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Missiles, Lies and Assassinations

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”

– Aeschylus

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

– Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

– Edward Bernays, Propaganda

Since President Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qasam Soleimani in Iraq, I’ve seen some well meaning people sharing a video entitled “My 2 cents on current events” on social media. It is by Iranian-American Saghar Erica Kasraie. In the video Kasraie states she is a “human rights activist” and proclaims that Iranians are celebrating the assassination of Soleimani. She then goes on to thank President Trump for this illegal and brazen act of war. I couldn’t help but be reminded of another “viral video” that was circulated by Venezuelan-American comedian Joanna Hausmann when the US was targeting Venezuela for a coup against Maduro last year. She also praised the American led actions against the country, albeit in a manner more appealing to her progressive audience.

Then it was revealed that Hausmann wasn’t just a “justice seeking” Venezuelan of the diaspora. Her father was the former Venezuelan Minister of Planning and former Head of the Presidential Office of Coordination and Planning when that country was a rightwing dictatorship. Her family was clearly a part of the ruling class establishment before a socialist government was legally elected by the Venezuelan people. So this should serve as a caution when we hear anyone parroting the US State Department and thanking American presidents for taking unilateral military actions.

What is not being said about Kasraie is that she is a conservative Christian evangelical who has been involved in rightwing politics in Washington DC for years. She worked for the Institute of World Politics, a neo- conservative think tank which prides itself on holding the private library of former CIA director William Casey, and touts the notorious, fascist supporting Sebastian Gorka as being one of its faculty. To be sure, Kasraie is much less a human rights activist, and more an asset of the US State Department and the CIA; and shares much in common with rightwing Venezuelan-Americans and Cuban-Americans who have aligned with the most hawkish figures in the American Empire likely because they lost their privileged status in their former countries.

Without a doubt, the Iranian theocracy has a long history of brutal repression. Crackdowns on dissidents and protesters have been reprehensible, and its persecution of women and other minorities should be condemned. But it was the US that started this nightmare when the CIA orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected president, Mohammed Mosaddegh, and installed the brutal regime of the Shah in 1953. Mosaddegh’s “crime” was attempting to bring a fair share of Iran’s petroleum profits to the people of Iran, rather than most of it going to wealthy American and British oil companies. When the Iranian people ousted the Shah a theocracy sadly took its place, but since then the country has been under a ruthless assault, led by the US, for decades. It is surrounded by dozens of American military bases and has endured crippling sanctions which have devastated working people and the poor throughout the country. The latest sanctions have virtually ground the economy to a halt. With all this in mind it should be clear that this assassination was merely the culmination of an ongoing war against Iran. A war whose casualties we may never be able to fathom.

To be sure, Soleimani was a beloved figure by many in Iran because he was seen as winning many victories against ISIS. Whether or not this is a misguided belief is not germane. If Iran assassinated Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, both of them war criminals by any definition of the term, the American people, especially conservative Americans, would be outraged. But since the US is an empire, it enjoys total immunity. It even refuses to allow its own military personnel to face charges for war crimes at the Hague. And the sad reality is that the actions of the US have only emboldened reactionary forces within the Iranian government itself. It is a blow to real democracy movements and human rights activists in the country. Add to this Trump’s unhinged threats against sites of cultural importance to Iranian society, and it becomes clear that the US has lost any gains it supposedly may have made toward solidarity with the Iranian people.

Since the latest escalation of tensions, disinformation about Iran is clearly being ramped up. With the past as a guide, we can anticipate the American mainstream media parroting State Department talking points and demonizing anyone who dissents as a “supporter of terrorists.” But when the American Empire wages war under the guise of “human rights” the hypocrisy is staggering. After all, its closest allies in the region commit gross human rights abuses, whether it be the murderous medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia which funds jihadist militants and madrassas, beheads men for homosexuality and women accused of witchcraft, and is leading a genocidal war against Yemen. Or the apartheid government of Israel that has blockaded Gaza in what amounts to an open air prison, demolishes Palestinian homes in the West Bank in favor of illegal settlements, or imprisons children as young as 8 years old. Or the military junta in Egypt that has criminalized free speech and mercilessly persecutes journalists and political dissidents.

The hypocrisy in relation to their own crimes is equally breathtaking. The propaganda machine wants us to forget how the US military was going to “liberate” the women of Afghanistan. But twenty years later the Taliban is still a major force in the country, and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, maimed and displaced by the invasion and entrenched occupation. They want us to forget that they bombed Libya, a nation that once had the highest standard of living in Africa, into the Stone Age because of the “evil” Gaddafi. Now that country is in ruins and hosts a modern day slave trade that has largely fueled the refugee crisis in the region. They want us to forget how that after the US “liberated” Iraq from Saddam Hussein, the US committed war crimes in Abu Ghraib, Fallujah and elsewhere, and the country was plunged into intractable poverty where corruption and crime are rampant, and the public has suffered from constant attacks from ISIS and other militant groups. And now, with the apparent, unintentional and horrific downing of the Ukraine International Airlines flight that killed 176 people by Iranian forces, they want us to forget that the US shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988 killing 290 people, and never apologized for that act of reprehensible cruelty.

Viral videos, like the one made by Kasraie, serve the propaganda machine of Washington by making it appear to ordinary Americans that the Iranian people welcome a US military attack or even invasion. They are designed to cloak American belligerence in platitudes about human rights. But any grievances that the Iranian people may have with their government will never be solved by US military interventions, they will only worsen them. Indeed, there are countless examples of the US military using humanitarian or social justice issues to hide the true motivation for all American forays: hegemonic domination on behalf of the interests of capital. As recent exposes about Cambridge Analytica have revealed, this machine of disinformation and obfuscation is slick and technologically advanced, with social media being the new frontier to be exploited. And this is a dangerous ruse that might well precede yet another needless bloodbath.

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Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.

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