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The Limits of Exposure
Why All of Our Efforts Won’t Stop an Attack on Iran
by GARY LEUPP

May 9. I read tonight a brief article by Philip Giraldi posted on the American Conservative website: “War with Iran Might Be Closer than You Think.”

“There is considerable speculation,” writes the former CIA officer, “and buzz in Washington today suggesting that the National Security Council has agreed in principle to proceed with plans to attack an Iranian al-Qods [Revolutionary Guards]-run camp that is believed to be training Iraqi militants.  The camp that will be targeted is one of several located near Tehran.”

Giraldi provides details. He reports that the meeting came as “the direct result” of Hizbollah advances in Lebanon in recent days. (Recall that the U.S. State Department lists the Shiite organization Hizbollah as “terrorist” and as a tool of both Iran and Baathist Syria. In fact it is probably the country’s largest and most popular political party and has built significant ties with some Christian and Sunni groups. Hizbollah’s rapid seizure of the Muslim sections of Beirut, accomplished with little resistance, may have been deliberately provoked by the U.S.-backed quasi-government of Lebanon when the latter shut down the party’s private communications network.)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to Giraldi, was the only senior official present urging delay. That suggests that the military is not enthusiastic about a widened war in Southwest Asia, but that the other regular members of the NSC (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley as well as President Bush and Vice President Cheney) are willing to provoke just that.

They will do what they do with the solid backing of Congress, the presidential candidates, and the mainstream press which if history is our guide will for a time shape shockingly malleable public opinion. Yes, I fear that we (most of us) will be fooled again.

The Congress has passed near-unanimous resolutions against Iran, endorsing the administration’s unprecedented designation of a component of a nation’s military as a “terrorist organization.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be on board the program. Recall how after the Democratic victory two years ago she capitulated to AIPAC by stripping from a military spending bill the requirement that Bush seek Congressional approval before attacking Iran. (That was after she’d pointedly declared that Bush-Cheney impeachment hearings were “off the table.” And after Rep. John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee and sometimes maverick, bitterly disappointed those pinning their hopes on him by going along with the Democratic leadership’s line. And after the Democrats had made it clear they weren’t serious about ending the war they’d been elected to end—showing us how very well the democratic system works in this country.)

John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton (all of whom agree that an attack on Iran is “on the table”) will publicly approve. The media will call upon the same “military analysts”/military industry consultants who have been disseminating Pentagon propaganda for pay since 2002 to explain why the attack is justified and necessary. The main talking-point has been decided: “Iran is killing American soldiers in Iraq.” Public opinion polls will show the public divided, but a majority in support of the action because, regardless of their feelings about the war in Iraq, they want to “support our troops” and after all, Iran was asking for it by interfering in Iraq and attacking us.

All the “exposure” that so many journalists and academics have tried to provide for years will have failed to prevent another illegal attack on a sovereign nation based on lies and bound to produce more outrage against the U.S. throughout the world. A cruise missile strike on an alleged training camp site won’t end there. It will be designed to provoke an Iranian response and legitimate further U.S. attacks, not only on Iran but Syria and Lebanon, probably in coordination with Israel. Some in Israel badly want the U.S. to behead all their main enemies in the region before their good friend George Bush leaves the White House. If that means regional chaos—clashes between Iranian and U.S. forces, the fall of the Maliki puppet regime in Baghdad (which actually is friendly with Tehran and says it’s playing a positive role in Iraq), the collapse of Shiite cooperation with the U.S. occupation, Iran-Iraq border clashes, U.S. forays into Iranian territory, the closing of ranks in fractious Iran against the imperialist assault on their country—so be it!

If it means renewed war in Lebanon including Israeli invasion, an Iranian shift from supporting U.S. puppet Karzai to Iran’s longtime enemy the Taliban in Afghanistan, active Syrian support for Sunni forces in Iraq, the disintegration of the fragile Sunni-“Coalition” alliance against al-Qaeda in western Iraq as the region descends into a Shiite-Sunni war—so be it! If it means the use of nuclear weapons against Iran to try to cow its leaders and people into accepting a U.S.-Israeli blueprint for the region—so be it! If it means the unthinkable in the U.S.—a return to the draft—so be it! All of this will at least have prevented the “nuclear holocaust” that the neocons, Cheney and Bush have been insisting the Iranians plan to inflict on the Jewish state unless they are stopped now. (No matter that all the U.S. intelligence agencies in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iran published late last year agreed that Iran does not now have a nuclear weapons program. And no matter that the Ahmadinejad quote about “wiping Israel off the map” has been exposed as a lie by Juan Cole and others.)

If Benjamin Netanyahu is Israeli prime minister at the time of the planned attack on Iran, a time of apocalyptic confusion might be the perfect opportunity to empty the West Bank of its Palestinians. This NSC agreement “in principle” to attack Iran is an agreement to risk all these ramifications, confident that the press and politicians will cooperate.

* * * * *

So often in recent months I’ve started to write a column exposing some recent lie (or at least some report pertaining to Iran or Syria that strikes me as obvious neocon-generated disinformation) only to give up midway through. Not because of writer’s block, fatigue, or even the thought that “Someone else has already written this, or someone like Alex Cockburn or Justin Raimondo or Scott Ritter or Gordon Prather will in the next day or so.” It’s more a matter of despairing at how much exposure can accomplish.

A friend of mine was saying last month, “People are ‘exposured’ out. They’re “Chomskyed” out.” He was speaking about young antiwar activists mainly, but his point was that people who know what’s going on are eager to act on the knowledge. To paraphrase Marx, the point is not to expose the world, or have it further exposed to you, but to change it.

The readership of sites like Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, and Antiwar.com know the main points. They know that Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice president in history (and the most secrecy-obsessed among powerful figures in U.S. history), has made his office the hub of a cabal of neocons hell-bent of effecting “regime change” throughout Southwest Asia by the end of Bush’s second term. They know that the Office of Special Plans fabricated “intelligence” to terrify the masses and gain support for the invasion of Iraq. They know that U.S. intelligence has actually concluded that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and that the UN’s IAEA scientists have found no evidence for one. But they also know that Cheney insists that he knows there’s one, just as the neocons such as Norman Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen know there’s one. Just as top Israeli officials know there’s one as they demand U.S. action against Iran. They know there’s a huge anti-Iran propaganda campaign underway very similar to the one that preceded the lie campaign leading up to the Iraq War now in its disastrous sixth year. They know that the U.S. is funding terrorist groups to carry out attacks in Iran. They know that the administration’s allegations about a Syrian nuclear program are highly dubious.

They know that there are conflicts between the traditional intelligence community and the neocons, and that the latter draw upon a coherent (Straussian) philosophy that justifies the “noble lie” in order to induce the foolish masses to support what the “wise”—who must conceal their real objectives—want  them to support. They distrust anything the administration says about Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan…

Yes, they’re “Chomskyed out.”

Maybe we need to shift the focus of exposure a bit. From the particular to the general. From nasty individuals to nasty institutions. From the symptoms to the system.

What’s worse? Cheney and his attorney David Addington crafting a document in November 2001, bypassing routine staff review before receiving Bush’s signature, which denied “foreign terrorist” suspects in the U.S. access to any courts and allowing for their indefinite detention? (This was exposed by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post last summer.) Or the failure of the elected officials in Congress to even start impeachment proceedings against Cheney and Bush?

What’s worse? John Yoo writing up his torture memos in 2002 as a Justice Department employee, as eventually exposed in the mainstream press? Or the decision of the trustees of the University of California, Berkeley to hire him as a law professor in 2003?

What’s worse? Judith Miller’s willingness to funnel disinformation to the American people through her NYT articles before and after the Iraq invasion? Or the Time’s willingness to publish them, and now those of her sometimes co-author Michael Gordon, cheerleading the coming Iran attack?

The Congress, the Justice Department, academia, and the press are all complicit in imperialist war and attacks on the Constitution. Does this mean the system isn’t working, or that it’s working all too well?

Is the system supposed to expose itself, through congressional hearings, investigative reporting, war crimes trials? Or is it, serving the small minority it’s designed to serve,  supposed to simply tolerate exposure (in the name of freedom of the press) while saturating citizens with propaganda? (If the exposure ever gets widely enough disseminated, and threatens to undermine its objectives, it can always “kill the messenger”—or at least accuse the writer of undermining national security, abetting terrorism, etc.)

Voting for “antiwar” Democrats two years ago didn’t end the war. Even millions in the streets, peacefully demonstrating as the system encourages, didn’t prevent the assault on Iraq over five years ago. Now there’s no feasible political recourse to stop an attack on Iran. And little time to mobilize mass demonstrations against it. It will come as a thief in the night, presented to the American people as a fait accompli. As the Bush-Cheney cowboys ride off into the sunset, smirkin’ and grinnin’ and slapping each other’s backs, the people will start to pay.

A character in Bertolt Brecht’s The Beggar’s Opera asks what’s worse—robbing a bank, or owning a bank? The system itself, that is to say, is the criminal product of wrongly acquired wealth, much of it obtained through imperialist war. Exposure alone, no matter how voluminous, eloquent and persuasive, will not change it.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu