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• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

March 28, 2005

"That History Is Absent" (Completely Non-Funny)

Via War and Piece, the Washington Post Sunday had an outstanding story by Dafna Linzer about the history of America's views on Iran obtaining nuclear technology:

Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.

Ford's team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium -- the two pathways to a nuclear bomb...

The Ford administration -- in which Cheney succeeded Rumsfeld as chief of staff and Wolfowitz was responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency -- continued intense efforts to supply Iran with U.S. nuclear technology until President Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford in 1977.

That history is absent from major Bush administration speeches, public statements and news conferences on Iran.

Interesting. But the real history of the US and Iranian nuclear technology may be even more awkward than what Linzer reports. Here's a relevant excerpt from The Sampson Option by Seymour Hersh (p. 209-10):

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger approached inauguration day on January 20, 1969, convinced that Israel's nuclear ambitions were justified and understandable. Once in office, they went a step further: they endorsed Israel's nuclear ambitions.

The two American leaders also shared a contempt for the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, which had been so ardently endorsed in public by Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, midway in his campaign against Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, dismayed the arms control community by urging the Senate to delay ratification of the NPT until after the election... Government arms controllers were hugely relieved in early February 1969 when Nixon formally requested the Senate to take up the treaty and then stated at a news conference that he would do all he could to urge France and West Germany—known to have reservations—to sign it: "I will make it clear that I believe that ratification of the treaty by all governments, nuclear and non-nuclear, is in the interest of peace and in the interest of reducing the possibility of nuclear proliferation."

In the secrecy of their offices, however, as only a few in the government knew, Nixon and Kissinger had simultaneously issued a presidential order to the bureaucracy undercutting all that was said in public. The classified document, formally known as National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) No. 6, stated that "there should be no efforts by the United States government to pressure other nations, particularly the Federal Government of Germany, to follow suit [and ratify the NPT]. The government, in its public posture, should reflect a tone of optimism that other countries will sign or ratify, while clearly disassociating itself [in private] from any plan to bring pressure on these countries to sign or ratify."

"It was a major change in American policy," recalled Morton H. Halperin, then Kissinger's closest aide on the National Security Staff. "Henry believed it was good to spread nuclear weapons around the world. I heard him say that if he were the Israelis, he would get nuclear weapons. He did not believe that the United States should try and talk them out of it." Kissinger also told his staff in the first months of 1969 that Japan, as well as Israel, would be better off with the bomb than without it. He was convinced, said Halperin, that nuclear weapons were essential to the national security of both nations. Kissinger's view was essentially pragmatic, added Halperin: most of the major powers would eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and the United States could benefit the most by helping them do so rather than by participating in futile exercises in morality, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty. [emphasis added]

UPDATE: Here's another interesting section of The Samson Option, p. 272n:

The shah was admitted for medical treatment into the United States on October 22, [1979], triggering a renewed wave of anti-American rioting in Tehran... During the tense discussions before the shah's arrival, recalled Nicholas Veliotes, then serving as the assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, the ousted leader confided that he had been negotiating with the Israelis for the purchase of long-range missiles capable of firing a nuclear warhead. "He said the Israelis had told him not to tell us," Veilotes added. Veliotes' information, like most intelligence data about Israeli nuclear intentions, was not made known to other American officials. [emphasis added]

Strange that these aspects of history are also "absent" when US policy toward Iran is discussed. It reminds me of some old book, but I can't remember which one, because it just had some confusing numbers in the title. But it's probably dumb anyway, like all books are.

Posted at March 28, 2005 11:48 PM | TrackBack

I love this part.

Kissinger's view was essentially pragmatic, added Halperin: most of the major powers would eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and the United States could benefit the most by helping them do so rather than by participating in futile exercises in morality, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty

You'd have to work really hard to confuse common sense with a futile exercise in morality, or think batshit craziness is really pragmatism. But what's most striking about the whole affair is the extent to which powerful people formulate plans one might expect from psychotic ten year olds. They would certainly think spreading nukes is a good idea.

Posted by: Harry at March 29, 2005 02:35 AM

Dear Jon,
In spite of the penguin post, I am worried about you. Living in the US during this Terri Schiavo thing has made you a bit depressed. Your last several posts have been dead serious and your comments to other commenters are even more so. Remember, we are counting on you to keep the tiny revolution alive. does it not involve making us laugh?

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at March 29, 2005 05:31 AM

On the other hand, Anna, you know you wouldn't come here if it was "all penguins, all the time." There has to be some "revolution" in this tiny revolution.

Posted by: saurabh at March 29, 2005 10:25 AM


I believe one reason powerful people go off the rails is that they believe everyone else is like them—ie, driven mad by a lust for power.

A nice example of this is Rupert Murdoch. At one point, stung by criticism, he blurted out that his critics are "just jealous." That is, he believes everyone wants be a conservative media mogul covering the world in crap—but most people don't have his extraordinary talent for it. Hence their gnawing jealousy.

So, seen within their insane framework, powerful people's insane plans make a certain amount of sense.


What makes you think the penguin post wasn't dead serious?

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 29, 2005 11:03 AM

Alas, I do not have my copy of 1984 with me to put the proper quotation here, where it needs to be. But I'm sure you can find the quotation if you wish, Jon.

Do not forget that Iran was the "friend" in 1974 and Russia was the enemy. Is it that obvious? What is not generally known is that the United States was paying off the Ayatollahs in Iran something like $500 million a year NOT to overthrow the government there, because the U.S. desperately needed the support of Iran to keep the Russians from obtaining any friendly ports for its navy with direct access to the Indian Ocean.

Of course Carter, being a simple minded Georgian, nixed any further payments to the Ayatollahs, calling it extortion. History reflects the results.

Sources? I'm a conspiracy theorist. I don't need no stinkin' sources.

Posted by: Alexis S at March 29, 2005 11:11 AM

Actually, I appreciate it when Jon's "vulgar" -- in the Orwellian sense. It's nearly as important as how funny penguins look; some might even argue that it's "more" important.

All of which leads me to my next point...

Book! Book! Book! What's going on with the book, Jon? Where's "HOSS"?

Posted by: Matthew Sullivan at March 29, 2005 03:06 PM


I simultaneously curse and bless you for your question. The book is essentially done except for design. However, actual product rollout has been delayed by another extremely time consuming project.

Anyway, I very much appreciate your interest, and am doing my best. There will be more news (relatively) soon.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 30, 2005 02:58 AM