Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Thank you very much, and I am very pleased to be here tonight at Book Passage. I think it's important to support your local Independent Book Stores in an era of chain merchandisers and competition from the internet and there is still an important place for book stores like this one that serve good cappuccinos. I wanted to talk today; I have had one heck of a week. And I wanted to share some of my experiences with you. The on Sunday, I flew from here in San Francisco to New York and I spent three hours interviewing Joni Mitchell about her new CD and then I jumped on a plane Monday morning and flew back wrote the story, filed it for NPR Tuesday morning. Now, this has absolutely nothing to do with Iran, but I figure you are all Joni Mitchell fans and would be on my side as a result. Actually it is relevant because her new CD has a number of very, very much anti war songs on it and she herself is very much opposed to war and Iraq, Afghanistan and then a future war in Iran. So we actually have a lot to talk about in common. That piece aired on Friday actually, on all things considered on NPR. On Friday night last week, I was appeared on "Hannity & Colmes" the Fox TV show that's actually a food fight disguised as a talk show debate. And for those of you not familiar with it, they say Fox claims that it's the second largest watched show on cable news. And it consists of Sean Hannity foaming-at-the-mouth Right Winger and Alan Colmes, a the legend liberal who doesn't get in much of a word edge wise, and the debate topic was should Ahmadinejad be allowed to speak at Columbia University very timely topic. And of course the Hannity said, no, how can you possibly let a mass murderer, another Hitler, speak it Columbia, would you let Hitler speak you know, blah, blah, you know, kind of this extremely inflammatory rhetoric. And Alan Colmes was free speech. But what was really interesting was that in the introduction that Alan Colmes gave there is a whole set of assumptions that actually coincide completely with the right wing view which is that Ahmadinejad is an evil dictator, that Iran is developing nuclear bombs, that Iran is immediate threat to Israel, there is a whole set of things, but nevertheless you should have a right to speak to speak in Columbia. So the problem of course is that and that reflects the consensus in Washington, it's not just the Republicans, but unfortunately many of the top level Democrats who share the same set of assumptions, than they differ only on whether we should bomb Iran immediately or wait and give them a little more time before we bomb them. I mean that's how narrow the difference of opinion is. And the proof of that came last week, last Thursday when the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment passed in the Senate. I see the shrugs of anger and disgust thee on that. Oh I spit on your amendment and it's because for again, for those of you may not be familiar with it, it was a sense of the Senate motion in which, it was not a law, but in which they said among other things, repeated all the lies about Iran that the the Republican administration has been putting forward and then said, called on Bush to declare the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Now at no time in history as far as I know has the opposing armed forces of a country in which we are not at war been accused of or even when we were at war has been accused of being a terrorist organization. And it's absurd it's absurd in the rest of the world but it's yet one more step in the campaign which I believe the administration is waging to prepare this country to bomb Iran. Not to invade and occupy but to bomb. And one more link in that last week was Ahmadinejad's appearance at the Columbia University. Now as you all know, Lee Bollinger, the president, introduced him with a horrendous attack basically. Probably defending himself because he took so much flack for allowing him to speak in the first place, he was to turn around and prove that he was no patsy by gum and proceeded to insult the guy he had just invited to come there. So I did a little digging and it was very interesting, because two years ago President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan who is a dictator spoke at Columbia University. Now remember, Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999. President Ahmadinejad was elected, not necessarily in a democratic election, but it was a competitive election that he won. Musharraf is under tremendous fire right now from all kinds of factions in Iran and is unwilling to give up his uniform to run for office, right. And here is how Lee Bollinger described him in the September of 2005. "President Musharraf is a leader of global importance and his contribution to Pakistan's economic turnaround and the international fight against terror remain remarkable. It is rare that we have a leader of stature at campus." How is that for hypocrisy writ large? So I think the US is preparing public opinion here for a bombing campaign against Iran. And they are trying various things on the ground, they which they are not telling about and then they are doing various things above ground in the media, in propaganda wise here and I am going to try to touch on those. But to talk to some of other things you have probably not heard about. I went in November or December of last year; I flew from Tehran in Iran to Northern Iraq. The KRG Kurdistan Regional Government it's what it's called it's the virtual independent state that the Kurds have set up in Northern Iraq although technically they are still part of the Iraq. And flew into ArbÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«l and then drove to SulaymÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ãƒâ€šnÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â«yah, the second city of that area. And the first night stayed in a hotel that was something out of an old Graham Greene novel. Or may be something out of the old Ottoman Empire days, because in the lobby there was a cafÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© where people drink strong black tea and spy on one another. You have spies and diplomats and arms dealers and journalists, everybody is looking over their shoulder and you know, and they drink tea they have this really strong black tea that they like there and it's in a little glass about this big. And in some countries you put it in a glass holder, so you can drink it. But there they serve it to you like boiling water in a glass. So it's almost impossible to lift up or to drink, right. So I am stupid American going out. All right drink this thing now. So it turns out that what to do is you pour a little bit of it, you take like a napkin or something, you pour a little bit of it into your saucer and then that cools it off and then you sip it up and look over your shoulders and see who is spying on you. So you have the Iranians the American spying on the Iranians because everybody has got diplomatic missions and there are people so the are American are spying on the Iranians who are spying on the Turks, who are spying on the Kurds, who are spying on the Americans. And there is this game that is going on which is virtually unreported on little bit, but virtually unreported, because the Kurds are solid allies in the United States and so the US does not really want to people to go into any great details of what among other things it's an extremely corrupt government there extremely as in the official policy of the government is to give money directly from the parliament to the political parties, to the tune of 100s of millions of dollars, with no accountability and no knowledge. There is no there is no public accounting of who gets how much. Well, that's just a little that's the democratic government that we are helping foster in Iraq. What's also going on is if you go up high into the Qandil Mountains which is the mountain range that borders Turkey, Iraq and Iran, there are is a guerrilla group there that's been fighting for some years. And in the winter time especially gets very rough journey, you can't even get up there on a four wheeler drive. You either have to go there by mule back or by tractors you know; those big old fashioned tractors with the huge tyres and going up really narrow roads and so on. Luckily I got up there before the winter snows hit. And we just took a regular four wheeler drive vehicle. Now what's interesting is that this guerrilla group is banned by the Iraqi government the KRG. And if you ask them where are they they say, I don't we can't find them they are way up in the hills somewhere, they are so far, they are so remote. You can't you can't go there, it's impossible you know. My translator and I who knew these folks, we went to a village kind of before you get into the really remote parts of there, and we stopped and said we want to go visit the guerrillas and they said, "Which camp?" because everybody in town knew exactly "Where do you want to go? This one over here or that one over there it's going to take you longer if you go to this one. Oh you want to go to that one, fine all right." So then you do a little bargaining, he said he says, you have to stay here in his car we drove in on his car, because if I came along with him, the price will double or triple. So he is no dummy. So he goes he goes and negotiates, we need to get a driver and a four wheel drive vehicle. So he comes back, we jump in and very reasonable rate actually and drive up into the mountains to meet with these guerillas. Now the thing to keep in mind about these guerillas is that one fact or one group within this guerilla group launches attacks on Turkey. And they are listed as on the State Department's list of Terrorist Organization, and they are threatened the Turkish government is so mad at them, they are threatening constantly threatening to invade Northern Iraq in order to go after these groups. Now a different wing of the same group does the same thing in Iran. That is they send in guerillas, they kill Revolutionary Guards, they blow up civilians, you know, they engage in guerilla terrorism depending on how you want to you know, whether you like them or not. And that group is backed by the United States. And they are given money and weapons and training and by the Israelis. So over on one side, literally on one side of the border they are terrorists, and in the other side they are freedom fighters except we won't talk about them. We won't the US does not admit it. They now are saying there was a report by Ivan Watson on NPR on Friday actually, where they now are claiming that they have had meetings with top levels or their people have met with American Officials. So they and when I talked with them, when I interviewed them, they were very definitely pro-American; they really wanted they claimed they weren't at that time getting some American support but they they were anxious to get it. And they were anxious to they weren't getting Israeli support but they were anxious to get it. So the hypocrisy of this is right up there with Bollinger, right, because you know if if this and of course and the problem not only besides it being hypocritical and causing deaths in Iran, it's really ticking Turkey off. So a traditional alley of the United Stated is getting more and more mad at the US because of the obvious hypocrisy. I mean they know what's going on, they can see it. They can see American arms showing up in the hands of these guerillas that are attacking them. So and this is not a policy unique in Kurdistan in the Kurdish region. You have the same thing going on in Baluchistan where the US has found a former Taliban leader to back in in the Eastern, South-Eastern section of Iran near the Pakistan border, in Khuzestan which is the Arab minority in Iran; the US is doing the same thing. There there is another group called the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq which was a again another group listed on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, that sided with Saddam Hussein during the IranIraq War and continue to receive support from Saddam right up to the time of the overthrow of Saddam, the US marches and so here is people that were allied and fighting with Saddam, the US pulls into their camp they are Iranians, right. And pulls into their camp and does not attack them, does not arrest them. In fact allows them to maintain their arms and keep their camp going, terror group defined by the United States as a terrorist organization and the US has well, we are not we are not allowing them to fight. We are not we are just keeping them in a camp. In fact, what they are doing is they are if somebody the people who leave the camp and the US says, have you given up your membership in the group? And they go "Oh, yes." And are you willing to fight for democracy? "Oh, yes." Here is a here is an AK 47, Iran is that way. So, they you know, they are again backing a what is really a cult that was extremely unpopular in Iran, but is willing to fight for the US you know with US support. And interesting enough this group is that called Mujahadeen-e-Khalq or MEK, is there is a big lobbying campaign in Washington and in Europe to legitimize itself despite the fact that its got really vitriol politics and is a basically a cult around its leaders, and who was backing them in the United States? All these really right wingers. So you have right wingers backing a guerilla group. What does that tell you? You know and that not only that is that it's listed as a terrorist organization. So the US is playing a very dangerous game in Iran. While its on the one hand pushing upping the anti-diplomatically, it's trying to crank up more sanctions in the UN, it's carrying out terrorist attacks inside Iran trying to use roots of terrorists and splinter groups among the ethnic minorities who have very legitimate concerns and legitimate grievances against the Central Government. By and large the ethnic minorities are not allowed to get education in their language. They can't the media is restricted, there is a whole series of very legitimate grievances that they have. But the US wants to format that with the aim of either pushing and toppling the government in Tehran or as an alternative, splitting those groups off and and splitting Iran apart. That's one line of thinking in Washington. Although I never think it's yet the government line. So, it's ironic that the United States is doing to Iran precisely what the United States is accusing of Iran doing in Iraq. Think about that. Now I want to allow plenty of time for questions and answers and and hear what your concerns are. But let me just briefly mention in in the Iran agenda, I go into quite a bit of detail about the nuclear issue, why the US has not never proven that Iran in fact has a nuclear weapon. In the previous book, the Norman Solomon and I wrote called "Target Iraq" which they are going to also have for sale here today. We it was written before the war started and we debunked all of the standard myths about weapons of mass destruction, about yellow cake and Niger, all the phony claims that were being put out of the time in and started with the Bush Administration and then transmitted through the major media here. We are seeing the same kind of campaign going on today about Iran. So briefly, the myth number one, Iran is developing nuclear weapons and is soon to be an immediate threat to the United States and that we face the danger of a nuclear holocaust, those are President Bush's words, in the Middle East. Nuclear Holocaust, very extremely loaded language. In fact if you go if you look at what the IAEA that is the International Agency International Atomic Energy Agency, they say they have no proof that Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons. That's a fact that the Bush Administration really doesn't want to hear; that Iran and the IAEA just in the matter of last few weeks have reached an agreement that Iran will answer any questions about its past nuclear activities and will allow full inspection of its sites. And the IAEA is actually very good when it's allowed to inspect at determining by soil samples, by air samples, by a variety of means, whether in fact a country is violating the Non Proliferation Treaty. So it can be proved. But that's doesn't when they reach that agreement, you think, "Oh, that's great. Now we can really find out." Of course the United States went ballistic they went completely and started doing back clips about how dare Mohamed ElBaradei start becoming interfering with diplomacy; read messing up our plans to blame Iran for anything that we can. Second myth, Israel is under immediate threat from Iran. Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. He is calling for wiping Israel off the map. Imagine a nuclear tipped missile from Iran being fired at Israel and the destruction would have the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. As a Jew I am particularly offended by that argument because the Israeli Government and US Government know that it's false. But they are intentionally playing on the emotional heart stings that that kind of argument and how it resonates with people and intentionally distorting the facts. Some thing to think about, if Iran is really the evil country and an anti-Jewish county that they claim and is ready to launch an offensive nuclear attack on Israel; why hasn't it launched a conventional attack? They have the missiles; conventional weapons can cause a lot of damage. Why? It's 28 years, they have had the opportunity. They could have launched an offensive attack against Israel anytime. They are not, they haven't, they are not going to, because A, they don't want to; that's not their policy. And B, if they did it would guarantee the total annihilation of Iran, because Israel would immediately retaliate as would the United States, Iran would be totally isolated politically, diplomatically. It would lead to total disaster for Iran. So they are not stupid, they are not crazy. And so the only and I have had a discussions with with the supporters of the Israel on this question and the only view that came down, "Well yeah, that's true but but my god, what if you are wrong?" You know what if there is even a one percent chance that this this guy is crazy. So, that's why you have to vilify Ahmadinejad as somebody who is so loony that this could be a possibility. Now remember Iran does not have nuclear weapons today. And there are years away from from having them. And then after that they are years away from being able to weaponize them. Each one of those is a very complicated stuff. It involves a lot of work that Iran has not yet mastered. But you know Ahmadinejad actually has relatively little power. The real power in Iran is Khamenei the supreme leader. Remember when Khatami was the president the foremost president of Iran up until well before 2005 and he had you know, he tried to make positive reforms and changes - actually he couldn't do it, he was blocked by the security force, by the military, by the supreme leader, by the parliament there is lots of checks and balances in Iran. Again, it's not a democratic country, it's not checks and balances for, on the behalf of the people, but it is various sectors of the power allied and competing factions etcetera do exist. And Ahmadinejad is it's a weak Presidency system in Iran, so even if somehow he did go crazy, he couldn't get his generals or revolutionary guards or others to carry it out. So it's a false argument that's designed to rip up emotions and justify ultimately a military strike against Iran, which is by the way the official position of the Israeli government. They want to militarily attack or rather more, more precisely, they want to go with the United States into doing that. Myth number three that the Iran is state sponsor of terrorism. And so then this is where it gets really out into low-low land. Just using that term state sponsor of terrorism, makes some sound like they are Al Qaeda and that what happens if the United States gives a - sorry Iran gives a nuclear dirty bomb to a terrorist who comes and explodes in United States. Remember that was the same argument about Saddam Hussein. And again in target Iraq, we point out that there is there is no link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist and there isn't in the case of Iran as well. They have at times passed, supported they when I would call it actual terrorist actions for example the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in the early 90s. That was an example of terrorism but those first of all and they have done things like assassinated Kurdish and Iranian descendent leaders living in Europe. So they have been capable and have done things like that. But they have not done anything like that in a long time and they have mostly when the US talks about sponsoring terrorism, we are talking about support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, they are talking about support for Hamas is Palestine. And that's a very different story because those groups are political and military groups recognized in their own countries as such and are not considered as terrorists by the people of that region. I mean that they are they go back to the thing you are terrorist or a guerrilla group etcetera. So that's a very different situation then and they are actually strong enemies of Al Qaeda, they were strong enemies of the Taliban against something that a lot of people don't know. That Taliban and Iran almost went to a war in the 1990's when the Taliban murdered 11 Iranian diplomats and and quite literally they the Iran was basting troops on the border and almost ready to attack. But in their mind you know, all their Muslims, terrorists, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, as all gets mussed together. And you know quite intentionally, to try to again inflame people's opinions. If the United States were to actually bomb Iran the idea would go something like this. The neoconservatives who are advocating this say, "okay, US has overwhelming military superiority, roughly half the American warships in the US navy are now in and around up the waters off the shores of Iran. US would send in missiles and planes, knock out all their air defenses, knock out the nuclear facilities, knock out revolutionary guards; they are not going to just hit the the news. They are going to go after a wide range, may be three to ten days worth of bombing to really try to weaken the regime. With the claim that they are setting back their plans to build weapons. And the as a result of that the regime will be the theory goes, regime will be so weakened that the people of Iran will rise up in an orange revolution and it would take power from the evil mullahs. Does this sound familiar? You know, again in target Iraq, we went into a lot of detail about how, yes people hated Saddam Hussein and they would hate a US sponsored dictator even more. And sure not that's exactly what happened. And in Iran is even more, I mean the Iranian people you know, I have been to Iran now three times and I was in Iraq a couple of times. You know, in Iraq, you could not just go out on to the street and interview people at random and get honest opinions. The repression by Saddam Hussein was powerful and you could see, every country I have ever gone to as a reporter I and to the dismay of my wife countries where we vacationed, I go out on the street and I talk to people at random just to chat with them and get a sense of the politics, what they think about government etcetera. And, in Iraq it was very clear, that unless you were talking in private and they trusted you and they knew it wasn't going to be repeated, there was kind of like a line after people wouldn't cross because it was a very repressive society under Saddam Hussein. In Iran, it's very interesting, it's you don't get that same sense. I go out on the street, and at one time I was going there, my official visa was for a to do reporting about the film industry in Iran, and then but I had told them also I was going to be doing some political reports. But to be on the safe side, when we stopped on we went after working class neighborhood in Iran. And I started asking about what's your favorite films do you like Iranian films, do you like foreign films and there was woman who says so she was a young woman wearing a chador which meant she was you know, a religious believer and she said, "Why are you asking me about movies? Why don't you ask me about inflation? You know how bad inflation here" and she just run out of our add you know, she just she said - mad about inflation. And people are mad about unemployment. And they will speak their minds to a foreign reporter which is even more you know, that's it just gives you an idea of the sense that the people have. Now, again Iran is not free, women are certainly repressed, workers demonstrations or demonstrations of any kind are severely repressed. And their elections are manipulated in all kinds of ways, so but it's not the same kind of totalitarian atmosphere that you see in you saw under Saddam Hussein's Iraq or you know, Pinochet's Chile etcetera. So the Iranian people are perfectly capable of handling the they are getting rid of their own government. The a U.S. attack would rally everybody against the United States. You would have the exact opposite impact of what these neocons claim and it would set back in every single one of the leaders of the Iranian opposition that I met with; whether it was Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner or Ebrahim Yazdi a very well know he was a former government minister he is a very well know opposition leader. And you just go down to Akmal Ganchi who is now you know living here in the United States; every single one of them says, bombing Iran would be a disaster. It would have the it would rally support for the government. But of course - and and it's very interesting when Bush and Cheney and all those people talk about you know, their their fight for democracy in Iran, where are the Iranians that they are pointing to as an example. In the case of Iraq, they had a few Toddies. They had their Ahmad Chalabi and you know people like that they are on who are on the CIA payroll now, we know that it's kind of obvious from what they were saying but now we know that its official, and you know, they are all freedom fighters - In the case of Iran, they had not produced a single Iranian who favors a bombing of Iran so far. And that may be eventually they will be able to find some toddies. But they can't because it is so overwhelming and unpopular both inside Iran and even in the even among conservatives in the exile community here in the United States. So if the U.S. did bomb around, you would see potential things that would happen. The Iran could safeties the Strait of Hormuz, a very narrow strait that separates Iran and Iraq and where from which 25 percent of the world's oil supply flows, oil prices would spike even higher than they are today. The allies of Iran in Iraq, could turn their fire seriously on the United States causing far more deaths of Americans and could causing a a complete collapse of the U.S effort in Iraq. Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in sorry, Lebanon could step up their activities, a new war could well break out with Israel in that area. And they have two front war this time. And the most frighteningly of all, if Iran could go back to sponsoring terrorist attacks in Europe or in the United States, something they have not been doing now and just as in Saddam Hussein's situation, he had no links with Al Qaeda right before the war. We now know that. But al Qaeda is there now. And and is a problem in Iraq. The same kind of thing could well either because people are are on their own doing this to just put around or because Iran was sponsored. So the consequences are quite terrific. You won't see it immediately these, they will Bush will declare a victory, "Oh, we have set back this, we have done this, we have look, they can't they can't even get their planes off the ground, blah blah blah; and that you know we see the guided missiles going in and CNN will be there going right on and New York Times will be going right on, you know. But in the days and the month afterwards, we will see the actual consequences of all those actions which would be even far worse than the U.S. invasion of of Iraq. Final note. I I got, it was very interesting that Tim Redmen from the Bay Guardian wrote a a review of the "Iran agenda" and in it he said, Reese is a real optimist. And and last night, I was speaking at Palo Alto to the Peace And Justice Centre and - and the one of the wife of one of the people who came said, my wife didn't want the come because she didn't want to hear even more depressing news." I said, "You should have held her, I don't do depression, you know. That's not my thing. Yes, the facts are very sobering and we should be well aware. I don't know I am not predicting for absolute certainty that the United States will bomb Iran. I think it's a a greater danger than today that it has been for many many year. But there are still various factors in play. So how can I be optimistic about everything that I just laid out here? A, the U.S. allies are not going along with this the way that Bush Administration wants to. It was just Friday they were supposed to announce the members. Germany, and Russia and China and France and Britain and the United States met because they are going to crank up more severe sanctions against Iran and the U.N. and they had to postpone it till November. They can postpone it means the the U.S lost the efforts to do it in this round because they the Chinese and the Russians in particular, to a lesser degree the Germans and to the lesser degree the British, are really worried about a U.S. attack on Iran. And they see they learn if there were stoking enough not to see it the Iran or Iraq; they shouldn't had see it this time. So they are not having any part of it and it's actually going to be very hard for the U.S. to getting further sanctions through U.N. although they can they have lots of tricks up their sleeve and we will see what happens in November. But for sure, Britain, sorry Russia and China opposed, Germany has opposed, and even Tony Blair and not the Tony Blair, Browns Government has publicly come out against the U.S. attack. Ironically the only one who seems to be leaning or potentially in favor and that is France, right. Number of the the surrendered monkeys who who munch freedom fries and remember how even that long go they were been - now they are strong allies who have always been comrades and arms in every restart. You know, I I and I love I just love the way the propaganda shifts in this country in a moments notice and then everybody is supposed to forget about the previous set of propaganda that came down. So that's one factor that that constrains Bush's power. There are people in the administration who understand the consequences of a bombing attack. And they are and they are docking it out with the neocons and so called realists. And we will see not that they have got any more principles or particularly we are supporting but for their own reason and that they all support coward activities against Iran and and all those other stuff and getting rid of Iran. They are just different tactics. But that tactic those tactical differences can be important. And the other, of course is the American people. What we do can make a difference. And there are there are is a growing awareness of this problem and if people you know, I don't I don't believe that the Bush Administration is real anxious to listen to the American people. But he can be forced to listen to them. And if there is a larger enough movement opposed to this as well as what's going on in Iraq, then then we can stop it. And that's our job to do that, along with them buying the book. Thank you very much. We can take some questions.