Revision — From the October 2013 issue
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Revision — From the October 2013 issue
Ever since the United States emerged as an imperial power at the end of World War II, it has needed at least one enemy, preferably more. For many years, the Soviet Union played this role to perfection. But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 created something of a vacancy. And after a series of auditions from possible candidates (Libya, Iraq, and so forth), Iran has come to fill the bill.
In truth, Iran poses no conceivable threat. In 2008, the last year for which we have reliable figures, the country spent less than 1 percent of the amount the United States does on its military — $9 billion versus $650 billion. American intelligence has consistently reported that Iran has no ongoing nuclear-weapons program, let alone actual nuclear weapons (of which the United States has nearly 8,000). Nor is the country’s reputation for expansionism warranted by the facts. Unlike the United States, which reportedly had forces deployed in some 120 countries last year, the Iranians are believed to be active in just two: Syria and Lebanon. And leaving aside three small islands in the Persian Gulf, claimed by the United Arab Emirates but occupied by the shah in 1971, Iran has not invaded another country for 175 years.
Nevertheless, Iran is now public enemy number one in the United States (and also in Britain). When it comes to foreign affairs, of course, it is quite impossible to overstate the ignorance of average American voters, most of whom could not locate Iran on a map. And Tehran’s theocratic leaders have had little luck winning hearts and minds in the West. Dressed up in their robes and turbans, and speaking an incomprehensible language, they make for superb hate figures.
This widespread ignorance is fostered, if not created, by some exceptionally low-caliber journalism. Let’s take the example of the Washington Post, the winner of no fewer than forty-seven Pulitzer Prizes. Certainly its coverage of Iran entitles the paper to a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. On November 7, 2011, for example, the Post unveiled an online photo gallery with the headline iran’s quest to possess nuclear weapons. Only after complaints from readers was this altered to iran’s quest to possess nuclear technology. Apparently the paper had learned its lesson. But just a couple of months later, on January 10, 2012, a Post editorial asserted: “Iran may be feeling some economic pain, and it may be isolated. But its drive for nuclear weapons continues.”
CBS, the largest and most reputable broadcaster in the United States, is prone to the same kind of invention. On November 7, 2011, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency was “expected to report later this week that Iran is on the threshold of being able to build a nuclear bomb.” The IAEA stopped short of any such assertion. Yet on February 6, 2012, Pelley was back at it: “The president, as you know, has been trying to force Iran to give up its nuclear-weapons program.” The assumption, always, is that Iran actually has a nuclear-weapons program.
NBC and PBS are equally bad. So, for that matter, are such British media outlets as the BBC and the Times of London. This torrent of fabrication has surely helped the United States to wage a low-level war against Iran for at least thirty years — a war that has wrecked the nation’s economy with sanctions and given covert support to Iranian resistance groups. One such group, Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), was collectively classified by the U.S. State Department as a “specially designated global terrorist” until last year, when that designation was yanked (following a similar move by the European Union in 2009). Even MEK’s former alliance with Saddam Hussein was no longer a problem, as long as the group maintained its animus toward the wicked Iranian government.