History May Hold Lessons for Iran Nuclear Standoff

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr looks back at the Israeli strike on an Iraqi nuclear facility during the Reagan administration. He says that 1981 action holds lessons for the current standoff with Iran.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The standoff with Iran over its nuclear program is staying near the top of the news, and on the mind of NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. He's listening carefully to what the government has to say about the matter.

DANIEL SCHORR: One of the inherent powers of the president, apparently, is the right to lie in the perceived national interest. In 1960, President Eisenhower had the State Department announce that a plane shot down over the Soviet Union was on a weather mission. He was left red-faced, when the Russians produced the U-2 spy plane and its CIA pilot. In 1962, President Kennedy cut short a trip the West Coast and flew back to Washington from Chicago, suffering, it was announced, from an upper respiratory infection. The real reason was photographic evidence that the Russians were putting nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In 1981, the Reagan White House condemned Israel for bombing the Osirak nuclear facility outside Baghdad, saying the unprecedented attack would add to the tense situation in the Middle East. Left unsaid was that CIA director, William Casey, had visited Israel and agreed to cooperate in the attack using American-made planes and American reconnaissance satellites to pinpoint the target.

So now, 25 years later, once again, the introduction to the nuclear waltz and the question of how far the administration will go in keeping Americans posted on the gathering storm. What we've heard so far leaves a lot to the imagination. At a news conference last February, the president said the notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Pause, then, and having said that, all options are on the table.

More recently, Vice President Dick Cheney said that Iran was operating a fairly robust nuclear program, and that Israel might decide to act first if the United States and its allies fail to solve the problem by diplomacy. No president should ever take a military option off the table, he said. So, there you have it. Is the administration concealing its plans from us? Or maybe it doesn't have any plans. History tells us that a president will dissemble and even lie for his own purposes. I don't know how well the Bush administration is doing in keeping President Ahmadinejad off balance, but it's doing a fine job with the American public.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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