As a former CIA analyst turned anti-war activist, Elizabeth Murray found much to like in news last summer when the Obama administration struck a deal to monitor Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions that have crippled that country’s economy.
To her, the deal pushed back what at times looked like an inevitable armed conflict among Iran, Israel and the United States.
But not everyone sees the world as Murray does.
The Iran agreement has been a lightning rod for months with conservative leaders in America and Israel casting it as bad deal that will not prevent Iran making a nuclear weapon.
Murray, 55, plans on Monday (Nov. 9) to share her thoughts on why the deal is a good one at a forum in University Place moderated by one of the Puget Sound region’s leading Middle East experts, professor Steve Niva of The Evergreen State College.
Murray spent 27 years in the CIA mostly working as a Middle East analyst and now works with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, the Poulsbo-based anti-nuclear organization.
She spoke with The News Tribune to preview her talk.
Q: Relations between our countries don’t seem very black and white anymore. On one hand, we have this nuclear deal. On the other, Iran is holding a Washington Post reporter in custody, and we have sometimes conflicting objectives in Iraq and Syria. How would you say this relationship has evolved since the Iraq War?
A: It was a really good thing that this accord was nailed down after two years of negotiations. The only problem I see is that the U.S. government continues to portray Iran in the media as an enemy and adversary. I see parallels between these portrayals and the hollow “death to America” chants you hear in Iran. I think those are to appease the hardliners (in Iran).
It’s useful for our government to portray Iran as a perennial enemy. It’s a profitable thing to have Iran as an enemy. Obviously we’re spending lots of money in the defense industry just by describing Iran as on the cusp of the weapons. It’s just the way things go in Washington.
The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the highest level consensus of the intelligence community, said Iran had not worked on a nuclear weapon since 2003. Even though this accord is nice, it’s basically reaffirming and verifying that Iran is not working on the weapon it has not been working on since 2003.
If you live in the reality-based community you know that. But if you watch Fox News or the mainstream media, you’ve been on the edge of your seat. All of that has just been hype, and it’s utter nonsense.
Q: I happened to finish reading former CIA Director Leon Panetta’s autobiography just last week. He describes his concerns about underground construction in 2009 at Iran’s Fordo uranium enrichment site. He didn’t characterize it as development of a weapon, but as capacity-building for that purpose. What do you make of that?
A: My understanding was that Iran was quite shy about revealing the whereabouts of Fordo because of all the rhetoric about attacking Iran that was coming from America, and that was coming from Israel. They were fearful that it was going to be bombed, and they wanted to have capability. They were trying to keep it a secret.
I’m not an apologist for that. I don’t condone it. The (American computer virus targeted at Iran’s nuclear program known as Stuxnet) was well underway and at the time Iranian nuclear scientists were being assassinated. There were conditions in Iran that motivated them to take precautions. Those were probably foolish precautions. If it was for totally peaceful use of nuclear enrichment, it did not serve them well because it was used against them.
Q: In the South Sound, people are familiar with the deadly Iranian-made weapons used against American forces in the Iraq War, such as explosives that penetrated armored vehicles. Is that history an obstacle to this deal?
A: I’m sure Iran was involved in that, and I’m not condoning that. At the same time, that was basically Iran’s backyard. We got into there, and unfortunately the end result of our involvement there is that we got rid of Iran’s No. 1 enemy, Saddam Hussein, and made that country cozy up to Iran even more.
War is nasty. On the other hand, if you want to go back to that time period, it’s also true that in the wake of 9/11 and we started to attack Afghanistan, al-Qaida people were trying to flee to Iran and seek harbor. Iran was rounding up al-Qaida on our behalf. We had so much goodwill at that time that we just scuttled with our global war terror.
Q: You wrote extensively in 2011 and 2012 about your concerns about a broader war against Iran, when Israel was worried about Iran reaching a breakout capacity for its nuclear program. Is that day further away because of this deal?
A: I believe so. I think that even Israelis understand how good this is for Israel, even though their leader (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu does not.
The deal will help Israel monitor the nuclear situation inside Iran. It’s a victory for the U.S. diplomatically. It should show people in our government that bombing is not always the option. I do see this deal again as having averted a nuclear catastrophe in the Middle East.
Q: You’ve traveled with the late Rev. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, the Tacoma priest and anti-nuclear activist. What did you take away from your experience joining a protest outside the U.S. naval base on South Korea’s Jeju Island?
A: I really learned about the joy of resistance. Those people have been opposing that naval base for eight or nine years. Even though the naval base is almost finished, the local people continue to resist.
What impressed me most is not only their persistence, it is the fact that they’re joyful about it. It’s opened my eyes to what small people can do. I was very, very privileged to have known Father Bix.
If you go:
What: A discussion on an international agreement to monitor Iran’s nuclear program
Who: Former CIA analyst Elizabeth Murray and Steve Niva, professor at The Evergreen State College
Where: University Place Library, Bridgeport Way between 35th Street West and 37th Street West.
When: 7:15 p.m. Monday (Nov. 9)