US Hawks Unwittingly Aid Iranian Hardliners

While it is the opposite of their intent, hawks in the US who suggest attacking Iran provide ammunition to Iran’s hardliners, including those who want to develop nuclear weapons. The most recent example to come to my attention is a radio interview in which Senator Tom Cotton argued that “if military action were required … it would [not involve boots on the ground, only] several days of air and naval bombing.”

Several weeks earlier, our former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton had a New York Times OpEd whose title well summarizes his argument: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.

Perhaps the most egregious example is from October 2013, but came to my attention as a result of its coverage in today’s New York Times in a different context. In a roundtable discussion, billionaire GOP king-maker Sheldon Adelson gave his prescription for negotiating with Iran:

ADELSON: What I would say is: “Listen. You see that desert out there? I want to show you something.” … So there’s an atomic weapon goes over [on] a ballistic missile in the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever.

And then you say, “See, the next one is in the middle of Tehran.”

Isn’t it time we stopped pulling the rug out from under Iran’s moderates?

Martin Hellman

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For an analysis of Senator Cotton’s radio interview, see this Washington Post article.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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8 Responses to US Hawks Unwittingly Aid Iranian Hardliners

  1. Tom Lindsay says:

    Marty, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it is not the opposite of their intent. It is rather a consistent, calculated business model to generate fear, foment continual war, control resources and make the military/industrial/banker elite that actually run the show ever more wealthy and powerful. As General Smedley Butler, the most decorated U.S. soldier turned anti-war activist said back in the 30’s, “War is a racket”. This is the same s**t, different day – only a lot worse today – or even better today if you’re in the war profiteering business. Unfortunately I think it is that simple, that ugly, that psychopathic and that potentially catastrophic.

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Tom: While I’ve tended not to put too much faith in the argument that greed is at work, I recently discovered that major defense contractors like Boeing lobbied heavily to expand NATO into Eastern Europe in the 1990s – a major mistake in my opinion, for which we are paying a high price in many ways. So maybe I’ve been wrong.

  3. Nuclear Risk says:

    I just discovered that my friend and colleague Dr. Leonard Weiss, who worked on similar issues for over 20 years for the US Senate, wrote a very similar OpEd in the LA Times back in 2007. The primary difference is that, back then it was the president (Bush) who was beating the drum for war and Congress which was pulling back.

    I encourage you to read that OpEd. The more things change, the more they’re the same!

  4. Tom Lindsay says:

    Marty: One could call it greed. One could also call it the good ol’ American way – free market capitalism at its best. Yep, the road of NATO into Eastern Europe has been paved with $14 billion in weapons sales to the twelve newbie nations by our military/industrial titans including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and the granddaddy of them all, Lockheed Martin. Last October, Lockheed Martin set Romania up with a $134 million Aegis Ashore-Missile Defense System. Obama says Poland gets their own in couple of years. The Balkans have proven to be an outstanding market opportunity – one that was sorely needed after the Cold War ended and weapons sales dropped in half compared to the decade before.

    As we all know, Russia is not particularly happy about any of this, particularly since the Bush administration promised that NATO would not move one inch to the east as part of the deal to end the Cold War. Brzezinski, Clinton and Co (with lots of help from the other side of the isle), flushed that agreement right down the memory hole. If I were Russia, I’d be might upset, too.

    Andrew Cockburn has written a good article about all of this at:

  5. Tom Lindsay says:

    That’s a good article by Dr. Leonard Weiss. Agree. The fundamental problem is this: the Powers-That-Shouldn’t-Be are not interested in peace. They are interested in maintaining and extending U.S. hegemony around the world by whatever means necessary. If that means lying, stealing, running drugs, assassinating, committing election fraud, breaking agreements, breaking laws, so be it. The U.S. has proven itself to be accomplished in all of that. If it means killing lots of innocent men, women and children, (including our own) and destroying their homes and countries for spurious and illegal reasons, so be it. That’s our speciality. We do it all the time. Besides it’s good for the economy – or at least for Lockheed Martin and their close circle of cohorts.

    Sorry to be such a downer, Marty, but I’m afraid this is really the way it is. Would love to have someone prove me wrong. I’m afraid I have become very disillusioned. The more I study, the worse it looks. It sickens me. And I feel helpless in the face of it all.

  6. Nuclear Risk says:

    Tom: While the US has engaged in a number of nefarious operations – many of which I’ve covered in this blog – I wouldn’t say “that’s our specialty.” When Britain was on top of the world, I don’t think it behaved any better than we have. The problem is not the US, but the way all nations act when they have power. Similarly the solution is not Amero-centric, but for the whole world to grow up – or at least those nations with any significant military power. The only reason I focus on our mistakes is that those are the ones over which we have power to produce change. As I learned in my marriage telling the other guy (or gal in this case) what they did wrong does not produce change. 🙂

  7. Tom Lindsay says:

    Marty: Correct, the British didn’t create an empire upon which the sun never set by being benevolent Boy Scouts. Leave it to the British historian, Lord Action, to sum up the reality of power best with his famous, (but I think under-appreciated and under-applied quote when it comes to Americans thinking about our own country): “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    I also agree that we need to focus our attention on the actions of our country as there does exist the possibility, albeit seemingly remote, that we might effect change. However, the first and foremost challenge is trying to see reality clearly. As I have tried to do this with regard to my country, I have become increasingly appalled. What we claim to be and do in the world is often at stark odds with reality. Isn’t it our responsibility to say it like it really is – the WHOLE truth – the good, bad and ugly?

    Regarding your marriage comment – very often changes in a marriage START with a spouse pointing out what they perceive the other to be doing wrong, and vise versa. The key to real change is our willingness to hear the truth, take responsibility for our part in any wrongdoing and shift our behavior. However, THIS only happens if both parties are committed to an EQUAL relationship and are as interested in the welfare and happiness of the other as they are in themselves.

    Unfortunately, this has never been the attitude of People in Power towards the rest of the world – the powerful people who control our country included. The attitude has been quite the opposite. Will we, the military powers on earth, “grow up” as you say in time to prevent the human race from destroying itself? Frankly, the way things continue to go, I’m not particularly hopeful. However, like all social change in history, it has to begin with people speaking up. A quote from George Orwell comes to mind: “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

    Thanks for speaking up, Marty.

  8. Nuclear Risk says:


    Regarding your saying, “the first and foremost challenge is trying to see reality clearly. As I have tried to do this with regard to my country, I have become increasingly appalled.”

    I totally agree with the first part, and can understand how you end up being appalled, but:

    a) Expressing your reaction too strongly isn’t helpful in changing people’s minds – and that’s what has to happen if change is to occur in our foreign policy. When the truth is far from a nation’s perception of itself, a “data dump” turns people off. They tend to write the messenger off as a “conspiracy nut” – a term that I believe was invented by those in power to discredit people who dare to question the prevailing narrative. Unfortunately, it seems to work.

    b) When I look back on my own life, and how blind I was to my own faults before I started a long and difficult (but extremely rewarding) process to see myself clearly, it would be hypocritical of me to be aghast at my nation’s (or anyone else’s) lack of self awareness.

    Putting a) and b) together, I choose to take a milder tone than you. But, as many of these blog posts will show, I work hard to help other Americans see ourselves more clearly.

    For good examples, see my series on Avoiding Needless Wars.

    In parts 1 and 2 on Vietnam, I was able to use formerly classified information to show beyond any doubt that what we were told was totally different from what the government knew. (All ten parts have links at the bottom of the above linked page.)

    Part 5 on Operation Northwoods is another good example.

    Part 9 on Iraq couldn’t draw on formerly classified information because not enough time has passed, but having Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff lament his participation in Powell’s UN speech as “a hoax on the American people” is almost as good.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


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