Scrutinizing the American propaganda machine

“It was very much a moment of high drama. [ . . . ] Barack Obama announce[d . . . ] the existence of a secret, undeclared nuclear facility in Iran which was inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear programme, underscoring the president’s conclusion that ‘Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow.’” — Norman Finkelstein, American political scientist and author.

Obama’s recent “high drama” is just another piece of foreign policy propaganda. If we are interested in peace and not yet another run-up to war, this time in Iran, we need to regard American presidential announcements (no matter who the president might be) with scrutiny.

First of all, we need to consider whether the president is telling the truth. It seems redundant at this point to mention that Bush’s pretexts for war — weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s alleged connections to Bin Laden — were blatantly untrue. However, this was not exceptional, but in accordance to a general pattern. It followed Clinton’s (along with Canada’s) war in Serbia, also fought under false pretexts. Commander-General Wesley Clark recognized that ethnic cleansing would predicatively follow our bombing in Serbia, and was in fact “fully anticipated” nor “in any way a concern to the political leadership,” directly contradicting the official account which suggested our intervention was a humanitarian effort to prevent ethnic cleansing.

Moving back a bit further, when the U.S. Destroyer was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin during the lead-up to the Vietnam War, what was initially denounced as an “unprovoked attack” by the Vietnamese, was later revealed in government sources as the “Vietnamese reacting defensively to our attacks.”

When it comes to analyzing government press-releases, scepticism should surely be our first approach, and so let us turn to the details surrounding this most recent declaration concerning Iran. There are many details that the corporate media and politicians deem unnecessary to share when reporting on Iran. The “secret, undeclared nuclear facility,” as announced by Obama, has, in fact, been monitored by the U.S. and other nations for some time, and is not in operation. It has followed its protocol for inspections which require it to announce any facility “180 days prior to the insertion of nuclear material.” Iran’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreement had initially accepted more stringent protocols for disclosure.

The more stringent protocols called for Iran to announce any facility immediately but this voluntary agreement never passed through Iranian parliament, and was eventually refused because of “non-compliance of partners in recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Already on Sept. 21, 2009, the government of Iran sent a letter to IAEA describing the construction of the plant, which was designed to enrich uranium to five per cent (significantly below the 90 per cent needed for weapons-grade material).

Obama accused Iran of breaking the IAEA rules, however, in the words of former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter, who had earlier criticized the U.S. allegations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction leading up to the Iraq war: “Iran is in compliance, and the IAEA has stated this [ . . . ]. The IAEA has a 100 per cent accounting for the totality of Iran’s nuclear material [ . . . ]. This is about political hype, the United States hyping up a capability in Iran which doesn’t exist, and that is the capability to produce nuclear weapons.” Iran is no closer than before to manufacturing nuclear weapons, and in fact has consistently advocated for a “nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

This Obama press announcement created even more hysteria after the press mis-reported Ahmadinejad’s alleged denial of the holocaust. Though Iran is not always to be defended, some context and self-criticism might save us a war that will further upset the Middle East. When particular statements are taken out of context, Ahmadinejad does sound as if he is denying the holocaust. However, good journalism would realize that his criticism of the Holocaust does not mean to object the historical facts of this particular event, but rather objects to how this term is being used in the present and the reasons behind it.

On National Public Radio in the U.S., he said, “Is the Holocaust a historical event or not? It is a historical event [ . . . ]. So the next question is, why is it that this specific event has become so prominent? Does this event affect what is happening on the ground this day, now? [ . . . ] While I personally was not alive 60 years ago, I happen to be alive now, and I can see that genocide is happening now under the pretext of an event that happened 60 years ago [ . . . ]. Why should the Palestinian people make up for it?” Despite an incredible lack of sensitivity, Ahmadinejad does have a point worth considering.

Turning from Iran to Israel, do we ignore the crimes of our ally? In the news, Obama’s announcement far overshadowed the UN Goldstone report charging Israel with crimes against humanity in Gaza. Also, not newsworthy is that Israel has had nuclear weapons for three decades, has not signed “the nuclear non-proliferation treaty,” has rejected calls for international inspection and in fact jailed a scientist for exposing their existing weapons, . This nuclear-armed Israel “stands in violation of international law on several [ . . . ] accounts regarding waging of brutal wars of aggression and invasions of Lebanon and Gaza and continuing its brutal policies of occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the hapless Palestinians,” according to Zmag contributor Faramarz Farbod, but somehow the media rarely considers it worthy of the sort of criticisms constantly directed at Iran.

Though Iran is no exemplary state, there is no evidence that Iran is a nuclear threat. It is simply the current victim of presidential lies that supports aggression, and directs criticism away from our allies, who may be the real threat to peace in the Middle East.

Peter Zylstra-Moore is currently studying International Development and Economics at CMU and the U of W. He has been involved in development work in Mexico, Nicaragua, Uganda and Kenya.