Home/Daniel Larison/Bolton’s Iran Lies and the Credulous Media

Bolton’s Iran Lies and the Credulous Media

National Security Advisor John Bolton attends meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oct. 23, 2018. (Office of the Russian President/public domain)

Another day passes, and John Bolton tells another huge lie:

“All that Iran needs to do is walk through that door,” Bolton said at a conference in Jerusalem. He added that any deal would need to “eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behavior worldwide.”

Iran has no nuclear weapons program. There is nothing for a future deal to “eliminate” because it does not exist and hasn’t existed for more than a decade and a half. According to U.S. intelligence analysis, Iran shut down any and all work related to nuclear weapons 16 years ago. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program, and there was nothing to contradict that finding four years later. Iran has complied with the nuclear deal for more than three years starting in 2015. During all that time, Iran has consistently disavowed the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet Bolton is still jabbering about a nuclear weapons program that doesn’t exist in 2019. There is no evidence that supports Bolton’s assertions about Iran and nuclear weapons, and against Bolton’s accusation there are years of IAEA reports that verify that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. The Post story at least acknowledges this last part:

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said on repeated occasions that Iran remains in compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal it negotiated with world powers aimed at preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Dina Esfandiary marvels that any of this still has to be said:

It is crazy that such an important, basic fact has to be repeated ad nauseam because of the constant distortions and lies of Iran hawks, but it is a reminder that opponents of the nuclear deal have never been able to win an honest debate on the merits. They have to lie about the nuclear deal and its provisions because if they didn’t they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Iran hawks try to erase the difference between the continuation of a peaceful nuclear program, which Iran is entitled to have as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a weapons program that violates the NPT. This reflects their boundless bad faith and their unwillingness to accept a successful nonproliferation agreement. They have nothing to back up their accusation about a continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, but they keep making the accusations on the assumption that if they tell enough lies that the false claims will define the debate.

Unfortunately, a lot of media coverage helps them along when news reports refer to Iran “restarting its nuclear program” when that program never stopped, and some outlets go further and echo administration talking points by framing negotiations in terms of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The effect of all of this is to mislead the public into thinking that the administration is motivated by genuine, legitimate nonproliferation concerns instead of hard-line, unreasonable demands for Iran’s complete surrender. It is important that the public correctly understand that the current nuclear deal has done exactly what it was designed to do, it has been fully successful in limiting Iran’s nuclear program, and that it will never permit Iran to develop and build nuclear weapons. It is also very important for the public to understand that U.S. officials that claim otherwise are lying to them for ulterior motives. Right now far too many media outlets are simply transmitting false statements from Bolton and other administration officials without putting them in context or correcting them, and that is allowing them to get away with selling the public on a policy founded on lies.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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