Archive for the ‘Nuclear Crisis’ Category
Dirty Bomb Named West Lake in St. Louis Courtesy of EPA, DOE, Republic Services, Bill Gates, Exelon & President ObamaDecember 13, 2015
The 11th hour has arrived on this disaster in the making, but President Obama’s alleged conflict of interest has protected Republic Services and Exelon.
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St. Louis is sitting on top of a ticking ‘dirty bomb’—hidden in plain sight, which if ignited could result in a nuclear event rivaling Fukushima. This dirty bomb is not the work of ISIS, Hezbollah or any alleged ‘homegrown terrorists.’ The sponsors of this dirty bomb have never been cited on any DOD or NSA terrorist watch list, nor have they been treated to a CIA dark prison site, or the Hell that is Guantanamo.
In fact, the parties with both direct and indirect financial interests in this dirty bomb are linked to multiple presidential administrations (from FDR to the present Obama administration), and two Wall Street Fortune 500 corporations—nuclear giant Exelon Corporation and Bill Gates’ latest stock conquest, Republic Services, Inc. More importantly; this environmental crime has been perpetrated and supported by the very Superfund law allegedly written to protect all of us.
This ‘mother’ of all dirty bombs has a name—West Lake.
West Lake is a living metaphor for the extreme corruption in the present political system that places corporate ‘proprietary rights’ above public health and safety– to the point of lunacy.
West Lake disaster— nuclear waste dump meets underground landfill fire…
This is a tale of two—landfills. West Lake landfill is brimming chockfull with illegally dumped nuclear waste, while the second landfill—ie. the Bridgeton landfill has an underground fire which has been raging for some five years. They are separated by roughly 1000 feet of ground—and a chain-link fence. More to come on the ‘care and grooming’ of this homegrown mega ‘dirty bomb.’
Both are owned by Republic Services, Inc., but longtime Obama ally, nuclear giant Exelon Corporation shares ‘pollution liability’ which it voluntarily incurred in a corporate restructuring.
West Lake was made a Superfund Site in 1990. According to the Superfund law the …”potentially responsible parties” are the now defunct Cotter Corp. (a General Atomics affiliate), Republic Services subsidiaries (Bridgeton Landfill LLC), Rock Road Industries LLC, the U.S. Department of Energy and nuclear power giant Exelon Corp. Exelon acquired Cotter and maintained ownership from 1974 to 2000, and agreed to maintain ‘pollution liability’ from claims coming from any past actions by Cotter—including West Lake.
The West Lake landfill is an unlined pit filled with the oldest nuclear waste in the country, dating back to WWII and the Manhattan Project, courtesy of Mallinckrodt Chemical Corp. Originally this ‘ nuclear waste had been secretly transported and dumped throughout the St. Louis region by Mallinckrodt with the blessing of the now defunct federal Atomic Energy Commission; (the predecessor of the Department of Energy or DOE).
None of the laborers and truck drivers in past decades knew the risk they accepted as they packed barrel drums full of nuclear waste using no tools other than shovels and their bare hands. These laborers and truck drivers hauling the nuclear waste around town, dragging nuclear dust home on their shoes and dungarees, were guinea pigs sacrificed on the altars of ‘national security,’ and ‘corporate personhood.’
Historic record of negligence at both sites…
Dating back to the 1980’s serious problems emerged with West Lake as documented by the Mo. Department of Natural Resources; the same state agency now turning a blind eye on the alleged criminal negligence of Republic Services. Among various violations; nuclear waste was initially left on the landfill surface with no top cover, and exposed to erosion in an area which has experienced decades of multiple tornadoes, as St. Louis is part of ‘tornado alley.’ Some of the waste was shallowly buried. West Lake has no lining between the nuclear waste and any groundwater in the Coldwater Creek floodplain of the Missouri River.
The adjacent Bridgeton Landfill doesn’t appear to be benign either. The local NBC affiliate reported in 2014 that the Bridgeton Landfill site has been releasing gases into our air which contain toxic chemicals, including benzene gas, a proven carcinogen.
2010…the ‘subsurface smoldering event’ burns out of control…
In 2010, the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill developed an underground landfill fire which has raged out of control to the present day. Republic Services insists that there is no landfill fire, but merely a …’smoldering chemical event,’ or a ‘subsurface smoldering event’.
The utter stupidity of Republic’s semantic hair splitting speaks for itself.
While Republic Services was arguing the difference between a ‘smoldering event’ and a fire; local residents in Bridgeton, Mo. were living with foul odors so noxious they rendered outdoor activities impossible.
So far no one at Republic Services has admitted any liability regarding this ‘subsurface smoldering event’. Though presently unable to verify the cause of this underground landfill fire (which has been raging over 5 years to date); the most common cause remains the actual ‘gas collection systems’ ironically used to remediate such fires. When gas collection systems (such as the ‘gas extraction wells used at Republic’s Bridgeton Landfill); withdraw an overabundance of landfill gas—a subsurface smoldering event, or underground landfill fire occurs. (see p. 5 of report).
These underground gas collection systems for harvesting landfill gas are germane to this article as they bring into question a new program namely ‘landfill gas to energy’ spearheaded by Republic’s majority stockholder, Bill Gates. Landfill gas to energy programs are being touted as safe, clean and user friendly.
In 2014 Gates purchased some 42 million dollars worth of Republic Services; making him the largest stockholder at some 91 million shares. Gates also has one of the largest slices of potential civil and criminal liability, if this situation remains unresolved.
As Republic Services continued to stonewall any independent investigation; their ‘smoldering event’ at the Bridgeton Landfill was progressing closer to the raw buried nuclear waste in the adjacent West Lake Landfill approximately 1000 feet away.
The Dirty Bomb scenario…a Goliath over entire Midwest…
Citizen groups have argued that if the underground smoldering event/fire comes into direct contact with the dumped nuclear waste at the unlined West Lake site; the release of toxins and carcinogens would go airborne in a goliath nuclear plume, and create the mother of all dirty bombs.
Depending on prevailing winds at the time of a nuclear release event at West Lake; the entire St .Louis Metropolitan area of some 3 million people, could be impacted. Additional contamination could spread far beyond St. Louis and possibly poison the entire Midwest United States in the form of nuclear airborne particulates. Local groups have conducted independent assessments outside the perimeter of the two landfills. A state consultant went on record reporting to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Bridgeton Landfill fire is spreading north towards the nuclear waste.
Further complicating this situation is the possibility of drinking water contamination, as West Lake sits on top of the Cold Water Creek floodplain. Geologic chemist Dr. Robert Criss, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis…”determined that groundwater in St. Louis County had come into contact with radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill.”
Geology experts have estimated that this nuclear ‘event’ could occur within weeks or months. No one knows for sure, as both Republic Services and Exelon have been allowed to conduct and control the assessment process, with the blessing of Obama’s EPA. Soil samples independently collected outside the perimeter of the West Lake Landfill have confirmed the presence of the following radioactive substances : actinium 227, radium 226,224,223, thorium 232,230 and uranium 235,238,234.
Residents hired independent testing…
Community groups hired a Massachusetts lab to further analyze soil samples taken near the landfills. Since residents weren’t allowed on either property; these families took soil from their kids nearby abandoned baseball field. The lab found elevated levels of a type of radioactive lead which can develop from decaying radon or uranium particulate matter.
The EPA under Obama wouldn’t let these outside assessments stand, so they conducted ‘follow-up’ assessment and concluded that …”nothing was out of the ordinary.”
Republic Services attorneys were satisfied with the EPA results.
EPA enters the scene with phony study…protecting Republic
Once again EPA under Gina McCarthy enters the argument armed with a new assessment published October 16th, 2015. Under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; a Health Consultation was presented to the public. The ‘Statement of Issues’ clearly explains the reason for the ‘health consultation.’
”On February 18,2014, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) received a request for assistance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Region VII office in Lenexa, Kansas. The USEPA requested that ATSDR review sampling data collected on and around West Lake Landfill National Priorities Site, Bridgeton, Missouri. In 1973, the West Lake Landfill received radioactive wastes. The data ATSDR received include radiological results from testing groundwater and air collected in the area as well as historical data of soils contaminated with radioactive wastes. Much of these data were collected during the Remedial Investigation (RI) as reported in 2000.” (Source : Health Consultation by Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.)
Based on this report; the EPA stated to the press and community that there was no clear and present danger. The EPA spokesperson Curtis Carey stated that they found no evidence of radioactive material migration off the West Lake Landfill. To quote Carey…”we will know if there’s any indication that there’s a change in situation there, and we’ll let the public know through local emergency managers.”
It should be noted that the report cautioned workers at the landfill site against inhaling radioactive dust and radon gas.
The EPA based this determination on the review of old data solely. No mention of new data was considered. Since the report failed to review or consider any data after 2000, new data on the underground fire which began in 2010 did not enter into the equation. No review of new data post-2010, and no problem for Republic Services.
The magical fence…
The only protective barrier which separates the nuclear dump at West Lake and the toxins coming from the Bridgeton landfill—is a chain-link fence peppered with signs. Residents sarcastically refer to it as the ‘magical fence.’
Community wants EPA removed and Army Corp of Engineers to take over…
West Lake Landfill was designated as a Superfund Site by the EPA in 1990.
The West Lake landfill is also the…”only site in the county contaminated with nuclear waste that is not under the control of FUSRAP. The radioactive waste in Bridgeton came from a place that is now a FUSRAP site.”
EPA has maintained this Superfund classification for 25 years with little action. In 2008 a ROD or (Record of Decision) was filed which recommended a ‘cap and cover’ procedure to ‘fix’ the problem. The ‘cap’ would consist of rock, clay and soil.
A description of the summarized procedure is quoted below from the EPA document of the ROD or Record of Decision.
”12.2 Description of the Selected Remedy The major components of the Selected Remedy for OU 1 are as follows:
• Installation of landfill cover meeting the Missouri closure and post-closure care requirements for sanitary landfills including enhancements consistent with the standards for uranium mill tailing sites, i.e., armoring layer and radon barrier
• Consolidation of radiologically contaminated surface soil from the Buffer Zone/Crossroad Property to the containment area
• Application of groundwater monitoring and protection standards consistent with requirements for uranium mill tailing sites and sanitary landfills
• Surface water runoff control
• Gas monitoring and control, including radon and decomposition gas, as necessary
• Institutional controls to prevent land and resource uses that are inconsistent with a closed sanitary landfill site containing long-lived radionuclides
• Long-term surveillance and maintenance of the remedy (p.42.)
Notice how there is no mention of the inconvenient fact that these sites are situated on a massive flood plain. Surface water runoff control is akin to placing a ‘band-aid on a cancer.’
The community refused to comply with the 2008 ROD, stating the useless nature of EPA’s ‘cap & cover’ strategy, and EPA backed down.
Subsequently, multiple communities in the St. Louis area want the Bridgeton landfill fire extinguished, or at least kept from direct contact with the nuclear waste. Additionally they want any nuclear waste removed from the floodplain at the West Lake landfill site. They have no trust in the EPA’s tepid responses and are demanding that any cleanup of these two landfills be transferred from the EPA to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FUSRAP Division.
A bipartisan Missouri Congressional delegation sent a letter to the EPA dated February 28, 2014 explaining how they…”believe that the Agency should work with the Army Corps of Engineers and its Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) operations in the St. Louis area.” The delegation requested that …”that the EPA consider contracting directly with the Corps to handle any and all remediation needed…[and] to determine the appropriate long-term remediation.”
(Source : Letter from US Senator Claire McCaskill, US Senator Roy Blunt, US Congress Member Wm. Lacy Clay, and US Member Ann Wagner to EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks, dated February 28, 2014)
EPA denies transfer…reason benefits Republic Services and Exelon…
The EPA has refused to relinquish jurisdictional control on multiple occasions, leaving the community confused. EPA stonewalling on this transfer of responsibility is not arbitrary, but an artifact of corporate governance and faux ‘rule of law.’ As noted in an editorial published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch…”under the EPA’s Superfund program, the financially responsible parties are largely in charge of site studies and of the final recommendation. If they disagree with the EPA’s remedy or consider the cost unreasonable—and not surprisingly, they often do—they can sue to keep from cleaning up the site.”
Furthermore, the editorial explained ”why the Corps of Engineers is as better idea: [Army Corps] doesn’t have to ask the companies that will pay for a cleanup if a site needs it. If the corps determines that the site needs cleaning, it does it and then negotiates for payment with the parties responsible for the environmental hazard.”
Nuclear waste expert Robert Alvarez agrees with the editorial explaining that…”the EPA is unable to take an aggressive stand on removing the nuclear waste, because it lacks the regulatory authority to take action without drawing a lawsuit from the responsible parties.” Alvarez adds that the Army Corps of Engineers …”could order the removal without getting entangled in a lawsuit that could ‘drag on for years.’”
Alvarez served in the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration.
Notice the part stating that under Superfund, financially responsible parties, namely the polluters—control site studies. Controlling assessment allows the alleged defendants to limit study or assessment scope—thus limiting civil and criminal liability. It’s akin to allowing a man accused of genocide the right to control all aspects of the criminal investigation including any evidence. This aspect of Superfund law renders the EPA impotent, even as an investigatory agency.
Political issues behind alleged environmental negligence…
By now it has become patently clear that the very federal and state agencies tasked with ensuring public health and safety are either incompetent or criminally compromised. Both executive officers, namely President Obama and Mo. Governor Jay Nixon refuse to cede to public demands for removal of the nuclear waste, and effective management of the underground landfill fire.
These same agencies (EPA, DOE and MO/DNR) have refused to consider allowing any independent assessment of the two landfills, but have deferred to the corporate authority of Republic Services, Inc. and Exelon Corp, and their army of corporate attorneys. Additionally, EPA authority is subservient to corporate demands. The public has been locked out of the assessment and decision making process, with the exception of occasional meetings established by an EPA administered committee. No evacuation and buyout plan has been offered. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger proposed a ‘shelter-in-place’ plan in the event of a nuclear disaster.
Republic Services attorney would strip victims of their right to sue…
Here in Missouri, like in DC; a conflict of interest is treated like a charming idiosyncrasy as opposed to the political ‘entry drug’ of choice for overt criminality. Missouri Senator Kurt Schaefer, a partner in the legal firm representing Republic Services, has added a dirty little amendment to a senate bill that purports to ‘clean up’ St. Louis neighborhoods. The ‘Schaefer Amendment’ grants protection against …”certain claims against abandoned or damaged properties if the property was in ‘good faith compliance’ with an order issued by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the office of the attorney general.” Both public groups and local media have linked the Schaefer Amendment to an attempt to shield Republic Services from …”lawsuits by citizens.”
Mo. Governor Jay Nixon ignores West Lake while pushing football stadium…
While public groups have demanded that the Mo. Governor issue an official ‘State of Emergency,’ which would bring federal dollars and assistance; Mo. Governor Jay Nixon slaves for a new NFL football stadium funded with 1 billion public tax dollars.
The vapid nature of Governor Jay Nixon’s administration has been characterized by this Herculean effort to keep the NFL Rams football team here, sparing no expense. Governor Nixon has a task force working feverishly to save—NFL football. The Mo. Governor’s staunch refusal to issue a ‘State of Emergency’ has confused the public. In fact, this entire case constitutes incompetence on a scale not seen since Nero fiddled—while Rome burned.
Incompetent handling or strategic delays…
In these days of what can only be called out as thinly cloaked corporate governance; distinct motives behind inordinate delays and incomplete studies are difficult to ferret out. Why is the EPA commissioning incomplete studies pre-ordained to manufacture the ‘conclusions’ desired by Republic Services and Exelon Corporation? Why is Mo. Governor Jay Nixon turning a deaf ear on a critically dangerous situation? Why are Republic Services Inc, and Exelon Corporation allowed to control any assessment and reporting? Evidence points to undue corporate access and influence peddling rivaling any banana republic.
Obama’s billionaires—major stockholder in Republic Services-Bill Gates…
Once again we see how access to the White House has led to preferential treatment. Bill Gates bought majority stock in Republic Services in 2014.
Since then Gates has become a one-stop shop for corporate influence peddling on new energy technologies. He has the president’s ear. Lately Gates has been bullish on what he terms…’nuclear recycling’ and is pushing for ‘Manhattan Project ‘federal funding. To quote Gates …
…”Among the technology Mr Gates said was the most promising was “nuclear recycling”, where he has invested several hundred million dollars. His biggest single commitment was in a US-based company called TerraPower.”
Arguing that solar is impractical, Gates explains that…
“Solar is only during the day, solar only works best in places where it’s warm. We don’t have perfect grids. We don’t have storage”
– Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
“Nuclear technology today is failing on cost, safety, proliferation, waste and fuel shortage, and so any technology that comes in has to have some answer to all of those things.” TerraPower’s reactors would be powered not by enriched uranium, used by traditional reactors, but by depleted uranium, the waste from today’s plants.”
While this plan sounds interesting; it seems like the nuclear waste Fukushima type event looming over St. Louis would be an unforeseen circumstance he would like ‘swept under the rug.’ Ironically, Gates was explaining how ‘renewables’ should be funded by the government in the billions—like the Manhattan Project. Ironically, the Manhattan Project is exactly how St. Louis found itself surrounded by its own dirty bomb, just waiting to explode.
Just a few weeks ago, Bill Gates stood side by side with Obama administration officials to announce a multi-billion dollar initiative claiming to accelerate ‘clean energy’ research and development. This plan is one front of a global war on climate change; intended to spearhead movement at the Paris Greenhouse Gas Emissions Summit. To quote the Wall Street Journal the …”president and Mr. Gates will join with other heads of state and investors to detail complementary public and private commitments to clean-energy innovation.”
Now while I support ‘clean-energy’ innovation; I don’t recall ever electing Bill Gates to anything. I realize Gates is one of ‘Obama’s Billionaires’ but this looks like they are co-presidents—with a very small ‘p’. It would be preferred by the little people in St. Louis—that Mr. Gates takes care of his nuclear mess here—before lecturing the rest of the world. We are sitting on top of a virtual ‘dirty bomb’—and Bill Gates gets to play president.
President Obama has long deep ties to Chicago based Exelon Corporation. Exelon as it is now known was brokered in a merger of two utilities in 2000. The investment banker whobrokered the deal was none other than President Obama’s first term chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was then working for Wasserstein Perella & Co.
In 2012, a year before the Fukushima nuclear disaster; President Obama authorized $8bn in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Waynesboro, Georgia at the Vogtle power plant. These loan guarantees pushed ahead against the objection of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair, Gregory Jaczko. To quote Jaczko; …”I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened.”
Exelon lobbyists challenge post-Fukushima safety recommendations…
The Center for Responsive Politics has documented that Exelon Corporation has spent $34.6 million on lobbying. Exelon has also received direct access to the Obama administration at a level which would make RICO racketeers blush. The New York Times published an expose in August 2012, which documented how Exelon exerted undue influence on Obama administration environmental policies. This included delaying and eventually weakening a proposed EPA rule designed to prevent power plant water intake systems from exterminating nearby aquatic life.
Exelon also joined forces with industry trade association Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and other unidentified nuclear power plant owners to crush any post-Fukushima regulations recommended by the NRC. More specifically, they lobbied against a proposed requirement mandating the installation of filters on hardened vents at some 31 boiling water reactors. These filtered vents are designed to prevent radiation discharges into the environment during a malfunction. Filtered vents are required in Japan and most of the EU. NRC technical staff provided evidence citing filtered vents as a cost-effective measure which would protect communities near nuclear reactors.
In 2013 over 50 members of Congress sent letters to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) demanding commissioners reject ‘filtered vents’. They also wanted a prolonged delay on any other post-Fukushima reforms. Two of the letters had signatures from House members (21 Republicans and 26 Democrats). It should be noted that since 2008 ‘contributed’ over $3.32 million to 41 of the 47 signatories on these letters. Exelon provided approximately 30 percent of these contributions.
Industry coffers prevailed and the NRC ordered owners of the 31 reactors in question to upgrade hardened vents, but failed to require filters. Furthermore, the NRC created a two year period to review all alleged options for the reduction of radiation releases, after which it will open the proposed rule to public comment. The final version won’t come due until 2017.
Secret nuclear summit with Third Way and Obama…
Fast-forward to 2015 and we find President Obama comfortably ensconced with Wall Street funded ‘think-tank’ representatives from ‘Third Way’ at a secret ‘White House Summit on Nuclear Energy.’
This summit was solely organized and attended by nuclear industry insiders. White House Senior Policy Advisor Jason Walsh personally thanked ‘Third Way’ for…”…being really valuable partners in helping us think through this event and also design the agenda…John Cowan, President of ‘Third Way’ will be moderating the third panel.”
Also in attendance was the CEO of Dominion Generation Group, David Christian. Christian spoke to the …”low cost”, “clean” nature of nuclear energy. He then spoke about Dominion’s relicensing application made that same day, for the Dominion Surry nuclear plant, and the plan to extend its operating life to 80 years; (which is double the original design life.) According to the Fairewinds group; …”Nuke risk analysts and experts have long suspected that the nuke industry and its alleged regulator the NRC were developing new plans behind closed doors to double the lifespan of these aging, leaking, and outdated atomic reactors.” …”Many of these aging atomic reactors predate computer design programs when they were designed back in the 1960s on mathematical slide rules.”
The Dominion proposal submitted the day of this secret summit with industry insiders is the first in the entire industry.
Part of this summit relies on President Obama’s love affair with SMR’s aka, Small Modular Reactors, whose placement is—underground. The DOE Office of Nuclear Energy has announced plans to spend $425-million…”…over five years to support first-of-a-kind costs associated with certification and licensing activities for small modular reactors (SMRs)through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Chances are the Obama administration doesn’t want to attract any attention to problems associated with underground placement of nuclear reactors or fissionable materials. West Lake publicity becomes politically inconvenient.
Any sitting president can order independent assessment and the jurisdictional transfer the St. Louis community requested. Furthermore, elected officials had to know of the EPA Superfund rule which allows alleged polluters the right to challenge any EPA requests via SLAPP lawsuits of questionable legitimacy, and also allows corporate polluters the right to control the assessment process and any subsequent ‘site studies.’ Hello fox, meet henhouse.
If our elected officials had informed the public about the joke that is EPA Superfund regulation; we could have fought to demand transfer of these sites to the US Army Corps of Engineers FUSRAP division—years ago. Instead, elected officials wrote polite letters to EPA asking for a transfer of authority, knowing that this was an exercise in futility.
Ð Obama’s silence on this disaster speaks volumes.
The people of St. Louis suffering through this environmental crime are viewed by corporate and federal officials as politically acceptable ‘collateral damage.’ It takes no imagination to realize that corporate SLAPP suits against the EPA are designed to wait out the clock as damaged parties die off, waiting for their ‘day in court.’
Those who deny that political access leads to criminal interference– are leading with a specious and inane argument. Though a political conflict of interest may not be technically criminal; it certainly is unethical. The evidence of preferential treatment which is the by-product of unparalleled access to the White House, has resulted in a jerry rigging of law engineered to retrofit the needs of corporate interests above public safety. Such unfettered access has created a class of self-appointed monarchs who treat the law as a joke—and the disaster of West Lake is the smoking gun.
EPA data shows radiation spike in major US city soon after explosions at nuclear waste facility nearbyOctober 26, 2015
Noam Chomsky. (photo: Va Shiva)
By Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky’s Website
02 September 15
hroughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”
There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat. After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?
Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”
The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting. The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as “a death sentence for the state of Israel,” which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts — and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.
Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretense of functioning as a normal congressional party. They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a “radical insurgency” that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.
Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force. Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that “they” are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society — though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.
The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency. Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the “pragmatic” conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not “prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement,” even though a unilateral military strike is “far less likely” if Iran behaves.
Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that “Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force” even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants. In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, “the greatest single problem with the agreement.” He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.
“The Greatest Threat”
Opponents of the nuclear deal charge that it does not go far enough. Some supporters agree, holding that “if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.” The author of those words, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, added that “Iran, in its national capacity and as current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement [the governments of the large majority of the world’s population], is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the skeptics of peace and diplomacy.” Iran has signed “a historic nuclear deal,” he continues, and now it is the turn of Israel, “the holdout.”
Israel, of course, is one of the three nuclear powers, along with India and Pakistan, whose weapons programs have been abetted by the United States and that refuse to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Zarif was referring to the regular five-year NPT review conference, which ended in failure in April when the U.S. (joined by Canada and Great Britain) once again blocked efforts to move toward a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Such efforts have been led by Egypt and other Arab states for 20 years. As Jayantha Dhanapala and Sergio Duarte, leading figures in the promotion of such efforts at the NPT and other U.N. agencies, observe in “Is There a Future for the NPT?,” an article in the journal of the Arms Control Association: “The successful adoption in 1995 of the resolution on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was the main element of a package that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT.” The NPT, in turn, is the most important arms control treaty of all. If it were adhered to, it could end the scourge of nuclear weapons.
Repeatedly, implementation of the resolution has been blocked by the U.S., most recently by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2015, as Dhanapala and Duarte point out, “on behalf of a state that is not a party to the NPT and is widely believed to be the only one in the region possessing nuclear weapons” — a polite and understated reference to Israel. This failure, they hope, “will not be the coup de grâce to the two longstanding NPT objectives of accelerated progress on nuclear disarmament and establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.”
A nuclear-weapons-free Middle East would be a straightforward way to address whatever threat Iran allegedly poses, but a great deal more is at stake in Washington’s continuing sabotage of the effort in order to protect its Israeli client. After all, this is not the only case in which opportunities to end the alleged Iranian threat have been undermined by Washington, raising further questions about just what is actually at stake.
In considering this matter, it is instructive to examine both the unspoken assumptions in the situation and the questions that are rarely asked. Let us consider a few of these assumptions, beginning with the most serious: that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace. In the U.S., it is a virtual cliché among high officials and commentators that Iran wins that grim prize. There is also a world outside the U.S. and although its views are not reported in the mainstream here, perhaps they are of some interest. According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States. The rest of the world regards it as the gravest threat to world peace by a large margin. In second place, far below, is Pakistan, its ranking probably inflated by the Indian vote. Iran is ranked below those two, along with China, Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.
“The World’s Leading Supporter of Terrorism”
Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat? Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, U.S. intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are defensive — designed, that is, to deter aggression. The U.S. intelligence community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program and that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”
The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the U.S., as usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second with about one-third of U.S. expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state. Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which finds “a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have… an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms.”
Iran’s military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight, an imbalance that goes back decades. The CSIS report adds: “The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah.” In other words, they are virtually obsolete. When it comes to Israel, of course, the imbalance is even greater. Possessing the most advanced U.S. weaponry and a virtual offshore military base for the global superpower, it also has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.
To be sure, Israel faces the “existential threat” of Iranian pronouncements: Supreme Leader Khamenei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously threatened it with destruction. Except that they didn’t — and if they had, it would be of little moment. Ahmadinejad, for instance, predicted that “under God’s grace [the Zionist regime] will be wiped off the map.” In other words, he hoped that regime change would someday take place. Even that falls far short of the direct calls in both Washington and Tel Aviv for regime change in Iran, not to speak of the actions taken to implement regime change. These, of course, go back to the actual “regime change” of 1953, when the U.S. and Britain organized a military coup to overthrow Iran’s parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah, who proceeded to amass one of the worst human rights records on the planet.
These crimes were certainly known to readers of the reports of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, but not to readers of the U.S. press, which has devoted plenty of space to Iranian human rights violations — but only since 1979 when the Shah’s regime was overthrown. (To check the facts on this, read The U.S. Press and Iran, a carefully documented study by Mansour Farhang and William Dorman.)
None of this is a departure from the norm. The United States, as is well known, holds the world championship title in regime change and Israel is no laggard either. The most destructive of its invasions of Lebanon in 1982 was explicitly aimed at regime change, as well as at securing its hold on the occupied territories. The pretexts offered were thin indeed and collapsed at once. That, too, is not unusual and pretty much independent of the nature of the society — from the laments in the Declaration of Independence about the “merciless Indian savages” to Hitler’s defense of Germany from the “wild terror” of the Poles.
No serious analyst believes that Iran would ever use, or even threaten to use, a nuclear weapon if it had one, and so face instant destruction. There is, however, real concern that a nuclear weapon might fall into jihadi hands — not thanks to Iran, but via U.S. ally Pakistan. In the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, two leading Pakistani nuclear scientists, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian, write that increasing fears of “militants seizing nuclear weapons or materials and unleashing nuclear terrorism [have led to]… the creation of a dedicated force of over 20,000 troops to guard nuclear facilities. There is no reason to assume, however, that this force would be immune to the problems associated with the units guarding regular military facilities,” which have frequently suffered attacks with “insider help.” In brief, the problem is real, just displaced to Iran thanks to fantasies concocted for other reasons.
Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as “the world’s leading supporter of terrorism,” which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of those movements emerged in resistance to U.S.-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.
Those two villainous Iranian clients also share the crime of winning the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world. Hezbollah is guilty of the even more heinous crime of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon, which took place in violation of U.N. Security Council orders dating back decades and involved an illegal regime of terror and sometimes extreme violence. Whatever one thinks of Hezbollah, Hamas, or other beneficiaries of Iranian support, Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.
Another concern, voiced at the U.N. by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, is the “instability that Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program.” The U.S. will continue to scrutinize this misbehavior, she declared. In that, she echoed the assurance Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered while standing on Israel’s northern border that “we will continue to help Israel counter Iran’s malign influence” in supporting Hezbollah, and that the U.S. reserves the right to use military force against Iran as it deems appropriate.
The way Iran “fuels instability” can be seen particularly dramatically in Iraq where, among other crimes, it alone at once came to the aid of Kurds defending themselves from the invasion of Islamic State militants, even as it is building a $2.5 billion power plant in the southern port city of Basra to try to bring electrical power back to the level reached before the 2003 invasion. Ambassador Power’s usage is, however, standard: Thanks to that invasion, hundreds of thousands were killed and millions of refugees generated, barbarous acts of torture were committed — Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century — leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world according to WIN/Gallup polls. Meanwhile, sectarian conflict was ignited, tearing the region to shreds and laying the basis for the creation of the monstrosity that is ISIS. And all of that is called “stabilization.”
Only Iran’s shameful actions, however, “fuel instability.” The standard usage sometimes reaches levels that are almost surreal, as when liberal commentator James Chace, former editor of Foreign Affairs, explained that the U.S. sought to “destabilize a freely elected Marxist government in Chile” because “we were determined to seek stability” under the Pinochet dictatorship.
Others are outraged that Washington should negotiate at all with a “contemptible” regime like Iran’s with its horrifying human rights record and urge instead that we pursue “an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states.” So writes Leon Wieseltier, contributing editor to the venerable liberal journal the Atlantic, who can barely conceal his visceral hatred for all things Iranian. With a straight face, this respected liberal intellectual recommends that Saudi Arabia, which makes Iran look like a virtual paradise, and Israel, with its vicious crimes in Gaza and elsewhere, should ally to teach that country good behavior. Perhaps the recommendation is not entirely unreasonable when we consider the human rights records of the regimes the U.S. has imposed and supported throughout the world.
Though the Iranian government is no doubt a threat to its own people, it regrettably breaks no records in this regard, not descending to the level of favored U.S. allies. That, however, cannot be the concern of Washington, and surely not Tel Aviv or Riyadh.
It might also be useful to recall — surely Iranians do — that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the U.S. was not harming Iranians. After all, as soon as they overthrew the hated U.S.-imposed regime of the Shah in 1979, Washington put its support behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who would, in 1980, launch a murderous assault on their country. President Reagan went so far as to deny Saddam’s major crime, his chemical warfare assault on Iraq’s Kurdish population, which he blamed on Iran instead. When Saddam was tried for crimes under U.S. auspices, that horrendous crime, as well as others in which the U.S. was complicit, was carefully excluded from the charges, which were restricted to one of his minor crimes, the murder of 148 Shi’ites in 1982, a footnote to his gruesome record.
Saddam was such a valued friend of Washington that he was even granted a privilege otherwise accorded only to Israel. In 1987, his forces were allowed to attack a U.S. naval vessel, the USS Stark, with impunity, killing 37 crewmen. (Israel had acted similarly in its 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.) Iran pretty much conceded defeat shortly after, when the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian ships and oil platforms in Iranian territorial waters. That operation culminated when the USS Vincennes, under no credible threat, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in Iranian airspace, with 290 killed — and the subsequent granting of a Legion of Merit award to the commander of the Vincennes for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and for maintaining a “calm and professional atmosphere” during the period when the attack on the airliner took place. Comments philosopher Thill Raghu, “We can only stand in awe of such display of American exceptionalism!”
After the war ended, the U.S. continued to support Saddam Hussein, Iran’s primary enemy. President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran. Sanctions against that country were intensified, including against foreign firms dealing with it, and actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system.
In recent years the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists (presumably by Israel), and cyberwar, openly proclaimed with pride. The Pentagon regards cyberwar as an act of war, justifying a military response, as does NATO, which affirmed in September 2014 that cyber attacks may trigger the collective defense obligations of the NATO powers — when we are the target that is, not the perpetrators.
“The Prime Rogue State”
It is only fair to add that there have been breaks in this pattern. President George W. Bush, for example, offered several significant gifts to Iran by destroying its major enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. He even placed Iran’s Iraqi enemy under its influence after the U.S. defeat, which was so severe that Washington had to abandon its officially declared goals of establishing permanent military bases (“enduring camps”) and ensuring that U.S. corporations would have privileged access to Iraq’s vast oil resources.
Do Iranian leaders intend to develop nuclear weapons today? We can decide for ourselves how credible their denials are, but that they had such intentions in the past is beyond question. After all, it was asserted openly on the highest authority and foreign journalists were informed that Iran would develop nuclear weapons “certainly, and sooner than one thinks.” The father of Iran’s nuclear energy program and former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was confident that the leadership’s plan “was to build a nuclear bomb.” The CIA also reported that it had “no doubt” Iran would develop nuclear weapons if neighboring countries did (as they have).
All of this was, of course, under the Shah, the “highest authority” just quoted and at a time when top U.S. officials — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger, among others — were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programs and pressuring universities to accommodate these efforts. Under such pressures, my own university, MIT, made a deal with the Shah to admit Iranian students to the nuclear engineering program in return for grants he offered and over the strong objections of the student body, but with comparably strong faculty support (in a meeting that older faculty will doubtless remember well).
Asked later why he supported such programs under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then.
Putting aside absurdities, what is the real threat of Iran that inspires such fear and fury? A natural place to turn for an answer is, again, U.S. intelligence. Recall its analysis that Iran poses no military threat, that its strategic doctrines are defensive, and that its nuclear programs (with no effort to produce bombs, as far as can be determined) are “a central part of its deterrent strategy.”
Who, then, would be concerned by an Iranian deterrent? The answer is plain: the rogue states that rampage in the region and do not want to tolerate any impediment to their reliance on aggression and violence. In the lead in this regard are the U.S. and Israel, with Saudi Arabia trying its best to join the club with its invasion of Bahrain (to support the crushing of a reform movement there) and now its murderous assault on Yemen, accelerating a growing humanitarian catastrophe in that country.
For the United States, the characterization is familiar. Fifteen years ago, the prominent political analyst Samuel Huntington, professor of the science of government at Harvard, warned in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs that for much of the world the U.S. was “becoming the rogue superpower… the single greatest external threat to their societies.” Shortly after, his words were echoed by Robert Jervis, the president of the American Political Science Association: “In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States.” As we have seen, global opinion supports this judgment by a substantial margin.
Furthermore, the mantle is worn with pride. That is the clear meaning of the insistence of the political class that the U.S. reserves the right to resort to force if it unilaterally determines that Iran is violating some commitment. This policy is of long standing, especially for liberal Democrats, and by no means restricted to Iran. The Clinton Doctrine, for instance, confirmed that the U.S. was entitled to resort to the “unilateral use of military power” even to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” let alone alleged “security” or “humanitarian” concerns. Adherence to various versions of this doctrine has been well confirmed in practice, as need hardly be discussed among people willing to look at the facts of current history.
These are among the critical matters that should be the focus of attention in analyzing the nuclear deal at Vienna, whether it stands or is sabotaged by Congress, as it may well be.