[Mb-civic] Forthcoming Z magazine article: Iran threatening
swiggard at comcast.net
Fri Sep 10 13:07:41 PDT 2004
Forwarded to me via the Penn Faculty and Staff against War in Iraq:
Edward Herman on Iran's recent threats.
A preview of how World War III really starts - as Michael has warned us
for years. Ugh.
(Forthcoming in Z Magazine, October 2004)
Iran’s Dire Threat That It Might Be Able to Defend Itself
Edward S. Herman
Iran is the next Bush/U.S. and Israeli target, so the mainstream U.S.
media are once again serving the state agenda by focusing on Iran's
alleged menace and refusing to provide context that would show the
menace to be pure Orwell--that is, while Iran is seriously threatened
by the Godfather and his aggressively ethnic-cleansing client, Iran
only threatens the possibility of self-defense.
You might have thought that after the retrospectively awkward and
embarrassing media service to Bush's lies about Saddam's weapons of
mass destruction and dire threat to U.S. national security, which
greased the skids to the invasion/occupation of Iraq, that the media
would be less prone to jump uncritically on war propaganda bandwagons.
But you would be wrong. It is a pretty reliable law of media
performance that whenever the state targets an enemy the media will
get on the bandwagon enthusiastically, or at minimum allow themselves
to be mobilized as agents of propaganda and literal disinformation.
And given the power of the United States and the extreme weakness of
its usual targets, the claims of the fearsome threat posed by the
targets is always comical.
Guatemala and Nicaragua As Earlier Dire Threats
My favorite remains Guatemala in the early 1950s, when the National
Security Council claimed that that poor, tiny and effectively
disarmed country was "increasingly [an] instrument of Soviet
aggression in this hemisphere" and was posing a security threat to the
United States as well as its neighbors. As in the case of Iraq in
2002-3, most of the neighbors failed to recognize the dire threat and
had to be bribed and coerced into supporting the U.S. position, and
the UN had to be (and was) neutralized.
In fact, the Reds hadn't taken over Guatemala, and with U.S. direct
and indirect assistance it was invaded and occupied by a
U.S.-organized band of expatriates and mercenaries a month after the
dire claims by the NSC. The New York Times and mass media in general
cooperated fully in the propaganda campaign that made this proxy
aggression palatable to the public. This early "liberation"
transformed a democracy into an authoritarian counterinsurgency and
terror state. The Times has never apologized for this performance and
it has carefully avoided analyzing the results of that earlier
intervention and contrasting it with the government's (and its own)
pre-invasion propaganda claims.
Several decades later, in the 1980s, Nicaragua provided a partial
rerun of the Guatemala experience, with an alleged dire security
threat based on a link of the leftist Sandinistas to Moscow, a link
mainly forced by an arms boycott and open U.S. campaign of
destabilization, subversion, and sponsored terrorism. There was once
again an army of expatriates organized and funded by the Godfather --
the contras--that engaged in systematic terrorism. Once again the
neighbors of Nicaragua couldn't see the dire threat and spent a great
deal of effort in trying to fend off the United States by mediation
and proposed compromises, which the Reagan administration resented and
shunted aside. Once again an appeal to the UN for protection against
intervention by violence was futile, and an International Court
finding against the United States was simply ignored. In this case the
United States was able to oust the Sandinistas by the combination of
terrorism and boycott--which halved per capita incomes--and by the
effective manipulation of an election, in which the United States
intervened with advice, money, propaganda, and a blackmail threat
(only if the Sandinistas are ousted will the boycott and sponsored
terrorism be terminated). The combination worked and the Sandinistas
The mainstream media carefully avoided the Guatemala context as they
once again served as agents of state propaganda, demonizing the
Sandinistas, failing to contest the stream of lies justifying the
violent intervention, ignoring its gross illegality, declaring the
1984 Nicaraguan election a "sham" (New York Times), whereas the
genuine sham elections held in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984 under
conditions of severe state terror were declared promising steps
toward democracy (for details see chapter 3 in Herman and Chomsky,
Manufacturing Consent; note also how the U.S. media continues this
great tradition in now finding the U.S.-appointed puppet government
of Iraq a democratic breakthrough: "Early Steps, Maybe, Toward a
Democracy in Iraq," NYT, July 27, 2004). And when the terror war,
blackmail and other forms of electoral intervention successfully
removed the Sandinistas, the media were ecstatic, the New York Times
featuring David Shipler's ode to "Victory Through Fair Play."
The Iran Threat and the Media's Supportive Propaganda
So with these cases, and Iraq in 2003-4, in mind, we should expect the
media to serve the state--to frame the issues and select the facts
that will put any planned aggression in the best possible light. And
just as Guatemala, Nicaragua and Iraq were dire threats, so is Iran
today, because the Bush government says so and is supported here by
The first rule in supportive propaganda is to intensify attention to
the villain and the alleged threat that he poses. Thus the claims that
Iran is trying to become a nuclear power have become the continuous
basis of news, with all the details and claims of its moves toward
nuclear capability newsworthy, emanating as they are from a superpower
that is a primary-definer-plus. When it barks, all the smaller doggies
in the "international community," including Kofi Annan and relevant UN
agency officials (in this case, Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, Director
General of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]), join in
with their complementary barks. (Dr. El-Baradei has been uncomfortable
in his role of UN agency front man for the U.S. buildup toward an
attack on Iran, his role being similar to that of Hans Blix in the
preparation for the Iraq attack. In a recent interview with Al-Ahram
News (July 27, 2004), he notes how confined he is by his limited
powers, so that he cannot visit Israel's Dimon reactor, only Iran's
facilities, although he believes the only real solution is
denuclearization throughout the Middle East:
The analogy with the attention to Iraq's alleged possession and
threat of weapons of mass destruction in 2001-3 is close: the United
States made those claims, pressed them on the UN and its allies, and
in consequence this became first order news. Today the United States
makes charges against Iran, presses its allies and the IAEA, and this
makes the issue newsworthy. As a crude index, during the last six
months (February 27-August 27, 2004) the New York Times had 21
articles whose headlines indicated that their subject matter was
Iran's threat to acquire nuclear capability, with dozens more
mentioning the Iran-nuclear connection.
The second rule in supportive propaganda is to frame the issues in
such a way that the premises of the propaganda source are taken as
given, with any inconvenient considerations ignored and any sources
that would contest the party line bypassed or marginalized. This
technique is well illustrated in David Sanger's "Diplomacy Fails to
Slow Advance of Nuclear Arms," the front page feature article in the
New York Times of August 8, 2004--a virtually perfect model of
propaganda service that will compete for honors with anything produced
by Judith Miller or Marlise Simons.
The frame of Sanger's article is the threat of the nuclear ambitions
of Iran and North Korea, the efforts to contain that threat via
diplomacy, the difficulties encountered in these efforts, U.S. and
Israeli concerns over the matter, and the opinions of Western
officials and experts over what should be done. All seven quoted
sources in Sanger's piece are present or former U.S. officials, which
allows the establishment frame to be presented without challenge.
A basic Sanger premise is that the United States and Israel are good
and do not pose threats worthy of mention, so that any "advance" in
nuclear arms, or the possession and threat of use of such weapons, by
these states is outside the realm of discourse. Thus the ongoing
and well-funded U.S. program of developing "block buster" and other
tactical nuclear weapons, the Bush plan to make nuclear weapons not
merely a deterrent but usable in normal warfare, and the U.S.
intention to exploit space as a platform for nuclear as well as other
technologically advanced weapons system, do not fall under the heading
"advance of nuclear arms" and they are not mentioned in the article.
These are not the views of the global majority, but they represent the
official U.S. view, hence serve as a premise of the Times reporter.
A second and related Sanger premise is that the United States has the
right to decide who can and cannot have nuclear arms and to compel the
disarmament of any country that acquires them without U.S. approval.
He quotes Bush's statement that he will not "tolerate" North Korea or
Iran acquiring such arms, and Sanger treats the U.S. push to keep its
targets disarmed as an undebatable position.
A third premise is that while Iran's possible violation of its
commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty is newsworthy and
important, the failure of the United States to follow through on
its promise in signing that treaty to work toward the elimination of
nuclear weapons through good faith negotiations, a commitment brazenly
violated in the open Bush effort to improve and make usable nuclear
weapons, is not newsworthy. Again, this is what a press arm of the
government would take as a premise, and so does the New York Times
(and virtually the entire corporate media).
A fourth premise of Sanger's piece is that Israel's refusal to have
anything to do with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and rules, and its
possession and threat to use nuclear arms, are not relevant context in
discussing the threat of Iran's nuclear capability. Israel is
referred to by Sanger only as fearing the Iran threat and possibly
planning on preemptive action to eliminate that threat. The Arab
states and most of the world cannot see the justice of Israel being
allowed to acquire nuclear arms, even with superior conventional
forces and a U.S. protective umbrella, while Arab states cannot do so.
Again, as Israel is a U.S. client state whose acquisition of nuclear
arms was facilitated and is protected by the United States, this
matter is outside the orbit of discourse for U.S. officials and
hence of the New York Times (etc.).
A fifth premise, implicit in the foregoing, is that Iran does not have
a right to self-defense. Israel claims that its nuclear weapons are
for self-defense in a hostile environment, but Iran, threatened by
both Israel and its superpower ally, does not have that right,
although its self-defense needs are far more serious than either
Israel's or the Godfather's. This was a premise of officials, and
hence of the New York Times, in dealing with Guatemala's attempt to
buy arms back in 1953-54, Nicaragua's similar efforts in the 1980s,
and Saddam's mythical threatening WMD in 2002-3.
In sum, Sanger's article is clean, in the sense that there is no
deviation from the party line on the source of any nuclear threat and
the "advances" that are worrisome. The Times' subservience to the
state in the propaganda buildup to the invasion-occupation of Iraq was
not new and was not terminated by that sad experience. On the
contrary, it proceeds apace, with any lessons or qualms overpowered by
institutional forces that press it to support state crimes now just as
it did in the case of the overthrow of democracy in Guatemala in 1954
and other alleged "liberations."
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