Accepting the Narrative of Power

One of the cardinal sins of political critique is accepting without challenge the presumptive narrative of state power. Last week The Nation did just that. Michael T. Klare’s article, “Why the Deal With Iran Is Worth Fighting For,” swallows whole the poison storyline of the Obama administration regarding the Iran negotiations.

The official storyline goes something like this: Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been a festering swamp of fundamentalism, and a happy supplier of ready-made takfiri who proceed to wreak havoc on the Middle East. Even the one positive to do with Iran is a negative: it hasn’t got a bomb yet. But it feverishly wants one. Only heavy, economy crippling sanctions imposed by more civilized and peaceable Western nations have prevented the mad clerics in the Marble Palace from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity, which in the hands of a trigger-happy Shia theocracy is the knee-trembler of all terrorist threats. Sanctions have brought them to the negotiating table. John Kerry’s lantern-jawed resolve (which has no equal in the Orient) has brought them to their knees. Iran has agreed to surrender the majority of their centrifuges, most of its enriched uranium, and their (potentially) plutonium producing Arak reactor. Plus Tehran has submitted, at the West’s behest, to ceaseless inspections by IAEA technical minions who may or may not be Western spies. As Barack Obama regularly touts (impotently to the warmongering Republican right, which cannot hear Obama’s importunate cries above the din of their threat alerts) that Iran is the most inspected country in the world.

The last bit of this storyline, about what Iran surrendered in negotiations, is true. The rest, to put it mildly, is bullshit. There are sheaves of documented proofs that this entire tinsel-town plotline is a fabrication, an elaborate falsification designed to make witless American consumers pull the ballot levers for whichever neoconservative party tells the most frightening version of the story. According to what we know, Iran is not looking to build a nuclear weapon; is tired of the sanctions ruining its economy; is sickened by the West’s cynical manipulation of oil prices to much the same effect; assumes and has always assumed a defensive military posture; is worried principally about Western aggression, which it understands would be triggered should it be found to be pursuing a WMD. In fact, Iran has joined with the rest of the region in supporting for a Nuclear Free Middle East.

Sorry to say, none of the above facts fit the administration’s farcical tale. Thus are they elided from view. Nor are corollary conclusions admitted. For instance, that Israel is the largest obstacle to a peace and a nuclear weapons free ME, as a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the only ME country with a large inventory of nuclear weapons, and an unwillingness to even document its stockpile. By extension America is also at fault. As Israel’s patron—to the tune of $3 billion a year in military assistance—the United States allows Tel Aviv to continue its asinine policy of “deliberate ambiguity” regarding its nuclear stockpile. It is said to have hundreds of weapons, but this has never been confirmed. The U.S. has also allowed the rabid bellicosity of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to flourish. The pugnacious Zionist radical has kept up a steady drumbeat of demonization the entire length of this century, convincing Israelis, Europeans, and Americans that a bomb-bearing Iran would spell apocalypse.

None of this is helpful for those interested in putting out the numerous sectarian bushfires that now scorch the entire region. Neither is it helpful for supposedly progressive magazines like The Nation to lazily endorse the Democratic line.

Klare opens his piece by citing the opinions of Barack Obama, the conservative right, APAC and its clients, and phantom leftists who evidently fear a deal with Iran will inflate military aid to Egypt and Israel. Of course, we know this last will not occur unless those nations demonstrate newfound methods of trampling human rights—always the signal precursor to generous American aid packages.

But note what Klare has done here. He’s done what all well-taught propagandists do—limit the spectrum of debate. He cites only those opinions that fit the state narrative. Some think the deal will duly constrict Iranian nuclear ambitions. Some think the shifty mullahs will circumvent it. Nowhere is it mentioned that there is no reason to fear Iran. That there is no bomb. That there is no bomb on the way. That there is no reason to believe—that even if it had one—Iran would use it. Sixteen national intelligences agencies in the United States have repeatedly affirmed this view. Iran quit its research into weaponization technology more than a decade ago. And it has repeatedly made peaceful overtures to the United States during that time, hoping to move itself out of the bull’s eye of Western contempt. But this view cannot be entertained lest it be endorsed.

The article then argues for the negotiations because their failure “will almost certainly result in heightened tensions and a very real risk of war.” Tensions would only rise if the U.S. wanted them to, which it presently would. That lays the onus on Washington, not Iran. Yet Klare is here arguing by extension that Iran should forego its energy rights in order to prevent the American empire and its Israeli proxy from committing acts of aggression against it. Reasonable enough, in a pacifist sense, but without the context of the negotiations–launched on a campaign of false pretext, shoddy evidence, and steady vilification–it is impossible to understand how Iran is making an enormous concession to a fatuity. After all, the treaty is not based an authentic threat, but on a concerted and relentless desire by the U.S. to disarm all of the West’s perceived enemies, enemies being defined as those that reject U.S. hegemony.

Once disarmed, there will be little deterrent for the West to indulge its pillaging instincts wherever it sees fit. This eventuality is never discussed. It is also interesting to hear Western pundits on the left argue that Iran surrender a degree of its sovereignty to avoid the whiplash of imperial warfare, while trumpeting the Palestinian right to resist. This is not to say an agreement may not delay a conflict. It will. But treaties built on false foundations soon expose their flaws. The piece then notes the process of removing the sanctions, but never so much as hints that they are thoroughly baseless and based on conjecture provided principally by Israel and the U.S. to create a basis for illegal actions that have none.

Then, because he feels obliged, as all Western authors do, Klare adds the possibility that “Iran will cheat.” James Clapper, the head of the 16 National Intelligence Agencies (all insufficiently warlike according to beltway neocons), rather wearily pointed out before Congress the fact that undermines this oft-repeated fear. Namely, that if Iran somehow eluded the anthills of inspectors crawling the country’s nuclear facilities, and began madly enriching uranium toward 90 percent purity, and flicked on a hidden reactor and began furiously working to make plutonium, the United States would see it happening. Satellite detection. How swiftly would our missile-wielding drones get airborne? Nor has anyone bothered to explain why the Islamic Republic would have a death wish in the first place.

Klare then pauses to note that, in dealing with ally requests for more guns to fend off phantom Persian bomb squads, Obama “should be cautioned against taking any steps whose net effect would be to exacerbate regional tensions.” This is a nice milquetoast aside, tossed off to softly admonish a President who has done little but exacerbate regional tensions since arriving in the Oval Office. Droning Yemen. Destroying Libya. Destabilizing Syria. Reentering Iraq. Plunging more aid than to any other nation ($89B in fiscal 2014) into the aid sinkhole of Kabul.

The article again warns of the “likelihood of crisis and war” if the provisional agreement falters. One wants to ask the author why, if he is so worried of provoking regional conflict in a region already brimming with it, why not propose the one step that could reign in the most belligerent country in the Middle East? Namely, threating to cut off foreign aid to Israel until it quits occupying and settling Palestinian land, discloses its nuclear arsenal, signs the NPT and opens a path to reduction. The answer would undoubtedly be that such a demand is untenable in today’s “political climate.” But why? Because there is no public uproar demanding it. This is not unlike voters who continue to vote the lesser evil while arguing that no third-party candidate can win. But that is only so because lesser evil voters refuse to begin building a third party by voting for one.

The article wraps up by reminding us that negotiations produced “concessions on all sides.” It doesn’t bother to name the Western concessions. It may mean to say the lifting of the sanctions, but what precisely are we losing by ending them? Nothing. In fact, we’re opening up new revenue streams for Western multinationals, including a new energy source for Europe that doesn’t include Russian energy—long a goal of the administration, which has hoped to split Russia from the EU. Not to mention, once more, that the sanctions are groundless, gratuitous, and hurtful to Iranians.

In sum, what the article has left out are facts that would damn the Obama administration’s entire narrative about Iran, undermine the wholly illegal sanctions regime it has established, and expose the entirely unjust and cretinous nature of the negotiations themselves. That Iran has come to the table, obliquely validating the Western fairy tale, is little more than an exhibition of American power. As Iran acutely understands from watching the bonfire of its neighbors at Western hands, the U.S. can wreck your economy, assassinate your scientists, divide your allies, obliterate your cultural patrimony, topple your government, steal your most cherished resources, and leave you for dead. One can understand taking steps to avoid this fate, if they leave one’s sovereignty partially in tact and one’s borders untrammeled. What is harder to comprehend is the insatiable desire to visit these terrors on others. But that is the enigma of power, and why it turns narratives of peace into the sanguinary nightmares we so often see.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives in New York City and can be reached at

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire and Imperial Fictions, essay collections from between 2012-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at