Criminalizing Diplomacy: Fanning the Flames of the Iran War Option

11 Nov


            How many times have we heard in recent weeks either outright threats to attack Iran mainly emanating from Israel or the more muted posture adopted by the United States that leaves ‘all options’ on the table including ‘the military option’? What has Iran done to justify this frantic war-mongering in a strategic region that is sorting out the contradictory effects of the long Arab Spring and is the contested site of energy geopolitics that has replaced territory and minerals as the core issue of world politics?


            As a matter of historical context, it is worth observing that the Western military interventions of recent years, Iraq and Libya, were both in oil-producing countries, devastating the country to achieve regime change, which remains the central tenet of the neocon/Netanyahu vision for a reconfiguration of power in the Middle East. It follows that Iran remains the only oil producer in the region that refuses to play nicely with West, and has been sanctioned to some degree ever since it achieved an anti-Western regime change back in 1979. In this setting of pre-war hysteria—pouring the fuel of rumor and threat on the fire of belligerent diplomacy—I have no intention of discounting the grievances of those who bravely opposed the theocratic regime from within after the fraudulent elections of June 2009 in the shape of the repressed Green Movement, but it is beside the point in the present debate.


            Why talk of oil if the war momentum is explicitly preoccupied with the alleged effort by Iran to obtain nuclear weapons? Let the facts speak for themselves. Where there is oil and an anti-Western government in power, recourse to the military option follows, or at least an insistence on sanctions that aim to be crippling and regime-changing. Just as in Iraq, the smokescreen in 2003 were its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, and when that war justifying scenario was discredited, democracy and human rights abruptly took over as the strategic rationale. Not to be overlooked, of course, was backroom Israeli pressures to destroy the Baghdad regime of Saddam Hussein,  as well as the oil, involving both favorable access to the oil fields and some leverage over pricing. We all need to be reminded over and over again that Western prosperity rested on cheap oil, and its future prospects crucially depend on reliable supplies of oil at moderate prices. We need to be reminded because as Donald Rumsfeld once reassured the world, ‘America doesn’t do empire.’ Really! Concerns about oil security in the future are the real unacknowlegeable threats to the security of the West!


            Such illicit interventionary diplomacy should be unmasked. For once we can look to Moscow for a benign clarification. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Gennady Galitov, was quoted as follows: “The world community will see additional sanctions against Iran as an instrument of regime change in Tehran. We cannot accept this approach.” The plausibility of this interpretation is given further credibility by Iranian exile voices calling for targeting Iran’s central bank and currency with the avowed intention of bringing such hardship to the people of Iran as to mount destabilizing pressures from below on the Tehran government. The leader of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has repeatedly spoken against international sanctions, insisting that they hurt the people of Iran and strengthen the hold of the government on the population. The struggle for Iranian self-determination must be waged by the Iranian people, not their self-interested patrons from without. Such patrons heeded in the Iraq case, and recently influential in the Libyan case as well, contribute to a war making process that leaves their country in shambles. True, the West is at first ready, but not able, to pick up the pieces. The result is continuous unresolved violent conflict, acute and widespread human insecurity, followed by eventual abandonment of the post-war reconstructive commitment. Iraq is tragically illustrative.


            As has been pointed out by some opponents of this war fever, Iran has not attacked another country in 200 years. As President Ahmadinejad recently informed Iranians in the city of Shahr-e Kord: “The Iranian nation is wise. It won’t build two bombs against the 20,000 you have.” The former heads of Israel’s Mossad, Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, confirm the view that Israel would not be seriously threatened even if it should turn out that Iran does come to possess a few nuclear weapons in the future. Their contention would be that such a nuclear capability would only pose a threat for Iran’s Sunni rivals, especially Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as Israel would retain an overwhelming deterrent even without American backing. Of course, it is true that the Western alliance does not want any regional developments to destabilize its regional friends, no matter how autocratic and repressive. So much for the supposed Western embrace of the democratizing spirit of the Arab Spring! For hypocritical William Hague, the pro-Israeli Foreign Secretary of Great Britain to say that Iran’s nuclear program is threatening ‘to undermine’ the Arab Spring by ‘bringing about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East of the risk of conflict’ is obviously to point his finger in the wrong direction. There are also murmurs in the background, perhaps to shift attention away from Israeli war-mongering, to the effect that the real danger associated with Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons is that Turkey and Saudi Arabia would follow suit.


            If these were the serious concerns of this kind there are other far better ways to proceed. Why is there no mention of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, of Western unlawful assistance in helping Israel to cross the nuclear threshold covertly, of Israel being one of three important states in the world that has refused to become a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty, and of Israel’s refusal to discuss even the idea of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East that Iran has announced its readiness to join? If oil is the foremost reality of which we must not speak, then Israeli nuclearism is a close second. We understand that the Obama presidency has been reduced to silence, but why are no regional and global voices speaking on behalf of nuclear sanity?  Is Israel’s status as a nuclear weapons state as untouchable a feature of a dysfunctional system of global governance as the retention of Britain and France as two of five permanent members of the UN Security Council? Such sacred cows of an entrenched world order are dooming the 99% as much as the demons of Wall Street!


            And then there is a third reality of this deepening crisis of which we are blinkered by a compliant media not to notice: the total disregard in the public policy debate of international law that prohibits all non-defensive uses of force, including threats to do so. This core norm of the UN Charter set forth in the language of Article 2(4), reinforced by the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case in 1986, was built into the idea of Crimes Against Peace that served as the basis for indicting and convicting surviving German and Japanese leaders at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II. There is not even a lawyerlike attempt to argue that Bush’s discredited doctrine of preemptive war applies to Iran, there is instead a presumed total irrelevance of international law to the policy debate. To discuss the military option as if not circumscribed by solemn legal commitments, while building the case that Iran is subject to attack because it has violated its NPT obligations as a state pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons, is double think emblazoned on the sky of hard power geopolitics. Accountability for the weak and vulnerable, discretion for the strong and mighty. It is this woeful message of street geopolitics that is being transmitted to the peoples of the world in this crisis-building moment.


            There is one final point. If ever there was an argument for the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, the diplomacy of Israel and the West has fashioned it in a strong form. After all Iran is being constantly threatened with attack by states for more powerful than itself, and although it possesses retaliatory capacity, it is vulnerable to devastating attacks from sea, air, and land. Can we imagine a better set of conditions for acquiring nuclear weapons so as to deter an attack? If deterrence legitimates nuclear weapons for the West, why not for Iran? Would Iraq have been attacked in 2003 if it had a stockpile of nuclear weapons accompanied by delivery capacities? These questions point in two directions: the unacceptable two-tier structure of governance with respect to nuclear weaponry that the world has endured since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the imperative urgency of rejecting nuclear hegemony and oligarchy, and moving toward a negotiated nuclear disarmament treaty. There is no morally and legally acceptable or politically viable alternative to the abolition of all nuclear weapons as a global policy priority of utmost urgency.

15 Responses to “Criminalizing Diplomacy: Fanning the Flames of the Iran War Option”

  1. Adriana November 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Gvt of US-Israel are interested in isolating the Iranian financial system. So, in order to put pressure on the UN security concil for voting more sanctions, they talk about of a eventual Iran-war.

    Although, I agree with the last paragraph, I think it is an illusion.It will not happen.
    Anyway, nuclear nukes are only dissuading. Drones are the real war business which is developing.
    Cheap and invisible, secure for those operating with high eficacity.
    Should think about this treat more seriously.

  2. Rabbi Ira Youdovin November 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Prof. Falk asks, ”What has Iran done to justify this frantic war-mongering?” Nothing, I suppose, other than the inconvenient truth that its president repeatedly and publicly threatens to annihilate Israel, driving it off the face of the earth.

    Falk is correct that oil figures into American Middle East policy. But he’s so obsessed with blaming Israel for everything imaginable that he refuses to accept that Israel’s entirely legitimate desire not to be vaporized into a mushroom shaped cloud stands apart from other factors which may be in play.

    A straight question to the professor: If someone is threatening to kill you and working to acquire the force to do so, what would you do?

    Ira Youdovin

    • Richard Falk November 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      My dear friend, you would not listen to me if I talked until the next full moon, but heed the words
      of the former directors of Mossad who I refer to in the blog. There are better ways for Israel to deal with
      Iran than to mount constant threats of attack, and the encouragement of others to do the dirty deed.
      And better ways to deal with the Palestinians than by blockades and
      constant expansion of settlements. The way of peace is peace, and the way of war is war.

      Richard Falk

      • Ira Youdovin November 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

        Prof. Falk: You address your previous post to “My dear friend,” so I’m not sure you meant it for me. Nevertheless, I’ll assume that you did, while trying not to notice that your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek.

        Israel is not the one mounting “constant threats.” These come from Iran. (Someone—I forget who—correctly remarked that “One may be entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.”) Fact is that Israel has as yet to determine a firm position on possible pre-emption. There’s a robust debate on the matter at the highest echelons of government and the security services. Fact is, however, that even the most bellicose views being expressed advocate giving primacy to sanctions, while not taking the military option off the table should sanctions fail and Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.

        You say there is a “better way” for Israel to address the threat. If you really want me to be your dear friend, please tell me what that way might be.

        Btw, I agree with you that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is deeply flawed. But finding the right way to peace requires an honest evaluation on both sides of the divide. You do a disservice to the cause of peace by heaping unrelenting criticism on Israel while remaining silent on the Palestinians, thus suggesting tacit approval of suicide bombers and the like.

        While your statement, “The way of peace is peace, and the way of war is war” may sound good, it raises serious moral issues. Would refusing to take up arms against a Hitler been the way to peace? Please understand, I don’t intend the Hitler reference as applying to any specific situation in the world today. My point is that events are often too complicated to lend themselves to aphorisms.

        Here too, I’m curious as to your views on what Israel might do to achieve peace with a Palestinian People whose government will likely soon include a party whose covenant contains an unambiguous commitment to annihilate it?

        Apropos, I was disappointed, although not surprised, by your declining Prof. Dershowitz’ invitation to a public debate. I agree it might have been a messy affair. But certainly, there could have been an attempt to lay down ground rules.

        To my knowledge—and frankly, I have not followed your career—you express your views only in sheltered environments where they are protected from being challenged by an equal and opposite response. To take a cliché from my profession: your preach to the choir. This undermines your purpose in speaking, because your words have little or no impact on those who are not already in the fold. That’s your choice. And I fear it’s unlikely to change.

        I close with a belated “Happy Birthday.”

        Rabbi Ira Youdovin

      • Richard Falk November 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

        Dear Rabbi Ira Youdavin:

        You raise many issues in your comment, and I am rather confident that I can not answer them all.

        Let me start with the easiest for me. My refusal to debate with Dershowitz is based on his style
        of defaming and distorting, and not addressing issues seriously. I see nothing useful coming from
        such an encounter. He seems to me not interested in dialogue, but in an effort to discredit and
        attack. I have been in his gunsights previously.

        As for my career, it is nothing special, but it is not the case that I devote myself to the choir.
        I have consistently talked to mixed audiences, and have accepted invitations over the years from a variety
        of sources, including those that might be hostile. For instance, during the Vietnam War I spoke on several
        occasions at West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy.

        On Israel/Palestine you do my actual views a disservice. I have consistently when relevant condemned
        suicide bombing and the rockets from Gaza, but I do distinguish between structures of power where one
        side enjoys relative normalcy and the other lives under oppressive circumstances that you can hardly
        imagine without experiencing, and have done so for decades with no end in sight. I believe such people
        have a right of resistance in relation to Israeli military and security personnel. I do not even now
        raise questions about the mixed messages of promising the Palestinians a state and expanding settlements
        at an accelerating rate on what remains of historic Palestine, or taking the water, and so on.

        I appreciate your concerns with a proper solution to the conflict, but I find most of the imbalanced
        judgments on the Israeli side of the argument, and if I lean toward the Palestinian side, it it to get
        closer to what I believe is the truth. I have just taken part in London in a workshop bringing together
        Israelis and Palestinians seeking peace, and it was a moving experience.

        My best wishes,


      • Richard Falk November 17, 2011 at 5:20 am #

        I forgot to comment on Iran, which is your central concern, I believe.
        The inflammatory language of Ahmedinejad, while objectionable, seemed to lack the intentionality of operational planning, and was not reinforced by those that are responsible for Iranian foreign policy. There are numerous indications that Iran is interested in deescalating the conflict in the region, ready to negotiate a nuclear free Middle East and enter into regional security arrangements. Even if Israel doesn’t trust the peace talk from Tehran, its own deterrent capabilities are obviously overwhelming, making any Iranian attack a clear decision to commit national suicide. In my view, Israel’s war talk is highly irresponsible as encourages those in Tehran to believe that an Iranian deterrent is the only way to avoid being attacked. It is important to realize that Iraq was attacked because it did not have such weapons, while North Korea that has WMDs has never been attacked. I still believe that the way toward peace is by peace in the Middle East.

  3. Ilisha December 22, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    At last I found the article…sorry I put my question on your “About” page. I am not able to delete it from there.

    “As has been pointed out by some opponents of this war fever, Iran has not attacked another country in 200 years.”

    I remembered that your wrote this, and I wanted to know when was the last time Iran/Persia attacked another country. I am amazed at how difficult it has been to find this answer, in an age when it seems like everything is available on the Internet!

    It looks like the answer is 1795, which is indeed more than 200 years ago. Can you confirm this or perhaps point me in the right direction? I would be very grateful if I could find an answer to my question.

    Your blog is awesome, and even if I don’t find an answer to my question, I’m glad my research led me here.

    Thanks so much!

    • Richard Falk December 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

      Dear Ilisha: I am in Montreal until the end of 2011, away from my books, but I think you have tracked the right date and occasion. Thanks for your supportive words..Richard


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