An op-ed published this week in The New York Times repeats a number of well-worn claims about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Written by the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center senior fellow Suzanne Maloney and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh, the article, entitled “Ahmadinejad’s Fall, America’s Loss,” attempts to argue that “the prospect of a nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington is diminishing” due to the recent political infighting between the Iranian President and the country’s clerical leadership.
Unsurprisingly, the op-ed is suffused with the usual boilerplate Western narratives about Ahmadinejad, and even Iran in general. The fellows write that he has “dabbled in Holocaust denial” and that, in June 2009, the conservative Iranian government conspired in “rigging the system to ensure his re-election.” Neither of these allegations stand up to serious scrutiny.
Maloney and Takeyh, who openly call for sanctioning Iran’s legal and IAEA-supervised nuclear energy program as well as supporting Iran’s minuscule and unrepresentative “Green” movement, also write that Ahmadinejad, “by deftly exploiting nationalist impulses and economic grievances” has “used every opportunity to build a power base and assert his influence.” That description of the Iranian President could also be used to describe literally every single American President since the nation’s founding, nearly every single member of the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the vast majority of local officials. So, in other words, they’re asserting that Ahmadinejad is indeed a politician. Good to know.
They go on to claim that Ahmadinejad’s “shrewd political instincts” have influenced his decision to “embrace the notion of negotiations with Washington” over the Iranian nuclear program, in spite of what they describe as “the clerics’ official ideology of anti-Americanism.” They then provide this nugget of analysis:
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s interest in dialogue was not motivated by any appreciation of American civilization or an impulse to reconcile. Rather, the provocative president saw talks as a means of boosting his stature at home and abroad while touting his vision of a strong nuclear-armed Iran.
Firstly, why would anyone expect (or even hope) that an elected executive of one country would make decisions based on a personal “appreciation” of another country’s “civilization“? This would seem to be an irresponsible and inappropriate basis for engagement and diplomacy. Is the United States providing Saudi Arabia with $60 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment because of its admiration of Saudi civilization? Are the P5+1 negotiating with Iran due to their collective affection for Persian civilization and its myriad cultural contributions like establishing the world’s first postal service, inventing architectural innovations like the flying buttress and the squinch and dome, and introducing the world to decimal fractions, almanacs, astrolabes, windmills, paisley, and polo? Doubtful.
Far more important—outrageous, even—is the contention, stated as indisputable fact by Maloney and Takeyh, that Ahmadinejad is bold, brash, and boastful in his outspoken intention to create a “nuclear-armed Iran.” Naturally, no evidence is provided by the authors to bolster this allegation, yet the New York Times printed it without hesitation.
Put simply, the claim is unsupported by all available facts. Quite the contrary, Ahmadinejad has consistently condemned the acquisition of nuclear weapons and has repeatedly called upon the international community to dismantle all nuclear arsenals and support the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
This is not about parsing Iranian intentions or scrutinizing IAEA reports, Israeli accusations, or N.I.E. assessments. It is not even about identifying the absurd neoconservative fear-mongering which litters the article with warnings about Iran’s “nefarious activities” and how an “increasingly confident and aggressive” Islamic Republic would be “unlikely to accept meaningful limitations on its nuclear ambitions or sever its ties to militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.” It is not about agreeing with Ahmadinejad’s political policies, personal beliefs, or rhetorical style.
No, this is about claiming that the Iranian President has openly declared (“touting his vision”) that he seeks “a nuclear-armed Iran,” as written by two senior fellows at influential think tanks and published by the newspaper of record. This claim, as written and printed, is not true. In fact, it is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the well-documented truth is.
So here we go again, in Ahmadinejad’s own words, for the record:
Ahmadinejad, speaking in August 2006, declared, “Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine and Iran is not a threat to any country…We are not a threat to anybody; even our solution to the Zionist regime is a referendum.”
In the same speech, he said, “the Iranian nation has always resolutely resisted bullying. The Iranian nation will never exchange its dignity and nobility for anything. However, some oppressor countries can not believe that a nation can be powerful and peaceful at the same time. They can not imagine that a nation can possess nuclear technology with no nuclear weapons. They just come to the wrong conclusions through wrong analyses.”
In a lengthy interview with CBS‘s Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes, Ahmadinejad explained, “Basically we are not looking for—working for the bomb…The time of the bomb is in the past. It’s behind us. Today is the era of thoughts, dialogue and cultural exchanges.”
The next month, Ahmadinejad was asked by NBC‘s Brian Williams about whether the Iranian nuclear program was peaceful. He replied, “Did Iran build the atomic bomb and use it? You must know that, because of our beliefs and our religion, we’re against such acts. We are against the atomic bomb.”
In 2007, Ahmadinejad was interviewed on CBS by Scott Pelley, who asked him, “Is it the goal of your government, the goal of this nation to build a nuclear weapon?” Ahmadinejad answered:
It is a firm “no.” I’m going to be much firmer now. I want to address all politicians around the world, statesmen. Any party who uses national revenues to make a bomb, a nuclear bomb, will make a mistake. Because in political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problems the Americans have in Iraq. The U.S. has tested new generations of bombs, many thousands of warheads you have in your arsenals. It’s of no use. And also the Zionist entity, they have hundreds of warheads. It’s not going to help them. The time of the bomb is past. The parties who think that by using the bomb you can control others, they are wrong. Today we are living in the era of intellectual pursuits. You should spend your money on your people. We don’t need the bomb. For 28 years we have defended ourselves in the face of enemy onslaught. Every day we are becoming more powerful. And, again, we don’t need such weapons. In fact, we think that this is inhuman.
A few days later, when interviewed by Charlie Rose, Ahmadinejad repeated himself, adding, “We’ve said many times before, we don’t need the weapon. It’s not enshrined in our defense doctrine, nuclear defense. And ideologically, we don’t believe in it either. We have actually rejected it on an ideological basis. And politically, we know that it is useless.”
At Columbia University, on September 25, 2007, Ahmadinejad stated,
Making nuclear, chemical and biological bombs and weapons of mass destruction is yet another result of the misuse of science and research by the big powers. Without cooperation of certain scientists and scholars, we would not have witnessed production of different nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Are these weapons to protect global security? What can a perpetual nuclear umbrella threat achieve for the sake of humanity? If nuclear war wages between nuclear powers, what human catastrophe will take place? Today we can see the nuclear effects in even new generations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima residents which might be witness in even the next generations to come. Presently, effects of the depleted uranium used in weapons since the beginning of the war in Iraq can be examined and investigated.
In a response to a question from an audience member at Columbia, he reiterated, “We do not believe in nuclear weapons, period. It goes against the whole grain of humanity…I think the politicians who are after atomic bombs or are testing them, making them—politically they are backward, retarded.”
Speaking to Charlie Rose in Tehran on August 22, 2008, Ahmadinejad stressed, “We want nuclear disarmament [for all countries]…and we consider it to be against humanity to manufacture nuclear weapons…we oppose that strongly,” continuing, “Our position is very clear. You can not solve the problem of a nuclear bomb with another nuclear bomb. The solution should be humanitarian and political and cultural…We believe that a nuclear weapon has no use, obsolete. Anyone who has a nuclear weapons does not create any political advantage for themselves.”
The following month, on September 23, 2008, Ahmadinejad told Larry King, “We believe, as a matter of religious teaching, that we must be against any form of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. The production and the usage of nuclear weapons is one of the most abhorrent acts to our eyes.” He also said, “In addition, we also believe that the atomic bomb has lost its use in political affairs, in fact. The time for a nuclear bomb has ended. Whoever who invests in it is going the wrong way.”
The same day, during an interview with NPR‘s Steve Inskeep, Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran was “a country that is simply seeking peaceful nuclear energy” and not nuclear weapons.
When MSNBC‘s Ann Curry interviewed Ahmadinejad the next year, in September 2009, he again said, “We don’t have such a need for nuclear weapons. We don’t need nuclear weapons. Without such weapons, we are very much able to defend ourselves…It’s not a part of our any—of our programs and plans.” (After the interview, Curry published a report entitled, “Ahmadinejad refuses to rule out weapons.”)
Speaking at the United Nations NPT Review Conference in May 2010, he stated, “The nuclear bomb is a fire against humanity rather than a weapon for defense,” continuing, “The possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride; it is rather disgusting and shameful. And even more shameful is the threat to use or to use such weapons, which is not even comparable to any crime committed throughout the history.”
The same day, during an interview with Charlie Rose, Ahmadinejad said,
Let me just set your mind—I want to give your mind some rest here. We are opposed to the bomb, the nuclear bomb, and we will not build it. If we want to build it, we have the guts to say it. We’re courageous enough to say it, because we’re not afraid of anyone. If we want to have the bomb, we’ll come and tell everyone he want to build it. We’re not afraid of anyone if we want to make it. Who’s there to be afraid of? So when we say we don’t want it, we don’t want it.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 2010, he repeated, “The nuclear bomb is the worst inhumane weapon and which must totally be eliminated” and proposed “that the year 2011 be proclaimed the year of nuclear disarmament,” reaffirming Iran’s commitment to establishing a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East.
During the same visit, Ahmadinejad told Larry King, “We are not seeking the bomb. We have no interest in it. And we do not think that it is useful. We are standing firm over the issue that both the Zionist regime and the United States government should be disarmed.”
These are the facts, inconvenient as they may be for warmongering Beltway think tankers.
Perhaps most shocking about the statement made in New York Times op-ed is that, in 2008, co-author Suzanne Maloney herself noted that “the Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon.” While she added that “there’s plenty of room for skepticism about these assertions,” she stressed the importance of not exaggerating or making false claims.
Whether Ms. Maloney has, in the past three years, reevaluated her previous assessment on this matter or has obtained evidence that Ahmadinejad himself has since made a declaration about a newly-acquired impulse to build nuclear weapons remains unclear.
What is clear, unfortunately, is that neither Maloney nor her consistently propagandistic writing partner Ray Takeyh seem to be too concerned with presenting the truth in their own analysis.
Where have all The Grey Lady’s fact-checkers gone?