FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Looking at Anti-Iran Propaganda

by JEFF NYGAARD

USA Today cautioned recently that “War with Iran won’t be a quick affair.”  A Pittsburgh newspaper plaintively wonders whether “War with Iran” is a  “Necessity or Folly.”  Talk of war is in the air.  What many in this country don’t realize is that the U.S. is already engaged in a war with Iran.  We just don’t hear about it.  The name of the war that is already underway is “sanctions.”

Economic sanctions have been called “a war against public health,” and a “weapon of mass destruction” that “may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.”  Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, the United States has “employed a policy of sanctions, demonization, containment, and deterrence against Iran, which has impeded Iran’s right to development and brought great suffering to its people,” according to the American Iranian Council.

Both the United States and the European Union have intensified their sanctions against Iran in recent months.  To the great shame of the U.S. media, the suffering that has resulted remains almost completely unknown, and thus largely uncontroversial, in this country, other than on tactical grounds (“Necessity or Folly?”).  Still, if one looks hard enough and widely enough, there are hints to be found of the human consequences of the U.S./European sanctions regime.

The Human Cost of Iran Sanctions

Writing in al Jazeera on July 11th, Tehran-based political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani wrote about traveling around Tehran with the wife of a man with cancer, looking for chemotherapy drugs that were unavailable through normal channels.  He reported that “Repeatedly, we were told that there was a shortage of many foreign drugs because of the sanctions, even though the West’s punitive measures don’t directly target supplies such as medicines.”

Near the end of a major front-page story in the New York Times of February 7th 2012 appeared the following words:

“The crisis [brought on by the sanctions] has taken a toll on medical care, affecting the middle class as well as the poor. Because of the ever-tighter pressure on any kind of trade with Iran, the black market price of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, has nearly doubled in the past year, said Lian, a young nurse who works in the cancer ward of one of Tehran’s major hospitals (the government regulates the mainstream supply of such drugs, but supplies are very limited).

“The sanctions have also affected medical technology, because radiology machines fall under the ‘dual use’ provisions of laws aimed at keeping nuclear technology out of Iran. At Shohada Hospital, one of the country’s premier institutions, about 1,200 cancer patients a year go without radiological treatment, because the radiology equipment is no longer working and replacement parts cannot be brought into Iran, said Pejman Razavi, a doctor at the hospital.”

On October 17th, the Guardian of London published an article headlined, “Iran Sanctions ‘Putting Millions of Lives at Risk.’” The opening paragraph read,

“Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country’s top medical charity has warned.  Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a non-government organisation supporting six million patients in Iran, has complained about a serious shortage of medicines for a number of diseases such as haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer.”

Outside of the corporate press we learn that “With the plunging Iranian currency and staggering inflation, many Iranians have had to cut back on what they purchase and eat. Many Iranians live on monthly government subsidies of $40 – $50 that are no longer sufficient to meet their food and shelter needs.”  (Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, August 2012)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously on November 29th to tighten the sanctions against Iran yet again, a vote that was largely ignored by the U.S. media.

Noticing Suffering, Re-assigning Blame

One particular article on the impact of sanctions that appeared recently serves as an example of news coverage that just seems weird… until we recognize that what we’re seeing is the deployment of Propaganda against an O.D.E., or Officially Designated Enemy, of the United States.

The article in question appeared in the Washington Post on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday  November 23rd.  Headlined “In Iran, Frustrations Building over Health Care,” the lead paragraph reads like this:

“Iran is facing a possible crisis in its health-care system as a result of economic sanctions and alleged government mismanagement of diminishing state funds, according to officials here.”

And thus the tone was set: There’s a crisis in health care in Iran, with the responsibility split between sanctions, on the one hand, and on the other hand an Iranian leadership that can’t—or won’t—manage its money properly.

It’s remarkable how closely the Post hews to the more-or-less official government line, best summarized in a comment made to the London Guardian in October by an official in the British Foreign Office: “Whilst it is true that sanctions are having an impact on the Iranian population, this is compounded by the Iranian government’s economic mismanagement. Iran’s leaders are responsible for any impact on their people. . .” [Emphasis added]

The rest of this Washington Post article works very hard to assure that whatever blame is due for the suffering of the Iranian people goes in the right direction.

Criticism from “Officials”?

Despite the opening reference to “officials” alleging “government mismanagement,” if one reads the entire Post article one notices that there is only one “official” cited who makes such allegations.  This is the head of parliament’s health committee, who is quoted as saying that “the government is playing with our people’s health and is not assigning the approved finances.”  He’s not the only official quoted in the article, but all the others speak about mismanagement, but rather about the sanctions, and about the difficult conditions under which the Iranian government has struggled in recent months.

About halfway through the article we read, “With oil exports down and Iran’s ability to conduct international financial deals severely hamstrung [by sanctions], the bulk of [public] funds have not been delivered by the central bank this year. As a result, the health ministry has received only a fraction of its budget, and care has suffered.”

While the one official cited above sees this as the government “playing with people’s health,” the Post article itself, after giving some hints of the severity of the drug shortages in Iran, tells us that the explanation for the shortages is “complicated”:

“The scarcity derives from a complicated set of circumstances that includes both a heavy dose of Western sanctions, which are aimed at forcing Iran’s leaders to halt their uranium-enrichment program, as well as what critics here say are missteps by the government. While some of the anger over the shortages has been directed at the United States and other global powers, there has also been an internal backlash.”

Indeed, says the Post, “Ordinary citizens have expressed frustration with their government.”

[It must be noted that the Post’s claim about the “aims” of Western sanctions are disputed.  The Raha Iranian Feminist Collective suggested in a recent article “that sanctions against Iran . . . are meant to, first of all, appease calls for sabre-rattling at home and by Israel; second, assert economic control over Iranian oil, while curbing Iran’s increasing influence in the region; and third, lay the groundwork for a diplomatic due-diligence claim in order to justify any potential military strike.”  That’s a different set of “aims.”]

Criticizing the Government?  Or Pleading for Help?

The Post tells us that “critics” are “frustrated” with “missteps by the government,” which indicates an “internal backlash.”  The article does make it appear that Iranians are frustrated, and are criticizing. . . something.  But is it the government?

The Post cites the case of “Zohreh, a 60-year-old housewife,” who “said the price for her daughter’s epilepsy drug has doubled in the past three months. ‘When I ask why they have raised the price, they say we have a shortage of the medicine,’ she said. ‘The government must help poor people like us.’”

So, is this a “critic” of the government?  Or is this a citizen asking for, or perhaps expecting, help from her government?  Almost at the end of the article we get a hint:

“One of the tenets of the Islamic republic since its inception in 1979 has been universal health care. Any working Iranian is entitled by law to insurance coverage from their employer. Even privatized health care is greatly subsidized and had been relatively affordable until the past several months.”  Indeed, a 2001 report prepared by officials at the World Bank noted that, at that time, “The Government’s focus on primary care has resulted in access to primary care services for almost the entire population and health outcomes that are among the best in the region.”

In other words, for 33 years the Iranian government has been “helping poor people like us” get access to health care.  What has changed in “the past several months”?  What has changed is that the U.S./European sanctions have been strengthened and—in the words of many commentators in this country—have “begun to bite.”

While all of this may seem rather weird, perhaps the weirdest comment appears in the second-to-the-last paragraph:  “While sanctions have forced many Iranians to adjust their consumption habits, accepting less from the health-care system is a sacrifice few seem willing to make.”

As we saw above, this polite phrase—“adjust their consumption habits”—refers to Iranians not having enough money to pay for food and shelter, an “adjustment” which it’s unlikely that anyone, in Iran or anywhere, is “willing” to make.

The Post had made a similar point earlier in the article, saying that “Iranians have demonstrated a resilience to the impact of sanctions in many sectors of the economy.  But,” said the Post, “Iranians have grown accustomed to receiving highly subsidized medical treatment from the government, and they hold authorities responsible for rising prices or unavailable medicines.”

Could it be that, rather than an indication of an “internal backlash,” what this Washington Post article is really telling us is that the Iranian people expect and demand that their government find a way to help them in the face of the collective punishment knows as sanctions?  Could Zohreh’s plea—that “The government must help poor people like us”—reflect a belief among the Iranian people, or at least some of them, that they have some sort of a right to health care?  Such an interpretation may seem foreign to people in the United States, who are constantly told that our “poor people,” too, must accept a lack of access to needed health care.  In this country the cause of “rising prices or unavailable medicines” is not sanctions, but simply “market forces.”  Yet the frustration is the same, whether or not the corporate media reports it.

There is much to criticize about the Iranian government, and there are many Iranians, inside and outside of the country, who struggle daily for greater democracy and justice in Iran.  The U.S. and European sanctions, in addition to causing enormous suffering, make the struggle for peace and justice in Iran more difficult.  The sanctions must be lifted.

Jeff Nygaard is a writer and activist in Minneapolis, Minnesota who publishes a free email newsletter called Nygaard Notes, found atwww.nygaardnotes.org 



A version of this article appeared in Nygaard Notes Number 519, December 7, 2012


More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail