Scott Horton Interviews Ali Gharib
This recording is excerpted from the KPFK Gustavo Arellano program of August 5th. The complete recording can be heard here.
Ali Gharib, a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy, discusses the hawkish turn taken by the middle-of-the-road think tank Council on Foreign Relations, the synchronized talking points of Iran war boosters that – like Iraq before – force antiwar opponents to prove a negative (or why the reality-based community is forever playing catch-up to history’s actors), solid economic reasons for a civilian nuclear power program in Iran and why Ret. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney is a warmongering lunatic.
MP3 here. (15:26) Transcript below.
Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Ali Gharib, August 5, 2010
Scott Horton: Good afternoon, Los Angeles. You’re listening to KPFK 90.7 FM Pacifica. We’re also at 98.7 FM in Santa Barbara. I’m Scott Horton from Antiwar.com sitting in for Gustavo Arellano, who is off today. And now to our next guest. It’s Ali Gharib. I hope I’m saying that right, sir.
Ali Gharib: Yep, yep, you got it.
Horton: Great. And he writes for AlterNet, Right-Web, and of course Inter Press Service. And you can find him regularly over at Jim Lobe’s blog, LobeLog. Welcome to the show, how are you?
Gharib: Thanks very much. I’m doing well, Scott, how are you?
Horton: I’m doing great. I really appreciate you joining us today.
Gharib: My pleasure.
Horton: So you had a very interesting article over at Jim Lobe’s blog about the Council on Foreign Relations and the – I guess they kind of define these ideological splits on the foreign policy level [as] rather than just the liberals and the conservatives, it’s the neocons and the liberal internationalists and the realists, so-called. And I guess you’re saying here that the Council on Foreign Relations, the oldest foreign policy think tank in America, typically represents what we consider usually to have the realists’, or the liberal internationalists’ point of view, and yet you say that more and more they are – well, I guess now just like before the Iraq war – signing on with the neoconservatives to monger more war in the Middle East.
Gharib: Well, I should say first that if you’re going to be dividing into schools, that liberal internationalists might also be divided into interventionists and noninterventionists, just that noninterventionists tend not to play a major part in mainstream median political discourse.
Gharib: I’m not sure that the liberals among the scholars at CFR are necessarily signing off on it. My piece was about the Washington Post op-ed by Ray Takeyh and Steve Simon. And they did say that they don’t advise the course of bombing Iran, but nonetheless went on to basically lay out a plan of all the things that would have to be considered, and it’s just sort of enabling an attack on Iran rather than explicitly signing off on it or endorsing it.
Horton: Well, there really has been for years, but it seems it’s kind of new again, this push by the neoconservatives, with this wonderful echo chamber that they control, to create the new consensus. Nobody ever wants to talk about the facts of Iran’s nuclear program, but everybody loves saying, “What’s to be done about Iran’s nuclear weapons program?” And they kind of start the discussion from there. And it looks like with the new Emergency Committee for Israel and the Foreign Policy Initiative and whatever, Bill Kristol and his friends are really pushing again for strikes on Iran.
Gharib: Yeah, I think very much so. You have – your thesis – I’m actually working on a blog post right now about a blog post that Gabriel Schoenfeld put up on the Weekly Standard page, the magazine founded and edited by Bill Kristol. He put up on their blog that essentially blames Iran for the recent attacks at the northern and southern tips of Israel, even though nobody official outside of the right-wing Israeli government has blamed Hamas for the attacks from the south, and the gun battle at the northern border was actually with the Lebanese Army and not Hezbollah. But Gabriel Schoenfeld just breathlessly states that these groups committed these attacks, Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively, and points out that there’s Iranian proxies and kind of wonders aloud, in this maybe projecting way, about whether Iran is starting a war with Israel.
And, yeah, I think they are very much ramping up a campaign. They’ve scored a victory certainly with sanctions, which many neocons from the beginning, because they are politically astute, have viewed as a stepping stone. Because you know you try the diplomacy, the diplomacy doesn’t work. You try the sanctions, the sanctions don’t work. And then you’re left only with a military attack as the last option. And so I think they are, in the wake of the sanctions victory, they are very much ramping up this war effort.
And you even have a report that’s just out today from the American Foreign Policy Council, which is a group filled with neoconservatives and neoconservative leanings, and they got together a bunch of their experts as well as experts from other think tanks, including the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, the AIPAC spinoff think tank Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, and they got together a bunch of these experts and wrote a report on going to economic warfare with Iran, which is the step beyond sanctions.
Cliff May, the head of the Foundation for Democracies and a well-known neoconservative, wrote up the report today for the National Review Online, and he actually had an interesting point – that he admitted and sort of bragged about the fact that two of his Foundation for the Defense of Democracy fellows have been involved in writing the report and that members of the task force have been briefing members of Congress as the report was ongoing about their findings. So although the report just came out today, some of its recommendations were already incorporated into the sanctions passage, the sanctions package that was passed and signed into law by President Obama. So this really is a step-by-step neoconservative approved and to some extent written campaign that the Obama administration is perhaps unwittingly engaged in.
Horton: Well, it is always about controlling the narrative rather than the facts, I guess, and you noted – I think this was one of your blog entries there at Jim Lobe’s blog, you quoted from the legislation implementing the sanctions, or the sanctions resolution I guess it was, and it says that these sanctions are with the purpose of ending Iran’s “illicit weapons activities.”
And it sort of seems like, wow, I don’t know of any evidence in the world that there are illicit weapons activities in Iran. It doesn’t seem like the American Congress feels the need to prove the assertions that they base their sanctions on, and so here we are on the path to war over a mythical weapons program. I mean, after all, all the enrichment that’s going on in Iran is going on – uranium enrichment – is going on at safeguarded facilities, at Natanz, with IAEA inspectors standing there.
Gharib: Indeed, Scott. It’s kind of deja vu all over again. It feels like late 2002, where these speculative notions are being peddled as fact by neoconservatives as well as members of Congress, who tend to be in the right-wing Israel lobby’s pocket, which also has been – several groups that have been very much behind pushing for the sanctions package, though not explicitly a military run, so much as specifically the neoconservatives have been.
But yeah, you know, it is a tricky point, because you can’t necessarily dismiss either that the Iranians are pursuing a covert weapons program. But at the same time, as you say, there is no concrete evidence that such a program exists. The most concrete as it gets was a report from the IAEA last year in which they said that it is possible that the Iranians are conducting a nuclear weapons program, but even that was admittedly speculative, and, you know, it just goes on to be peddled and [inaudible].
I think you’re absolutely right that facts are less important in this debate than establishing a narrative, and it is eerily reminiscent to 2002 and 2003 and the run-up to the Iraq war, where we all know – after the invasion we discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, although if you’re asking the neoconservatives, they want to invade Syria and they’ll find the weapons that were smuggled out of Iraq there. But that’s a whole other issue, I suppose.
Horton: Mmm. Well, no it’s not really another issue. It’s the same issue, which is that neoconservative talking points from the Schoenfeld piece you referred to earlier, to the war in Iraq that, well, the people of Iraq sure have been living through for the last decade here, and on to Iran, it’s all based on – I almost wonder whether it’s deliberate, that they make sure their talking points are so ridiculous that only those who can be fooled all of the time will believe them and will join their side, and they just figure that’s enough. And the rest of us who dispute their facts that, you know, their arguments are supposedly based off of, don’t even count really.
Gharib: Um, yeah, I think to some extent that’s true. I mean, I’m not sure to what extent the neoconservatives tend to be true believers in some of their grander ideas, but I think that at the tactical level of establishing narratives, yeah, they’re not much concerned with specific facts or cherry picking or bending intelligence to suit their political and geostrategic aims.
Horton: Well, now, so what does it really mean when Richard Haass, who’s the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I guess from my understanding could be accounted among the “doves” in the first Bush Jr. administration, who certainly was, I guess, more in the Colin Powell camp than the Richard Perle camp, anyway.
Gharib: I think maybe a pragmatic realist might be a better way to describe him than a dove.
Horton: Yeah, there you go. Well, yeah, relative dove, comparative dove, in that administration with Dick Cheney next door, but anyway, um, so he’s the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He just wrote a piece in Newsweek that, because it has his name on it, came with all this weight, that said, “We’re losing; it’s not worth it; we’ve got to get out of Afghanistan.” And yet at the same time he’s saying, “Well, I guess the neocons are right. It’s time we all listened to Bill Kristol again and start a war with Iran”?
Gharib: That was his op-ed in February in Newsweek that he wrote where he called for regime change in Iran and said it was the only way to curb the Iranian nuclear program. Meanwhile, this once again is shoving the facts aside, because it’s widely acknowledged among Iran experts, who actually have factual knowledge about the country and speak to sources on the ground there, including reformist sources and opposition sources, that there is a little bit of a national pride issue and Iranians don’t want to give up a peaceful nuclear program. They want nuclear energy, and they want the stability that brings, and I can’t say that I entirely blame them for wanting peaceful nuclear energy, because we see now that you have the foreign oil markets are being manipulated by American sanctions to drive up oil prices in Iran.
Horton: Well, and yeah, I mean even on a regular day, in terms of the oil markets, it’s simply a matter of opportunity costs. If it’s cheaper to run their electricity, their domestic electricity program off of uranium and sell their oil on the world market, then it’s simply a mathematical equation on a piece of paper. There’s nothing else to it. People always say, “Oh why do they need nuclear energy when they’re sitting on a sea of oil?” Well, maybe they want to sell it.
Gharib: That was Condoleezza Rice’s line, and once again when you have, you know – their oil supply has been very much curtailed by previous rounds of international and U.S. sanctions, and they can’t get access to technologies that would boost their refinery capacity, so they actually can’t refine oil fast enough for their own domestic use. Now when they see international forces pushing them around in this way, like I said, I can’t see that I blame them for wanting a source of energy that they could be more independent and not be responsible to those international markets that can be manipulated by basically the U.S. throwing its weight around.
Horton: Well, you know, another comparison between the neocons’ project in Iraq and their upcoming one here in Iran is it seems like there is no real plan for what happens after the war starts. All their energy is on convincing everybody that it’s inevitable that we start the war. What happens after the Baath regime is gone? Geez, I don’t know, I guess we’ll get Moqtada al-Sadr’s government in Iraq as we found out here.
Gharib: Even more so than Moqtada al-Sadr, it’s a much more Iranian friendly government.
Horton: Yeah, yeah, the Dawa Party of Nouri al-Maliki, that’s who we’ve been fighting for the whole time in Iraq, and now it seems like with Iran you have that Washington Times piece the other day where General McInerney from the Air Force, retired, says, “Oh, well this will enable a velvet revolution. This is our war plan, is we’ll start bombing Iran, and then the people of Iran will rise up, overthrow their government,” and I guess install another Israel and America friendly dictator like back in the day.
Gharib: Um, yeah, you know, Jim did a post about this – I can’t remember if it was several months ago, if it was late last year – he saw an Iranian opposition activist, Akbar Ganji, speak in Washington, and Ganji, who obviously has much better knowledge of Iranian opposition politics, essentially said that a Western strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would destroy the Green movement. So I think Tom McInerney has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s actually the one I had in mind. He’s the one who suggested invading Syria to find the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Gharib: And, I think, yeah, my colleague Eli [Clifton] did a post based on a post by Patrick Disney, who used to be, I believe, the legislative director of the National Iranian American Council, and he’s since left there to go to graduate school, but he’s still doing his own blog on Iran, which I recommend people check out. And Patrick Disney’s post basically addressed what would the day after look like, after a U.S. bombing run on Iran.
And I think that, once again, the same way that manipulating the international market to control Iranian energy only gives the Iranians a better excuse to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program, that bombing Iran would only give the Iranians a better excuse for wanting to pursue a weapons program, to have a deterrence of such belligerent actions by foreign countries.
So there’s this little doubt that if that were to happen, all the inspectors, as you say, who are there checking out these sites now, even though there may or may not be sites that are off their list, as has been exposed in the past year, there are weapons inspectors now, all these weapons inspectors would surely be kicked out, Iran would likely withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, and it would be just another rogue state outside the bounds of that treaty, which has been for the most part totally effective.
And, yes, so I think that it would be extremely counterproductive, and I recommend that people check out my colleague Eli Clifton and Patrick Disney’s posts on the subject.
Horton: I absolutely agree with that, and again, that’s Ali Gharib, from Inter Press Service, AlterNet and Right Web, and the blog in question here is Jim Lobe’s blog. He’s the Washington bureau chief for Inter Press Service, and that’s LobeLog.com, right?
Gharib: Yes, that’s it, LobeLog.com.
Horton: Dot com, right. Okay, well thank you very much for your time. I really do appreciate it.
Gharib: Hey, thanks very much, Scott. Any time. It was a pleasure.
Horton: Great. All right, everybody, that was Ali Gharib, again, from Inter Press Service and LobeLog.com. And I’m Scott Horton from Antiwar.com. I’m filling in for Gustavo Arellano today on his show here on KPFK in Los Angeles.