Losing the fight on Iran

It seems the propaganda and fear-mongering is working. According to a Zogby poll published yesterday,

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.” [my emph.]

When asked which Presidential candidate would be best equipped to deal with Iran, Sen. Hillary Clinton came first place with 21% of the vote, followed by Rudy Giuliani in second with 15%. At an AIPAC dinner earlier this year, Clinton stated:

“U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In dealing with this threat… no option can be taken off the table…

We need to use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force”.

On the other hand, she recently co-sponsored a bill prohibiting the use of funds for military operations against Iran without explicit Congressional authorisation. It’s difficult to pin down her true position with any certainty, since she will apparently say anything depending on the interest group she’s trying to win over. Overall, though, her stance is hawkish, advocating “diplomacy” in the short-run and, if that fails, military action. Most Democrats (35%) favoured Clinton on Iran.

However, even Clinton looks a dove compared to the Republicans’ favoured candidate on Iran, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, who has also expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state, has opined that, while “diplomacy” should be given a chance, “we will use a military option if we have to.” Similarly, in an excruciating essay for Foreign Affairs, Giuliani wrote,

“The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”

Further, as the CFR notes,

“One of Giuliani’s top foreign policy advisers, neoconservative Norm Podhoretz, is a vocal advocate for bombing Iran preemptively in order to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, Podhoretz told the New Yorker, he has not asked Giuliani to take a stand on this topic for fear of damaging his candidacy.”

(An important correction: an attack on Iran of the kind being discussed would not be “preemptive” but “preventive”, which under international law is indistinguishable from the “supreme international crime” of aggression.)

The fact that over half of the American public would apparently support a U.S. aggression against Iran is very troubling. Recall the alleged remarks of a high-level source in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions:

“They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this–they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

This should represent a wake-up call to all of us. If we want to prevent what would almost certainly be a humanitarian catastrophe we have to up our game. That means, for example, correcting irresponsible journalists who continue to propagate the falsewiped off the map” meme. It means exposing bullshit like this:

for what it is. Let’s take the speech above as an example.

For starters, even the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has privately acknowledged that Iran poses no existential threat to Israel, with or without nuclear weapons. As military historian Martin van Creveld explains,

“Given the balance of forces, it cannot be argued that a nuclear Iran will threaten the United States. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fulminations to the contrary, the Islamic Republic will not even be a threat to Israel. The latter has long had what it needs to deter an Iranian attack.

Should deterrence fail, Jerusalem can quickly turn Tehran into a radioactive desert – a fact of which Iranians are fully aware.”

Fareed Zakaria also points out the obvious:

“Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?”

Second, Bush claims that the Iranian “leader” has “announced that he wants to destroy Israel”. Bush is referring to Ahmadinejad, who has of course said no such thing (see above). But even if he did, the fact is that Ahmadinejad is not the “leader” of Iran. He is the President, a largely ceremonial role which confers upon him no authority whatsoever over Iranian foreign policy. That power lies with the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has repeatedly affirmed that Iran “has never threatened and will never threaten any country”, and has in fact distanced himself from some of Ahmadinejad’s wackier remarks.

Thirdly, while Bush, Rice and co. like to stress that they are “committed to the diplomatic process”, in reality they’re actively working to undermine diplomatic efforts and torpedo any chance for peaceful progress, as they have done since their flat rejection of Iran’s offer of a ‘grand bargain‘ in 2003. For example, the Bush administration has rejected IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s many requests for calm dialogue in favour of bellicose threats and unilateral sanctions. Responding to Bush’s recent threat of “world war three” if Iran fails to suspend uranium enrichment (see video above), ElBaradei warned Washington to “stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue because that’s an issue that could have a major conflagration, and not only regionally but globally”. He continued,

“We are working now with Iran to clarify the past and the present, but I have not received any information that there is a complete active nuclear weapon program going on right now”.

The U.S. is demanding that Iran suspend enrichment as a pre-condition to talks, despite the fact that it is explicitly granted the right to enrich uranium by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This effort at “diplomacy” is further undermined by the fact that the Bush administration openly warned at the outset that should Iran fail to acquiesce during the course of the “dialogue”, the U.S. will be “forced” to attack it. This amounts to holding a gun to Iran’s head and threatening to pull the trigger if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. Clearly, then, it does not represent a meaningful attempt to solve the dispute peacefully.

Finally, when Bush claims that he “harbour[s] no resentment” towards the “Iranian people”, he’s either lying or being honest in the trivial sense that while he harbours no specific resentment towards the Iranian people, he couldn’t care less about them. Iranian pro-democracy activists oppose the U.S.’ campaign of intimidation and sanctions against Iran, for the obvious reason that this serves to weaken them and strengthen the regime. As three Iranian NGOs explain,

“Sanctions or threat of military attack on Iran by the United States and its allies will not resolve the conflicts and tensions between the states; they will lead to dire and irreparable human consequences, and moreover, will serve to strike a massive blow to the nascent civil society in Iran; – sanctions or military intervention in Iran will put to waste all attempts at building an indigenous internal democracy and the promotion of human rights. This will reverse for years, or even decades, the domestic process of reforms”.

Akbar Ganji, Iran’s leading political dissident, recently wrote an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the same effect:

“Far from helping the development of democracy, US policy over the past fifty years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran. The 1953 coup against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the unwavering support for the despotic regime of the Shah, who acted as America’s gendarme in the Persian Gulf, are just two examples of these flawed policies. More recently the confrontation between various US administrations and the Iranian state over the past three decades has made internal conditions very difficult for the proponents of freedom and human rights in Iran.

Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media and is imprisoning human rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy. The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact been largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity.

At the same time, even speaking about “the possibility” of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran. No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan repeated in Iran. Iranian democrats also watch with deep concern the support in some American circles for separatist movements in Iran. [my emph.]”

Thus, when Bush continues to threaten Iran with sanctions and “world war three”, he does so in the knowledge that he is actively harming the pro-democracy movement inside Iran and strengthening the regime.

Also, note that Bush never once accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons programme (this is because, as far as we know, it hasn’t got one). He merely talks about it developing the “capacity” and the “knowledge” that might enable it to build nuclear weapons at some point in the future, should it choose to. The idea that this constitutes enough to justify a military attack on Iran is without basis in either law or morality.

Thus, we can see that even the very short speech shown above contains multiple layers of deception and falsehood, all designed to demonise Iran and pave the way for an attack. Yet the media have been spreading and repeating these distortions largely uncritically for years now. With this level of government deception and stenographer-journalism, is it any wonder that so many Americans find themselves supporting a war?

Only 29% of respondents to the Zogby poll replied that the U.S. should not attack Iran. Even amongst Democrats only 37% expressed this view. If this is representative of the population at large, we should all be very worried. While it is unclear whether the U.S. government actually intends to launch a military attack on Iran, it is plain that the option is being seriously considered at the highest levels. We must be proactive in combating pro-war deception and propaganda if we hope to prevent a disaster.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander


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  1. appears to have got the right idea:

    “In an interview today, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich questioned President Bush’s mental health in light of comments he made about a nuclear Iran precipitating World War Three.

    Kucinich said the president doesn’t seem to understand that his words have real impact in the world.”

    See also this from Tony Karon, who also quotes Zakaria favourably.

    • Turkana on October 31, 2007 at 13:56

    Wider Iranian threat is feared

  2. That’ll get folks turned off another war real quick.

    • Edger on October 31, 2007 at 17:57

    • Valtin on November 1, 2007 at 02:33

    You have insprired me to write more about the topic that makes me most fearful: the U.S. war drive against Iran. A terrible, terrible crime is in the offing. I rack my brains wondering how we can stop it. But war fever/propaganda is a very powerful thing, especially when put out by a state apparatus as powerful as the U.S.

    A friend told me the other day (he’s a bigwig consultant) that he heard an official of a very large, very famous banking company (I don’t want to even say the name, lest I endanger my friend) tell a small group of associates that the company expected the U.S. would be at war with Iran by next summer, and oil would be at $150 per barrel. They are making their plans accordingly (whatever that means).

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