Let’s pause and take a quiz question on the Iraq War:
➢ What lessons should we learn from the current war in Iraq?
(a) The occupation is brutal, illegitimate, and must end immediately.
(b) We must pull out in accord with the wishes of large majorities of Iraqis and North Americans.
(c) We must never again go to war without seriously examining the official reasons given for going to war.
(d) We must stay the course to fix what we’ve broken.
(e) We must stay the course because withdrawal now means victory for Iran.
(f) If the war is not going well we ought to spread it.
If you are a principled anti-war reader you are likely to choose (a), (b), and (c). If you opposed the decision to go to war but are now troubled by the mess it has created, you may choose (d) based on the seemingly innocuous refrain that “if we broke it, we must fix it.” Note that the alternative metaphorical exhortation that “if you raped her, you must now marry her” may lead one to an entirely different conclusion. On the other hand, if you picked either (e) or (f), then you are in agreement with the resurgent Washington hawks that are busy grooming the dogs of war once more, but this time against Iran.
The release of the late 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 disappointed the intransigent real-men-want-to-go-to-Tehran neocons and for a while seemed to lessen the risk of a new war and pave the way for new diplomatic possibilities for resolving tensions with Iran. However, in recent weeks the Bush administration has instead gone on a new offensive against Iran. In April, President Bush identified Iran alongside al-Qaeda as “two of the greatest threats to America in this new century.” Other top officials have accused Iran of “killing American servicemen and women in Iraq” and of being behind “73 percent of fatal and other harmful attacks on American troops in the past year.” Pentagon has admitted planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran to combat her “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq and has altered its force posture in the Persian Gulf by deploying a second aircraft carrier as a “reminder” to Iran of the US resolve to defend its interests.
Other influential voices have joined this anti-Iran campaign of fear and disinformation. Recently Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) remarked irresponsibly that as president she would “obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons if Iran were to absurdly initiate a nuclear assault on the heavily nuclear-armed Spartan state of Israel. She was adamant later that Tehran needed to hear this message of obliteration presumably because the evil Iranians understand only force and are not susceptible to diplomacy as suggested subversively by the 2007 NIE. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who had last week called airstrikes against Iran “a distinct possibility” appeared on Bill Bennett’s nationally broadcast radio show Morning in America on May 14 and said that bombing Iran “does have an appeal to it.” (http://thinkprogress.org/2008/05/14/lieberman-bennett-bomb-iran/)
At this point some readers might entertain the thought that surely the Fourth Estate shall hold back the drive towards another ruinous war of aggression. But have the mass media learnt from their fateful blunders in the run-up to the Iraq War? A reality check suggests otherwise. During the most recent escalation of threats against Iran the media were by and large preoccupied with such vital issues as whether or not presidential candidates should wear flag pins. With a few exceptions, the Fourth Estate has acted more as a cheerleader for the state than a watchdog over the state.
The corporate media have as yet to seriously examine Washington’s multi-narrative propaganda campaign against Iran. The Washington hawks persist in their claim that Iran is secretly building a Shiite nuclear bomb notwithstanding the contrary conclusion reached to date by the US intelligence community and the UN nuclear watchdog. Washington claims that Iran is waging a bloody proxy war against the US in Iraq without so far providing any evidence that could meet minimum standards of judgment, all the while glossing over the fact that Tehran and Washington are de facto allies in Iraq as they are the key backers of the same Shiite factions that presume to rule in Iraq – or what is left of it anyhow.
Bush claims that Iran is now the new al-Qaeda-like anti-American terror state in the heart of the Middle East, and is destabilizing Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Putting aside the phantasmagoric nature of the idea that all roads in the region lead to Iran, one can argue that the alleged strategic centrality of Iran in the region is greatly exaggerated and is part of the larger campaign of demonization of Iran with the view to keep the military option on the table. The fact is Iraq is in ruins (and not just destabilized) as a result of the US invasion and occupation and not of Iran’s actions. Given the calamity that is Iraq it is in fact not an exaggeration to refer to the Bush Iraq War as No-Iraq-Left-Behind policy. As for Lebanon and Gaza, it is quite true that Iran backs Hezbollah and Hamas. However, both of these organizations operate within their own localized and national contexts. They are not lifeless instruments of Iranian policies as imagined in the Washington discourse. It is more complicated than that. Lastly, Iran has been predictably the major strategic beneficiary of the current Iraq War. The neocons at the time ignored this because they imagined that Ahmad Chalabi, an exiled secular Shiite Iraqi and a neocon, would replace Saddam Hussein and that at any rate the US would soon after the fall of Baghdad get on with its mission of regime change in Tehran. Hence they were not going to worry about Iran gaining any significant long-term strategic depth in Iraq. It is ironic that the US is now traversing the capitals of its Sunni Arab allies in the region to mobilize them against what they warned Washington in the run-up to the Iraq War.
Washington also claims that the US/Israeli policies are sensible and are in accord with the requirements of peace, democracy, and justice in the region. However, just regarding Iran, there is evidence that the US itself has been covertly destabilizing Iran – an act in breach of international law. In fact the corporate media have as yet to focus on the significance of a March 2008 signing of a secret directive by President Bush authorizing a covert offensive against Iran throughout a vast geographic area from Lebanon to Afghanistan, with full support for violent oppositional groups both inside and outside of Iran as well as stepped up operations against Iran’s regional allies. (http://www.counterpunch.org/andrew05022008.html)
We may ask what Bush wishes to gain by its latest offensive against Iran. It may be designed to pave the way for a new war, or to justify the continued occupation of Iraq and blame failure there on Iran, or to appease Israeli and Sunni Arab allies of the US, or simply to put pressure on Tehran before the next round of US/Iran negotiations on stability in Iraq.
What is certain, however, and covered least of all by the mass media, is that the escalations of US threats of war and destabilization since 2002 have already hurt the people of Iran by empowering the hard-line theo-conservative and paramilitary factions inside of Iran who have proceeded to severely limit the already limited space for dissent and moved Iran further on the path towards a politics of ultra-national security statism. The US media have covered extensively the decisive defeat, by 2004, of the limited official reformist movement of the late 1990s. Too, the quality mainstream media have also done a fairly decent job reporting the suppression of student activism. However, much less is known regarding the heavy-handed state suppression of nascent movements by women and workers since 2005, such as the “One Million Signatures” campaign by women and the brave struggle of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed). In particular, the harsh treatment of labor activists by the state has revealed the insincerity of the class-based populist discourse of President Ahmadinejad.
Indeed it may be argued that a symbiotic relation exists between the Tehran and the Washington hawks in spite of their obvious differences. Iran’s rulers, as rulers everywhere, can best protect their power from internal challenges by battling foreign enemies real or imagined. They can argue more effectively that unity and security trump democracy and reformism in a time of national peril. Those who do not take proper heed end up in wretched dungeons. My guess is that the Washington hawks indeed welcome the outcome of this ghoulish dialectics as it makes their targeted regime even more oppressive and thus more open to destabilization and transformational campaigns waged by them. Also Washington may welcome the suppression of at least some of the activists, in particular labor advocates, whose visions and actions also collide with the neoliberal ideology favored by the neo-imperialists.
Ironically then, only a normalized US/Iran relation can provide the Iranian people with that calmer political space in which they could more securely pursue their century-long struggles for democracy and social justice at home. That is, only the realization of the seemingly impossible (in the US/Iran relations) can make possible a peaceful path towards greater democracy and social justice in Iran and permit Iranians of all political persuasions and backgrounds to reclaim the right to make their own history. And this politics of the impossible itself can only be made possible by an aroused public demanding a just foreign policy here in the US.
Thus the hope for democratic social changes in Iran depends on another kind of symbiosis, this one between the social movements for a democratic and humane foreign policy in the US and Iran’s democratic social movements. From this perspective progressives in the US carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. Yet that is what a serious humanistic cosmopolitanism demands of each of us. But first we must act to stop the Bush death train from moving onwards into new territories.