The Atlantic published a disturbing article recently, “The Point of No Return” by Jeffrey Goldberg, who makes the case that, since Israel is guaranteed to initiate an attack on Iran by next spring, the US should take the initiative and do the job itself.
The ‘War with Iran’ propaganda machine is running full throttle. First, there are the grand statements of propaganda denouncing the government for terrorism, barbarism, supporting terrorism, meddling in the affairs of their neighbors, not having a free press and other undemocratic practices. All this floats atop the assumption/insinuation that they have a nuclear weapons program which will come to fruition in the very near future as an international menace of intolerable proportions. Then the spinners. There are 50 comments after every article and post, arguing, elaborating, spinning a story where the details have been obscured by lies, threats and counter-threats, innuendo, histrionics and a high energy conflagration of information with misinformation. Ultimately, its really hard to predict whether there will be a strike on Iran just because there is so much unconstrained energy in the issue, and so little recourse to reason in addressing it.
After reading the Goldberg article, I find myself inspired to add a few words to the ongoing discussion to address one aspect of The Atlantic’s presentation. On the same web page, embedded in one of the first few paragraphs of the article, there is a video of Jeffrey Goldberg conducting an interview with Christopher Hitchens on Israel and Iran that is a shameless piece of hysteria. Ironically, the 6 minute video begins with a full 25 seconds of Bob Dylan singing The Gates of Eden (“Of war and peace the truth just twists . . . “).
During the first 15 seconds the camera pans the books in the book cases in the room, (Hitchen’s study, perhaps), followed by the credits, and photos of Hitchens, who is being treated for cancer at present, and looks very ill, from a happier time. We get the impression of a scholar who is both hip and wise, not to mention very well read, and long suffering. When he speaks, Hitchens’ tone is hesitant, deeply emotional; he often looks down and fidgets before speaking.
Goldberg tells us Hitchens has deep knowledge of the ‘Holocaust’, and “the protean eternal nature of antisemitism”. Eternal antisemitism. That’s a big statement, a cynical statement. In a world where racism and greed have impoverished and debilitated broad swaths of humanity who have darker skin, who sit on resources other, better armed, races covet while they lack the basic necessities of life, water, for instance, we are to focus on man’s inhumanity to man in the form of “eternal” bigotry against an etno-religious group, largely white, well fed and successful, who have been given permission to drive out the indigenous inhabitants of their ‘Promised Land’ and unconditionally supported in the establishment of their homeland through violent, separatist, racist policies towards their neighbors.
Hitchens is asked what he would do if he were in Netanyahu’s shoes. Hitchens speaks reverently about the US role as the leader in fostering Human Rights in the world, not just because the US wrote the treaties, but because it convinced other countries to sign on to them. He specifically mentions the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations and the Convention for Human Rights. Apparently he hasn’t noticed that the US has openly scorned those conventions and repeatedly bullied, cheated and undermined the UN for some time now. But apparently he’s assuming that you haven’t noticed either as he goes on to build his argument. Iran, he says, has signed all kinds of treaties and guarantees that they have no ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. So, if it “turns out” they have done so, then “there is no international law”. And, if we find we have allowed this to happen, then “we have watched while [the law] was contemptuously dismantled”.
This is a curious basis, and his logic grows more fantastic with every statement. If someone breaks the law, he argues, then there is no law, because if we allow this so far unproven violation to occur, then we are responsible for this fall into lawlessness, and this is important [because . . . . we are the law?] By contrast, another country has placed itself above the law, refused to sign the salient treaties – those supporting human rights, rejecting WMD and showing a willingness to work with other nations – built the bombs, persists in a policy of ethnic cleansing and openly declares its right to attack its neighbors with impunity in the name of preemptive “defense”. But the US’s willing complicity in that project doesn’t undermine the law.
Hitchens goes on to make some rather strong statements about those being menaced and under threat having an “obligation” to “take out” the offending regime. Then he says, “don’t look at me like that, don’t look at the Jewish people like that”. Apparently he isn’t aware that his statements are pretty menacing, and represent a serious threat to someone. Furthermore, he purports to speak, not for Christopher Hitchens, not for the State of Israel, but for all of the Jewish People. It is problematic enough to live in a country where you disagree with government policy which is assumed to be ‘speaking for you’, but the Jewish people aren’t safe anywhere from the aggressive little nation that insists on speaking for them. As for Hitchens, he was invited to speak [for Israel], so I guess you can’t fault him on doing so. He finishes his thought in a defensive tone, with the statement that if you haven’t acted, then you have acted. Inaction is action, culpable action. You deserve what you get. I suppose you could make this argument in a fever pitched crisis, but in the current case, it’s a little over the top.
Goldberg now raises the issue that Iran will point out (as I have above) that Israel has developed an arsenal of nuclear weapons outside the international treaties, i.e. outside the law. Hitchens hangs his head, then looks up and responds defiantly, saying that he regrets the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world, BUT, “there is a big difference a country that has a weapon to preserve a certain, what we used to call ‘balance of terror’, and one that wants one to upend the existing order”. He refers to a regime (the Iranian regime we must assume) that ” is a messianic dictatorship that crushes its own citizens and threatens the territories of its neighbors”. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is! It’s true the Iranian theocracy is no gem, but a supporter of a country that was founded through ethnic cleansing, and has preemptively attacked its neighbors repeatedly since its inception resulting in the occupation of neighboring territories nearly equal to its allotted area, is hardly in a position to criticize.
But let’s face it. That is what this is really about, that idea that we have to “preserve the balance of terror.” And what we are really talking about here is a “balance”, nay, an “imbalance” of “power” that we are preserving through the means of “terror.” That’s what it’s all about. But Hitchens really is, dare I say it, paranoid on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, which are conflated into a single entity in his mind. When asked whether Israel’s nukes are required to “prevent another Holocaust”, he says that perhaps if Israel had never existed, it would be OK with him, but now that it’s here “civilization” must defend Israel to prevent the “unthinkable”.
He goes on to say that if we have to pick on a client country for its corruption and human rights violations, we should pick Pakistan. The remark is a petty indirection, but it’s an interesting choice, actually. Pakistan, like Israel, was created by Great Britain in the process of unwinding its empire. Like Israel, it was a gift to a small elite population, a bribe of sorts to insure their post-colonial loyalty, and imposed on the masses who now inhabit the country, and those who were forced to leave. Here we are more than 60 years later, still trying to manage the consequences of this disastrous policy.
So, more than enough analysis. This interview ought to be an embarrassment, to Jeffrey Goldberg and Christopher Hitchens, and to The Atlantic. I suppose you can view it as propaganda, but Hitchens’ reality is so twisted, and his presentation so childlike and sulky that it’s just another sad testament to the pathetic level of analysis to which Americans are regularly subjected. It really is time the mainstream media (and our president) give a hearing to independent and experienced foreign policy experts who actually practice diplomacy. To practice diplomacy, you have to be willing to talk to people. Pragmatism in international relations doesn’t mean bowing to the baddest boy on the block, or the most deserving or the longest suffering. It means working with others to construct reasonable solutions to real problems that cause everyone to suffer.
JUDITH BELLO believes peace and coexistence can be achieved through opening our hearts and minds to a broader perspective. We are one race and we inhabit one world. We cannot give this viewpoint over to those whose only interest is dominion over others. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org