intriguing clues to Robert Gates' probable role in constructing a false picture of the Iranian nuclear danger, Porter's book is essential reading for all Americans wary of manufactured paths to war that have become a major theme in U.S. foreign relations after World War II. Porter shows how ideology can distort facts, and be used as a weapon to sway public opinion in directions that are inimical to world interests. As talks with Iran in Vienna over its nuclear program proceed, Porter notes that the Obama administration, only after ridding itself of the extended influence of Robert Gates and his ilk, has finally made attempts to wind down the two decades of baseless attacks on Iran to try and forge a rapprochement. The question remains whether war mongers in Washington, Israel and some nations in Europe will come to their senses and let this happen.