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Lessons from the U.S. stance towards Iran

Jeremy R. Hammond | July 10, 2007

Prior to the military invasion of Iraq in 2003, the government and media, for whatever various motives, had engaged in a propaganda campaign that effectively deceived the American people on a massive scale. The propaganda continues to this day, such as the implausible denial that there ever was such a campaign and the fabricated myth that there was an "intelligence failure" leading up to the war.

But the propaganda isn't limited to Iraq. Iran has become a major focus of U.S. propaganda efforts. That this state of affairs continues demonstrates the failure of the American people to learn the most obvious lessons from the course of events that led us to be in Iraq in the first place.

One front in the propaganda war is to blame Iran for the situation that exists today as a result of U.S. actions. Iran, we are told, supports the resistance against the U.S. occupation of Iraq and is intent upon destabilizing the country. We are told this at the same time that it is acknowledged that Iran's best interests lie in maintaining friendly relations with the current Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. No attempt to reconcile the contradiction is ever made.

The basic framework for present debate concerning Iran is founded upon the assumption that any Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs is illegitimate and wrong. The legitimacy of our own actions is unquestionable, and it's accepted as an axiom that, though we may make mistakes from time to time, our presence in Iraq is one of benevolence. The U.S. waged a war of aggression, "the supreme international crime" as defined at Nuremberg, inflicting death and destruction upon the country and resulting in almost total destabilization (Iraq was recently ranked second only to Sudan in Foreign Policy's annual failed states index). But, still, the U.S. is basically good and her intentions benign; and no one must ever question that basic assumption.

To point out the obvious, Iraq is a country on the other side of the world from the U.S. and it shares a border with Iran. We may imagine the U.S. reaction to the invasion and occupation of, say, Canada, by, say, Russia or China. The assumption, were the Iran and U.S. roles to be reversed, would be precisely the opposite; it would be assumed that the U.S. would have a "right" to interfere in the affairs of its neighboring country.

That this would be so is self-evident if we set aside the hypothetical and examine the plethora of examples wherein the U.S. has actually claimed some sort of inherent right to interfere with the affairs of others. Take the U.S.'s war against Nicaragua, for which it was condemned by the World Court for the unlawful use of force. This is an action which, since a proxy armed group was employed, falls short of an act of aggression and falls into the category of state-sponsored international terrorism, if we give the U.S. the benefit of the doubt.

Or look at U.S. interference in Iran. We criticize Iran today for allegedly interfering in the affairs of its neighbors while having had overthrown the government of the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and installing the hated Shah, ushering in an era of brutal repression and ultimately leading to the Islamic revolution that resulted in the Shah's overthrow.

The hypocrisy of condemning Iran for so much less than what the U.S. is responsible for is lost upon mainstream commentators. Simply stated, the framework assumes that when we do it, it's good, but when they do it, it's bad. If you go outside of that framework, you're some sort of radical and must be disregarded.

There is also the question of whether the claims made against Iran are even true or not. There's been no shortage of claims made against Iran by the government and media attempting to demonize the country. In one particularly noteworthy example, U.S. News & World Report ran a story that claimed Iranian troops had "surrounded and attacked" American soldiers "well within the border of Iraq." The claimed source for this sensational "exclusive" was a U.S. Army report. The interesting thing is that the Army report contained no such information. Anyone who actually took the time to examine the source for the story, conveniently supplied to readers by the U.S. News & World Report website, could see that it doesn't say American troops were "surrounded", but "approached" by Iranian soldiers from whom they retreated (which they couldn't have done had they been surrounded); and the report states explicitly that it was uncertain whether this incident actually occurred in Iraq or not. The author, to put it plainly, lied and fabricated a "news" story which U.S. News & World Report found fit to print.[1] While certainly an instructive example of deceitful propaganda for its blatant dishonesty, it is by no means the only one.

In February, the Pentagon held a press conference to provide evidence to support months of claims that Iran had been supporting attacks upon American troops in Iraq. President Bush had claimed that "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops." Government officials said that weapons were being smuggled into Iraq by an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, known as Quds Force, on orders "coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government." But at the press conference, the defense analyst present acknowledged the inconclusiveness of the evidence, noting that such conclusions were based on "inference" and that "The smoking gun of an Iranian standing over an American with a gun, it's never going to happen."

At the heart of the controversy was the "explosively formed penetrator," or EFP, an explosive device that projects a slug of metal when it explodes. According to the government and media, these weapons have been provided to Iraqis by Iran. This was admittedly a conclusion based upon the assumptions that the components for these weapons could not be manufactured in Iraq and that they must have been provided to Iraqis with the knowledge of the Iranian government. On one hand, this conclusion assumes Iraqis (whom we were told prior to the invasion were on the verge of constructing a nuclear bomb) would not be capable of producing the necessary components, and on the other that foreign-made components could not be purchased, either openly or on the black market, without the knowledge and blessing of the government in the country where they were manufactured. Both assumptions are, needless to say, highly questionable. [2]

In the latest manifestation of the same story, a New York Times headline tells us that "Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.s", at least according to the U.S. government. The article was based on a Pentagon press conference in which Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner detailed the extent of Iran's alleged involvement in what the Times called "the most specific allegation of Iranian involvement in an attack that killed American troops".

Bergner claimed, "The Iranian Quds Force is using Lebanese Hezbollah essentially as a proxy, as a surrogate in Iraq" in order to destabilize Iraq and attack U.S. forces. The Times noted that while earlier briefings focused "on accusations about an Iranian role focused on technical analyses of arms said to have been supplied by Iran to Shiite militias in Iraq, including explosively formed penetrators, some critics said the evidence was circumstantial and charged that the Americans appeared to be offering a new rationale for maintaining or increasing the military commitment in Iraq." The Pentagon was trying to present that "smoking gun" image of "an Iranian standing over an American with a gun". But this is as much examination into the views and skepticism of "some critics" that the Times was willing to give.

According to the Pentagon, information upon which the newest claim is based was "drawn from interrogations of three men". One of the men, Bergner claimed, was a Lebanese Hezbollah agent. The other two, so we have been told, were Iraqis working as agents for the Iranian Quds Force. Bergner for some reason felt it necessary to stress that this information was not extracted from these individuals by means of torture: "We don't torture. We follow scrupulously the interrogation techniques in the Army's new field manual which forbids torture and has the force of law." [3]

Of course, the truth of this statement depends upon how one defines "torture," differentiated in international law from "inhuman or degrading treatment", which the U.S. does do, including the use of "stress positions," sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other interrogation methods of dubious legality and questionable morality. [4]

General Bergner, the Pentagon spokesman, claimed that the Hezbollah agent had "helped the Quds Force in training Iraqis inside Iran" and that these groups had been responsible for violence in Iraq. "I think the reality of this is that they're killing American forces, they're killing Iraqis, they're killing Iraqi security forces, and they are disrupting the stability in Iraq." Again, of course, it's not bad when we do it. That goes without saying.

Bergner went further, adding that "the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity." Of course, no evidence was provided to support any of these claims, and the public is expected to take the word of government spokespersons at face value. Hezbollah reportedly rejected the claims, and Iran responded by calling Bergner's story "fabricated and ridiculous." The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "It has been four and a half years that U.S. officials have sought to cover up the dreadful situation in Iraq, which is a result of their mistakes and wrong strategies, by denigrating and blaming others."

For a long time now, there have been calls from prominent Americans for bombing Iran. After the Pentagon briefing, Senator Joseph J. Lieberman said, "The fact is that the Iranian government has by its actions declared war on us" and that "a credible threat of force" against Iran was necessary. While he fell short of previous calls to bomb the country, he reiterated the often heard remark that we must keep open "the possibility of using military force against the terrorist infrastructure inside Iran." [5] The consequences of the U.S. use of violence in Iraq are not enough; we must also wage, or at least threaten to wage, violence against Iran.

While the resistance movement against the U.S. occupation is predominantly comprised of Sunni Muslims, various Shiite militias -- most notably the Mahdi Army -- have also taken up arms against the occupying power. It is the Shiite groups that Iran is said to support. The truth of the allegations is uncertain, but the interesting thing about the debate is the assumption, accepted as a truism, that it is wrong for Iran to do so while the legitimacy of our own actions is unquestionable. We support various groups and militias, but it's condemnable when Iran also does so. We invade and occupy a foreign nation on the other side of the world, but it's an outrage when Iran interferes in the affairs of its neighbor. We wage violence and cause immense suffering, throwing an entire nation into chaos, and yet somehow we are still capable of pointing a finger at Iran, projecting onto Iran our own image -- the image of a monster.

That the discussion coming from the government and media could continue as long as it has under this basic framework, the incredible hypocrisy as the proverbial elephant in the room, speaks volumes about American society and the willingness of people on such a massive scale to deceive themselves about their own role and the role of their own government in the world.

It's understandable that nobody likes to look in the mirror and see a monster. But it's unjustifiable for a nation of people to see what they want to see, instead of facing up to reality when the consequences of such self-imposed delusion are so real, so profound, and so deadly to people of other nations.

1. Jeremy R. Hammond, "Truth and Lies in Media Reports on Iran", Yirmeyahu Review, March 27, 2007

2. Jeremy R. Hammond, "The US Propaganda Campaign Against Iran", Online Journal, February 16, 2007

3. John F. Burns and Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. Says Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.'s", New York Times, July 3, 2007

4. Jeremy R. Hammond, "Alberto Gonzales and the Rule of Lawlessness", Yirmeyahu Review, January 9, 2005

5. David Lightman, "Lieberman: Iran Has Declared War", Hartford Courant, July 2, 2007

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