Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Zionism's Prior Condition: Propaganda

Blood and and discarded belongings are left behind at a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tank shells hit the compound, killing more than a dozen people and wounding dozens more who were seeking shelter.
(AP Photo/Adel Hana)

"Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions...The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation."
- Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, 1965

As Israeli war crimes continue unabated - at the time of this writing, nearly 1100 human beings in the besieged Gaza Strip, the vast majority of whom are civilians, have already been slaughtered by their occupiers; over 6,200 have been wounded - Israeli lies too keep piling up.

Despite what Israeli spokespeople and their dutiful, compliant, and prostrate puppets in the media continue to claim, Hamas was not responsible for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month. Hamas did not break the 2012 ceasefire, Israel did. Hamas is not forcing Palestinians to act as "human shields." Israel is not acting in self-defense when it bombs hospitals, schools, ambulances, mosques, homes, refugee camps, parks, or a zoo. The "terror tunnels" which Israel apparently needs to murder hundreds and hundreds of men, women, and children in order to destroy pose essentially no threat whatsoever to Israeli civilians. The list goes on and on.

Gaza's Shifa Hospital hit by an Israeli strike, July 28, 2014

Israel's ongoing massacre cannot continue without a steady barrage of hasbara - what Zionists, in their Orwellian glory, refer to as "public diplomacy," but which is merely propaganda to justify the indefensible, inexcusable, and unspeakable. That is, the promotion of a 19th century, colonial European ideology of ethnic, religious, and racial superiority, imposed upon an indigenous population through military conquest and a campaign of ethnic cleansing, displacement, dispossession, disenfranchisement, and discrimination.

And yet, though mainstream media outlets are suffused with pro-Israel bias and Israel has legions of willing propagandists trolling the internet to spread Netanyahu's latest talking points, we have heard - especially as the Palestinian death toll keeps rising - that Israel and its advocates are "losing the media war." Politico, Mashable, New York Magazine, analyst Juan Cole, and Britain's Channel 4 have all noted this.

Even the Telegraph's detestable, neoconservative "Defence Editor" Con Coughlin is worried for Israel's image, writing that, "with so much focus on the Palestinian victims of this dreadful conflict, it is hard to see how Israel can turn the propaganda war around in its favour." Coughlin laments, "I fear the answer is that it cannot."

Similarly, in a conversation via Twitter with a spokesman at the Israeli Embassy, Washington Post White House correspondent Scott Wilson was fretful that the Israeli slaughter in Gaza might not be "good for Israel - strategically." For Wilson, as for so many others, Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity are simply image problems, a matter of PR.

Without its propaganda, Israel cannot sustain the support of its benefactors, whether in the war chests of Congress or the war cries of brainwashed and bloodthirsty communities. Without its lies, Israel can't survive. This fact is known not only to professional hasbarists like Michael Oren, Dore Gold, and Mark Regev, but - more importantly - is a vital feature of Zionism, inseparable from the ideology itself.

Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, 1897.

In a little known and rarely-referenced letter written in early 1897, Theodor Herzl, the ostensible founder of political Zionism, made this perfectly clear. During the planning stages of the First Zionist Congress - initially to take place in Munich but eventually held in Basel, Switzerland in late August 1897 - Herzl contacted Willy Bambus, leader of the Berlin Hovevei Zion society (an early Zionist organization committed to Jewish immigration and agricultural settlement in Palestine), for support.

"I want to reach an understanding with the Berlin Zionists," Herzl wrote from Vienna on January 26, 1897. "[I]n the general Zionist conference that I am planning for next summer, we will grow closer to each other." The letter is written in German, Herzl's first language.

Herzl's dream was big and he knew what he needed to achieve it:
But a project of this sort... has one prior condition: propaganda. First we must have propaganda and afterward establish economic projects... [T]ry to win influence at a Berlin daily newspaper... There is no necessity to immediately give the newspaper a Zionist imprint. On the contrary, because of the cowardly suspicions (to my sorrow, of most of the Jews) of Zionism, it would be wiser to keep things innocent... Perhaps you can... purchase a Zionist paper in Berlin, that will not be outwardly noticed as such.
Friendly media coverage? Feigned innocence and impartiality? Sounds familiar.

"Until now Zionism has been silent," Herzl wrote Bambus. "We must free its tongue. This is the first order of business."

Those tongues of Zionism have since wrought over a century of pain and suffering, in the name of entitlement and privilege, to the people of Palestine. It is time to drown out the propaganda with truth.

The final page of Theodor Herzl's handwritten letter to Willy Bambus, January 26, 1897

*****

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Consistency of Official Iranian Commentary, Part III:
On Khamenei's Referendum Rhetoric, Reuters is Wrong


Last week, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed a meeting of Iranian university students and, in his first public comments on the ongoing assault on Gaza, spoke of his belief in the necessity of continued Palestinian resistance to Israel aggression, oppression, and occupation.

"Don't the Palestinians have the right to defend their lives and security?" he asked rhetorically, and condemned Western nations like the United States and Great Britain for openly supporting Israel's assault and justifying "crimes that no ordinary person would."

In the right-wing Daily Caller, notorious neocon darling Reza Kahlili noted that Khamenei reiterated the call by his predecessor, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, that "Israel must be destroyed," adding that "until that time with the help of God for this cruel and murderous regime to be destroyed, strong confrontation with steadfast armed resistance is the only solution against this destructive regime."

Yet the Caller omitted a crucial aspect of Khamenei's speech - deliberately replaced by an ellipsis linking the the paraphrased Khomeini quote with Khamenei's endorsement of Palestinian armed struggle - in which the Iranian leader stated that the ideal solution to the current impasse was a democratic vote.

The missing piece, however, was reported by other outlets. "There are logical and practical means to this end, which is for people who live and belong there to pick the government of their choice through a referendum. That would be the end of a usurping fake regime," Khamenei said, according to a translation by Reuters. Until that time, he continued, "while waiting for an end to this cold-blooded murderous regime, mighty armed resistance is the only way to deal with it."

Only through a vote by the indigenous population, Khamenei said, will "the usurper and forged regime" of Israel "be practically annihilated."

Kahlili's report predictably expunged all mention of a referendum, focusing instead on Iranian military capabilities and nuclear negotiations. More troubling, perhaps, is that "The Young Turks," a liberal (some might even say, progressive) news and commentary outlet led by host Cenk Uygur, promoted the Daily Caller line in their own round table discussion of the matter. After hearing a portion of the Kahlili article read aloud verbatim, co-host Ana Kasparian described Khamenei's comments as "extremely violent" and "crazy," while John Iadarola called such statements "depressing."

Reuters also quoted Khamenei as saying, "Israel's annihilation is the only real cure, but that doesn't mean destroying Jews in this region," a statement also ignored by the Daily Caller. With this comment, Reuters editorialized, "Khamenei made clear for the first time that he was talking about the dismantling of the state of Israel, not the death of Jews."

While such clarification is important, the characterization of that distinction as being a new addition to Khamenei's rhetoric is curious. In fact, this is a distinction made often by Iranian officials when discussing this very topic - and Iran's official position toward Israel/Palestine. Cursory research into past statements quickly reveals the consistency of such statements and proves the Reuters claim to be, not only sloppy, but ludicrous.

A similar presumption was made last year in the wake of then-newly-inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's insistence that, "when it comes to the settlement and resolution of regional issues," including the colonization and occupation of Palestine, "we believe that the only path is through the ballot box, through democracy." International news media declared this to be a breakthrough moment, despite the clear fact that Rouhani's immediate predecessor, the much-maligned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had made identical statements throughout his eight-year tenure as president.

"We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt," Ahmadinejad said in comments reported by the New York Times in September 2008. "We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government."

More to the point, however, Khamenei himself has remained remarkably consistent on this issue, and Iran's official prescription, for over two decades.  In an extensive analysis of Khamenei's speeches since 1990, published in the Boston Review in November 2013, well-known Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji - no fan of the Iran's theocratic leadership - revealed the truth: Khamenei has long called for a new, inclusive Palestinian government to supersede the current Zionist one, thereby dismantling what is currently known as "Israel" politically, not violently.

For instance, Ganji notes, on April 17, 1991, Khamenei discussed "his solution for the Palestinian problem and said, 'The Islamic Republic's solution is to disband the usurping Zionist regime, forming a government of the Palestinians, and [guaranteeing] peaceful co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in all of Palestine.'" Four months later, on August 19, 1991, Ganji adds, Khamenei stated, "Solving the Palestinian problem entails destroying and eliminating the illegitimate government there, so that the true owners [of the land] can form a new government; Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live side by side... Our view regarding the Palestine issue is clear. We believe the solution is destroying the Israeli regime."

Nearly a decade later, Khamenei's position had not shifted. In a speech to the Basij militia on October 21, 2000, Ganji tells us that Khamenei again laid out his vision for the indigenous people of Palestine to choose their own political path forward. "The solution is for the millions of the Palestinians to return to Palestine, the several millions that live away from home to return to Palestine. The indigenous people of Palestine—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—should hold a referendum to decide what kind of a regime they want. The vast majority are Muslims. There are also Jews and Christians that belong there, as their parents also lived there. They can decide the political system that they favor," he opined.

In March 2002, Khamenei again stated, "Holding a referendum in Palestine among the Palestinians, and all those that became refugees—if, of course, they want to return to Palestine—is a rational solution." In June 2002, he repeated, "The only solution for the Palestine problem is that the true Palestinians, not the usurping and occupying immigrants, those who live in Palestine and those who became refugees, decide the type of government that they want. If asking for the vote of the people of a nation is a solution for those who claim to be democracy advocates, [then] Palestine is also a nation and must decide [its fate]."

On August 19, 2005, Ganji explains, Khamenei held the same line:
The Palestinian problem has only one solution, and that is what we proposed several years ago. Hold a referendum among the indigenous Palestinians, those who live there, or are in refugee camps, or live elsewhere, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jew, and ask them to decide the government that they want. Regardless of whether that government is run by the Muslims, Jews, or Christians, as long as it is the result of people’s direct votes, is acceptable, and will solve the problem. Without it [the referendum] the problem will never be solved.
That Reuters would now claim Khamenei's recent comments about Gaza mark a stark break from the past is absurd. In his Friday prayer sermon on June 20, 2008, Khamenei declared, "No, we have no problems with Jews. We have no problems with Christians, and with adherents of other religions in the world. The usurper is just the Zionist regime. This is the position of our state, and that of our revolution and our people."

Similarly, on September 30, 2011, Khamenei spoke at a conference in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and self-determination, and said, "We neither advocate a classic war between Israel and the Islamic countries, nor throwing the Jewish people into the sea, and neither do we accept mediation by the United Nations or any other international organization. We propose a referendum among the Palestinian people. Similar to any other nation, the Palestinians also have the right to decide their fate and pick the type of government they want."

Addressing the opening assembly of the Non-Aligned Movement on August 30, 2012 in Tehran, Khamenei once again reiterated Iran's "just and entirely democratic solution" to the conflict:
All the Palestinians – both the current citizens of Palestine and those who have been forced to immigrate to other countries but have preserved their Palestinian identity, including Muslims, Christians and Jews – should take part in a carefully supervised and confidence-building referendum and chose the political system of their country, and all the Palestinians who have suffered from years of exile should return to their country and take part in this referendum and then help draft a Constitution and hold elections. Peace will then be established.

Regardless of whether Khamenei's proposals are realistic, idealistic, inevitable or impossible, is irrelevant. That he has consistently called for a referendum to alter the exclusivist and discriminatory political system that controls Palestinian lives and has routinely made distinctions between the Zionist government in Israel specifically and Jewish people in general, is indisputable.

Reuters should get their facts straight.

*****

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Journalist Speaks Truth to Employer, Demoted from "Contributor" to "Palestinian"


A day after journalist, writer, and frequent MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal harshly criticized that very cable news network during a broadcast of "Ronan Farrow Daily" for its biased and deferential pro-Israel coverage of the current military assault on Gaza, she appeared on "All In with Chris Hayes" to further discuss the matter.

The evidence of anti-Palestinian bias in the mainstream media - including cable news networks - is beyond question, as numerous studies and analyses have shown. A common refrain - heard again last night in Hayes' attempt to defend his employer's coverage of the ongoing Israeli massacre of Palestinians - is that Israeli government officials are more accessible than officials from Palestinian groups. But this claim rests on the assumption that allowing politicians and their spokespeople to repeat honed talking points is the same thing as journalism.

In January 2014, for example, an internal study of the past 11 years of NPR's Israel-Palestine coverage found that its reports and dispatches suffered from significant "imbalance" between Israeli and Palestinian voices. Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos summarized the report, noting that such skewed representation "is to be expected." Why? Here's what he writes:
Israel generates more news in part because its officials are more open and the country is more democratic than in the Palestinian territories. Israel stages more newsworthy "official" events, such as elections, and its economy is far more dynamic. Israel also is an ally of the U.S., and its officials frequently visit. The Gaza Strip in particular is miniscule. NPR's sole correspondent is based in Jerusalem.
Naturally, no mention is ever made in this litany to Israel's crushing occupation and siege of Gaza, the deliberate destruction of its economy and infrastructure, or the fact that Israel is "more democratic" than an isolated and imprisoned enclave much in the same way Apartheid South Africa was ostensibly "more democratic" than the Bantustans created for its inconvenient and unwanted inhabitants.

"I had [Israeli government spokesman] Mark Regev on this program for 16 minutes, alright? That's a very long interview but there was a lot to talk to him about," Hayes told Jebreal last night, after noting that Hamas officials are hard to book for on-air interviews.

While much has been made of Jebreal's truth-telling and Hayes' weak pushback, the chyrons used during Jebreal's interviews have told an even more troubling story.

In all of her appearances on the network over the past two years as MSNBC contributor, Jebreal has routinely been introduced, described, and referred to on-air as either a "journalist" or an "MSNBC contributor," and usually both.

During her appearance on "All In with Chris Hayes," however, which followed her widely-reported condemnation of Israel/Palestine coverage, the chyron describing Jebreal read: "Palestinian Journalist." That kind of description serves to paint her comments automatically as themselves biased and emotional, rather than factual and impartial. It would be as inappropriate as frequent contributor Jonathan Alter being referred to as a "Jewish Journalist."

As such, I tweeted the following:

While she told Max Blumenthal after her interview with Hayes that her "contract is over" with the news channel, Jebreal was nevertheless under the impression that her status at the network was still under negotiation, according to comments she made to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! this morning.

(click to enlarge)

*****

UPDATE:

I created the above image and tweeted it out at 10:14AM and 10:21AM today. It was soon retweeted dozens of times, including in a modified tweet by user @SubMedina. From there it went viral, as they say, and has subsequently been retweeted hundreds of times.

The image - though no credit back to me (boohoo) - was included in posts on BuzzFeed, Mediaite, and vaguely referenced in the Washington Post.

In response to Jebreal being referred to - for the very first time on MSNBC - as a "Palestinian Journalist," a clear example of othering, marginalizing her commentary, and presenting her views as agenda-driven and out of the mainstream, MSNBC issued a statement, which explained that, as Jebreal was no longer a contracted contributor to the network (effective "last month"), her title had been updated accordingly.

More specifically, "[a]n MSNBC spokesperson also told BuzzFeed that Jebreal was referred to as 'Palestinian Journalist' because that's how she self-identifies, adding that she was labeled incorrectly as an MSNBC contributor on Monday's Ronan Farrow Daily broadcast due to a production error."

Similarly, MSNBC told TVNewser: "She was labeled incorrectly on Monday's show due to a production error and we corrected that for Tuesday's 'All In' appearance."

This is massively disingenuous and more than a little bit factually incorrect.

Over the past month, when - according to MSNBC - Jebreal had already opted out of renewing her contract with the station, MSNBC producers and on-air hosts still regularly referred to her as a contributor. Just last week, on July 14, Jebreal appeared on "Ronan Farrow Daily" with a familiar chyron:


Farrow himself even introduced her as "MSNBC's own Rula Jebreal."

While it's as yet unclear exactly when Jebreal's contract with MSNBC expired, during her appearances in June she was still being referred to as a contributor, and alternatively with the simple title "Journalist." Here are some examples:

June 1, 2014 on "Melissa Harris-Perry":


June 3, 2014 on "The Reid Report":



June, 7, 2014 on "Melissa Harris-Perry":


June 17, 2014 on "The Reid Report":



Apparently, once an experienced and respected reporter and analyst starts criticizing news coverage of Israel, she goes from being a journalist and just becomes a Palestinian journalist. Somehow this doesn't seem like the best way to counter accusations of pro-Israel bias in the media.

Talking Points Memo reports:
Jebreal said that in her two years as a contributor at MSNBC, she was never labeled a "Palestinian journalist" before Tuesday night. 
"I did not see the title. When they said 'Palestinian journalist,' that was wow to me. I am not a Palestinian journalist. I am a Palestinian woman individually, but I was not hired for two years because I was Palestinian," Jebreal told TPM. "I was hired because I was a foreign policy analyst and I was a journalist. A journalist. We don't call people a 'Jewish lawyer' or a 'black woman from Brooklyn.' That is unacceptable." 
"For me, the point is I am a journalist. So I go wherever I find better opportunity, stronger possibilities, and I am called there as a journalist. I am not called as a 'black woman.' I am not called as a 'Palestinian,'" she added. "I was never called to be hired by MSNBC because I was Palestinian. [I was hired] because of my foreign policy expertise. I talked about Egypt, I talked about Tunisia, I talked about the Arab Spring, I talked about Yemen, about Iraq, about Syria. And suddenly I become the 'Palestinian journalist'?"
Keep it up, MSNBC, you're making this too easy.

*****

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bogus Assessments of Iran's ICBM Capability Finally Explode


For years, Israeli politicians and their willing mouthpieces in the American press and punditocracy have maintained that Iran, in addition to feverishly working to build nuclear weapons, will have acquired the ability to affix an atomic bomb to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the United States by the year 2015.

This claim eagerly exploited the boilerplate assessments of U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Air Force intelligence, which not only date back over a decade, but also base their conclusions on unlikely scenarios.

In a recent Pentagon report, however, this assessment has finally changed, putting to rest this common alarmist talking point so often trotted out by those wishing to exaggerate - if not wholly invent - the threat posed to Israel and the United States by Iran.

"An unclassified executive summary of the Annual Report on Military Power of Iran, dated January 2014 and not previously reported, does not -- unlike past years -- offer an assessment of the technical feasibility of Iran's potential to demonstrate an ICBM capable of reaching the United States in 2015," reports Jason Sherman of InsideDefense.com. "Instead, the two-page executive summary states: 'Iran has publicly stated it may launch a space launch vehicle by 2015 that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.'"

The assessment that such a vehicle could be reconfigured to deliver a nuclear warhead is the Pentagon's suggestion, not that of Iran's. To the contrary, Iranian leaders have routinely and explicitly insisted they will never seek to acquire nuclear weapons and are not developing long-range missiles.

This is certainly a break from the long history of Iranian ICBM hysteria. Back in 1993, a CIA estimate delivered to Congress claimed that Iran was "10 to 15 years" away from possessing the capability to "indigenously produce an ICBM" capable of hitting to continental United States. A 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, drawn from the conclusions of all 16 American intelligence agencies, similarly assessed Iran would have such long-range missiles by 2010. Three years later, in 1998, a Republican-sponsored commission on ballistic missiles - chaired by none other than then-former and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - concluded that Iran could "produce ballistic missiles with sufficient range to strike the United States" within five years.

Benjamin Netanyahu - then (as now) the Prime Minister of Israel - seized upon this assessment to bolster his own hawkish propaganda. On October 1, 1998, The Washington Times published an article headlined, "Iran's Long-Range Missile Plans Worry Netanyahu: Says U.S. Cities May Be Targeted."

"Iran is pushing ahead with a multibillion-dollar program to develop missiles capable of reaching American cities," the report cited Netanyahu as saying. Such missiles would soon be able "to reach the Eastern seaboard" of the United States, he added.

Similarly, U.S. intelligence assessments have, since 1999, consistently noted that, with the aid of foreign governments, Iran would acquire ICBM capability by 2015. For instance, a National Air Intelligence Center report from 2000 concluded, "With continued foreign assistance, Iran could have an ICBM capable of reaching the United States before 2015." This language was repeated verbatim in every subsequent Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat assessment for the next decade.

While in September 2009, Reuters reported that the most recent "National Intelligence Estimate deemed Tehran unlikely to have a long-range missile until between 2015 and 2020," by April 2013, the Pentagon release yet another finding to Congress that read: "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

In February 2012, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon declared that Iran was "getting ready to produce a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers." Just weeks later, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz - a Netanyahu acolyte and frequent Iran hysteric - said that Iran is "working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles." He added that "we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat... to Europe and to the United States of America."

On September 26, 2012, Iran attack enthusiast John Bolton opined, "Tehran is perilously close to achieving nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for worldwide delivery," and called for an immediate military assault to stem the threat.

Later that year, in early December 2012, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on "Iran's Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs," cast doubt on the oft-repeated timeframe, noting, "It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015" and concluding that, in the absence of a deliverable nuclear warhead, "the proliferation of Iranian ballistic missiles is arguably not an imminent significant threat."

Nevertheless, in July 2013, a Pentagon report compiling the findings of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, repeated the claim. "Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force," the report said, adding, "Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

Shortly thereafter, on July 14, 2013, Netanyahu resurrected the claim, telling an obsequious Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" that Iran is busy "building ICBMs to reach the American mainland in a few years." Two and a half months later, before the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu declared that Iran is actively developing "intercontinental ballistic missiles," in order "to carry nuclear warheads," adding that "Iran is building now ICBMs that the United States says could reach this city [New York] in three or four years."

Despite their constant repetition by deceitful intelligence officials, uninformed politicians and agenda-driven journalists, in recent years these conclusions have been routinely dismissed by anyone with any knowledge of the actual intelligence. That Iran, which has never demonstrated any interest nor inclination to pursue ICBM capability, would acquire and test such technology by 2015 is not merely a gross exaggeration, it is an outright impossibility.

In 2001, the U.S. intelligence community revealed the truth behind their own reporting lexicon. The word "could" - so often utilized in alarmist assessments - actually translates to something closer to is unlikely to. "We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical 'could' dates than they are by our projected 'likely' dates," stated a National Intelligence report entitled, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat.

In 2012, Paul Pillar, former CIA National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, admitted, "The bottom line is that the intelligence community does not believe [the Iranians] are anywhere close to having an ICBM." A year ago, Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association noted, "Missile expert Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has expressed doubts about whether an operational Iranian ICBM is even likely within the current decade."

Moreover, a November 2013 analysis produced by Elleman revealed that "neither the U.S. nor Israel cite evidence that Iran is actively developing or 'building' ICBMs." He also told journalist Gareth Porter, "I've seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability." In an October 2013 article on this very issue, Porter writes, "Iran has not even displayed, much less tested, a larger version of its existing space launch vehicle that would be a necessary step toward an ICBM, according to David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists." Iran's current vehicle is suitable only for launching a small satellite into orbit, Wright told Porter.

The new Pentagon report is noteworthy for its focus on Iran's space launch vehicle, rather than any hypothetical or exaggerated ICBM work. Thielmann explains, "I would regard that as a significant change of language, meaning that the U.S. intelligence community is losing confidence in their earlier prediction of 2015 which has been very heavily quoted, of course, by friends of missile defense and others wishing to pump up the Iranian threat."

As nuclear negotiations continue to progress in Vienna toward their July 20 deadline, long-standing alarmist talking points about Iran's nuclear energy and defense programs continue to crumble.

*****

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Time Is Running Out - Iraq Edition


Whenever the United States or its partners in war crimes face a seemingly intractable foreign adversary - one that refuses to simply yield to Western domination or diktat - the "ticking clock" paradigm is invoked, lending a fierce urgency to the threats, ultimatums, and bullying demands made by government officials. For them, time is always running out.

Whether it's the non-existent "two-state solution" in Israel/Palestine, hysterical predictions made about a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapon or the deadline for Iranian capitulation to outrageous U.S. and Israel commands, Western intervention in the bloody Syrian civil war, a timeframe for pulling occupation troops out of Iraq, a timeframe the quell the power struggles in Iraq, a countdown before complete anarchy or U.S. airstrikes in Iraq... you name it, it's always the same refrain. Time is running out.

This phrase is almost always a bluff - political bluster meant to convey seriousness and resolve. It is always spit outward, absolving its speaker of any actual responsibility. Case in point: John Kerry's new op-ed on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions.

Only once in recent memory was this rhetorical device actually acted upon. The action taken - the supreme international crime, as the Nuremberg Tribunal described it: the initiation of a war of aggression - was the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

It is no surprise that Kerry - a man who himself voted to give George W. Bush the authority to destroy an entire country - evokes that same haunted ultimatum with Iran.

As a reminder of the build-up to the Iraq invasion, that unspeakable crime against humanity, below is a collection - far from exhaustive - of media headlines dating back to 1998:

Orlando Sentinel, February 9, 1998:


The New York Times, August 27, 2002:


Associated Press, September 9, 2002:


BBC NewsSeptember 15, 2002:


BBC NewsJanuary 14, 2003:


Fox NewsJanuary 18, 2003:



American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 20, 2003:




The Sydney Morning Herald, January 21, 2003:


Council on Foreign Relations, January 23, 2003:


PBS Newshour, January 23, 2003:


American Forces Press Service, January 27, 2003:


Associated Press, January 29, 2003:


The New York Times, January 31, 2003:


*****

Friday, June 27, 2014

Breaking Bazaar: A Rare Change in Rhetoric May Signal American Sincerity Toward Iran

"...pathologies often help policy makers justify action at times when no vital, tangible interests are otherwise at stake. When pathology defines reality, policies become the opposite of what rational analyses of national interest would suggest is appropriate."
- Christopher Fettweis, Pathologies of Power
"[Soviet leaders] have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards, I think when you do business with them, even at a detente, you keep that in mind."
- President Ronald Reagan, January 29, 1981 
"We don't really know what it means, but I for sure don't trust the Iranians. It's some kind of a ruse and whatever they are up to, it's no good."
- Rep. Eliot Engel, March 24, 2014

Nuclear talks between six world powers (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany - known as the P5+1) and Iran have hit the homestretch this summer, with a comprehensive and final agreement expected by July 20.

It'll be a tough slog for sure - with competing interests, false narratives, and plenty of propaganda at play - but a recent comment by an official close to the talks is cause for optimism.

For as long as one can remember, and certainly as long as the Islamic Republic of Iran has existed - 35 years now - and engaged with sporadic negotiations with the United States over various issues, Western perceptions of Iranian interlocutors and their leaders have been consistently defined by Orientalist stereotypes. Chief among these, perhaps, is that Iranians simply are not to be trusted due to their inherently devious "Persian psyche" and genetic predisposition to a "bazaar mentality" of shifty rug merchants and ancient masters of duplicity and deception. Therefore, it follows, diplomacy is futile and force inevitable.

A confidential cable, sent by two American diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the turbulent aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, analyzed "the underlying cultural and psychological qualities" of their Iranian counterparts in the nascent Islamic government, noting "the so-called 'bazaar mentality' so common among Persians."

The August 13, 1979 cable warned that "one should be prepared for the threat of breakdown in negotiations at any given moment and not be cowed by this possibility. Given the Persian negotiator's cultural and psychological limitations, he is going to resist the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) negotiating process."

This script has been dutifully followed ever since.

For instance, in advance of proposed talks between the United States and Iran in 2006, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote in the New York Times that "our negotiators should prepare themselves for what might be called 'bazaar behavior.'" He added that, unlike the straightforward Chinese, the Iranian "negotiating style is likely to resemble that of a Middle Eastern marketplace, with outlandish demands, feints at abandoning the process and haggling over minor details up to the very last moment."

Before new negotiations in 2008, Fouad Ajami wrote in U.S. News and World Report that Washington officials were headed "Back to the Iranian Bazaar." The next year, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen declared, "These Persians lie like a rug." In 2010, Michael Adler wrote, "Stopping Iran from getting the bomb may require embracing a Middle East tradition: haggling over the price," in a Foreign Policy ;piece entitled, "The Nuclear Bazaar."

Following the election of Hassan Rouhani, himself a former lead nuclear negotiator, as president of Iran, the reaction was swift: "Time to enter the Iranian bazaar on the nuclear issue," insisted David Peyman in the Jewish Journal on June 17, 2013, three days after the vote.

That September, noting the recent change in tone by the Obama administration toward the Iranians and anticipating Rouhani's speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli columnist Smadar Peri warned that the Americans may have been fooled by "a trick in the spirit of the Persian bazaar."

Later that month, the Washington Post reported that "One [senior Israeli] official compared the Americans to tourists wandering into a Middle East bazaar. 'The Persians have been using these tactics for thousands of years, before America came to be.'"

Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen described Iran as "a land where straight talk and virtue are not widely seen to overlap," and Florida Senator Marco Rubio called Iran "a country run by evil liars" during an October 3, 2013 meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As negotiations progressed in early November 2013, Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the hawkish, pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times that "the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally out negotiated" and the Daily Beast that it "sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him."

Similarly, according to Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, the naive P5+1 is simply outmatched by the wily Persian snake charmers: "The world’s great bazaaris are chuckling because they've just sold their nuclear weapons program to the world's worst bargainers," she wrote in a post entitled, "Iran rips off the West in the nuclear bazaar."

In mid-November, Chuck Freilich, a former officer in the Israeli military and senior analyst at Israel's Ministry of Defense, who is now a fellow at both Harvard and the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), warned in The National Interest that Iran's "unprecedented charm offensive" and diplomatic posture following the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani is a means by which the Iranians are "trying to take the international community on a Persian carpet ride."

Days later, on November 19, 2013, TIME's Jerusalem bureau chief Karl Vick wrote, "Iranians are masters of what has been termed “Oriental indirection” — which amounts to not quite saying what you mean, but getting your point across in a range of subtle ways." Following the link provided by Vick, it becomes clear who has used this term before: Vick himself, in a column published two months earlier.

On November 25, the day after the P5+1 signed an interim Joint Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic to much fanfare and optimism, an irate Eric Cantor, the House minority leader, bellowed, "Since when do we trust Iran?" adding that, in his expert opinion, "Iran has demonstrated again and again it cannot be trusted."

Throughout the winter, commentators on the anti-negotiation, pro-war Right issued repeated appeals against trusting Iranian sincerity in the hopes of swaying public opinion away from diplomacy and toward military action.

In December 2013, California Congressman Duncan Hunter told C-SPAN that Iranian negotiators are "not trustworthy," adding, "It is part of the Middle East culture [to] do anything you can... to get the best deal."

In January 2014, Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime head of the highly influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, spoke to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz about Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, an outspoken proponent of the current nuclear talks. "He's a charming guy," Hoenlein said, "I don't dispute it. He's intelligent and clever. Iranian President Hassan Rohani is also clever." He then added: "But we forget: These guys have been 'bazaaris' [bazaar merchants] for 2,000 years, while we come in as novices. They can run circles around us. They know how to negotiate and how to manipulate every situation."

With a positive atmosphere still surrounding the ongoing nuclear negotiations toward a final deal, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon voiced his government's dissatisfaction with the cooling of tensions and military threat in a speech at Tel Aviv University this past March. "We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States," he said. "But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better."

Just last week, Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran adviser now with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, opined, "Iranians are great negotiators — except sometimes they outwit themselves."

The repetition of such tropes is so constant, that even the conservative Economist couldn't take anymore, writing last year,
Somebody has got to put a stop to this whole "Persian bazaar" rhetorical fixation. It's ridiculous, it's ethnically offensive, and its entire purpose is to serve as a smokescreen for disastrously violent policies backed by militarists in Israel and in neo-conservative American circles, by making American voters worry that they are being taken for chumps by those devilishly clever double-dealers from the souks of Tehran. One wonders: have any of these people attempted to negotiate with, say, Jamie Dimon or Mitch McConnell? Do they believe that cutthroat negotiators are more prevalent in the Middle East than in Manhattan or Washington?
Talking points like these have, in fact, already led to war. A New York Times op-ed penned by Condoleezza Rice and published on January 23, 2003 ran with the declarative headline, "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying." After spouting the Bush administration's propaganda with the utmost seriousness, Rice concluded:
Many questions remain about Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and arsenal -- and it is Iraq's obligation to provide answers. It is failing in spectacular fashion. By both its actions and its inactions, Iraq is proving not that it is a nation bent on disarmament, but that it is a nation with something to hide. Iraq is still treating inspections as a game. It should know that time is running out.
Exactly ten years and one day later, John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
[W]e must resolve the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. The President has made it definitive--we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I repeat here today: our policy is not containment. It is prevention and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.
When it comes to preventing American bombs from dropping on Middle Easterners, the clock is always ticking and time is always running out.

And, again, the accusations against Iran oftentimes mirror those made with Iraq. For years now, government officials and agenda-driven commentators have demanded that Iran be forced to confess to past weapons work and nefarious intent, despite the overwhelming evidence that no such work nor motivations ever existed.

"The Iranians have a strategic choice to make," George W. Bush told reporters in December 2007. "They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities" and suspend their enrichment program, Bush declared, "or they can continue on a path of isolation."

Never mind that, in 2003, the Associated Press revealed, "A confidential U.N. nuclear agency report has found 'no evidence' to back U.S. claims that Iran tried to make atomic arms," or that, in 2004, Reuters reported that "analysis of soil samples taken by U.N. inspectors at Lavizan, a site in Tehran that U.S. officials suspect may be linked to an atomic weapons program, shows no sign of nuclear activity." These findings have been consistent for years, and there has never been credible evidence showing Iran has, or has ever had, a nuclear weapons program.

Furthermore, all of the outstanding issues that originally compelled the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran's nuclear file to the UN Security Council have already been resolved in Iran's favor. Remaining allegations have never been proven authentic nor presented in full to Iran. Despite the fabricated claims of Iranian malfeasance and manufactured threat of weapons work that never happened, and the fact that Iran has fully complied with every aspect of the interim agreement with the P5+1, demands that Iran prove a negative and "come clean" about its nefarious past continue to proliferate.

While challenges to a comprehensive deal abound, there is still hope. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Iran is easing a key demand in negotiations with world powers" - that all sanctions be lifted simultaneously, rather than gradually, upon the signing of an agreement - "boosting prospects for the top-priority agreement that diplomats are racing to finish within a month."

But far more important was a rhetorical shift from the American side.

Back in October 2013, when the Obama administration first embarked on a series of new negotiations with Iran, Deputy Secretary of State and lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She urged Congress not to vote for a new round of unilateral sanctions, in favor of allowing diplomacy to progress without unnecessary provocation. During her testimony, Sherman tried to assuage suspicions over any alleged naiveté. Appealing to the traditional talking points about Persian perfidy, Sherman assured the Senators that, when it comes to the Iranians, "we know that deception is part of the DNA."

When subsequently questioned by the press about her comments and the Iranian reaction to them, Sherman and other State Department officials offered vague justification, rather than a mea culpa. Chalking it up to a "misunderstanding," Sherman told Voice of America that "those words spoke to some deep mistrust that President Obama discussed, and that we have to really get over that mistrust. I think these nuclear negotiations will help us to do so."

Such was the state of American political rhetoric at the time. After nine months of dedicated diplomacy, however, there's been a change.

On June 20, on the sidelines of the most recent talks in Vienna, Sherman (anonymously) spoke to members of the international press about the state of the negotiations. During the briefing, one unidentified reporter noted that one of the Iranian negotiators is from the central Iranian city of Isfahan, adding, "And Isfahanis are known for their bargaining powers, particularly in the bazaar there, the merchants in bazaar. I just wondered whether you think you have entered that kind of an atmosphere in these talks."

In response, Sherman said:
As far as Isfahan [goes], on my way here I watched the movie, "The Physician." For those of you who haven't seen it, it is about a young man from London who wants to go to Isfahan in the 15th century, because he has learned that's where you can go to become a doctor. And it's quite a fascinating movie. So I think Isfahan is known for many things, and I would hope that we are focused on the search for a solution, for a cure for this particular concern that we all have about the health of the world's security by ensuring that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and this program is exclusively peaceful.
By acknowledging that Iran is not merely an Orientalist construct of marketplaces, mosques, and caravanserais, Sherman shifted the conversation from one of caricature to one of consideration, from rhetoric to respect, hysteria to humanity. It demonstrated that, by shirking stereotypes, the prospects for a diplomatic solution to decades of enmity was not only possible, but probable.

This may have been just a small step for Sherman. But it was a giant leap toward breaking the propaganda.

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Cross-posted at Muftah.

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