Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

December 24, 2009

NYT gives space to dangerous hawk Kuperman

Filed under: Discourse in America,Iran,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 8:56 am

In today’s Christmas Eve edition, the New York Times‘s editors have given nearly half a page to nuclear hawk Alan J. Kuperman to make a lengthy (and extremely misleading) argument that the U.S. should bomb nuclear facilities in Iran.

Is this our Happy Christmas gift from the NYT?

Kuperman writes,

We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.

Kuperman takes for granted that Iran is pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons, though this claim has never been made by the responsible authorities at the International Atomic Energy Agency. But that is not the only way in which his article is misleading, inaccurate, and/or grossly irresponsible.

He does, in an extremely cavalier fashion, write that,

As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work. Some Iranian facilities are buried too deeply to destroy from the air. There may also be sites that American intelligence is unaware of. And military action could backfire in various ways, including by undermining Iran’s political opposition, accelerating the bomb program or provoking retaliation against American forces and allies in the region.

But despite those risks, he then rushes to assure readers that,

history suggests that military strikes could work. [He cites the precedent of Israel’s 1981 strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor, though noting that it did not immediately end Saddam’s nuclear weapons project…] Analogously, Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

As for the risk of military strikes undermining Iran’s opposition, history suggests that the effect would be temporary. For example, NATO’s 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia briefly bolstered support for President Slobodan Milosevic, but a democratic opposition ousted him the next year.

Yes, Iran could retaliate by aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does that anyway. Iran’s leaders are discouraged from taking more aggressive action against United States forces — and should continue to be — by the fear of provoking a stronger American counter-escalation. If nothing else, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to.

Let’s just look at the last two of those claims I underlined.

Firstly, where is the evidence that Iran is currently, as he claims, “aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan”? There is none.  In fact, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and Iran are currently both acting on behalf of the same local forces– and against the same local forces– rather than confronting each other.

If the Tehran regime chose to take actions to oppose the U.S. mission or deployment in either country, the effects on the lives of American service members would be dire, indeed.  Thus far, it has not. Kuperman, quite simply, either does not know what he’s writing about here– or else, he knows what’s talking about and is consciously lying to his readers.

Secondly, his argument that U.S. “can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to” (and therefore, that it could and should do so in Iran). Once again here, the guy betrays his gross ignorance and/or mendacity.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington’s wars of forced regime change were made possible only because of the Iranian government’s active cooperation in the project— as James Dobbins, Hillary Mann Leverett, and numerous other former administration insiders have made abundantly clear.

So if the current U.S. administration were to even contemplate launching a war of forced regime change against Tehran (which, by the way, I don’t think it’s about to do)– what external forces would aid it in the venture?

None… Except Israel. And that would really make the effort a winning one in the world arena, wouldn’t it? (Irony alert there, folks.)

Also, there is just about nothing Israel could contribute, either militarily or politically, that would provide any significant aid to a US military campaign against Iran.

Earth to Alan Kuperman: The US military and national treasury are already stretched to near breaking point by the ongoing deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. From where would you propose the Pentagon pull the extra forces, or the Treasury pull the extra billions of dollars, that would be required to launch a war of forced regime change against Tehran, as well?

And while we’re about it, how many of your own children or grandchildren are you volunteering to go and fight in these wars, Alan Kuperman?

Kuperman’s tagline tells us, quite amazingly, that he’s “the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin.”  But to my mind, this argument he’s making today poses a real and present danger to the American people’s real interests– in the Middle East region, and in the world.

(Oh, and despite that fancy-sounding title, let’s note that Alan Kuperman makes no mention at all of the one power in the Middle East that already has a large, very capable, and quite unregulated nuclear weapons arsenal.)

Kuperman’s arguments are, as I noted above, inaccurate and very, very dangerous. So why is the NYT giving space to this belligerent screed?

That, I can’t answer.  I will note, though, that in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq, the NYT as a whole– both the news and opinion sides– gave considerable support to the pro-war party.  And afterwards, no-one there paid any professional price for the extremely misguided (and often actively mendacious) belligerency they displayed in the pre-war months.  Judith Miller did pay a bit of a professional price for some of her actions– but notably not for the very shoddy and actively biased reporting job she did on Iraq’s WMD programs in the many years leading up to 2003.

And no-one else that I know of in the U.S. public domain has paid any professional price for all the work they did actively arguing for the invasion of Iraq, including by producing and peddling extremely skewed and ill-sourced analyses of the status of Saddam’s alleged WMDs programs that, after the invasion of March 2003, turned out to be just flat-out wrong.

That includes Alan Kuperman, among the many others who “took for granted” in those days in their argumentation the proposition that Saddam had a very active and advanced WMD program underway…. And thereby helped push our country into the invasion of Iraq that subsequently brought so much grief and loss to the people of both countries.

Maybe we should have had some kind of a nationwide process to hold accountable all those, inside and outside government, whose flawed analyses helped take us into that war.  Such a process could have shown the way that “professionals” in so many walks of life here in the U.S. all collaborated in the project to push us into the war against Iraq.

But we never had such an accountability process.

At least this time, as the U.S. public ponders the question of “what to do regarding Iran”, let us not make the same mistake again, of listening to the advice and “analyses” that are coming from almost exactly that same, extensive bunch of belligerent characters once again.

If we do, this time around the negative consequences for our country would be 20 or 50 times worse.

Plus, the possibility of negotiating a real de-escalation of tensions with Iran still certainly exists.  Our country’s  interest lies in making a deep commitment to those negotiations.



  1. A very deft engagement with a ridiculous op-ed peace by a dangerous American intellectual. Thank you!

    Comment by deepstar — December 24, 2009 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  2. Bravo! Some common sense displayed here.
    thank you.

    Comment by Tommy — December 24, 2009 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  3. “Kuperman’s tagline tells us, quite amazingly, that he’s “the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin.””

    Just FYI, the “Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program” that Kuperman uses to fluff his credentials is nothing more than the repository for the archives of the now-defunct Nuclear Control Institute (see http://www.robertstrausscenter.org/news/article/34 ). Kuperman’s a legitimate (albeit completely wrongheaded in this instance) scholar, but his use of his “Program” gives him more authority than he really deserves.

    Comment by Bill in Austin — December 24, 2009 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  4. […] by Alan Kuperman was just awful that one hardly knows where to begin. Fortunately, Marc Lynch and Helena Cobban, among others, have covered most of the ground (except, for example, the environmental and health […]

    Pingback by LobeLog.com » Blog Archive » NYTimes Floats the Case for Attacking Iran — December 24, 2009 @ 11:20 pm | Reply

  5. Thank you Helena.

    I read this article on the NYT yesterday. I thought it was crazy to give such an audience to opinions like this.

    You’re just great !

    Comment by Yann — December 25, 2009 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  6. I once loved the NYT, but now I look forward to the possibility that some day it will ‘go under’ (hopefully not ‘down under’). The only recent thing I can credit them some credit for is the 2007 resale by Tishman Speyer Properties of the old New York Times (15 story) Building to Lev Leviev (Africa-Israel diamond magnate & builder of illegal settlements in Judea/Samaria) at the height of the real estate bubble (for three times what the NYT sold it for in 2004). The building (along with others) has lost so much in value since Leviev’s 2007 purchase, that his empire is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Well done, NYT (and Tishman Speyer)!
    P.S. FROM WIKIPEDIA: …New York Magazine reported in 2007 that a security company hired by Leviev [at his Angolan mines] had been accused by a local human rights group that year “of participating in practices of ‘humiliation, whipping, torture, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, assassinations.’[12] Leviev did not directly respond to the charges, but noted his charitable activities in Angola.[13]…
    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Leviev

    Comment by DICKERSON3870 — December 26, 2009 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  7. By Kuperman’s reading of history, a US military strike on a country will bring its democratic opposition to power within twelve months. He offers just one case to justify his argument. How about North Korea? It is considerably more than twelve months ago that the US carried out military strikes on North Korea. Yet the Kim dynastic regime is still in power.

    Comment by Ken Ward — December 26, 2009 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  8. In some ways I don’t think anyone should even give space or ink to anything appearing in the NYT.

    And Kuperman and his ilk are so yesterday..we should be beyond whether or not Iran is building nukes and onto why we ‘allow” some countries to have nukes and others not.

    Therein lies the whole discussion and question.

    Change the conversation on these guys….make them talk on the real issue…or be left out of the conversation.

    Comment by Carroll — December 26, 2009 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  9. There is nothing mysterious about the NY Times’s role : it does propaganda for the US government.

    Why does the US government want to bomb Iran? For the same reason that, almost thirty years ago, it hired Saddam Hussein to do it: it requires submission from all other regimes. Until it gets it the US employs the full subversive spectrum from death squads, to military coups, faux revolutionary uprisings, proxy wars, economuic boycotts, sanctions all the way through to wars of aggression.
    The question is why the American people, so often celebrated for their common sense, go along with such aggressions, bound, as they are, to backfire upon them.

    As to the rest of the world: the sight of a superpower committing economic suicide while stripping off the last shreds of the morality, which it has claimed to be guided by, is not a spectacle to be interrupted.
    This is what happens when a nation addicted to genocide, and other forms of racism, gets possession of nuclear weapons. Einstein feared it would.

    Comment by bevin — December 27, 2009 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  10. One could nearly make a career out of attacking the attractive targets in Dr. Kuperman’s op-ed — and I speak from experience, albeit limited, having just finished a lengthy exchange of emails with him devoted solely to the technical issue of Iran’s “international law violations” allegedly flowing from its failure to cease uranium enrichment in response to Security Council resolutions. As perhaps all of us do to some extent — but which Dr. Kuperman does to an almost amusing fault — he starts from his conclusions and works backward to find supporting arguments, brushing aside troublesome counter-arguments along the way like so much dandruff off his shoulder.

    But each time Dr. Kuperman does this (at least in our email exchange), one cannot help but come away with less respect for what he has to say. A look back at his op-ed piece in this light left me wondering exactly what it was that made the Times choose him to present these hackneyed arguments for bombing Iran. Might its motives actually be more noble than one might first suspect? Could it be that the Times wants to demonstrate how “fair and balanced” it is by offering (ample) opinion-page space to the “bomb Iran” crowd, while blunting the thrust of that message by choosing a weak presenter?

    Comment by Eric A. Brill — December 30, 2009 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

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