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Why the Trump Administration Lies About Iran

President Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, European External Action Service/Flickr

Peter Jenkins comments on the White House’s ridiculous statement earlier this week on Iran’s nuclear program. Here he addresses the administration’s many lies that Iran has a nuclear weapons program:

This innuendo is scarcely credible. There was not the faintest indication of a current Iranian nuclear weapons program in the most recent (January 29, 2019) U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. On the contrary, the intelligence community wrote: “We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Israel alleged recently that 20 years ago Iran’s goal was to acquire six nuclear weapons, but Israel has not claimed any current nuclear weapons work. The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have been reporting that they are getting all the access to Iranian sites to which they are entitled under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and that they have not detected any diversion of nuclear material or equipment to purposes unknown.

It seems more probable that the Trump administration is trying to compensate for the absence of international legal legitimacy for its Iran sanctions by creating political legitimacy. Its reasoning is easy to imagine: “There is no basis in international law for the hardship we are inflicting on the Iranian people. So, let’s look for a non-legal justification that will win political support around the world, including from those pesky Europeans who are trying to undermine our maximum pressure campaign (not very successfully or we would have made them regret their defiance). Heck, this is a no-brainer. Let’s put it about that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons. The world will agree that it must be stopped.”

Jenkins’ explanation for why the administration keeps lying about Iran and nuclear weapons seems right. Iran has done nothing to warrant the reimposition of the sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA. The sanctions Trump has reimposed and the sanctions he has added on in recent months are illegitimate and almost all other governments see them that way. There is nothing to justify the Trump administration’s economic war on Iran, so administration officials have to make up a fake reason. Waging economic war on a country that has been abiding by the terms of a nonproliferation agreement is irrational and needlessly destructive, so the administration promotes the lie that Iran seeks nuclear weapons even though there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim and mountains of evidence that refute it.

That is why Bolton has been desperate to misrepresent Iran’s minor breach of its low-enriched uranium stockpile limit as something far more dangerous and sinister than it is. He keeps trying to claim that there is “no other reason” for Iran to do this except to build nuclear weapons, but Iran is obviously doing this in reaction against the “maximum pressure” campaign in an effort to get political and economic support from the other parties to the agreement. The Trump administration has made it increasingly difficult for Iran to remain in compliance with a deal that delivers no benefits. Then, when Iran responds to the illegitimate pressure campaign with the smallest action possible, the administration tries to deceive the world into thinking that Iran is seeking the weapons that they have clearly renounced several times over.

Fortunately, the administration’s efforts to deceive the world haven’t been very successful so far. Everyone that looks at the evidence can see that Iran isn’t seeking nuclear weapons. It is just as clear that Trump administration officials lie about this because they have nothing else to fall back on, and it is the one thing that they think they can use to frighten people into supporting their cruel and unjust economic war. It is also their made-up pretext for taking military action. The danger is that Iran hawks don’t need to trick the rest of the world to start a war. They just have to dupe the president into believing the lie and then convince him to “act” by launching an attack on Iran. An attack on Iran would be entirely unjustified, illegal, and wrong, but this lie about Iran and nuclear weapons could serve as the pretext for it.

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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