Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Preparing the Battlefield

June 30, 2008

Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh July 7, 2008

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”

One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”

Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”

The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”

The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”

He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”

Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table. 

An Appeal to Admiral Fallon on Iran

May 21, 2008

Dear Admiral Fallon,

I have not been able to find out how to reach you directly, so I drafted this letter in the hope it will be brought to your attention.

First, thank you for honoring the oath we commissioned officers take to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. At the same time, you have let it be known that you do not intend to speak, on or off the record, about Iran.

But our oath has no expiration date. While you are acutely aware of the dangers of attacking Iran, you seem to be allowing an inbred reluctance to challenge the commander in chief to trump that oath, and to prevent you from letting the American people know of the catastrophe about to befall us if, as seems likely, our country attacks Iran.

Two years ago I lectured at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I found it highly disturbing that, when asked about the oath they took upon entering the academy, several of the “Mids” thought it was to the commander in chief.

This brought to my mind the photos of German generals and admirals (as well as top church leaders and jurists) swearing personal oaths to Hitler. Not our tradition, and yet …

I was aghast that only the third Mid I called on got it right – that the oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, not the president.

Attack Iran and Trash the Constitution

No doubt you are very clear that an attack on Iran would be a flagrant violation of our Constitution, which stipulates that treaties ratified by the Senate become the supreme law of the land; that the United Nations Charter – which the Senate ratified on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89 to 2 – expressly forbids attacks on other countries unless they pose an imminent danger; that there is no provision allowing some other kind of “pre-emptive” or “preventive” attack against a nation that poses no imminent danger; and that Iran poses no such danger to the United States or its allies.

You may be forgiven for thinking: Isn’t 41 years of service enough; isn’t resigning in order to remove myself from a chain of command that threatened to make me a war criminal for attacking Iran; isn’t making my active opposition known by talking to journalists – isn’t all that enough?

With respect, sir, no, that’s not enough.

The stakes here are extremely high and with the integrity you have shown goes still further responsibility. Sadly, the vast majority of your general officer colleagues have, for whatever reason, ducked that responsibility. You are pretty much it.

In their lust for attacking Iran, administration officials will do their best to marginalize you. And, as prominent a person as you are, the corporate media will do the same.

Indeed, there are clear signs the media have been given their marching orders to support attacking Iran.

At CIA I used to analyze the Soviet press, so you will understand when I refer to the Washington Post and the New York Times as the White House’s Pravda and Izvestiya.

Sadly, it is as easy as during the days of the controlled Soviet press to follow the U.S. government’s evolving line with a daily reading. In a word, our newspapers are revving up for war on Iran, and have been for some time.

In some respects the manipulation and suppression of information in the present lead-up to an attack on Iran is even more flagrant and all encompassing than in early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq.

It seems entirely possible that you are unaware of this, precisely because the media have put the wraps on it, so let me adduce a striking example of what is afoot here.

The example has to do with the studied, if disingenuous, effort over recent months to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.

But Not for Fiasco

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters on April 25 that Gen. David Petraeus would be giving a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” that would provide detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.”

Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

News to you? That’s because this highly embarrassing episode went virtually unreported in the media – like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no corporate media to hear it crash.

So Mullen and Petraeus live, uninhibited and unembarrassed, to keep searching for Iranian weapons so the media can then tell a story more supportive to efforts to blacken Iran. A fiasco is only a fiasco if folks know about it.

The suppression of this episode is the most significant aspect, in my view, and a telling indicator of how difficult it is to get honest reporting on these subjects.

Meanwhile, it was announced that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate U.S. claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.”

Dissing the Intelligence Estimate

Top officials from the president on down have been dismissing the dramatically new conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate released on Dec. 3, 2007, a judgment concurred in by the 16 intelligence units of our government, that Iran had stopped the weapons-related part of its nuclear program in mid-2003.

Always willing to do his part, the malleable CIA chief, Michael Hayden, on April 30 publicly offered his “personal opinion” that Iran is building a nuclear weapon – the National Intelligence Estimate notwithstanding.

For good measure, Hayden added: “It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to the highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq. … Just make sure there’s clarity on that.”

I don’t need to tell you about the Haydens and other smartly saluting generals in Washington.

Let me suggest that you have a serious conversation with Gen. Anthony Zinni, one of your predecessor CENTOM commanders (1997 to 2000).

As you know better than I, this Marine general is also an officer with unusual integrity.  But placed into circumstances virtually identical to those you now face, he could not find his voice.

He missed his chance to interrupt the juggernaut to war in Iraq; you might ask him how he feels about that now, and what he would advise in current circumstances.

Zinni happened to be one of the honorees at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26, 2002, at which Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the exceedingly alarmist speech, unsupported by our best intelligence, about the nuclear threat and other perils awaiting us at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

That speech not only launched the seven-month public campaign against Iraq leading up to the war, but set the terms of reference for the Oct. 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate fabricated – yes, fabricated – to convince Congress to approve war on Iraq.

Gen. Zinni later shared publicly that, as he listened to Cheney, he was shocked to hear a depiction of intelligence that did not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years earlier, his role as consultant had required him to stay up to date on intelligence relating to the Middle East.

One Sunday morning three and a half years after Cheney’s speech, Zinni told “Meet the Press”: “There was no solid proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. … I heard a case being made to go to war.”

Gen. Zinni had as good a chance as anyone to stop an unnecessary war – not a “pre-emptive war,” since there was nothing to pre-empt – and Zinni knew it. No, what he and any likeminded officials could have stopped was a war of aggression, defined at the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as the “supreme international crime.”

Sure, Zinni would have had to stick his neck out. He may have had to speak out alone, since most senior officials, like then-CIA Director George Tenet, lacked courage and integrity.

In his memoir published a year ago, Tenet says Cheney did not follow the usual practice of clearing his Aug. 26, 2002 speech with the CIA; that much of what Cheney said took him completely by surprise; and that Tenet “had the impression that the president wasn’t any more aware of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it.”

It is a bit difficult to believe that Cheney’s shameless speech took Tenet completely by surprise.

We know from the Downing Street Minutes, vouched for by the UK as authentic, that Tenet told his British counterpart on July 20, 2002, that the president had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”

Encore: Iran

Admiral Fallon, you know that to be the case also with respect to the “intelligence” being conjured up to “justify” war with Iran. And no one knows better than you that your departure from the chain of command has turned it over completely to the smartly saluting sycophants.

No doubt you have long since taken the measure, for example, of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So have I.

I was one of his first branch chiefs when he was a young, disruptively ambitious CIA analyst. When Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey sought someone to shape CIA analysis to accord with his own conviction that the Soviet Union would never change, Gates leaped at the chance.

After Casey died, Gates admitted to the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus that he (Gates) watched Casey on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.” Gates’ entire subsequent career showed that he learned well at Casey’s knee.

So it should come as no surprise that, despite the unanimous judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran stopped the weapons related aspects of its nuclear program, Gates is now saying that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Some of his earlier statements were more ambiguous, but Gates recently took advantage of the opportunity to bend with the prevailing winds and leave no doubt as to his loyalty.

In an interview on events in the Middle East with a New York Times reporter on April 11, Gates was asked whether he was on the same page as the president. Gates replied, “Same line, same word.”

I imagine you are no more surprised than I. Bottom line: Gates will salute smartly if Cheney persuades the president to let the Air Force and Navy loose on Iran.

You know the probable consequences; you need to let the rest of the American people know.

A Gutsy Precedent

Can you, Admiral Fallon, be completely alone? Can it be that you are the only general officer to resign on principle?

And, of equal importance, is there no other general officer, active or retired, who has taken the risk of speaking out in an attempt to inform Americans about President George W. Bush’s bellicose fixation with Iran. Thankfully, there is.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, took the prestigious job of Chairman, President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board when asked to by the younger Bush.

From that catbird seat, Scowcroft could watch the unfolding of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Over decades dealing with the press, Scowcroft had honed a reputation of quintessential discretion. All the more striking what he decided he had to do.

In an interview with London’s Financial Times in mid-October 2004 Scowcroft was harshly critical of the president, charging that Bush had been “mesmerized” by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger,” Scowcroft said. “He has been nothing but trouble.”

Needless to say, Scowcroft was given his walking papers and told never to darken the White House doorstep again.

There is ample evidence that Sharon’s successors believe they have a commitment from President Bush to “take care of Iran” before he leaves office, and that the president has done nothing to disabuse them of that notion – no matter the consequences.

On May 18, speaking at the World Economic Forum at Sharm el Sheikh, Bush threw in a gratuitous reference to “Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.” He said:

“To allow the world’s leading sponsor of terror to gain the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Pre-briefing the press, Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley identified Iran as one of the dominant themes of the trip, adding repeatedly that Iran “is very much behind” all the woes afflicting the Middle East, from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan.

The Rhetoric is Ripening

In the coming weeks, at least until U.S. forces can find some real Iranian weapons in Iraq, the rhetoric is likely to focus on what I call the Big Lie – the claim that Iran’s president has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”

In that controversial speech in 2005, Ahmadinejad was actually quoting from something the Ayatollah Khomeini had said in the early 1980s. Khomeini was expressing a hope that a regime treating the Palestinians so unjustly would be replaced by another more equitable one.

A distinction without a difference? I think not. Words matter.

As you may already know (but the American people don’t), the literal translation from Farsi of what Ahmadinejad said is, “The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time.”

Contrary to what the administration would have us all believe, the Iranian president was not threatening to nuke Israel, push it into the sea, or wipe it off the map.

President Bush is way out in front on this issue, and this comes through with particular clarity when he ad-libs answers to questions.

On Oct. 17, 2007, long after he had been briefed on the key intelligence finding that Iran had stopped the nuclear weapons-related part of its nuclear development program, the president spoke as though, well, “mesmerized.” He said:

“But this – we got a leader in Iran who has announced he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them from have (sic) the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.”

Some contend that Bush does not really believe his rhetoric. I rather think he does, for the Israelis seem to have his good ear, with the tin one aimed at U.S. intelligence he has repeatedly disparaged.

But, frankly, which would be worse: that Bush believes Iran to be an existential threat to Israel and thus requires U.S. military action? Or that it’s just rhetoric to “justify” U.S. action to “take care of” Iran for Israel?

What you can do, Admiral Fallon, is speak authoritatively about what is likely to happen – to U.S. forces in Iraq, for example – if Bush orders your successors to begin bombing and missile attacks on Iran.

And you could readily update Scowcroft’s remarks, by drawing on what you observed of the Keystone Cops efforts of White House ideologues, like Iran-Contra convict Elliot Abrams, to overturn by force the ascendancy of Hamas in 2006-07 and Hezbollah more recently. (Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of misleading Congress, but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 24, 1992.)

It is easy to understand why no professional military officer would wish to be in the position of taking orders originating from the likes of Abrams.

If you weigh in as your (non-expiring) oath to protect and defend the Constitution dictates, you might conceivably prompt other sober heads to speak out.

And, in the end, if profound ignorance and ideology – supported by the corporate press and by both political parties intimidated by the Israel lobby – lead to an attack on Iran, and the Iranians enter southern Iraq and take thousands of our troops hostage, you will be able to look in the mirror and say at least you tried.

You will not have to live with the remorse of not knowing what might have been, had you been able to shake your reluctance to speak out.

There is a large Tar Baby out there – Iran. You may remember that as Brer Rabbit got more and more stuck, Brer Fox, he lay low.

A “Fox” Fallon, still pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States, cannot lie low—not now.

Lead.

Respectfully,

Ray McGovern; Steering Group; Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Ray McGovern, a veteran Army intelligence officer and then CIA analyst for 27 years, now works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.

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Slouching Towards Petroeurostan By Pepe Escobar

February 20, 2008

Slouching Towards Petroeurostan By Pepe Escobar

Dandelion Salad

By Pepe Escobar
19/02/08 “ICH

It was a discreet, almost hush hush affair, but after almost three years of stalling and endless delays, it finally happened. Now more than ever, it may also signal a true geoeconomic earthquake – way beyond a potentially shattering blow to US dollar hegemony.

This Sunday, the Iranian Oil Bourse – the first-ever oil, gas and petrochemical exchange in the Islamic Republic, and the first within OPEC – was launched by Iran’s Oil Minister Gholam-Hossein Nozari, flanked by Minister of Economy and Financial Affairs Davoud Danesh Ja’fari, the man who will head the bourse.

The bourse’s official name is Iranian International Petroleum Exchange (IIPE), widely known in Iran and the Persian Gulf as the Kish bourse. Kish island is a free zone (declared by the Shah) in an ideal laissez faire setting: lots of condos and duty-free malls, no Khomeini mega-portraits and hordes of young honeymooners shopping for made-in-Europe home appliances.

There was frantic speculation all over the world that the bourse would start trading in euros. But according to Nozari transactions at this early stage will be in Iran’s currency, the rial. Anyway the Iranian ambassador to Moscow Gholam-Reza Ansari has already advanced that “in the future, we’ll be able to use the ruble, Russia’s national currency, in our operations”. He added that “Russia and Iran, two major producers of the world’s energy, should encourage oil and gas transactions in various non-dollar currencies, releasing the world from being a slave of dollar”. Russia’s first deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last week that “the ruble will de facto become one of the regional reserve currencies.”

Slowly but surely

This is just what the Iranians are calling the first phase. Ultimately, the bourse is to directly compete against London’s International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) as well as the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), both owned by US corporations (since 2001 NYMEX is owned by a consortium which includes BP, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley). What Iran plans to do in the long run is quite daring: to directly challenge Anglo-American energy/corporate banking domination of the international oil trade.

There’s a lot hanging on the balance to assure the success of the bourse already in this first phase. Other OPEC members, and especially Iran’s neighbors, the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies, must be supportive, or at least “catch the drift”.

It makes total sense for OPEC member countries to support an alternative to both NYMEX and the IPE, which exercise a de facto, unhealthy monopoly of the oil and gas market, are always very comfortable to exploit volatility for profit, and are always able to wreak havoc against the interests of producer countries. An avalanche of contracts related to Iranian or Saudi oil, for instance, are still indexed to the price of the UK’s North Sea Brent oil, whose production is terminally declining.

In the summer of 2005, at the Petroleum Ministry in central Tehran, this correspondent interviewed Mohammad Javed Asemipour, then the executive in charge of establishing the Kish bourse. Asemipour stressed the road map, which remains unchanged: the bourse would start dealing with petrochemical products, and then with what everybody really craves – light-sulfur Caspian Sea crude. This was not going to be an Iranian-style exchange, but “an international exchange, fully integrated in the world economy”. The ultimate goal is very ambitious: the creation of a new Persian Gulf benchmark oil price.

Today, Minister Nozari admits Iran’s share of global oil trade is still very low. Enter the bourse, which is the solution to eliminate the middlemen. Everyone in the oil business knows that high oil prices are not really due to OPEC – which supplies 40% of the world’s crude – or “al Qaeda threats”. The main profiteers are middlemen – “traders” to put it nicely, “speculators” to put it bluntly.

The Petroleum Ministry’s immediate priorities remain the same: to attract much needed foreign investment in the energy sector in Iran, and to expand its address book of oil buyers. Iran – like so many developing countries – does not want to depend on Western oil trading firms such as Philip Brothers (owned by Citicorp), Cargill or Taurus. Enron – until its debacle – used to be one of the most profitable. Some powerful oil companies – such as Total and Exxon – trade under their own names.

The empire will strike back

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, mega-speculator George Soros was adamant, stressing we are at the end of the dollar era and a “systemic failure” may be upon us.

On February 8 in Dubai OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah al-Badri told the London-based Middle East Economic Digest that OPEC may inevitably switch to the euro within a decade.
 Iran and Venezuela – supported by Ecuador – are actively campaigning inside OPEC for oil to be priced at least in a basket of currencies.
According to OPEC’s current president, Chakib Khelil, OPEC Finance ministers will soon meet to discuss the possibility in depth. According to Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, a committee will “submit to OPEC its recommendation on a basket of currencies that OPEC members will deal with.”

There’s no evidence – yet – that ultra-cautious iron clad US ally Saudi Arabia would incur Washington’s wrath by supporting such a move. As for Iran, it is OPEC’s second largest exporter. According to minister Nozari Iran’s oil revenue will reach $63 billion by the end of the current Iranian year, which ends on March 20. Crude oil production is at 4,1million barrels a day, the highest level since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran does not trade a single barrel of oil in dollars anymore. Since December 2007 it converted all its oil export payments to other currencies. Iran now sells oil to Japan in yen. That makes sense: Japan is the top importer of Iranian oil, and Iran is Japan’s third-largest supplier. Worryingly for the dollar, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani has already announced that the tiny oil-rich emirate would abandon the dollar for the Qatari riyal before summer. There’s a strong possibility the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may also switch to their own currency.

As the Kish bourse picks up momentum, more and more oil and gas trading will happen in a basket of currencies – and more and more the US dollar will lose its paramount status. Quite a few Middle East analysts expect the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies to end their dollar peg sooner rather than later – some say as early as next summer, as their black gold will increasingly not be traded in dollars. Iranian economist Hamid Varzi stresses that the “psychological effect” of Iran’s move away from the US dollar is “encouraging others to follow suit.

Iranian officials have always maintained Washington has threatened to disrupt the oil bourse – via an online virus, attempting regime change or even the dreaded, unilateral pre-emptive nuclear strike. On the other hand, the possible success of the bourse may be crucial to signal the US’s waning power in a world evolving towards multi-polarity. The Saudis and the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies have already decided to reduce their US dollar holdings. It’s not far-fetched to imagine Washington, sooner or later, having to pay for its oil and gas imports in euros.

No wonder Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is so demonized by Washington as he keeps repeating that the empire of the dollar is falling. But even ultra-cautious Prince Saudi al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, has admitted during the latest OPEC summit in Riyadh that the dollar would collapse if OPEC decided to switch to euros or a basket of currencies. During a crucial closed meeting – with the microphones on, by mistake – Prince Saudi said “My feeling is that the mere mention that OPEC countries are studying the issue of the dollar is itself going to have an impact that endangers the interests of the countries. There will be journalists who will seize on this point and we don’t want the dollar to collapse instead of doing something good for OPEC.”

The trillion-dollar question is if, and when, most European and Asian oil importers may stampede towards the Iranian oil bourse. OPEC members as well as oil producers from the Caspian may be inevitably seduced by the advantages of selling at Kish – with no dreaded middlemen. If they can buy oil with euros, yen or even yuan, Europeans, Chinese and Japanese won’t need US dollars – and the same applies for their central banks.

It would take only a few major oil exporters to switch from the dollar to the euro – or the yen – to fatally bomb the petrodollar mothership. Venezuela, Norway and Russia are all ready to say goodbye to the petrodollar. France officially supports a stronger role for the euro in international oil trade.

It may be a long way away, but ultimately the emergence of a new oil marker in euros in Kish will lead the way to the petroeuro global oil trade. It makes total sense. The European Union imports much more oil from OPEC than the US, and 45% of Middle East imports also come from the E.U.

The symbolism of the Iranian oil bourse is stark; it shows that the flight from the US dollar is irreversible – and so would, sooner rather than later, the capacity of Washington to launch wars on credit. But at this early stage in the game, only one thing is certain: the Empire will strike back.

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Iran to launch oil and gas exchange on Feb. 27

February 15, 2008

Iran to launch oil and gas exchange on Feb. 27

13/02/2008 19:01 TEHRAN, February 13 (RIA Novosti) – Iran will launch a commodities exchange for oil, petrochemicals and natural gas on February 27, the Islamic Republic’s oil minister said on Wednesday.

Gholam-Hossein Nozari told Iran’s Press TV satellite channel that the opening ceremony of the Oil Bourse would be attended by Minister of Economy and Financial Affairs Davoud Danesh Jaafari, who will head the bourse.

He said earlier the Oil Bourse will be located on the Persian Gulf island of Kish and that all financial settlements will be made in Iran’s national currency, the rial.

The minister said his country’s oil revenue will reach $63 billion by the end of this Iranian year, which ends on March 20.

He said oil sales reached $55 billion in the first 11 months of the year, and that “if crude prices stand at the current level, next year’s oil revenues will be the same as this year.”

Nozari announced last week that Iran’s crude oil production had reached 4.184 million barrels per day, the highest level since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The US-NATO Preemptive Nuclear Doctrine: Trigger a Middle East Nuclear Holocaust to Defend “The Western Way of Life” by Michel Chossudovsky

February 12, 2008

The US-NATO Preemptive Nuclear Doctrine: Trigger a Middle East Nuclear Holocaust to Defend “The Western Way of Life” by Michel Chossudovsky

Dandelion Salad

by Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, February 11, 2008

What the Western allies face is a long, sustained and proactive defence of their societies and way of life. To that end, they must keep risks at a distance, while at the same time protecting their homelands.

International terrorism today aims to disrupt and destroy our societies, our economies and our way of life. …

These different sources of [Islamist] propaganda and/or violence vary in their intellectual underpinnings, sectarian and political aims, … . But what they have in common is an assault on the values of the West – on its democratic processes and its freedom of religion…

Notwithstanding the common perception in the West, the origin of Islamist terrorism is not victimhood, nor an inferiority complex, but a well-financed superiority complex grounded in a violent political ideology.

If the irrational and fanatical [Islamist organizations] get out of hand, there is a risk that, … the rise of fundamentalisms and despotisms will usher in a new, illiberal age, in which the liberties that Western societies enjoy are seriously jeopardized.

The threats that the West and its partners face today are a combination of violent terrorism against civilians and institutions, wars fought by proxy by states that sponsor terrorism, the behaviour of rogue states, the actions of organised international crime, and the coordination of hostile action through abuse of non-military means.

Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership”.

Group report by former chiefs of staff General John Shalikashvili, (US), General Klaus Naumann (Germany), Field Marshal Lord Inge (UK), Admiral Jacques Lanxade (France) and Henk van den Breemen (The Netherlands), published by the Netherlands based Noaber Foundation, December 2007, (emphasis added)

The controversial NATO sponsored report entitled Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership“. calls for a first strike use of nuclear weapons. The preemptive use of nukes would also be used to undermine an “increasingly brutal World” as a means to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction:

“They [the authors of the report] consider that nuclear war might soon become possible in an increasingly brutal world. They propose the first use of nuclear weapons must remain “in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction”. (Paul Dibb, Sidney Morning Herald, 11 February 2008)

The group, insists that the option of first strike of nuclear weapons is “indispensable, since there is simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world.” (Report, p. 97, emphasis added):

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate instrument of an asymmetric response – and at the same time the ultimate tool of escalation. Yet they are also more than an instrument, since they transform the nature of any conflict and widen its scope from the regional to the global. …

…Nuclear weapons remain indispensable, and nuclear escalation continues to remain an element of any modern strategy.

Nuclear escalation is the ultimate step in responding asymmetrically, and at the same time the most powerful way of inducing uncertainty in an opponent’s mind. (Ibid, emphasis added)

The Group’s Report identifies six key “challenges”, which may often result as potential threats to global security:

Demography. Population growth and change across the globe will swiftly change the world we knew. The challenge this poses for welfare, good governance and energy security (among other things) is vast.

Climate change. This greatly threatens physical certainty, and is leading to a whole new type of politics – one predicated, perhaps more than ever, on our collective future.

Energy security continues to absorb us. The supply and demand of individual nations and the weakening of the international market infrastructure for energy distribution make the situation more precarious than ever.

There is also the more philosophic problem of the rise of the irrational – the discounting of the rational. Though seemingly abstract, this problem is demonstrated in deeply practical ways. [These include] the decline of respect for logical argument and evidence, a drift away from science in a civilization that is deeply technological. The ultimate example is the rise of religious fundamentalism, which, as political fanaticism, presents itself as the only source of certainty.

The weakening of the nation state. This coincides with the weakening of world institutions, including the United Nations and regional organizations such as the European Union, NATO and others.

The dark side of globalization … These include internationalized terrorism, organized crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but also asymmetric threats from proxy actors or the abuse of financial and energy leverage. (Ibid)

Deterrence and Pre-emption

According to the Report, a new concept of deterrence is required directed against both State and non-state actors, This “new deterrence” is based on pre-emption as well as on the ability to “restore deterrence through [military] escalation”. In this context, the Report contemplates, what it describes as:

escalation dominance, the use of a full bag of both carrots and sticks—and indeed all instruments of soft and hard power, ranging from the diplomatic protest to nuclear weapons.” (Report, op city, emphasis added).

Iran

In much the same terms as the Bush administration, the NATO sponsored report states, without evidence, that Iran constitutes “a major strategic threat”:

“An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would pose a major strategic threat – not only to Israel, which it has threatened to destroy, but also to the region as a whole, to Europe and to the United States. Secondly, it could be the beginning of a new multi-polar nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.” (Report, op. cit., p. 45)

Careful timing? The controversial NATO sponsored report calling for a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran was released shortly after the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report entitled Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities. The latter denies Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The NIE report, based on the assessments of sixteen US intelligence agencies, refutes the Bush administration’s main justification for waging a preemptive nuclear war on Iran. The NIE report confirms that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.”

“These findings constitute a damning indictment of the Bush administration’s relentless fear-mongering in relation to an alleged nuclear threat from Iran. They demonstrate that just as in the buildup to the war against Iraq five years ago, the White House has been engaged in a systematic campaign to drag the American people into another war based on lies.” (See Bill van Auken, 24 January 2008)

It should be noted that this recently declassified intelligence ( pertaining to Iran contained in the 2007 NIE report) was known by the White House, the Pentagon and most probably NATO since September 2003. Ironically, US military documents confirm that the Bush Administration initiated its war preparations against Iran in July 2003, two months prior to the confirmation by US intelligence that Iran did not constitute a nuclear threat.

The July 2003 war scenarios were launched under TIRANNT: Theater Iran Near Term.

The justification for TIRANNT as well as for subsequent US war plans directed against Iran ( which as of 2004 included the active participation of NATO and Israel), has always been that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and plans to use them against us.

Following the publication of the 2007 NIE in early December, there has been an avalanche of media propaganda directed against Tehran, essentially with a view to invalidating the statements of the NIE concerning Tehran’s nuclear program.

Moreover, a third sanctions resolution by the UN Security Council, was initiated with a view to forcing Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The proposed UNSC resolution, which is opposed by China and Russia includes a travel ban on Iranian officials involved in the country’s nuclear programs, and inspections of shipments to and from Iran “if there are suspicions of prohibited goods” (AFP, 11 February 2008). Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy together with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have been calling for a unified EU sanctions regime against Iran.

Contradicting the US national intelligence estimate (NIE), Bush’s most recent speeches continue to portray Iran as a nuclear threat:

“I feel pretty good about making sure that we keep the pressure on Iran to pressure them so they understand they’re isolated, to pressure them to affect their economy, to pressure them to the point that we hope somebody rational shows up and says, okay, it’s not worth it anymore,” Bush said.

Threat to “The Western Way of Life”

The Western media is involved in a diabolical disinformation campaign, the purpose of which is to persuade public opinion that the only way to “create a nuclear free World” is to use nuclear weapons on a preemptive basis, against countries which “threaten our Western Way of Life.”

The Western world is threatened. The NATO report, according to Paul Dibb: “paint(s) an alarming picture of the threats confronting the West, arguing that its values and way of life are under threat and that we are struggling to summon the will to defend them.”(Dibb, op cit)

A preemptive nuclear attack — geographically confined to Middle East (minus Israel?)– is the proposed end-game. The attack would use US tactical nuclear weapons, which, according to “scientific opinion” (on contract to the Pentagon) are “harmless to the surrounding civilian population because the explosion is underground”. (See Michel Chossudovsky The Dangers of a Middle East Nuclear Holocaust, Global Research, 17 February 2006)

B61-11 bunker buster bombs with nuclear warheads Made in America, with an explosive capacity between one third to six times a Hiroshima bomb, are presented as bona fide humanitarian bombs, which minimize the dangers of “collateral damage”.

These in-house “scientific” Pentagon assessments regarding the mini-nukes are refuted by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS):

Any attempt to use a [B61-11 bunker buster nuclear bomb] in an urban environment would result in massive civilian casualties. Even at the low end of its 0.3-300 kiloton yield range, the nuclear blast will simply blow out a huge crater of radioactive material, creating a lethal gamma-radiation field over a large area ” (Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons by Robert W. Nelson, Federation of American Scientists, 2001 ).

Professor Paul Dibb is a former Australian Deputy Secretary of Defense., who has over the years also occupied key positions in Australia’s defense and intelligence establishment. Dibb carefully overlooks the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in a conventional war theater. According to Dibb, NATO preemptive nuclear doctrine, which replicates that of the Pentagon, constitutes a significant and positive initiative to “halt the imminent spread of nuclear weapons”. .

“They [the group] believe that the West must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the imminent spread of nuclear weapons.”

Never mind the nuclear holocaust and resulting radioactive contamination, which would spread Worldwide and threaten, in a real sense, the “way of life”.

There is no “way of life” in a World contaminated with deadly radioactive material. But this is something that is rarely discussed in the corridors of NATO or in strategic studies programs in Western universities.

Nukes: Just Another Tool in the Military Toolbox

What is frightening in Professor Dibb’s article is that he is not expressing an opinion, nor is he analyzing the use of nuclear weapons from an academic research point of view.

In his article, there is neither research on nuclear weapons nor is there an understanding of the complex geopolitics of the Middle East war. Dibb is essentially repeating verbatim the statements contained in NATO/Pentagon military documents. His article is a “copy and paste” summary of Western nuclear doctrine, which in practice calls for the launching of a nuclear holocaust.

The stated objective of a Middle East nuclear holocaust is “to prevent the occurrence of a nuclear war”. An insidious logic which certainly out- dwarfs the darkest period of the Spanish inquisition…

Neither NATO nor the Pentagon use the term nuclear holocaust. Moreover, they presume that the “collateral damage” of a nuclear war will in any event be confined geographically to the Middle East and that Westerners will be spared…

But since their in-house scientists have confirmed that tactical nuclear weapons are “safe for civilians”, the labels on the bombs have been switched much in the same way as the label on a packet of cigarettes: “This nuclear bomb is safe for civilians”

The new definition of a nuclear warhead has blurred the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons:

‘It’s a package (of nuclear and conventional weapons). The implication of this obviously is that nuclear weapons are being brought down from a special category of being a last resort, or sort of the ultimate weapon, to being just another tool in the toolbox,” (Japan Economic News Wire, op cit)

This re-categorization has been carried out. The ” green light” for the use of tactical nuclear weapons has been granted by the US Congress. . ” Let’s use them, they are part of the military toolbox.”

We are a dangerous crossroads: military planners believe their own propaganda. The military manuals state that this new generation of nuclear weapons are “safe” for use in the battlefield. They are no longer a weapon of last resort. There are no impediments or political obstacles to their use. In this context, Senator Edward Kennedy has accused the Bush Administration for having developed “a generation of more useable nuclear weapons.”

Russia and China

Who else constitutes a threat to ” the Western way of life”?

Nukes are also slated to be used against Russia and China, former enemies of the Cold War era.

This post Cold War logic was first revealed, when the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was leaked to The Los Angeles Times in January 2002. The NPR includes China and Russia alongside the rogue states as potential targets for a first strike nuclear attack. According to William Arkin, the NPR “offers a chilling glimpse into the world of nuclear-war planners: With a Strangelovian genius, they cover every conceivable circumstance in which the president might wish to use nuclear weapons-planning in great detail.” (Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2002)

“Decapitate Their Leadership and Destroy their Countries as Functioning Societies”

The use of nukes against “rogue states”, including Iran and North Korea (which lost more than a quarter of its population in US bombings during the Korean war) is justified because these countries could act in an “irrational” way. It therefore makes sense to “take em out” before they do something irrational. The objective is: “decapitate their leadership and destroy their countries as functioning societies”:

“One line of reasoning is that so-called rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, are sufficiently irrational to risk a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US or its allies, such as Israel and South Korea.

The supposition here is that deterrence – that is, threatening the other side with obliteration – no longer works. But even the nasty regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang must know that the US reserves the right to use its overwhelming nuclear force to decapitate the leadership and destroy their countries as modern functioning societies. (Dibb, op cit., emphasis added)

Use nuclear weapons to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.

But of course, lest we forget, America’s nuclear arsenal as well as that of France, Britain and Israel are not categorized as “weapons of mass destruction”, in comparison with Iran’s deadly nonexistent nuclear weapons program.

Bin Laden’s Nuclear Program

Now comes the authoritative part of the NATO sponsored report: We need to use nukes against bin Laden, because Islamic “fanatics” can actually make a nuclear weapons or buy them from the Russians in the black market.

The Report calls for a first strike nuclear attack directed against Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, which has the ability, according to expert opinion, of actually producing small nuclear bombs, which could be used in a Second 9/11 attack on America: .

The second line of reasoning [contained in the NATO sponsored report] is more difficult to refute. It argues that extreme fanatical terrorists, such as al-Qaeda, cannot be deterred because (a) they do not represent a country and therefore cannot be targeted and (b) they welcome death by suicide. So, we have to shift the concept of nuclear deterrence to the country or regime supplying the terrorists with fissile material.

Nuclear weapons require materials that can be made only with difficulty. Once these materials are obtained by terrorists, however, the barriers to fabricating a weapon are much lower. In that sense the nuclear threat today is greater than it was in the Cold War and it seems the terrorists cannot be deterred.( Dibb, op cit, emphasis added)

The alleged nuclear threat by Al Qaeda is taken very seriously. The Bush administration has responded with overall defense spending (budget plus war theater) in excess of one trillion dollars. This massive amount of public money has been allocated to financing the “Global War on Terrorism” (GWOT).

Confirmed by Pentagon documents, this military hardware including aircraft carriers, fighter jets, cruise missiles and nuclear bunker buster bombs, is slated to be used as part of the “Global War on Terrorism”. In military jargon the US is involved in asymmetric warfare against non-State enemies. (The concept of Asymmetric Warfare was defined in The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (2005)

“The American Hiroshima”

The US media has the distinct ability to turn realities upside down. The lies are upheld as indelible truths. The “Islamic terrorists” have abandoned their AK 47 kalashnikov rifles and stinger missiles; they are not only developing deadly chemical and biological weapons, they also have nuclear capabilities.

The fact, amply documented, that Al Qaeda is supported by the CIA and Britain’s MI6 is beside the point.

The nuclear threat is not directed against the Middle East but against the USA, the perpetrators and architects of nuclear war are bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, which is planning to launch a nuclear attack on an American city:

“U.S. government officials are contemplating what they consider to be an inevitable and much bigger assault on America, one likely to kill millions, destroy the economy and fundamentally alter the course of history,…

According to captured al-Qaida leaders and documents, the plan is called the “American Hiroshima” and involves the multiple detonation of nuclear weapons already smuggled into the U.S. over the Mexican border with the help of the MS-13 street gang and other organized crime groups. (World Net Daily, 11 July 2005, emphasis added)

The New York Times confirms that an Al Qaeda sponsored “American Hiroshima” “could happen” .

“Experts believe that such an attack, somewhere, is likely.” (NYT, 11 August 2004)

According to the Aspen Strategy Group which is integrated among others, by Madeleine Albright, Richard Armitage, Philip D. Zelikow, Robert B. Zoellick, “the danger of nuclear terrorism is much greater than the public believes, and our government hasn’t done nearly enough to reduce it.”:

If a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon, a midget even smaller than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, exploded in Times Square, the fireball would reach tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit. It would vaporize or destroy the theater district, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall (along with me and my building). The blast would partly destroy a much larger area, including the United Nations. On a weekday some 500,000 people would be killed. (NYT, 11 August 2004)

“Threaten them with a devastating [nuclear] attack”

According to professor Dibb, nuclear deterrence should also apply in relation to Al Qaeda, by holding responsible the governments which help the terrorists to develop their nuclear weapons capabilities:

“Ashton Carter, a former US assistant secretary for defense, has recently argued, the realistic response is to hold responsible, as appropriate, the government from which the terrorists obtained the weapon or fissile materials and threaten them with a devastating [nuclear] strike. In other words, deterrence would work again. (Dibb, op cit)

The real nuclear threat is coming from bin Laden. The objective is to “to do away with our way of life”:

None of this is to underestimate the impact of a nuclear weapon being detonated in an American city. It could be catastrophic, but it is highly unlikely to threaten the very survival of the US. To believe otherwise risks surrendering to the fear and intimidation that is precisely the terrorists’ stock in trade.

General Richard Myers, another former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has claimed that if [Islamic] terrorists were able to kill 10,000 Americans in a nuclear attack, they would “do away with our way of life”. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki incurred well over 100,000 instant deaths and that did not mean the end of the Japanese way of life. (Ibid, emphasis added)

In an utterly twisted and convoluted argument, professor Dibb transforms the US-NATO threat to wage a nuclear war on Iran into an Al Qaeda operation to attack an American city with nuclear weapon.

Dibb presents the US-NATO menace to trigger what would result in a Middle East nuclear holocaust as a humanitarian operation to save American lives. By implication, the Al Qaeda sponsored “American Hiroshima” would be supported by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. and this in turn would immediately provide a juste cause (casus belli) for retaliation against Iran

What a nuclear attack on a US city would mean, however, is an understandable American retaliation in kind. So, those countries that have slack control over their fissile nuclear materials and cozy relations with terrorists need to watch out. A wounded America would be under enormous pressure to respond in a wholly disproportionate manner.

And then we would be in a completely changed strategic situation in which the use of nuclear weapons might become commonplace. Ibid, emphasis added).

Dick Cheney’s Second 9/11

The insinuation that Al Qaeda is preparing an attack on America has been on the lips of Vice President Dick Cheney for several years now. Cheney has stated on several occasions since 2004, that Al Qaeda is preparing a “Second 9/11″: .

In August 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney is reported to have instructed USSTRATCOM, based at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, to draw up a “Contingency Plan”, “to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States”. (Philip Giraldi, Attack on Iran: Pre-emptive Nuclear War, The American Conservative, 2 August 2005)

Dick Cheney’s “Contingency Plan” was predicated on the preemptive war doctrine. Implied in the “Contingency Plan” was the presumption that Iran would be behind the attacks.

The Pentagon in a parallel initiative has actually fine-tuned its military agenda to the point of actually envisaging a Second 9/11 scenario as a means to providing the US administration with a “credible” justification to attack Iran and Syria:

Another [9/11 type terrorist] attack could create both a justification and an opportunity that is lacking today to retaliate against some known targets [Iran and Syria]” (Statement by Pentagon official, leaked to the Washington Post, 23 April 2006, emphasis added)

Meanwhile,. the US Congress is concerned that an “American Hiroshima” could potentially damage the US economy:

“What we do know is that our enemies want to inflict massive casualties and that terrorists have the expertise to invent a wide range of attacks, including those involving the use of chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons. … [E]xploding a small nuclear weapon in a major city could do incalculable harm to hundreds of thousands of people, as well as to businesses and the economy,…(US Congress, House Financial Services Committee, June 21, 2007).

As far as sensitizing public opinion to the dangers of US sponsored nuclear war, there is, with a few exceptions, a scientific and intellectual vacuum: No research, no analysis, no comprehension of the meaning of a nuclear holocaust which in a real sense threatens the future of humanity. This detachment and lack of concern of prominent intellectuals characterizes an evolving trend in many universities and research institutes in the strategic studies, the sciences and social sciences.

Academics increasingly tow the line. They remain mum on the issue of a US sponsored nuclear war. There is a tacit acceptance of a diabolical and criminal military agenda, which in a very sense threatens life on this planet. The US-NATO doctrine to use nukes on a preemptive basis with a view to “saving the Western World’s way of life” is not challenged in any meaningful way either by academics or media experts in strategic studies.

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

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Interview: Seymour Hersh

February 11, 2008
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2008
2:05 MECCA TIME, 23:05 GMT
Interview: Seymour Hersh

By Sarah Brown

 
 

Hersh was instrumental in exposing the scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison [GALLO/GETTY]

Seymour Hersh, one of the world’s best known investigative journalists,  has turned his attention to the mysterious and controversial bombing of a Syrian facility by Israel last year.

In a new article for the New Yorker magazine, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, best known for his work exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, says evidence indicates the bombing was a warning to Syria and its allies, including Iran.

Al Jazeera spoke to him about the bombing, why he feels the media failed on the story, and what it means for the Middle East.

Q: Why did Israel bomb a target in Syria?

[I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it

A: Well I don’t have the answers to that direct question – one thing that is terribly significant is that the Israel and its chief ally the US have chosen to say nothing officially about this incident and that’s what got me interested – whoever heard of a country bombing another one and not talking about it and thinking they had the right somehow not to talk about it?

In 1981 when Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq they were very noisy and public about it. In this case they said nothing publicly, but after a few weeks they began to leak [information].

They began to tell certain reporters very grandiose sort of stories about what was going on – ships arriving with illicit materials, offloaded by people in protective gear … from a port in the Mediterranean across to the bomb site, commando’s on the ground, soil samples.

And none of it turned out to be true, really, at least I could find no demonstrable evidence for it.

And so I have to say, that if this article I did generates a decision by Israel to go public with its overwhelming dossier that will answer any questions well that’s great … but they have not and [I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it.

Syria of course compounded the problem by being hapless and feckless in response. It took them, I think, until October 1, almost four weeks after the incident before the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged it had actually been bombed.

Q: Why was Syria’s reaction so muted?

The bombing was seen as a message to
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president [AFP]

A: I think they’re just hapless. I don’t think they have any idea about the 24 hour news cycle – it’s just unbeknown to them.

So what happened is: A raid takes place, they announced rather quickly there was an intrusion by the Israelis, they initially say after a couple of days that munitions were bombed, then the foreign minister says in Turkey four or five days after the incident that nothing was bombed however, bombs fell but nothing was hit.

Then, three weeks later, the president says: “Oh, well actually a building was destroyed”. You can’t programme something that inept and that’s a reality. They just weren’t very good.

But there are other factors.

Q: Such as North Korea?

A: There were North Koreans, as the Israelis claimed at the site. They were building a facility, it was a military facility, I think my guess would be. 

I was told two different things by various people inside Syria.

One said it was perhaps a chemical facility for chemical warfare, another one said more persuasively to me that “no, it was for missiles – short range missiles to be used in case we’re attacked by Israel, we’d respond asymmetrically with missiles.”

Q: Because they figure chemical weapons are of little use against a nuclear power?

A: Yes. They’re incinerated. And I’m told they made that decision much longer ago than we might think.

I’m told they really devalued the use of a chemical warhead, certainly as a deterrent, because the response is nuclear.

Q: Didn’t some of your sources tell you there was evidence to support the theory that the US wanted Israel to test Syria’s air defences because they are similar to those of Iran?

A: In the beginning. This plan was staffed – by that I mean it was staffed by the US joint chiefs of staff, it was staffed by people in the vice president’s office.

Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House

The little bit I know about that process was in the summer, months before the mission, there was a lot of talk about doing the mission [and] there was a report in the intelligence community from the Defence Intelligence Agency saying that Syria had dramatically increased the capability of its radar and command control system.

[It said that it had] anti-aircraft radar close or parallel to that now known to be installed in Iran – so this was a way of testing the Syrian radar.

You can walk all over Syria and no-one cares, it’s a small country of 17 million people. But to go into Iran and check out radars by overflying any site, that leads to counter attack.

The Israelis have been overflying with impunity, there’s not much Syria can do and [the Israelis] knew Syria wouldn’t do anything.

So it was initially understood by my friends as a radar operation, it was only after the fact that they learned something else.

Dick Cheney, left, is said to have
overridden the US chain of command [AFP]

It was very hard to get information [in Israel] because they have a bar against speaking and military censorship has been imposed on this issue.

But I did get some people to say to me “Ah, that stuff about radar was [rubbish] – it was never going to happen, that’s a way or a vehicle for us to get in”.

It seems clear from what I’ve learned from my American friends and the Syrians that the Israelis came right in and the only target they had was the one they bombed.

They weren’t looking at any radar site, they just went in and whacked it.

So, then you really get to the next level of questions that I didn’t really deal with in the article because it’s so hypothetical – who authorised it?

Who did they talk to? I mean Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House and I can’t find anybody that knew they were going to hit the facility beforehand. 

That could be that just I can’t find it, and if not that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it could also be that somebody like Dick Cheney, who has done this before, overrode the chain of command.

So in other words, normally all this information about an Israeli attack would soak through to the joint chiefs, but he undercut that process perhaps – he’s done it before in other incidents – but I just can’t tell you for sure what happened here.

Q: Was the raid’s purpose to act as a potential deterrent to Iran?

A: Of course that was the idea for the US, to let the Iranians know that despite the national intelligence estimate “We’re ready to … we have a proxy and the Israelis will go bang for us if we need.”

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site] … and they thought: ‘Whatever it is we’re not going to let them be’

But of course, for Israel, this whole mission had another point of view.

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site], they were troubled by the building and they thought: “What the hell, whatever it is we’re not going to let them be. We’re going to hit the facility before it gets up, whatever it’s going to be.

If they thought it was nuclear I hope they’ll show us, otherwise they just hit a building that wasn’t done yet.

And the [result] was terrific for them, because it gave Olmert a big jump, a big boost of support 

Q: You mean after the war in Lebanon in 2006?

Absolutely. And also it was seen as a message to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, who the Israelis believe has become cocky after the Hezbollah war because he was a big supporter of Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader] – he is Assad’s big buddy.

The Israelis thought that they could take him down a peg, and also the message to Bashar Assad is: “So, what’s Iran doing for you now, buddy? We go and pop you in the head and is Iran doing anything?”

And the American press and the international press end up being used on this one [story] in a scandalous way.

Q: On media culpability, this was a big issue in the lead up to the war in 2003 – questionable evidence that supposedly provides a cause for war. Is the media being manipulated again here?

 

A: The press was feckless on this and credulous and took everything at face value.

 

For me the US press – I don’t think they’ve come face to face with what happened here…. the newspapers missed without question the biggest moral story of the last decade, which is the illegal road to war in Iraq and we missed it.


And that’s not our job, it’s not our job to miss that, our job is not to listen to the president.
There were elements of the same pattern of “kiss-up” going on and that’s very disturbing.

Q: With US elections this year, do you think any foreign policy is going to change with a new president, especially towards Israel, Iran and Syria?

A:  Well certainly [it won’t change] with McCain, he’s talking about not even changing the war, which I think is a big mistake.

Somebody I know wrote a wonderful essay making the point that Iraq is a dead body, and David Petraeus, the general, and our ambassador Ryan Crocker they’re the undertakers, and their job is to keep up with the rouge and the makeup on the body for the next six months until we get past the election – that’s their goal.

[On Israel] it’s very hard, you know in America there’s just no questioning. The American Jewish influence is enormous. There’s a lot of money.

I just wish many American Jews would read the Israeli papers – particularly Haaretz – more carefully and they would see there’s really a vibrant criticism of the Israeli government … and you just don’t see that today.

I’m Jewish and I’m not anti-Semitic and I’m not anti-Israel – [Israelis] understand that, just as by the way a lot of Americans don’t understand that many of the leadership of Hamas and others.

Not everyone spends their life there wanting to kill Jews, they’re more willing than people would like to believe to co-exist, they just don’t like the system the way it works now.

Q: What do you think of Bush’s legacy to the world?He’s done more to terrify the world than anybody I know. The world is so much more dangerous.

I have a very wise friend, born in Syria, who’s a businessman in the West now.

Right after the bombing began in Iraq he said to me: “This war will not change Iraq – Iraq will change you” and so I’ve seen it come and it’s very scary.

It’s very scary to see how things are so fragile right now, nothing going on good in Lebanon nothing going on with Syria nothing going on with Iran … We can’t talk to people we don’t like?

We’ve got to negotiate, it’s the only way we’re going to resolve our problems.

 
 
 

Source: Al Jazeera

Benazir’s assassination may exacerbate unrest in Sindh: Noam Chomsky

February 5, 2008

Benazir’s assassination may exacerbate unrest in Sindh: Noam Chomsky

ISLAMABAD (February 02 2008): Noam Chomsky, a professor of Linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a well-known writer, thinker and political activist. In this interview that he gave to Business Recorder’s and Aaj TV’s Fahad Faruqui Professor Chomsky analyses Pakistan’s political scenario, its foreign policy and relationships – over the years – with the West.

He also talks about Democracy and its abuse worldwide. He comes up with some solutions with a view to making this world a better place. The following are the excerpts:

Q: One of the characteristics of a failed state that you highlight in your book -Failed States – is America’s increasing failure to protect its own citizens in relation to war-on-terror. Can you draw a parallel with how Pakistan has participated in this global push and has suffered the consequences in the form of increasing numbers of suicide bombings?

A: I’m afraid to say Pakistan is the paradigm example of a failed state and has been for a long time. It has had military rule, violence and oppression, Since the 1980’s, it has undergone an extremely dangerous form of radical Islamisation, which has undermined a good part of the society, under the Zia-ul-Haq tyranny.

Now it is in danger of collapsing, there is a rebellion in Balochistan, the FATA territories are out of control and always have been – and it is getting worse. It is possible that the Bhutto assassination might increase the severe unrest in Sindh, where there has been plenty of oppression, and this may lead to another secessionist movement.

The are recent polls of Pakistan, good polls, which show that the Pakistani population is in favour of Democracy, possibly with an Islamic flavour, but not this one of oppression, but those hopes are not even near being realised in the existing political and social system.

Q: Don’t you feel that democratic regimes can at times be authoritarian?

A: That is when they do not function. If you have formal democratic structure, but they do not function, yes, it can be authoritarian, it can be totalitarian! The old Soviet Union also called itself a democracy.

Q: What solutions do you propose for Pakistan in order for it to become a true Democracy rather than a failed state?

A: By developing political and social arrangements in which the population can actually determine effective policy. That is what democracy is.

Q: How can Pakistan form a democratic regime with an Islamic flavour when its Western allies buck the notion of Clash of Civilisations, which is at odds with everything that belong to the East?

A: The Clash of Civilisations is a concept that was invented actually by Bernard Lewis, a scholar of Islam, who has a bitter hatred for Islam. It was picked up by Samuel Huntington, a well known political scientist and he made it famous. The conception is supposed to be that the United States and its Western allies are civilised, enlightened and liberal, all sorts of wonderful qualities. And, the Islamic world is developing in the opposite direction, what is sometimes called Islamofacism – backward, regressive, violent, which doesn’t understand their elevated ideals and so on and so forth.

Looking at the facts such as Iraq which is the center of concern, the US Military carried out regular intensive studies of public opinion in Iraq because it is a core part of military occupation to try to understand the opinions of people you are trying to control and dominate. They released the study a few week ago, which was reported in the Washington Post, the main national newspaper, on December 19th 2007. The military experts say that they are very encouraged by what they call “good news from Iraq.” The “good news” is that the Iraqi’s have “shared beliefs.” That is supposed to refute the idea that they can’t come together and that they are involved in tribal warfare and so on, so it is very encouraging, until you look at what the “shared beliefs” are. To which they say that the United States is responsible for all of the atrocities and disasters that have taken place, since the invasion and, therefore, the United States should get out. The aggressors should leave. That is the Iraqi position.

Notice that the Iraqis accept the ideals United States professes, for example, the ideals of the Nuremburg Tribunals, the American-run Tribunal, which tried Nazi criminals and hanged them for their crimes. The worst crime was the crime of aggression and which the Tribunal called the supreme international crime, which includes all of the evil that follows. So, in the case of Iraq, which is a textbook example of aggression – US and British aggression – includes all of the evil that followed: including sectarian warfare, the catastrophic affects on the society, the hundreds and thousands of excessive deaths, millions of people who were displaced, all of that is included in the supreme crime of aggression. And, Iraqi’s agree with it. Off-course! Americans don’t agree with that, nor does Europe, they don’t agree with the ideals they profess; in fact, they dismiss them with contempt. Any mention of what I just said would be barely understood in the United States or the West, by intellectual opinion, but the Iraqi’s understand it.

Now let’s compare the United States. There is much debate about what the United States should do about Iraq. On January 20th 2008, The New York Times (newspaper for the record) had a lead story – by its main military correspondent, Michael Gordon – on Iraq and the elections, which reviewed the various opinions open to the United States and reviewed the opinion of the government officials, military experts, the political candidates, commentators, specialists and so on – a very extensive review.

Only one voice was missing, the voice of the people of Iraq. They are not people; they are what are sometimes called un-people, not people, so their voice doesn’t matter. We, should ask ourselves if there is a clash of civilisations, who are the enlightened liberal people.

Q: Pakistan has shifted in and out of democracy without stabilising in any one position, is it possible for Pakistan to yield towards the right direction?

A: For Pakistan, its alliance with the United States, I think, has been quite harmful throughout its history. The United States has tried to convert Pakistan into its highly militarised ally and has supported its military dictatorship. The Reagan administration strongly supported the Zia-ul-Haq tyranny, which had a very harmful affect on Pakistan, and the Reagan administration even pretended they didn’t know that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons.

Off course they knew, but they had to pretend they didn’t, so that Congress would continue to fund their support for Pakistan, for the army, and for the ISI, all part of their support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which was not intended to help the Afghans.

We know that very well, just from what happened afterwards. It was intended to harm the Russians, so the Reagan administration was using Pakistan as a way to kill the Russians. Actually, that was the term that was used by the head of the CIA station in Pakistan that “we have to kill Russians,” not that the poor Afghans would suffer, but who cares.

Q: Can Pakistan ever become a true Democracy when it is continually expected to pander to external pressures, to act in ways which has a negative impact on the people of the country?

A: Yes, it can. I mean there is a lot wrong with India, horrible things in India, but it is more or less a functioning democracy. Pakistan could move to that level, but, I think, it has to disentangle itself from the domination from the United States. Right now the US is supporting Musharraf – is that a way to democracy?

Pakistanis have been polled extensively and we know information about Pakistani opinion. A large number of Pakistanis want Democracy – with an Islamic flavour – but that could be a functioning Democracy. Their problem is to create it, and I think that the US influence has been an impediment to that.

Q: Can a Democracy with an Islamic flavour be acceptable to the world – especially its Western Allies?

A: It doesn’t matter if it’s acceptable to the Western countries, what matters is what is acceptable to Pakistanis. The Western countries would like to rule the world, but they have no authority to do that. I think they have a lot of problems with their own democracies, for example, take Iraq again, I said that the voice of Iraqis is missing in these reviews, but I could add that the voice of Americans is also missing.

What Americans want doesn’t matter, the large number of Americans agree with Iraqis that US forces should withdraw from Iraq. Americans are not as civilised as the Iraqis are in recognising that the US aggression is to blame for the atrocities.

The US citizens don’t accept the professed American ideals to the extent that the Iraqis do, but that is result of propaganda, deception and so on, but their voice matters. This is not the only example in which US policy is radically divorced from the public opinion.

Even with the issue of Iran-US and Iranian public opinion have both been studied extensively by a leading polling agency in the World, and they tend to agree on most issues such as how to resolve the problem, and that Iran has the right to nuclear power, like any signatory of non-proliferation treaty, but it does not have the right to acquire nuclear weapons.

They also agree that there should a nuclear weapons free zone in the whole region that would include Israel, Iran and Pakistan. An overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians agree with that.

Furthermore, a huge majority of American (over 80 percent), thinks the United States should live up to its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and make good faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. A large majority of Americans are even opposed to any military threats against Iran, which they see as a crime.

If United States and Iran were both functioning democracies in which public opinion mattered, this crisis, which is a serious one, could probably be resolved. Unfortunately they are not, and that’s not due to a clash of civilisations because the problem is right here in the United States. In fact, the opinions of the American population are not only not implemented, but they are not even reported.

Q: You’ve highlighted public opinion. So, my concern is, is it possible for Pakistan to steer towards the right direction, when 65% of its population is illiterate and has no active participation in politics?

A: Yes, it’s very possible; in fact, one of the dramatic and successful achievements of Democracy, in recent years, has been in Bolivia. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. Extremely impoverished population, illiterate and so on, but they carried out what was a real triumph of Democracy – something that cannot be imagined in the West.

In December 2005, the indigenous population, the Indian population, which happens to be in majority in Bolivia, for the first time entered the political arena and were able to take political power through the vote and elected someone from their own ranks, who is committed to cultural rights, letting the population control their own natural resources, and many other moves towards justice and equality.

That is a remarkable exercising Democracy; it doesn’t take place in United States or Western countries. And, it was poor and the level of literacy was quite low. These were the people who were fighting for their rights for years.

The election didn’t come out of nowhere. A few years earlier, the Indian population had driven the World Bank and major corporations, like Bechtel, out of the country because they were trying to privatise water. Privatising water may look good in the study of economics at graduate school, but for the population it means that they can’t purchase water for their children, so they rejected and they struggled in which many killed. The drove the corporations and the world bank out.

Q: As you may know, elections in Pakistan will be held soon and public polls on television depict a lack of confidence in the political system. The poor masses have more immediate concerns such as rising prices of flour and wheat, scarcity of gas and electricity in the country, than bothering with who to vote for – if at all. What are your thoughts on this and how can governments gain the confidence of people and get their active participation in Politics?

A: Governments will gain active participation for the populous, if the issues that concern the population like getting shoes for your children or having water to drink or having cultural rights or controlling your own natural resources, if those issues are open to vote on then they’ll vote, just like in Bolivia. If the vote is a matter of picking one or the other member from the wealthy and oppressive elite then people won’t vote. The voting is very low in the United States for similar reasons.
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White House, Press Spinning Iran’s Centrifuges By Ray McGovern

December 11, 2007

White House, Press Spinning Iran’s Centrifuges By Ray McGovern

By Ray McGovern
12/09/07 “
ICH

Those who know about the centrifuges used to refine uranium tell me they must spin at an almost unrivaled velocity—almost unrivaled, because Bush administration statements are being spun at equivalent speed by White House and corporate media spiders. Without Spinmeister Karl Rove and former spokesman Tony Snow, it is amateur hour at the White House. And the theater would be as funny as The Daily Show, were the subject not so serious.

Judging from President George W. Bush’s words and body language he is far from giving up on ways to “justify” attacking Iran’s nuclear program—weapons-related or not. He appears convinced he must honor the pledge he has made to Israel’s current leaders to eliminate what they have called an “existential threat” to Israel. This came through in a particularly pointed way on October 17, when an agitated president ad-libbed about the possibility of World War III, complaining loudly, “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced he wants to destroy Israel.”

Not at all helpful to the president was the judgment of U.S. intelligence that the Iranians halted their nuclear weapons-related program in 2003, a judgment the administration made public this week. The White House knew only too well that that this bombshell could not be kept secret very long—the more so since Congress’ intelligence committees, Pentagon brass, and senior CIA officials reportedly made it quite clear they would go public if the White House did not publish a sanitized version of the key judgments of the latest National Intelligence Estimate.

On Oct. 26, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell launched a trial balloon, declaring he would no longer declassify and release summaries of National Intelligence Estimates, but that balloon was quickly shot down.

So what can Cheney and Bush do now to “justify” striking Iran? Several months ago, about the time new intelligence established there was no active nuclear weapons program in Iran, there were signs in the rhetoric coming from the president and Gen. David Petraeus that the argument was going to hinge on claims that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were supplying the wherewithal to kill our troops in Iraq. Petraeus was clearly ready to play that game, but his superior, Admiral “we’re-not-going-to-do-Iran-on-my-watch” William Fallon would not play along. And neither would the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now back from a brief visit to Iraq and his caution so far on this issue suggests he is paying more heed to Fallon than to Petraeus. In other words, there is no sign that Gates wants to abet using Iranian meddling in Iraq as a pretext for a military strike on Iran. Gates’ well-deserved chameleon-like reputation counsels caution here, since a word from Cheney or Bush could conceivably make Gates a fervent champion of this pretext for war. But people do mature; Gates is smart; and I doubt he would want to be so closely associated with starting a regional war, if not WW III.

Spinning Enrichment

So where does that leave the beleaguered president? This week’s spinning by the White House and subservient media suggests the administration still thinks it can make a case for war, by obfuscating the nuclear program in Iran. This has become clearer as administration mouthpieces blur the distinction between uranium enrichment for a civilian energy use (permitted to signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) and the much more demanding requirements of a nuclear weapons program.

The spinners have resurrected the discredited argument that Iran’s nuclear program must be for weapons, because Iran’s oil and gas should suffice to meet all its energy requirements. Thus, the administration’s Pravda, also known as the editorial page of the Washington Post, on Dec. 5: “Iran’s massive overt investment in uranium enrichment meanwhile proceeds…even though Tehran has no legitimate use for enriched uranium.”

And thus another major administration mouthpiece, also known as the New York Times, on Dec. 6, in an op-ed, “In Iran We Trust?” by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin: “Why, by the way, does Iran even want a nuclear energy program, when it is sitting on an enormous pool of oil that is now skyrocketing in value.”

This is a familiar canard; i.e., that Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for electricity production is given the lie by its own large oil and natural gas reserves, so uranium enrichment must be for nuclear weapons development. Condoleezza Rice took that line over a year and a half ago (shades of those (in)famous aluminum tubes that she said could “only” be used in a nuclear application but turned out to be for conventional artillery). At about the same time Dick Cheney complained that since the Iranians are “already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.”

It all makes me think of Harry Truman’s complaint: “They must think we were born yesterday!” Rice and Cheney have selective memories—or take us for fools. Back in 1976—with Gerald Ford president, Dick Cheney his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld secretary of defense—the Ford administration bought the Shah’s argument that Iran needed a nuclear program to meet its future energy requirements. That argument, of course, is even more valid today, with the price that can be obtained for oil and the specter of Peak Oil.

Cheney and Rumsfeld persuaded a hesitant President Ford to offer Iran a deal that would have meant at least $6.4 billion for U.S. corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric, had not the Shah been unceremoniously dumped three years later. The offer included a reprocessing facility for a complete nuclear fuels cycle—essentially the same capability that the U.S. and Israel now insist Iran cannot be allowed to acquire.

A pity that our domesticated media seem unable to catch the disingenuousness.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he chaired some National Intelligence Estimates and produced/briefed the President’s Daily Brief.

This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com

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The Global Impact of Bush’s War Crimes in Iraq: King Midas in Reverse by Walter C. Uhler

November 28, 2007

The Global Impact of Bush’s War Crimes in Iraq: King Midas in Reverse by Walter C. Uhler

by Walter C. Uhler
The Smirking Chimp
Nov 26 2007

Journalist Robert Fisk recently explained the Bush/Cheney abomination in the Middle East quite succinctly, when he asserted: “The world in the Middle East is growing darker and darker by the hour. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Iraq. “Palestine”. Lebanon. From the borders of Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean, we – we Westerners that is – are creating (as I have said before) a hell disaster. Next week, we are supposed to believe in peace in Annapolis, between the colorless American apparatchik and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has no more interest in a Palestinian state than his predecessor Ariel Sharon.” [Robert Fisk, “Darkness falls on the Middle East,” Independent.co.uk, 24 Nov. 2007]

On Friday, November 23rd, a bomb exploded in a pet market in central Baghdad. It followed a “brazen attack against U.S.-backed Sunni fighters on the southern belt of Baghdad” and a mortar and rocket attack on the Green Zone a day earlier that constituted “the biggest attack against the U.S.-protected area in weeks.” [Bushra Juhi, “Twin bombings Kill at Least 26 in Iraq,” Associated Press, 23 Nov. 2007]

You might keep such information in mind whenever you hear dishonest Republicans and feckless Democrats shy away from the awful truth about the “hell disaster” in Iraq and the Middle East.

And the awful truth is this: During the seven months preceding the Bush administration’s reckless, immoral, illegal and incompetent invasion of Iraq, the architects of that criminal war — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle — lied repeatedly about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and links to al Qaeda, grossly exaggerated both the welcome American troops would receive and the ease with which democracy could be established in Iraq, while fraudulently understating the projected costs of their evil venture. In a word, our “MBA President” and his cronies failed to exercise due diligence with the American people.

Yet, while these criminals were preparing to commit their crime, critics of the proposed invasion were struggling to be heard, struggling to penetrate the herd mentality of the mainstream news media – which, except for some reporters at Knight Ridder, found itself shocked and awed by the administration’s war mongering propaganda. As we now know, post-invasion facts on the ground vindicated the critics, not only for doubting the Bush administration’s bogus claims about Iraq’s WMD and links to al Qaeda, but also for questioning the very need for preemptive (actually preventive) war and the very feasibility of forcing democracy at gunpoint.

Unfortunately, more than 31,000 American soldiers have been killed or wounded in the course of executing Bush’s criminal plans. Add to that figure “at least 20,000 U.S. troops who were not classified as wounded during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan…[now] found with signs of brain injuries.” [Gregg Zoroya, “Combat Brain Injuries Multiply,” USA Today, Nov. 23, 2007]

Moreover, although some 3,875 soldiers have died in Iraq since March 2003, 6,256 US veterans committed suicide in 2005 alone. According to CBS News, the suicide rate among veterans is double that of the civilian population and veterans aged 20 through 24 – those caught up in Bush’s war – had the highest suicide rates among all veterans. Finally, consider that almost 8,000 soldiers deserted the US Army during fiscal years 2006 and 2007.

Beyond such casualties, Bush’s war has strained the U.S. Army to the breaking point. As Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George Casey recently observed, “The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply.” According to Senator Jack Reed and security analyst Michele A. Flournoy, “Roughly half of the 2000 and 2001 West Point classes have already decided to leave the Army” citing multiple, back-to-back combat tours as the primary reason. Moreover, “roughly half of the U.S. Army’s equipment is in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the harsh environment and the high tempo of operations are wearing out equipment at up to 9 times the normal rate.”

Then, there’s the exorbitant cost of Bush’s war of choice. According to Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee, when the hidden costs of Bush’s war are considered, the total economic cost has exceeded $1.5 trillion. The surge in the price of oil, from approximately $37 per barrel at the beginning of the war to over $90 in recent weeks, constitutes a major portion of those hidden, but very real costs.

Finally, citizens of the United States have seen their liberties subverted by the Bush administration in the name of national security. Through the abuse of signing statements, the use of torture and the embrace of illegal wiretapping the Bush administration has moved America creepily closer to those horrid dictatorships its citizens once derided.

Yet, the costs to the United States constitute mere chump change when compared with the price paid by Iraqis. Life in Iraq during Bush’s reign of terror has been far worse than life was during the last years of Saddam’s brutal regime. Consider the national humiliation associated with America’s successful invasion, its brutal occupation and its degrading torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

According to Robert Dreyfuss and Tom Engelhardt, “There are, by now, perhaps a million dead Iraqis, give or take a few hundred thousand. If a typical wounded-to-dead ratio of 3:1 holds, then you’re talking about up to 4 million war, occupation, and civil-war casualties. Now, add in the estimated 2-2.5 million who went into exile, fleeing the country, and another estimated 2.3 million who have had to leave their homes and go into internal exile as Iraqi communities hand neighborhoods were ‘cleansed.’”

As columnist Cesar Chelala recently wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “One child dies every five minutes because of the war, and many more are left with severe injuries. Of the estimated 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced in Iraq or lest the country, 1.5 million are children.” Quoting from an assessment by 100 British and Iraqi doctors, Chelala adds: “sick or injured children, who could otherwise be treated by simple means, are left to die in the hundreds because they don’t have access to basic medicines and other resources. Children who have lost hands, feet and limb are left without prostheses. Children with grave psychological distress are left untreated.”

Chronic shortages in electricity persist. And, as Bobby Cain Calvan of McClatchy Newspapers reported on November 18th, “the percentage of Iraqis without access to decent water supplies has risen from 50 percent to 70 percent since the start of the U.S.-led war…The portion of Iraqis lacking decent sanitation…[has been] even worse – 80 percent.” Yet, the horrors in Iraq have been grossly underreported by America’s mainstream news media. As Dahr Jamail concludes in his new book, Beyond the Green Zone, “If the people of the United States had the real story about what their government has done in Iraq, the occupation would already have ended.” [p. 291]

One might ask how Bush and his co-conspirators are able to sleep at night, given all this blood and carnage on their hands. Why do they remain in office? Why haven’t they been impeached? Why haven’t they been thrown in prison?

But, then, one also might ask why the many conservative scholars and pundits who got everything so wrong — especially those despicable neo-cons – still fill opinion pages and the airwaves with their vile excuses for yet more war. Their latest con is to argue that the surge is working. Some dishonest clowns even mention the word “victory.”

Of course, they spew yet more propaganda designed to maintain or bolster the 70 percent of Republicans who still support Bush’s criminal war. (How different are they from Hitler’s die-hard supporters during World War II?) For example, one of the more obnoxious and consistently wrong neo-cons, Charles Krauthammer, waxed euphoric in his November 23rd column about just how well the surge was going in Iraq.

Yet, the 23rd was the day of the pet market blast, which had followed the previous day’s “brazen attack” in the southern belt of Baghdad and the rocket attack on the Green Zone. Those attacks prompted two reporters from the Los Angeles Times to suggest that “insurgents appeared intent on sending a message to U.S. and Iraqi officials that their recent expressions of optimism on the nation’s security were premature.”

But, then, consider the source. This is the very same Krauthammer who wrote in November 2001: [T]he way to tame the Arab street is not with appeasement and sweet sensitivity but with raw power and victory….The elementary truth that seems to elude the experts again and again…is that power is its own reward. Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology in the [Middle East] is now one of fear and deep respect for American power. Now is the time to use it.” [Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism, p 93]

Tell me, Mr. Krauthammer, how’s the “fear and deep respect” playing out in the Middle East and the world in November 2007? How stupid could you be? And why are you still employed by the Washington Post?

The Post’s Thomas Ricks provides a more honest assessment. “I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn’t gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level – which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth….I’ve interviewed dozens of officers and none were willing to say we are winning. What they were saying is that at least now, we are not losing.” [Editor & Publisher, Nov. 24, 2007] Yet, if you recall that, on May 12, 2004, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, told a Senate committee, “There is no way to militarily lose in Iraq. There’s also no way to militarily win in Iraq,” you might want to question why we’re still there.

Anthony Cordesman recently published a more realistic appraisal of the surge. Titled, “Violence versus Political Accommodation: The True Elements of Victory in Iraq,” Cordesman credits the surge for playing a secondary role in reducing violence in Iraq. But he cautions: “It is still far from clear that US success against al Qaeda in the rest of central Iraq has brought stability and security to any mixed area where there is serious tension and violence. If anything, the fact that the ’surge’ has not halted the pace of Iraqi displacements and has often created a patchwork of Arab Shiite versus Arab Sunni divisions in towns and areas that extend far beyond Baghdad, has laid the ground for further struggles once the US is gone.” [p. 11]

Cordesman adds: “Most of Southern Iraq is now under the control of competing local and regional Shiite gangs,” which have become the “equivalent of rival mafias.” [p. 13]

More significantly, Cordesman concludes: “The US cannot win the war; it can only give Iraq’s central government and those leaders interested in national unity and political accommodation the opportunity to do so.” [p. 10] [N]o amount of American military success can – by itself – have strategic meaning.” [p. 13]

Finally, those who propagandize that the “surge” is working are advised to contemplate the work of MIT economist Michael Greenstone. As summarized in the December issue of The Atlantic, Greenstone has examined the financial markets in Iraq, especially the market for Iraqi state bonds. He found that “from the start of the surge earlier this year until September, there was a ’sharp decline’ in the price of Iraqi state bonds, signaling a ‘40% increase in the market’s expectation that Iraq will default’ on its obligations.”

The Atlantic article goes on to note: “Since the bonds are sold on international markets (hedge funds hold a large portion), where the profit motive eliminates personal and political bias, the trajectory of bond prices may be the most accurate indicator available for assessing America’s military strategy. And the data suggest that ‘the surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.” [The Atlantic Dec. 2007, p. 26]

Consequently, were we merely limiting ourselves to the catastrophes that has bedeviled both the United States and Iraq as a consequence of Bush’s war, we’d be forced to conclude that Bush’s national security policy has the touch of King Midas in reverse. Everything Bush touches turns to shit!

Unfortunately, as serious pre-war scholars and critics feared and predicted, Bush’s King Midas touch in reverse has extended far beyond Iraq and the United States. Simply recall their warnings about the war’s impact on the price of oil, their fears that such a war might undermine US efforts against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, their concern that Bush’s invasion might inflame hatred of America throughout the Muslim world, their suspicions that Iran might be the principal beneficiary of a US-led invasion that placed Iraqi Shiites in power and their worries about how a destabilized Iraq might provoke intervention by it neighbors, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and thus embroil the entire region.

Thanks to the perverse King Midas touch of the Bush administration, Iran has indeed emerged as the most influential player in Iraq and Turkey is poised to invade Iraqi Kurdistan. Moreover, as Anne Applebaum has written in the Washington Post: [T] he collateral damage inflicted by the war on America’s relationships with the rest of the world is a lot deeper and broader than most Americans have realized.”

In support of Ms. Applebaum’s assertion, simply recall the words uttered to Condoleezza Rice in October 2007 by Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of the Demos Center for Information and Research, a Russian human rights organization: The United States had “lost the high moral ground.” “The American voice alone doesn’t work anymore…The Russians are not influenced by it.” [Steven Lee Myers, New York Times Oct. 15, 2007]

Finally, mention also must be made of another catastrophe feared and predicted by the pre-war critics of Bush’s invasion, one which now looms on the horizon: the destabilization of nuclear armed Pakistan. As Robert Parry wrote in September 2002, “One reason a war with Iraq might increase, rather than decrease, the danger to the American people is that the invasion could spread instability across the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world…[impacting] most notably the dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.”

As Parry observed: “Today, even as Musharraf cooperates with the U.S. war on terror, his regime is confronted by pro-al Qaeda factions both inside and outside his government. Many past and present Pakistani military officers continue to sympathize with the fundamentalists.” [Robert Parry, “Bush’s Nuclear Gamble,” [consortiumnews.com, September 30, 2002]

As if describing Bush’s reverse Midas touch in Pakistan, Juan Cole has observed: “The pressure the Bush administration put on the Pakistani military government to combat Muslim militants in that country weakened the legitimacy of [military dictator Pervez] Musharraf, whom the Pakistani public increasingly viewed as an oppressive American puppet.” Not content with such long-term undermining of its client dictator, the Bush administration then “brokered a deal whereby [Benazir] Bhutto was allowed to return to Pakistan.” But, “the huge explosion that greeted Bhutto in her home turf of Karachi…suggests that her arrival is hardly the remedy for Pakistan’s instability.” [Cole, Salon.com Oct. 24, 2007]

Thus, given its profoundly devastating King Midas touch that has rippled around the world, one can confidently predict that the Bush administration will further embolden militant Muslims and secure its legacy as the worst presidency in U.S. history by attacking Iran, thereby bringing America’s staggering and tottering empire crashing to the ground. Like Lenin, during the pre-revolutionary period in Tsarist Russia, it would be tempting to say, “the worse, the better” for America. Except: (1) I don’t believe the loss of empire will prompt Americans to wake up and (2) America’s fervent Bush-supporting crackpot Christians, seeing evidence for their long awaited Rapture and End Times in the calamities actually wrought by Bush, already have a stranglehold on Lenin’s dictum.

(More about such crackpot Christians in a future article).

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Manufacturing Consent for World War III by Michael Barker

November 26, 2007

Manufacturing Consent for World War III by Michael Barker

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Barker
Global Research, November 22, 2007

“When President Bush used an October 17 [2007] White House press conference to threaten that the escalating US confrontation with Iran posed a danger of ‘World War III’ his remark was passed over in silence by most of the media. Those that did report it seemed, for the most part, to accept the White House claim that the president was engaging in hyperbole and merely making a ‘rhetorical point.’” Bill Van Auken (2007).

The key role the mainstream media plays in manufacturing public consent for elite decision makers has a long and inglorious history that has wreaked havoc on progressive aspirations for the development a truly democratic globa l p olity. While the antidemocratic implications of Manufacturing Consent were first popularized in the late 1980s by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s (1988) classic book of the same title, the methods of manufacturing public consent were honed much earlier by communications researchers participating in the seminal (Rockefeller Foundation funded) Communications Group, and many of the founding fathers of mass communication research.[1] Given the high level of involvement of mass communications researchers in refining the means by which to manufacture consent, it is little wonder that recent studies provide ample evidence illustrating the US government’s ability to exploit the system-supportive tendencies of the mainstream media to justify overt wars and cover-up covert wars,[2] distract attention from their support (throughout the Cold War) of right-wing terrorist armies in every European country,[3] legitimize controversial ‘humanitarian’ interventions,[4] play down genocides in which their government is implicated, and manufacture public consent for economic sanctions that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.[5] More recent events (post 9/11) also demonstrate how a relentless propaganda campaign waged through the American media was able to persuade a significant proportion of the domestic population that the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq was both necessary and justified.[6]

Thus considering the historical willingness of the US media to propound antidemocratic elite propaganda, it is entirely predicable that the media would play an integral role in manufacturing the next perceived threat to international stability, that is, the Iranian ‘threat’. As Marjorie Cohn (2007) notes: “It’s déja vu. This time the Bush gang wants war with Iran. Following a carefully orchestrated strategy, they have ratcheted up the ‘threat’ from Iran, designed to mislead us into a new war four years after they misled us into Iraq.” John Pilger (2007) adds that this ‘threat’ is “entirely manufactured, aided and abetted by familiar, compliant media language that refers to Iran’s ‘nuclear ambitions’, just as the vocabulary of Saddam’s non-existent WMD arsenal became common usage.”

It is then unfortunate to note that international attention is now firmly fixated on the Iranian ‘threat.’ Furthermore, given the success of the Bush administration’s most recent propaganda offensives, which have led to the destruction and ongoing occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is little reason to doubt that the American government does not have similar plans for Iran. In an earlier study I documented how the ostensibly democratic US-based National Endowment of Democracy has funnelled money to Iranian groups and media projects in an attempt to overthrow the Iranian government from within. However, in an attempt to counter the US government’s ongoing propaganda initiatives, this article will review how the mass media is manufacturing public consent for yet another illegal war by examining the work of radical mass media critics.

Mediating the Path to World War III

“…we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” President Bush, October 17, 2007.

(For a useful commentary on this statement, see Cuban Missile Crisis Redux)

Judging by the ongoing discussions in both the mainstream and alternative (progressive) media, it is apparent that, one way or the other, the US (and its coalition of willing cronies) has its sights firmly set on bringing regime change to Iran. So far, for the most part, the alternative media has focused on the nuclear threat posed by the Middle East’s most dangerous lawbreaker, Israel. The mainstream media, however, has persistently and erroneously portrayed Iran as the ‘real’ nuclear threat. Even Britain’s so-called liberal media is demonstrating its ability to manufacture consent for elite interests, with the BBC recently devoting an entire (Israeli-made) documentary to the issue of the Iranian problem, ironically titled Will Israel bomb Iran? This is not really surprising, as the governments guilty of involvement are heavily reliant on the mainstream media’s willingness to legitimize their ‘war on terror’, which in turn, could turn out to be the catalyst for an illegal and catastrophic foreign intervention in Iran (and thereby a catalyst for a global war).

In a manner which is eerily reminiscent of the mainstream media’s focus on Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Dmitriy Sedov (2007) notes that in Iran’s case the media similarly “never stop[s] debating the issue of the ‘Iranian atomic bomb’”. Indeed John Pilger (2007) points out that “[w]e are being led towards perhaps the most serious crisis in modern history as the Bush-Cheney-Blair ‘long war’ edges closer to Iran for no reason other than that nation’s independence from rapacious America.” However, as Pilger notes, despite the proximity of this crisis:

“…there is a surreal silence, save for the noise of ‘news’ in which our powerful broadcasters gesture cryptically at the obvious but dare not make sense of it, lest the one-way moral screen erected between us and the consequences of an imperial foreign policy collapse and the truth be revealed.”

This phenomenon was well documented by Edward S. Herman (2006), who as early as March last year wrote:

“Today’s big news is the possibility that Iran, the Little Satan, might some day acquire a nuclear weapon: the administration says so, the media say so, and now three times as many people regard Iran as the U.S.’s greatest menace than four months ago and 47 percent of the public agrees that Iran should be bombed if needed to prevent its acquiring any nuclear weapon capability.”

In August 2007, Noam Chomsky pointed out that “[w]ithout irony, the Bush administration and the media charge that Iran is ‘meddling’ in Iraq”. Unfortunately:

“…Washington’s propaganda framework is reflexively accepted, apparently without notice, in US and other Western commentary and reporting, apart from the marginal fringe of what is called ‘the loony left.’ What is considered ‘criticism’ is skepticism as to whether all of Washington’s charges about Iranian aggression in Iraq are true. It might be an interesting research project to see how closely the propaganda of Russia, Nazi Germany, and other aggressors and occupiers matched the standards of today’s liberal press and commentators.

“The rhetoric about Iran has escalated to the point where both political parties and practically the whole US press accept it as legitimate and, in fact, honorable, that ‘all options are on the table,’ to quote Hillary Clinton and everybody else, possibly even nuclear weapons. ‘All options on the table’ means that Washington threatens war.”

War, Propaganda, the Corporate Media, and the BBC?

Herman (2006) outlines Twelve Principles of Propaganda Used in Setting the Stage for War in Iran, which in summary (without his accompanying evidence) are (1) that the US “has the legal and moral right” to lead the international community in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, (2) that countries targeted by US foreign policy elites should not be allowed the right to defend themselves, (3) to exaggerate the dangers posed by Iran’s eventual development of nuclear weapons, (4) to engage in “unrelenting demonization” of the said target, (5) to exclude any discussion of US relations with countries more deserving of the “demon status” that has been ascribed to Iran (also see here), (6) to underplay/ignore historical actions/relationships with Iran “that might show both hypocrisy and the fraudulence of the claimed threat”, (7) to underplay/ignore recent US actions that “might appear incompatible with its harsh stand opposing Iran’s pursuing any nuclear program” (8) that the US does not need to apply the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to its own actions, but can still “alter the terms of the NPT as it applies to its target”, (9) that “if the target cannot prove a negative, the severity of the threat to U.S. ‘national security’ requires that Iran be bombed and that there be a change in regime to one that can be trusted (like that of the Shah of Iran, or Sharon, or Musharraf)”, (10) to manipulate the “mechanisms of international regulation linked to the UN to serve the war and goal of regime change” – for a detailed treatment of this subject, see Herman and David Peterson (2007) (11) to maintain that the need to deal with the “Iran threat is based on a universal worry, and does not reflect U.S. power and the attempts to appease that power”, and (12) to dismiss any other hidden geostrategic interests that the U.S. may be pursuing in the Middle East. (Of course, as part and parcel of these propaganda principles the media also routinely engage in distributing outright disinformation.) Just a few months after Herman’s prescient analysis, Herman and Peterson (2006) concluded that:

“…the mainstream media have followed the party line on the Iran ‘crisis’ and failed almost without exception to note the problems and deal with matters raised in the alternative frames. Remarkably, despite their acknowledged massive failures as news organizations and de facto propaganda service for the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq invasion, with the administration refocusing on the new dire threat from Iran it took the mainstream media no time whatsoever to fall into party-line formation-from which they have not deviated.”

Like many media scholars who study the US media system, the noticeable contrast between the US media environment and other slightly more democratic media outlets overseas leads Herman (2006) to highlight the existence of dissenting voices in the British media: thus he notes that “[t]he ‘Drumbeat sounds familiar’ to Simon Tisdall in the London Guardian (March 7, 2006), but not to the servants of power in the U.S. media.”[7] However, even though some parts of the British media – like the Guardian and BBC – are often rated highly by American media analysts for their progressive credentials, some British-based researchers actually surmise that these so-called Left-orientated media outlets still serve to manufacture public consent for elite interests by setting distinct boundaries on the limits of acceptable dissent (see http://www.medialens.org).[8] On this point, Medialens writers David Edwards and David Cromwell (2007) suggest that: “There are glimmers of conscience in the [British] libera l p ress where journalists just cannot help but notice the echoes of 2002-2003 ahead of the Iraq catastrophe”, but Edwards and Cromwell still conclude that “the key point is that the liberal media are fully participating in the demonisation of Iran”.

As early as January 2005, Medialens drew attention to the BBC’s role in the propaganda offensive against Iran, while by February 2006, Medialens led off a follow-up article by noting that Timothy Garton Ash writing in the ‘liberal’ broadsheet the Guardian wrote: “Now we face the next big test of the west: after Iraq, Iran.” Furthermore, just a few months later Medialens demonstrated how the BBC had distorted an Amnesty International press release in their ongoing efforts to demonise Iran, and concluded their article by asking the following poignant questions:

“Why did the BBC decide to focus so prominently and heavily on Iran – a country under serious threat of attack by the United States and perhaps Britain? Why would the BBC choose to isolate and highlight the sins of an official enemy, thereby boosting the government’s propaganda campaign? Is this innocent, or are more cynical forces at work here?”

(Click here to read more about this case and to read the BBC’s response to Medialens.)

Of course a group like Medialens which has limited resources can only ever hope to document a smaller proportion of the British (‘liberal’) media’s servility to power, but nonetheless they have produced another two media-alerts this year concerning British media coverage of Iranian affairs, these being Iran in Iraq: The Art of Instant Forgetting (see related FAIR article), and Pentagon Propaganda Occupies the Guardian’s Frontpage (also see their follow-up article). For another recent discussion of the warmongering role of the British ‘liberal’ media, see Britain’s Channel Four Propaganda Machine Now Churning for Iran War, which describes the grilling that Channel Four presenter, Jon Snow, gave to President Ahmadinejad in September 2007.

Similarly, British-based Media Workers Against the War (MWAW) have highlighted the BBC’s role in building the case for a war on Iran, and have even held protests outside of their broadcasting studios. In June 2006, MWAW noted that BBC Radio Four’s flagship current affairs programme, Today, “paid lip service of [sic] ‘balance’ while presenting the debate over Iran in such a way as to legitimise a US military response”. Again, this news should not be overly surprising, as earlier academic studies have already concluded that the BBC had “displayed the most pro-war agenda of any [British] broadcaster” in the lead-up to Iraq’s destruction.[9]

In another MWAW (2007) report, this time pertaining to the media coverage of the recent so-called ‘hostage’ crisis, a journalist from the Financial Times described how his newspaper purposely chose to use the word detainees not hostages to describe the 15 British navy personnel recently held in Iran for 13 days. Crucially this thoughtful journalist was most concerned about how the broadsheets switched from using the word “detainees/captives” to “hostages” “after George W. Bush demanded on March 31 that ‘The Iranians must give back the hostages’”. Again this revelation should not be surprising to any scholars familiar with the vital role the so-called liberal media plays in supporting illegal foreign interventions.[10] So it should be expected that Anthony DiMaggio’s (2007) examination of the media coverage of the detainment crisis (in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post) led him to conclude that as Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model suggests, American reporters have faithfully taken to the role of an unofficia l p ropaganda arm for the state”.

More News on the March Towards War

More recently DiMaggio (2007), in another excellent article, has demonstrated how the Washington Post exhibited “a pattern of deception, one-sidedness, and manipulation” in its (mis)reporting on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons. In his review of “over 230 Post news stories, 31 editorials, and 58 op-eds from 2003 through 2007” he demonstrated:

“…that assertions suggesting Iran may or is developing nuclear weapons appeared twice as often as claims or assertions that Iran is not or may not be developing such weapons. The paper’s op-eds and editorials are even more slanted, as 90% of editorials and 93% of op-eds suggest Iran is developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to 0% of editorials and 16% of op-eds suggesting Iran may not be developing such weapons. Belligerent rhetoric is also used far more often in regards to the Iranian ‘threat’ (of which there is no evidence of to date) than to the far larger U.S. and Israeli military threat to Iran (which has been announced vocally and shamelessly over and over throughout the American and Israeli press). Belligerent terms are applied twice as often in regards to Iranian development of nuclear weapons. Such terms, portray Iran as a ‘threat,’ and discuss the ‘fear’ invoked by a potentially nuclear armed Iran, as well as the ‘danger’ of such a development – as contrasted with similar references to a U.S. ‘threat,’ to the ‘fear’ of a U.S. or Israeli attack, or the ‘danger’ both countries pose to Iran.”

DiMaggio’s research also determined that while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was mentioned in the majority of the Washington Post’s editorials (and 29% of the time in its op-eds), “the IAEA’s actual conclusion that there is ‘no evidence’ Iran is developing nuclear weapons” is reported in just one editorial and one op-ed. He goes on to note that:

“References to the fact that it was the U.S. itself that originally supported Iranian uranium enrichment show up in just 1% of the Post’s news stories, and in just 3% of all op-eds, and none of the paper’s editorials. The same goes for admissions that the United States is undertaking a similar project of enriching its own uranium for use in a new generation of American nuclear weapons (the major distinction, however, is that the U.S. openly admits to its project, while Iran has admitted to no such program). The very activity that U.S. leaders are condemning Iran for secretly pursuing is arrogantly advocated and pursued by the United States (the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons on civilians), although one wouldn’t know any of this from looking at the coverage.”

With the release of the IAEA’s most recent (nine page report) released in mid-November, Farideh Farhi (2007) discussed the “interestingly partial way various news organizations and governments end up interpreting or representing the report to audiences they are sure will not read the reports themselves.” Farhi critiques the misreporting of the New York Times, Associated Press, and the Washington Post, and concludes his piece by noting that a BBC piece titled Mixed UN Nuclear Report for Iran although with some shortcomings was at least able to give “a relatively accurate description of the issues involved.” In fact, as the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) illustrated in May 2007, there are at least “twenty reasons to oppose sanctions and military intervention in Iran”, and:

“Contrary to the myth created by the western media, it is not Iran, but the US and its European allies which are defying the overwhelming majority of the international community, in that, they have resisted the call to enter into direct, immediate and comprehensive negotiations with Iran without any pre-conditions.”

A couple of months later, in July 2007, CASMII went on to criticise the Financial Times over the publication of an article that made “unfounded allegations about Iranian government’s complicity with Al-Qaeda launching terrorist operations in Iraq, using Iranian territory.” (The article in question was titled Al-Qaeda linked to operations from Iran.)

Finally, in September 2007, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the US to address the United Nations General Assembly, the corporate media was on form again, ready to leap at any opportunity to vigorously thump the drum for war: indeed media analyst Deepa Kumar (2007) described the treatment of Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York as “xenophobic and hysterical”.[11] Ironically, in sharp contrast to the harsh treat Ahmadinejad’s visit provoked from the US media, Edward S. Herman (2007) reminds us that:

In February 1955, the Shah of Iran was a guest at Columbia [University] receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and he, like Musharraf, was greeted deferentially by Grayson Kirk and gave a well-received speech featuring an accolade to the U.S. ‘policy of peace backed by strength.’ The New York Times also noted that the Shah was ‘impressed by the desire of Americans for a secure and enduring peace’ (‘Shah Praises U.S. For Peace Policy,’ NYT, February 5, 1955). This was, of course, just a few months after the United States had overthrown the elected government of Guatemala via a proxy army and had installed a regime of permanent terror.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the case of the mainstream media’s recent coverage of Iranian issues it is perhaps uncontroversial to suggest that the media are conforming to Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s (1988) Propaganda Model by demonstrating their willingness to manufacture of mass consent for elite interests. Of course, this democratic deficit of the mainstream media is particularly noticeable to any regular readers/viewers of the alternative press, as the latter’s stories are almost unrecognizable when contrasted with their mainstream counterparts. That said, like the mainstream media’s coverage of Iranian issues, the alternative media has concentrated almost all of its energy into analysing the ongoing (and potential nuclear) military operations in the Middle East.[12] This is problematic because military threats and interventions (both overt and covert) are only one among many instruments available to the imperial architects of US foreign policy to promote regime change in Iran. As discussed earlier, a relative newcomer to the armoury of foreign policy elites is the use of democracy itself as a tool of foreign policy, a tool which is arguably one of the most potent weapons in the war of ideas waged by policy elites against progressive activists. Nevertheless despite the minimal coverage of such ‘democratic’ tactics, World War III still lurks on the horizon, and as Jean Bricmont (2007) summarised this September:

“All the ideological signposts for attacking Iran are in place. The country has been thoroughly demonized because it is not nice to women, to gays, or to Jews. That in itself is enough to neutralize a large part of the American ‘left’. The issue of course is not whether Iran is nice or not – according to our views – but whether there is any legal reason to attack it, and there is none; but the dominant ideology of human rights has legitimized, specifically in the left, the right of intervention on humanitarian grounds anywhere, at any time, and that ideology has succeeded in totally sidetracking the minor issue of international law.”

To work to defeat the propaganda war (not to mention the military war) on Iran, it is essential that citizens around the world develop the know-how to see through the propaganda veil that has been cast over Iranian affairs. For example. to counter the influence of best-selling authors like neoconservative-linked Azar Nafisi – (in)famous for writing Reading Lolita in Tehran – concerned citizens would do well to help publicise more honest books dealing with Iranian affairs like Fatemeh Keshavarz’s (2007) recent book Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran. (See interview with the author here, and also read Hamid Dabashi’s (2006) important critique of Nafisi’s work). However, at the end of the day it is vital that al l p eople, with even a passing interest in the foreign affairs of their elected governments, work to create a media that can support democratic principles, not undermine them. This can be done in a number of ways but of course providing financial support for independent media outlets is a must. This is because as Robert McChesney (1997) points out: “regardless of what a progressive group’s first issue of importance is, its second issue should be media and communication, because so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board.”[13]

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au and some of his other articles can be found here.

Endnotes

[1] Barker, M.J. (Submitted) ‘The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform’, Global Media Journal.

[2] Herman, E. S. and N. Chomsky (1988) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books; Keeble, R. (1997) Secret State, Silent Press: New Militarism, the Gulf and the Modern Image of Warfare. Bedfordshire, U.K.: John Libbey Media Faculty of Media University of Luton; Molwana, H., G. Gerbner and H. I. Schiller (1992) Triumph of the Image: The Media’s War in the Persian Gulf : A Global Perspective. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

[3] Also see Danielle Ganser’s online articles Secret Warfare: Operation Gladio and NATO’s Stay-Behind Army, and Terrorism in Western Europe: An Approach to NATO’s Secret Stay-Behind Armies.

[4] Hammond, P. and E. S. Herman (2000) Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis. London: Pluto Press; Robinson, P. (2000) ‘The Policy-Media Interaction Model: Measuring Media Power During Humanitarian Crisis’, Journal of Peace Research, 37(5): 613-633.

[5] Herring, E. (2004) ‘Power, Propaganda and Indifference: An Explanation of the Maintenance of Economic Sanctions on Iraq Despite Their Human Cost’, pp. 34-56 in T. Y. Ismael & W. W. Haddad (eds) Iraq: The Human Cost of History. London: Pluto Press.

[6] Friel, H. and R. A. Falk (2004) The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy. London: Verso; Kumar, D. (2006) ‘Media, War, and Propaganda: Strategies of Information Management During the 2003 Iraq War’, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 3(1): 48-69; Miller, D. (2004) Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq. London: Pluto.

[7] Writing for the US-based mediawatchdog FAIR, Norman Solomon has been busily documenting the US media propaganda war against Iran, see Nuclear Fundamentalism and the Iran Story (5/5/05), The Iran Crisis: “Diplomacy” as a Launch Pad for Missiles (2/6/06), Media Tall Tales for the Next War (9/26/06). Also see FAIR’s Buying the Bush Line on Iran Nukes: Despite uncertainty, U.S. journalists take sides (September/October 2005), Won’t Get Fooled Again? NYT, networks offer scant skepticism on Iran claims (2/2/07), and NYT Breaks Own Anonymity Rules: Paper pushes Iran threat with one-sided array of unnamed officials (2/16/07).

[8] McKiggan, M. 2005. Climate Change and the Mass Media: A Critical Analysis. Unpublished MSc thesis, Southampton University.

[9] Cited in Pilger, J. (2003) ‘The BBC and Iraq: Myth and Reality, New Statesman, December 4, 2003; Wells, M. (2003) ‘Study Deals a Blow to Claims of Anti-War Bias in BBC News’, The Guardian, July 4, 2003.

[10] Edwards, D. and D. Cromwell (2006) Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media. London: Pluto Press; Friel, H. and R. A. Falk (2004) The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy. London: Verso; Klaehn, J. (2005) Filtering the News: Essays on Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

[11] It is also not so surprising that amongst the protestors (which the media called a “large anti-Iran protest movement”) based outside of Columbia University during Ahmadinejad’s visit “were in fact anti-war protestors demanding an end to US threats directed against Iran.”

[12] Some progressive commentators like Gabriel Kolko (2007) argue that a war with Iran is unlikely.

[13] McChesney, R. W. (1997) Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. New York: Seven Stories Press, p.71.

Global Research Articles by Michael Barker
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