Demonizing Iran


Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal had a lead story about Israeli planning to possibly “go it alone” in an attack on Iran if the US were not to “succeed” in its diplomatic efforts to get Iran to “stop” it’s alleged attempts to develop a nuclear weapon capability.

Aside from the fact that there is no hard evidence that Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb or even to refine uranium to obtain nuclear-grade material, the paper ignored one crucial point: Israel cannot “go it alone” in any strike on Iran, since its key weapons–American fighter-bombers–are supplied to it, and kept flying, thanks to the equipment and spare parts provided by the United States. Indeed the entire Israeli military machine is largely financed and armed by the US.

No Israeli military effort can go forward without the full backing of the US, and to say otherwise is to simply perpetrate a fraud on the American public, implying that Israel is an independent actor on the world stage. It is not.

Another example of media warmongering came in an interview by Terri Gross on her program “Fresh Air,” which I believe is the most widely syndicated and popular program on National Public Radio, produced here in Philadelphia at the studios of NPR affiliate WHYY.  Listening to “Fresh Air” this week, which featured an interview with New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins, a generally excellent reporter who distinguished himself for his reporting on the Iraq War, and particularly on the brutal US assault on the city of Fallujah, I heard Filkins refer casually to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as “America’s arch-enemy.”

Now it’s possible, and I certainly do hope it’s the case, that Filkens was being ironic here. But Terri Gross allowed this characterization of Iran’s president pass without comment.

America’s arch-enemy? Really? On what basis?

What, exactly, has Iran or Ahmadinejad done to make itself America’s arch- enemy? It has backed the same Shi’ite led government in Iraq that the US has been backing, and indeed, to the extent that Iraq has stabilized, it is largely Iran’s doing.  It provided key help to the US in the early invasion of Afghanistan and the routing of the Taliban government, which was never favored by the Iranians.

We know also that two years before the election of Ahmadinejad to the presidency, Iran made an offer to the US to recognize Israel, help broker a two-state peace solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and end Iran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East region, all in return for the US accepting Iran as what the 70-million population nation unarguably is: a legitimate power in the region. That offer was slapped down by the Bush/Cheney administration, which had as its goal not peace in Palestine or with Iran, but the occupation and control of Iraq, and perhaps ultimately a war against Iran. In fact, since the Iraq invasion, the US is known to have been financing and helping to organize a terror campaign inside Iran that has led to many deaths by bombings. If any country is acting towards the other in an aggressive and warlike fashion, it is the US, towards Iran, and not the reverse.

It needs to be said, but somehow never is in the establishment US media, whether corporate or not-for-profit, that Iran historically is not an aggressive, expansive nation (can that be said with a straight face about our own country?). Though it is, by dint of its oil reserves and its population, one of the biggest and most powerful countries in the Middle East, Iran has not invaded another country since the 18th century, and there is no indication that it plans to invade any other country now.

Even nuclear experts scoff at the notion that a nuclear Iran would initiate an attack on Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with an estimated 200 high-grade nuclear weapons, and a first-rate delivery system of missiles and supersonic bombers.  For Iran to launch a crude nuke at Israel would be an act of national suicide, and while individual terrorists may kill themselves, nations don’t commit suicide. They may miscalculate, with devastating consequences, but they don’t deliberately self-immolate.

None of this makes its way into the US media, which continues the drumbeat for war, whether by Israel, with US backing, or by the US, with reports that Secretary of Defense (sic) Robert Gates is presenting the president with Iran attack options, and that the White House, while “preferring a diplomatic solution” to Iran’s supposed nuclear ambitions, is “keeping all options on the table.”

Most media reports refer to Iran’s “ability to produce bomb-grade uranium” within a year, without mentioning that there is no evidence that the country intends to do this (Iran insists it has no such plans). The New York Times, for instance, was reporting, incorrectly, back in 2008 that Iran had enough enriched uranium to make “one nuclear bomb.” Those reports, quoting Pentagon and CIA sources, now quote “experts” as saying that Iran could develop a bomb within three to four years, again generally failing to add that there is no evidence that Iran is trying to do that, or is even considering doing it.

And yet Iran is consistently portrayed as America’s “enemy” or even as its “arch-enemy”–a term that harks back to the Bush/Cheney claim that Iran was, along with Iraq and North Korea, part of a three-nation “Axis of Evil.”

On its face the idea that Iran is America’s arch-enemy is ludicrous. We are talking here about a third-rate country with an economy the size of Finland’s, with a third-rate military, the total budget of which, at $4.8 billion, is less than the annual replacement cost for the US military’s Chinook and Seahawk helicopter fleet, and which would be totally decimated in any all-out attack by the US.

Iran has no ability to attack the US, and even its ability to threaten US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan is severely limited, not to mention the fact that should it be foolhardy enough to initiate any such action, it would bring down the full force of the US military on its head in an instant.

Reading and watching American reporting on Iran reminds me of nothing so much as reading the Chinese state media about Taiwan when I was living in China back in the 1990s. It’s all pathetic nonsense, manufactured paranoia, and bluster.  But at least the average Chinese citizen has enough sense to recognize that she or he is being fed a lot of propaganda. Americans, all to often, seem to ready to buy the garbage they hear and read about Iran. They may not be able to show you where on the globe Iran is, or tell you anything about the country other than perhaps that it is Muslim, but they will accept, uncritically, that it is our “arch-enemy.”

Note to Filkins: If, as I hope, you were being ironic on “Fresh Air,” please understand that irony requires a modicum of sophistication on the part of the listener–something I’m not sure you can count on with Times readers or NPR listeners.

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation Into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu Jamal. He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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