Friday, June 28, 2013

The Future of Iran’s Foreign Policy (and Arsalan Kazemi)


As could be expected, speculation about the future of Iranian foreign policy has been rife since Hassan Rouhani, a respected cleric, moderate pragmatist, and fixture of the Islamic Republic's political and security establishment, was elected as Iran's new president on June 14, 2013.

Similarly expected, most of the analysis is awful.

Thankfully, a few strong pieces have recently been published that avoid the usual bromides of discourse on Iran and provide genuine insight into the nation's guiding principles, strategic interests, and main priorities on the international stage as it emerges from the Ahmadinejad era.

Published in Foreign Affairs as Iranians were about to head to the polls on June 14, the straightforwardly titled "Iranian Foreign Policy After the Election," provides an excellent overview of the various schools of thought and ideology that vie for power in the Iranian political system. Written by Muftah advisory board member Farideh Farhi, an affiliate graduate faculty member at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and Saideh Lotifan, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, the article notes:
In short, there is near consensus on the broad objectives of Iranian foreign policy: enhance Iran’s role in the Middle East and maintain the country’s Islamic identity despite the adversity of global powers. Where there is room for debate is over the scope of Iran’s foreign policy and the means through which it might achieve these objectives. It would be a mistake to reduce these discussions to a contest between hard-liners and ideologues on the one hand, and those who want accommodation with the West on the other.
Presciently, Farhi and Lotifan also point out that "even if a more conciliatory team takes charge in Tehran, it still needs to convince others that its efforts to negotiate with the United States would improve the Islamic Republic's security across all its dimensions. And that will only happen if the United States seems willing to ease the sanctions regime. If not, the more aggressive strains within the Iranian foreign policy establishment may retain the upper hand for years to come."

Reza Sanati, a research fellow at the Middle East Studies Center and PhD candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University, addresses the specifics of Iran's foreign policy strategy in a June 24 piece in The National Interest, entitled, tellingly, "Rowhani and Iran's Unchanging Goals." Sanati writes that Rouhani's "electoral mandate" is "qualitatively more robust than his predecessors," and may very well bestow his new administration with enough "political backing of the population to implement significant decisions."

The challenges Rouhani faces are substantial. "The economic problems that Ahmadinejad has left for Rowhani are rivaled only by the severe diplomatic dilemma that Iran faces, both in the region and beyond," Sanati explains, identifying the violent civil war in Syria as a major concern. Also:
These new circumstances will have major ramifications for the implementation of many Iranian foreign-policy goals, particularly the upcoming resumption of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran and the P5+1 coalition. In the event that both sides reach an agreement—one predicated on Iran curbing levels of enriched uranium and more transparency, along with the United States and EU providing significant sanctions relief (such as from central-bank and financial sanctions)—the Rowhani administration’s ability to deliver on the deal will no longer be in doubt. On the other hand, if a deal cannot be made, the new administration will have the domestic support and maneuverability to protect Iran’s national interests.
Mohsen Milani, Professor of Politics and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa, joins Farideh and Lotifan in the pages of Foreign Affairs to discuss "Rouhani's Foreign Policy." He writes that Rouhani "will likely upend the old order is by reaching out to Saudi Arabia to explore the possibility of ending their lingering cold war and finding a way to manage their competition," in addition to being "more flexible about the future of Assad regime than its predecessor."

However, Milani predicts, "Rouhani’s top foreign policy priority" after normalizing relations with the non-Taliban elements in Afghanistan, "would likely be rapprochement with Europe" and "is likely to use his connections with the trio to try to lift the sanctions." From there, "Rouhani seems prepared to take the international goodwill that will follow his cooperation and use it to strike a compromise with the West about Iran’s nuclear program."

Whether Rouhani will be able to deliver on his campaign promises remains to be seen. In the meantime, informed and nuanced analysis like this is the best we can hope for.

*****

Ok, who are we kidding? The most important news of the day is that Iranian power forward Arsalan Kazemi was the 54th overall pick at the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday June 27, making him the first Iranian player to be drafted into the NBA.

Kazemi, who played his senior year on the Oregon Ducks, landed on the Philadelphia 76ers, along with first round pick Michael Carter-Williams of the Syracuse Orange. He becomes the second Iranian-born NBA player, joining Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies on the hardwood.

Needless to say, but necessary to tweet, Kazemi is thrilled:
With Kazemi's drafting, along with fundraising and publicity in full swing for a documentary on legendary WWF superstar Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, known to the world as The Iron Sheik, and Team Melli, Iran's national soccer team, already having clinched their spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup by defeating Qatar, Lebanon, and South Korea in three straight matches, it seems that Iranian athletes and their adoring fans may just be having the best month ever.

*****

Originally posted at Muftah.

*****

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Wrong Remains The Same:
Poorly Predicting Presidential Politics in Iran

(Reuters)

"Conventional wisdom has a pretty lousy track record of predicting Iranian politics."
- Suzanne Maloney, Saban Center senior fellow, May 29, 2013

"The graveyard of Middle East analysis is littered with the bones of those who tried to predict Iranian presidential election outcomes."
- Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment senior associate, June 13, 2013


The politicians and pundits prophesied. The script had already been written, the narrative well established.

Iranian presidential elections, we've been told incessantly by mavens of the Iran Expertician™ community in the United States and Europe, are an exercise in absurdity; a false choice, engineered, manipulated, carefully managed and, ultimately, fraudulent and illegitimate. Unless, of course, the candidate most to our liking wins.

Three weeks prior to the vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - on the eve of yet another jaunt to Israel - declared, in all his Kreskin-esque wisdom, that the upcoming Iranian contest "is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections."

The "most countries" Kerry referred to probably didn't include American-backed dictatorships like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, the hereditary monarchy of Kuwait, or the emirate of Qatar.

"Ultimately the Iranian people [will] be prevented not only from choosing someone who might have reflected their point of view," Kerry said, "but also taking part in a way that is essential to any kind of legitimate democracy."

Kerry's deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed a similar view last month, telling reporters that the United States government thought it "unlikely that the slate of candidates represents the will of the Iranian people."

Such dire descriptions and predictions were echoed across Western media over the past few weeks.

Israeli writer Meir Javedanfar, whose penchant for faulty analysis has never impacted his ubiquity in mainstream commentary on Iran, prognosticated in a June 6 post on the website of Britain's conservative Jewish Chronicle that "it is safe to say that moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani has no chance of success," because - despite his potential popularity with the Iranian electorate - "the supreme leader would not allow votes in [his] favour to be counted."

Javedanfar was certainly not alone in this assessment. Commentators from across the political spectrum sang the same tune.

On May 22, National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi wrote, "Even when the reformists and centrists swallow their pride and abide by the increasingly restrictive rules of the Islamic theocracy, they will not be permitted to vie for leadership," concluding that "this is not so much an election by the people as it is a selection by Ayatollah Khamenei."

Canadian professor Peter Jones described the election merely as the latest manifestation of a "slow-motion power grab by the conservative religious elites and their backers," in which an engineered outcome will anoint "a president who will do as he is told." The centrist candidate with "links to the reformist faction, Hassan Rouhani...isn’t seen as having much chance."

Writing in Foreign Affairs on June 5, Obama's former chief Iran adviser Dennis Ross announced that, due mainly to the disqualification of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from the list of approved candidates, Iran's leader had already decided the outcome of the upcoming June 14 vote. "So now Ayatollah Khamenei has decided not to leave anything to chance," declared Ross, whose hawkish views and close ties to Israel doomed any chance at successful diplomacy with Iran during his tenure in the Obama administration. "If there had been any hope that Iran's presidential election might offer a pathway to different policy approaches on dealing with the United States, he has now made it clear that will not be the case... The next president of Iran will be obedient to him, and preferably act as his administrative deputy."

Ross, who has long considered the optics of half-hearted American diplomacy as merely a required precursor to military action, insisted that Saeed Jalili, Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, "is Khamenei's preference" and whose "slavish devotion to the Supreme Leader makes him the ideal candidate." Ross added, "If Jalili does end up becoming the Iranian president, it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that the Supreme Leader has little interest in reaching an understanding with the United States on the Iranian nuclear program." The article made only passing reference to the other presidential candidates, including Hassan Rouhani. At no point did Ross even mention the Iranian voters themselves or suggest that the election results might reflect public opinion rather than the singular whim of Khamenei.

Three days before the vote, Ray Takeyh, a neoconservative senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and longtime Ross associate, opined that "the winning presidential candidate will likely be drawn from the conservative/revolutionary wing of this particular slate of candidates," suggesting that the Iranian leadership was "quite afraid" of any excitement generated by Rouhani's candidacy and "has done everything it can to lower voter participation." Takeyh concluded: "[T]he possibility of him being the next president of Iran is quite limited."

The neoconservative opinion editors of the Washington Post were even more direct. In a pre-election editorial penned by hawkish hysteric Jackson Diehl, it was determined that "the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ensured that only conservative regime loyalists were allowed to enter Friday's first round of elections." In a dazzling display of definitive certitude, the Post declared, "Mr. Rouhani, who has emerged as the default candidate of Iran’s reformists, will not be allowed to win."

Ali Afshari, a Washington-based Iranian activist, agreed. Afshari, who is a former fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and once appeared at Capitol Hill panel co-sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and organized by Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman, told U.S. government's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that, if there is a high turnout at the polls, "Rohani has the chance to be the first," but doubted whether the candidate would "ultimately be allowed to win."

For his part, just one day before the vote, Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, put Rouhani's chances of winning lower that the rest of the field. Still, mindful that "predicting anything about Iran's opaque politics is a fool's errand," Sadjadpour hedged his bets. "Those who trust the integrity of the electoral process -- an increasingly small group -- foresee a run-off between Rowhani and Ghalibaf," he wrote in Foreign Policy, adding, "Those who believe that Khamenei's decision is paramount project Jalili as the obvious winner."


These expert predictions were all wrong, of course. Rouhani won a resounding victory. Voter turnout was massive, at 73%. Yet no admission of error, no acknowledge of bad analysis, was to follow from the Western pundit class, many of whom are closely connected to pro-Israel institutions and think tanks.

Overnight, Rouhani morphed from the candidate most worrisome to the Iranian establishment into the president anointed by Khamenei himself, a career insider who represented no change, no progress, no will of the Iranian electorate. In short, after wrongly claiming a Rouhani victory was impossible, the pundits now dismissed his win as inconsequential.

Suddenly, Rouhani's win proved sanctions on Iran's nuclear program were "working." Despite all prior predictions, commentators now insisted that Rouhani had merely been "allowed to win" by the regime.

In a post-election editorial, The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl - who before the vote assured readers Rouhani would "not be allowed to win" - unapologetically wrote that "Hassan Rouhani will be Iran's next president not only because he was picked by a majority of Iranian voters but also because the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chose to accept his victory," adding that "Mr. Rouhani was in the presidential race because he had been judged to be a reliable follower of the supreme leader, unlike other moderate and reformist candidates who were banned from the ballot."

Ten days after the vote, Dennis Ross was back, spit-balling a bunch of random theories in The New York Times as to why Khamenei "allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election," none of which - predictably - entertain the notion that a majority the Iranian voting public cast enough ballots for their preferred candidate to beat the others. No, the answer must be the effect of - what else? - sanctions. Ross explains that "the outside world's pressure on Iran to change course on its nuclear program may well have produced his election" and that, consequently, "it would be foolish to think that lifting the pressure now" by "backing off sanctions as a gesture to Mr. Rowhani" could result in renewed diplomacy and a chance to "produce a deal the supreme leader would accept." His op-ed doesn't even mention Jalili, whom Ross had tagged twenty days earlier as the clear frontrunner.

Similarly, Meir Javedanfar, who previously predicted Rouhani had "no chance of success," wrote a post-election brief - described as an "Expert View" - for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), the leading Israel lobby group in the UK. In it, he attributed Rouhani's win to everything except the will of Iranian voters:
The fact that the Supreme Leader allowed Rowhani's victory to stand may reflect the extent of the economic pressure created due to sanctions, and an acceptance in the regime of the need to address internal concerns and reduce tensions with the West, with a less confrontational nuclear policy.
The narrative always trumps reality. Or even an attempt at humility or honesty.

After election results were in, The Economist published a lengthy article rehashing tried and true hysteria about Iranian nuclear intentions and progress, and resurrecting the analyses of David Albright and Greg Jones, two favorites of the nuclear alarmist community. The piece reintroduced a number of well-worn bromides into the conversation:
Nevertheless, the change in Iran's top civilian office is unlikely to bring an end to the interminable Iranian nuclear crisis.
Even if Mr Rohani wanted to do the kind of deal that would be acceptable to the West (and there is nothing in his past to suggest that he might), the guiding hand behind Iran's nuclear policy will remain that of the supreme leader, whose introspective, suspicious view of the world outside Iran has not changed. The die is already cast: nothing is likely to stop Iran getting the bomb if and when it decides it wants one.
Whether or not Rouhani's electoral win signals a change in Iranian government policies - or, more importantly, a shift in how Iran is treated by the United States - remains to be seen. What is already crystal clear, however, is that mainstream talking points about Iran are here to stay.

*****

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TIME OUT!
Aryn Baker's Selective History of the 2009 Iranian Election

Mir Hossein Mousavi at a campaign rally in Ardebil, Iran, June 1, 2009
(Photo Credit: Hossein Fatemi/ UPI / Landov)

In the introduction to a photo essay on the Iranian election featuring images by Tehran native Newsha Tavakolian, TIME Middle East Bureau Chief Aryn Baker offers up a bit of incomplete - if not implicitly revisionist - history regarding Iran's last presidential election in 2009.

Many salient facts about that election have since been replaced by the mere "social fact" of a fraudulent vote.

The reporting on the recent election has inevitably led to the rehashing of many of the tropes and assumptions from that time. While Baker's whole (albeit short) introduction is suffused with the presumption that the 2009 vote was fixed, she makes the following observation about this month's vote:
Polling station hours were extended late into the evening of June 14th, and, unlike the elections of 2009, when the results were announced almost immediately, the count took an agonizing 24 hours.
First, in an apparent effort to bestow added legitimacy to Hassan Rouhani's victory as compared to Ahmadinejad's reelection, what Baker omits is that, just like this year, voting hours were similarly extended four years ago to accommodate the large turnout and lingering lines of voters at polling stations around that country. Originally set to close at 6pm on Friday June 12, 2009 in Iran, polling stations were eventually kept open until midnight (and some until 2am, according to official reports).

What's even stranger is the way the story is told in TIME magazine feature article in the upcoming July issue. Written by both Baker and Richard Stengel, the article contains this rather curious construction:
In 2009, Iran's young people were trying to reform the system in their enthusiastic support of presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. But when incumbent Ahmadinejad was declared the victor with more than 60% of the vote, even before the polls closed, many gave up on democracy.
How this supposed declaration managed to move from "almost immediately" to "even before the polls closed" within TIME's own recollection speaks to the tendency of mainstream writers and editors to offer bromides more often than checking facts.

While reports that Ahmadinejad had secured over 60% of the vote began trickling out in the Iranian media in the early hours of Saturday morning (when vote totals for only 5 million votes were reported and again, later, when 61% of the vote - or roughly 21 million ballots - had supposedly been tabulated), what is often left out of the story is that - even before the polls closed - it was reformist candidate and the main presidential challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who declared himself the winner, setting off the avalanche of accusations that later followed and essentially inciting protests on the streets. Neither the Ahmadinejad nor the Iranian government itself made such a premature pronouncement.

Every mainstream outlet acknowledged and reported this at the time, though one would be hard-pressed to find any mention of it since.

As The Washington Post reported that day, "Friday, on election night, Mousavi claimed victory even before the polls closed," while Reuters wrote that "Mousavi had earlier tried to pre-empt official announcements by calling a news conference at which he alleged there had been irregularities, including a shortage of ballot papers."

“I am the absolute winner of the election by a very large margin,” the New York Times quoted Mousavi as saying during a news conference with reporters just after 11 p.m. Friday night, while many polling stations around the country were still open. “It is our duty to defend people’s votes. There is no turning back,” he added.

An Associated Press report noted, "Even before the first vote counts were released, Mousavi held a news conference to declare himself 'definitely the winner' based on 'all indications from all over Iran.' But he gave nothing more to back up his claim and alleged widespread voting irregularities without giving specifics — suggesting he was ready to challenge the final results."

Meanwhile, AFP documented, "Mousavi had earlier claimed for himself an overwhelming victory" and quoted the candidate and former Prime Minister as declaring, "In line with the information we have received, I am the winner of this election by a substantial margin." The report added, "Only minutes earlier, close Mousavi aide Ali Akbar Mohatshemi-Pour told AFP his candidate had won 65 percent of the vote."

Similarly, Al Jazeera reported, "Mousavi had claimed victory just moments after polls closed on Friday," and issued a version of the above quotes: "In line with the information we have received, I am the winner of this election by a substantial margin," he said. "We expect to celebrate with [the] people soon."

So who "announced" the results of the poll "almost immediately" back in 2009? No one. Who declared himself the winner of the election "even before the polls closed"? Mousavi himself, not the incumbent or the Interior Ministry.

The New York Times followed what happened next, as Iranian authorities had to react to Mousavi's bizarre proclamation:
An hour after Mr. Moussavi declared victory, the state news agency reported that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won the election with 69 percent and that Mr. Moussavi had 28 percent. As the election commission announced new totals early Saturday morning, the numbers changed slightly, but the wide lead by Mr. Ahmadinejad did not.
The election commission said early Saturday morning that, with 77 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Ahmadinejad had won 65 percent and Mr. Moussavi had 32 percent, Reuters reported. Then at 8 a.m. Saturday, Iranian state media reported that Mr. Ahmadinejad had about 18 million votes and that Mr. Moussavi had 9 million. The other two candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, each won about 250,000 votes, the state media reported.
It was only after roughly 80% of the vote had been tabulated that was Ahmadinejad officially announced as the winner by the Interior Ministry.

Claims abounded after the fact that these results were announced "too quickly" by the Interior Ministry to be considered legitimate, with critics shocked and skeptical that so many millions of votes could be "counted" so fast. But the Interior Ministry's job was never to count votes; rather, vote counts were conducted at each individual voting station by election officials and candidates' observers. The results from the ballot boxes were signed off on by all present and forms with the totals delivered to the Interior Ministry. Copies of these forms (Form 22) were also given to the observers themselves.

This information was also immediately transmitted electronically to provincial capitals, where candidates' observers were also present. Once vote totals from the entire district were combined, these totals were then transmitted electronically to the ministry in Tehran (signed originals were also delivered physically later).

As analyst Eric Brill has pointed out in a comprehensive examination of that disputed election, "To expedite the national vote tabulation in the 2009 election, Form 22 information was also transmitted directly from each polling station to the Interior Ministry. Observers are present when any electronic transmission occurs."

That the Ministry could have started announcing vote totals only hours after the polls closed (especially those that hadn't needed to stay open late to accommodate crowds) is therefore quite unremarkable.  To date, not one of the Mousavi campaign's 40,676 officially registered poll observers has reported that they were denied access to the vote counts, let alone refused or were prevented from signing off on Form 22 at their polling station.

This year, Iran watchers claimed that the slower announcements proved that the government was actually "counting the votes" this time around, as opposed to four years ago. But others noted that the totals were already known to the Interior Ministry, but simply released more gradually so as to avoid the tumult of 2009. Hassan Rouhani himself arrived at the Interior Ministry in the early hours of Saturday morning, followed by some of the other candidates, presumably to coordinate how best to announce the final result of the poll.

Nevertheless, The Guardian's Saeed Kamali Dehghan reported:
The authorities had initially announced they would begin to reveal counts just after 2am local time on Saturday, but the first figures did not come through until at least four hours later. This was in marked contrast to the previous vote in 2009, which many believed was rigged, when final results were announced in matter of few hours.
"It has taken them seven hours to count 800,000 votes while four years ago they counted almost 30 million votes in few hours," one Iranian living in Tehran said via online chat on Facebook. "It might be a good sign that actually this time they're really counting."
Unlike in 2009, Iranian agencies refrained for many hours from speculating on the results or publishing unofficial counts.
What is also ignored is that this year marked the first time the elections were overseen by a new, semi-independent election committee, so as to take sole responsibility away from the Interior Ministry. This too could have made the process either take a bit longer than last time, or (more likely) changed the way the vote count was announced publicly.

Also of note is the fact that, prior to the 2009 election, Mousavi's backers - namely former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family - laid the groundwork for the allegations they would later make.

Barbara Slavin, writing in The Washington Times on June 12, 2009, reported that, days before the vote, Rafsanjani wrote to Ayatollah Khamenei warning of "violence if Mr. Ahmadinejad wins."

"Even if I continue to tolerate this situation, there is no doubt that some people, parties and factions will not tolerate this situation," Rafsanjani's letter read, in what Slavin called "an oblique reference to Ahmadinejad opponents taking matters into their own hands."

Furthermore, early on the day of the vote - while polls were open - Rafsanjani's wife Effat Marashi, after casting her own ballot, reportedly claimed that "if there is no cheating, Mousavi will become president," and insisted, "If people see that [the government] has cheated, they should protest in the streets."

This time, however, for obvious reasons, there was an explicit appeal for patience and calm by all the candidates' campaigns.

The day of the June 2013 vote, AFP reported, "Representatives of all six remaining hopefuls approved by the conservative-dominated body that vets candidates for public office urged their supporters to remain calm until the official results are known."

"We ask people not to pay attention to rumours of victory parades being organised and to avoid gathering before the official results" are announced by the Interior Ministry, their joint statement said.

Quite a difference from four years ago. This may seem like relevant information when comparing 2009 with 2013. But, as always, regardless of the facts and in service to the widely-accepted narrative, TIME marches on.

*****

UPDATE: In an election day article for The Wall Street Journal, Farnaz Fassihi made the same erroneous claim as Baker and Stengel. Writing from Beirut, she insinuated that the 2009 vote wasn't on the level because of the allegedly premature declaration of incumbent Ahmadinejad as the winner:


"The last time Iran held presidential elections, in 2009, the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced while people were still lined up to vote, fueling allegations of fraud that sparked large-scale demonstrations," she wrote.

Clearly, as evidence above, this is false.

*****

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Bogus Narratives Perpetuate:
The Guardian's Bad Facts on Iran Return

Back in April, The Guardian newspaper published an article in its Business section on the supposed sanctions-evading trade relationship between Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the massive British commodities broker Glencore. The article, written by Rupert Neale, was riddled with erroneous statements and speculative presumptions posing as facts.

Most egregious of these was the article's original headline, which read: "Glencore traded with Iranian supplier to nuclear weapons programme."

As should be perfectly clear to journalists and editors alike by now, international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes have ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA.

Referring to a "weapons" program, then, is a rather disturbing and reoccurring feature of mainstream media reporting on Iran.

Subsequent to its initial publication, The Guardian corrected its erroneous headline; the reference to a "weapons" program in the headline was removed, as were other speculative and counter-factual statements in the actual body of the article. Unfortunately, there is still an uncorrected error in Neale's April article, which has yet to be corrected.

An official corrective citation was added to article: "The headline and text on this article were amended on 24 April 2013 to refer to Iran's nuclear programme, rather than its nuclear weapons programme," it reads.

Well, The Guardian has done it again.

An article entitled, "Supreme court quashes Iran bank sanctions and criticises secret hearings," published in the paper's Law section on June 19, 2013, reports on a British court ruling against the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran's largest private bank, Bank Mellat. "In two related judgments, the supreme court ordered the Treasury to remove sanctions" on the bank, writes Owen Bowcott, as their implementation had been granted using secret evidence. Further, the presiding judge, Lord Suption, found that Bank Mellat had been unfairly singled out and that the Treasury's decision had been both "irrational" and "disproportionate."



Both the report's third and eleventh paragraphs of the article contain the familiar - and incorrect - phrase "Iran's nuclear weapons programme."

Not only is the recurrence of such a phrase alarming due to its factual inaccuracy, but its repeated presence is all the more bizarre considering The Guardian has already acknowledged that such a phrase is inappropriate in news reporting. Apparently, the Law editors didn't get the memo from the Business department.

It is time for the paper's Readers' Editor, Chris Elliott, to step in and establish some clear editorial guidelines for The Guardian on this issue, just as his counterparts at The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Washington Post have done previously.

In December 2011, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton challenged his own paper's irresponsible reporting, writing that the IAEA "does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one," and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue "can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran."

The next month, in January 2012, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane responded to reader complaints that the paper's reporting on Iran's nuclear program was misleading and that the use of shorthand phrases legitimized and perpetuated false narratives. Brisbane agreed.

"I think the readers are correct on this...In this case, the distinction between the two [a nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program] is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli," he wrote.

Just days later, National Public Radio ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos concurred with Brisbane's assessment. "Shorthand references are often dangerous in journalism, and listeners are correct to be on the alert for them," he stated. "Repeated enough as fact - 'Iran's nuclear weapons program' - they take on a life of their own." He added that, at the behest of NPR's Senior Editor for National Security Bruce Auster, "NPR's policy is to refer in shorthand to Iran's 'nuclear program' and not 'nuclear weapons program'" and concluded, "This is a correct formula."

Hopefully, The Guardian will follow suit. Treating presumptuous speculations as truth is dangerous and serves only to entrench dangerous and faulty narratives in the public consciousness. The Guardian has not been diligent about respecting the truth, as evidenced by these articles, along with the dazzlingly propagandistic proclivities of some of its opinion writers.

In 1921, The Guardian's legendary editor C.P. Scott wrote, "Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

The Guardian needs to be doing a better job honoring Scott's memory.

*****

UPDATE:

June 20, 2013 - Well, that was fast.

After contacting The Guardian's Readers' Editor, Chris Elliott by both email and Twitter, a response was immediately forthcoming:


And so they did.

The article has been amended and corrected:



And an official correction has been appended at the end of the report:


Kudos to The Guardian's Readers' Editors Chris Elliott and Rory Foster for the quick turnaround.

*****

Monday, June 17, 2013

Looking For 'A New Devil’:
Israeli Leaders & Supporters Scramble After Iran Election


Hassan Rouhani's unexpected victory in this weekend's Iranian election has sent Israeli hasbara into a tailspin. The desire for an Iranian bogeyman is so intense in the warmongering mainstream of Israeli and neoconservative discourse that any attempt to mask their pre-election desires and post-election frustration has been futile. Their entire game plan has been on display -- every Iranian leader is a New Hitler and every New Hitler must be stopped. The whole point is to stave off any possible reconciliation or even minor deflation of tensions between Iran and the West, namely the United States, so as to maintain permanent Israeli hegemony over the region and American largesse and diplomatic cover. A thaw after thirty-four years in the US-Iran standoff is scarier to Israeli leaders than all the unborn Palestinian babies under occupation. At least they're already under Israeli control; the Islamic Republic of Iran never has been.

Daniel Pipes, that loathsome Likudnik, is at least clear about his hopes for the Iranian future. It lies not in the aspirations of the Iranian people, but in the smoldering ruins of a joint US-Israeli airstrike. Without a cartoonish scapegoat like the one the Western media made out of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through their mistranslations and misinformation, Iran might not look so bombable. So Pipes - and the rest of his despicable ilk - wished mightily for the conservative Saeed Jalili to win Friday's vote, or rather, using the well-established narrative, that Jalili would be selected as the winner by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

A more moderate Iranian president, the neocons know, might signal a change in diplomatic dynamics and open the door to a less combative and punitive negotiating stance from the West. Rouhani, especially, with his history as a nuclear negotiator and Master's and doctorate degrees from a Scottish university, is an existential threat to well-worn Israeli propaganda of Iranian recalcitrance and obstinacy.

It was on Rouhani's watch that Iran voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment in 2003 and accepted intrusive inspections above and beyond what was legally required by its safeguards agreement for two years, during which the IAEA affirmed the peaceful nature of the program. It was only after Iran's European negotiating partners, at the behest of the Americans, reneged on their promise to offer substantive commitments and respect Iran's inalienable right to a domestic nuclear infrastructure that Iran resumed enrichment.

The turnout for the vote - a whopping 72%, forecast accurately by pre-election polling - signals another chink in the armor of conventional hasbara. Iranians, by and large, have faith that their voices matter and that change - or consistency - and progress can be achieved through the ballot box and by collective engagement within their nation's political environment. No, this doesn't mean, of course, that everyone who voted on Friday is a supporter of the Islamic Republic as it is constituted today. But it shows that the Iranian public is in no way looking to the skies for a savior in the form of an F-16 and is confident that change will only come from within Iran - by Iranians, for Iranians - not forced or foisted upon them by crippling sanctions or foreign troops.

Two days before the election, in an unprecedented and masterfully strategic move - Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech, "My first recommendation is for an enthusiastic presence at the ballot box. It’s possible that an individual for some reason may not want to support the Islamic system, but he wants to support his country. Everyone must come out and vote."

He added, "A maximum turnout at the ballot box is more important than anything else for the country. And the nation with a powerful action on Friday will prove its firm relationship and connection with the Islamic system and will once again make the enemy unfulfilled and hopeless," concluding that, "No one knows the divine fate of the nation on Friday; however, the more votes the elected individual . . . receives, the more strength he has to stand against the nation’s enemy and defend the country’s interests."

The Iranian electorate didn't heed Khamenei's words. Rather, Khamenei merely gave voice to how most Iranians already felt. The Iranian political system, founded far more on resistance to foreign domination than on religious fundamentalism, is of great pride to most Iranians, regardless of their particular feelings about the legitimacy or potential longevity of a theocratic republic.

The massive turnout undermined Western prognostications of both Iranian disillusionment and disinterest; the election itself, the first one administered by a new, independent election committee, was proof that Iranians and Iran itself will continue to shirk the easy categorization and absurd stereotypes ubiquitous in our own media and politics. After all, the centrist Rouhani, a long-time member of the highest echelons of the Iranian establishment whose candidacy was backed by two former presidents, was the only cleric in the race.

As astute Iran analyst Farideh Farhi wrote before the election, based on the growing and energized interest gleaned from independent polling, "a good sector of the Iranian society is interested in a more differentiated understanding of Iran; an Iran in which its citizens are not mere tools of a despot's engineering."

Yet, the same day Iranians took to the polls, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was in Washington D.C., delivering a speech at the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ha'aretz journalist Barak Ravid reported,
The head of the Israeli defense establishment declared - without any reservations - that nothing will change as a result of the Iranian election and that, in any event, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will decide on the country's next president. 
It did not take long for the depth of Ya'alon's embarrassment of himself, and of those on whose behalf he flew to Washington, became clear. At best, Ya'alon's remarks reflected a serious error in judgment on the part of Israeli intelligence and provided additional proof of the limitations of Military Intelligence and the Mossad in predicting internal political shifts in Iran and in Arab states. At worst, his words reflected arrogance, prejudice and shooting from the hip of the very worst kind. 
But how can we complain about Ya'alon, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Poland on Wednesdsay that Iran's "so-called" election will not bring about any meaningful change. Netanyahu's and Ya'alon's Pavlovian responses, as well as the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, reflect the overall approach of the Likud government which rejects all change, exaggerates the threats, plays down the opportunities and sanctifies the status quo. 
The only thing missing was for Netanyahu and Ya'alon to call for extending the term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as in the case of Egypt and former President Hosni Mubarak.
Indeed, the Israeli response was swift and expected. After years of insisting the Iranian President could single-handedly authorize a second Holocaust, Israel's demagogue Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved quickly to keep the hysteria high. "Let us not delude ourselves,” he said in a press conference on Sunday. "The international community must not become caught up in wishes and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program." Netanyahu also noted that the Iranian president wields no real power in Iran, a concept unmentioned throughout the Ahmadinejad era. "It's the same Iran," an Israeli government statement read.

Meanwhile, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on Sunday that, even though "the results are a credit to the Iranian people," there would be no "change" in the Iranian nuclear program. As such, he said, sanctions against Iran "must continue, regardless of the desire of the Iranian people for progress," since, after all, Iran is the new Nazi Germany and "only a year or less away from the nuclear red line." Of course, according to Israeli estimates, Iran has been only a year away from this mysterious "red line" for a decade now and Steinitz has recently deemed the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran to be "equal to 30 nuclear North Koreas," insisting that "if Iran gets the first few bombs, in a decade or so they will have 100 nuclear bombs."

Back in September 2005, just a month into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term and before the new Iranian president uttered a mistranslated word about Israel and maps, Steinitz was making identical comments.

"Despite all the different circumstances, we see similarities to what happened in the 1930s, when people underestimated the real problem or focused on other dangers. For us, either the world will tackle Iran in advance or all of us will face the consequences," Steinitz, then-chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said during a trip to Washington. "Threats of sanctions and isolation alone will not do it."

Indeed, for Israel, it's always "the same Iran."

Israeli politicians and pundits alike have been frustrated by Rouhani's victory. Deputy Defense Minister Gilad Erdan "feared Rowhani’s win, and his reputation as a centrist and reformer, might lead the West to give Iran more leeway in diplomatic contacts over its rogue nuclear drive," while Yedioth Ahronoth's diplomatic affairs reporter Itamar Eichner noted that Israel now worries it will have difficulty convincing the United States to support a military attack.

Not all Israelis, however, reacted the same way. Shimon Peres, for instance, welcomed the "good news."

Knesset minister Zahava Gal-on of Meretz issued a statement reading, "I extend my sympathy to the Israeli government that, with heavy heart and head hung low, must bid farewell to Ahmadinejad, who served as propaganda card and as an excellent source of excuses to avoid dealing with Israel’s real problems."

“Where will the prime minister turn to now, when someone asks him about the Palestinian conflict?," she wondered. "What about the out-of-control budget deficit for which he was responsible?… What about the racism that exists within Israeli society?… What will he do?"

Gal-on's statement added, "I fear that the election of the moderate Rowhani is not just a blow to the extremists in Tehran, but also to the extremist leadership in Israel, which will now have to replace intimidation with actions."

Similarly, following the official election results, Yedioth commentator Yigal Sarna penned a piece entitled, "A New Devil," in which he satirically lamented, "Oh Hassan Rouhani, you moderate, who invited you? What did you have to come for? What are we going to do without the scarecrow, the fanatic Ahmadinejad?" He continued,
What will we do without our Persian Hitler? What will Bibi draw at the UN? At whom will (Defense Minister Yaalon) storm and to whom will he send our smart bombs and how will Bibi distract people from the plundering here? How will we continue to talk about being the 'villa in the jungle' when the villa is filled with jungle and the jungle is filled with protest? What are we going to wave away when Danny Danons shake off every peace plan and lead us to international isolation?
"We need to return to the reality and quickly find a new devil," Sarna concluded.

And we will. Because we need to.

In fact, AIPAC operatives and acolytes, regime change enthusiasts, Beltway hacks, and Israeli commentators have wasted no time at all.

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Originally posted at Mondoweiss.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

#IranElection: Wide Asleep in America's Twitter Coverage























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Friday, June 14, 2013

An Interview with Hooman Majd:
Part 2: It’s the Economy & Threats Stupid!

(Photo Credit: GQ / Ken Browar)

Hooman Majd is the grandson of an ayatollah, son of a career diplomat, and related by marriage to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. Born in Tehran, he spent his formative years globe-trotting for his father’s work and was educated in schools in San Francisco, New Delhi, Tunis, London and Washington D.C.

After many years in the entertainment business, heading Island Records and producing at Palm Pictures, Majd visited Iran in 2003, the first time he had been back to his birthplace in over thirty years. Over the past decade, he has traveled to Iran often and been a consistently astute and articulate observer of Iranian society and politics.

Author of the best-selling books, “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran” (2008) and “The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge” (2010) and countless articles published in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, The New Republic, The Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Politico, The New York Observer, The Daily Beast, Salon and elsewhere, Majd’s intellect, insight and humility are refreshing, especially in a community occupied by self-declared “experts” and agenda-driven analysts and activists.

Majd recently spent a year living in Iran researching his newest book, “The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran,” which will be published this Fall.

Muftah met up with Majd in Brooklyn recently, where he generously lent his time to answer a wide range of questions. Below is an excerpt of the conversation, which focused on the Iranian economy and the effects of sanctions, the legacy of the Iranian revolution, and the future of Iran-U.S. relations.


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MUFTAH: In your year living in Tehran, did you get a chance to talk to strangers and what did you come away with in terms of your understanding of what matters to people on a daily basis? On the economy? On Iran’s standing in the international community? Is this something that you see weighing on average people?

HM: No, I don’t think people think about it too much. It doesn’t seem to be a primary concern. I think the economy is something people are constantly complaining about and constantly worrying about and that’s only natural when you have a country that is basically under siege from sanctions and has been for a very long time and that affects everything. Economically it affects everything. Not to the extent that we sometimes imagine, I mean, people aren’t starving. They are managing, but it does affect inflation and all the other things.

So the economy is definitely something that seems to be, at least in my experience, a number one priority for people. Fixing the economy, creating jobs. There’s a certain hopelessness, and I think that’s partly because of the poor economy, among certain elements of the youth who feel like they spent all this time studying and going to school and graduating and then, because there aren’t any jobs, going on to get a Master’s Degree and there’s still no jobs and they go on to get a PhD and there is still no work and that’s very much related to the economy. So that seems to be a big thing.

But I think very few people talk about the nuclear issue as an issue that is of daily concern to them, or even weekly or monthly concern to them, not in the way that it is here. Even the potential confrontation with the West doesn’t appear to be something that’s a very high priority for people.

Corruption in the government, resentment of the tremendous amount of wealth that’s on display these days in Tehran. One of the things you notice now versus even five or six or seven years ago is that people are very comfortable showing off their wealth. Ten years ago, even if they were very wealthy, people chose not to drive Porsches and ridiculous cars and have ostentatious homes that were visible from the street.

MUFTAH: What do you think accounts for this change?

HM: I don’t think people care any more. People who are wealthy are benefiting from the system. However they gained their wealth and a large number of them gained it through connections, much like it was during the Shah’s time, they’re succeeding within that system and I think there’s a sense of power that comes with that that goes, “I just don’t care.” It doesn’t mean, however, that they’re necessarily supporters of the system or the regime or the government,

Before, you had to be a revolutionary. You had to show yourself as a revolutionary and a revolutionary doesn’t drive a Mercedes. A revolutionary drives a Kia!

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a little bit of a danger for the Islamic Republic because part of its credibility was that there was going to be social justice. If you’re in Tajrish [an area in a more affluent part of Tehran] and you see a homeless kid sitting on the corner, begging, while cars driving around the traffic circle are Porsches and Mercedes and BMWs, it’s a reality you wouldn’t have seen in the Islamic Republic only a few years before. Even if people had the money, they didn’t want to show it. Now it seems that they don’t care. That’s a generalization, but it’s based on my experience.

MUFTAH: The phenomenon of display, a sense of almost exhibitionist individualism, whether it’s through personal style or wealth, is very noticeable in Tehran. Especially in upper and middle-class neighborhoods such as Gisha, for example. Are there a particular socioeconomic dimension to this type of behavior?

HM: For people who are wealthy and cosmopolitan or, I hate to use the word secular or Westernized, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s say more Westernized in many ways, for them there’s not much else they can do. It’s hard to go to a restaurant in Tehran, there are some good ones, but there aren’t that many of them and it’s hard to do anything other than to entertain at home, privately. So you’re going to start spending your money. I mean, Tehran traffic is awful, if you can navigate it in a Porsche, that’s nicer, and a bit more fun.

I know a few very, very wealthy people in Iran and over the years they’ve had less and less of a problem with displaying their wealth. And I’ve actually said to a couple of them, ‘This is what happened during the Shah’s time.’ I’m a little bit older than some of them and I remember.

This goes back to that whole argument about regime change, which we hear about all the time here in America. Not about whether America should try because, I think, everyone pretty much agrees that America can’t bring about regime change in Iran or even help bring it about.

It goes back to something that’s going to be internal. Whatever happens to this regime, whether it stays and reforms, or whether eventually there is a revolution – which I myself doubt since I think Iranians don’t really want a revolution and the unknown that goes with that – Iranians seem to want change.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

AMAZEBALLS: Rachel Maddow's Ignorance on Iran


MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has a penchant for saying smug, self-satisfied and generally stupid things about Iran. She has claimed that the Iranian Revolution in 1979 marked the establishment of a dictatorship in that country, rather than the end of one; one that just so happened to be a monarchic dynasty that was proudly supported for decades by the United States government. Just two months ago, she weirdly decided to mock Iranians for their national and religious holidays because, y'know, she's progressive like that.

Maddow was back at it this week, ending her nightly program on Monday with some juvenile comments about Friday's presidential vote, when Iranians will elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor. Here's how she began:
The current president of Iran has had the job for the last eight years. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he's known around the world for defending Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
It took her all of seven whole seconds to spit out that egregious falsehood.

First, Maddow's premise is wrong. Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. Despite being the single most spied on country on the planet, U.S. intelligence consistently affirms that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and its leadership has not made any decision to start one. Iran has never breached its obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The vast majority of allegations about Iranian weaponization research and testing has been provided by the United States and Israel, has never been authenticated, and refers to long-debunked claims about supposed actions that took place over a decade ago.

Iran does have, however, a highly-developed nuclear energy program and enriches uranium to levels far below weapons-grade under strict supervision and routine inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency has continued to verify - up to four times a year over the past ten years - that Iran has never diverted any nuclear material for military purposes and has also affirmed "it has all the means it needs to make sure that does not happen with Iran's enriched uranium, including cameras, physical inspections and seals on certain materials and components."

Furthermore, despite the constant mainstream perception that Iran's nuclear facilities are opaque and mysterious, the fact is that the IAEA has conducted more inspections in Iran than anywhere else.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a lecturer at Princeton University, has noted, "Since 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has implemented the most robust inspections in its history with more than 100 unannounced and over 4000 man-day inspections in Iran."

Just last year alone, IAEA investigators spent 1,356 calendar days in Iran, conducting 215 on-site inspections of the country's 16 declared nuclear facilities, and spending more than 12% of the agency's entire $127.8 million budget on intrusively monitoring the Iranian program, which fields only a single functional nuclear reactor that doesn't even operate at full capacity.

By contrast, IAEA inspectors spent only "180 calendar days in France, Europe’s biggest nuclear power," while "Russia and the U.S., which maintain the world’s biggest atomic-weapon arsenals and aren’t required under rules to allow inspections of all facilities, received 16 and 50 calendar-day visits respectively."

But Maddow's ignorance was even more pronounced when she claimed that Ahmadinejad is known for "defending" a program that doesn't exist.

Never once, in the 34 years since the revolution, has a single government official stated Iran's intention to acquire nuclear weapons - to the contrary, such a goal has always been explicitly denied on strategic, legal, moral, humanitarian and religious grounds.

Ahmadinejad himself has never strayed from this stance. In September 2005, shortly after his first inauguration, the Iranian president stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed the Islamic Republic's "previously and repeatedly declared position that, in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited."

The following year, he stated clearly, "Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's defense doctrine and Iran is not a threat to any country." Indeed, over the past eight years, Ahmadinejad has lambasted the development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons as "inhuman," "against the whole grain of humanity," "obsolete," "abhorrent," "disgusting and shameful." Ahmadinejad has said, "The nuclear bomb is the worst inhumane weapon," described it as "evil," and declared anyone who builds an atomic bomb as "crazy and insane," as well as "politically...backward."

Nevertheless, American officials and their ventriloquist media puppets like Rachel Maddow continue to claim that Iran is actively pursuing the development of nuclear arms. On June 9, the New York Times stated that one of the most pressing issues for Samantha Power, Obama's nominee to replace Susan Rice as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, will be to confront "Iran's apparent attempts to develop a nuclear weapon."

The very same day, in an interview with the American overseas propaganda outfit, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman expressed, "from a U.S. perspective," the belief that "Iran's nuclear program...is headed towards having a nuclear weapon."

Apparently, the "U.S. perspective," noted by Sherman doesn't rely on facts or evidence.

Some officials, however, choose their words more carefully than others. During testimony before Congress on June 11, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "Iran is a threat to US national security in many ways, not simply their move toward the potential to develop a nuclear weapon," adding, "I choose my words carefully, because the intelligence community has not yet come to a conclusion that they intend to build a nuclear weapon."

Yet Maddow's own declaration was even more definitive, echoing, of all things, the words of George W. Bush. In March 2008, Bush, while speaking on RFE/RL's Persian-language counterpart, Radio Farda, stated that the Iranian government have "declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people -- some in the Middle East."

This statement was so devoid of truth that even former State Department Iran specialist Suzanne Maloney was moved to speak out. Maloney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, noted at the time, “The Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon,” adding that while, in her opinion, “there's plenty of room for skepticism about these assertions…it's troubling for the administration to indicate that Iran is explicitly embracing the program as a means of destroying another country."

Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation group, also chimed in to correct the record. Calling Bush's statement "uninformed," he explained, "Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It's just not true. It's a little troubling that the president and the leading Republican candidate [John McCain] are both so wrong about Iran."

It is indisputable that Iranian officials have consistently denounced the acquisition, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons.

Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski made this point in 2009, stating that Iran has been "publicly affirming for quite some time" three main points: "We don't want nuclear weapons. We're not seeking nuclear weapons. Our religion forbids us to have nuclear weapons."

Brzeneski added, "Note, incidentally, that this stands in sharp, explicit contrast with the position of the North Koreans. The North Koreans have been saying the very opposite: 'We want nuclear weapons. We're seeking nuclear weapons. And, in your face, haha!, we have nuclear weapons.'" Brzenzinski also condemned the American penchant for "oversimplification and sloganeering rather than analysis" with regards to Iran.

Early this year, Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, similarly affirmed that the "leadership in Tehran continues to challenge the rationale and morality of nuclear weapons. Although such policy statements are hardly determinative of actual intentions, they do stand in stark contrast to the declaratory policies of other governments of proliferation concern, such as North Korea or Pakistan."

Unsurprisingly, the rest of Maddow's segment, solely designed to make fun of Iran for some reason, was rife with worn out stereotypes and mainstream talking points. Even the minutiae of her snide derision were weird. Referring to the current heated presidential race as "amazeballs" - because, y'know, she's a professional journalist - Maddow found it ridiculous that the three presidential debates, broadcast live on Iranian television, each exceeded four hours. Four hours!, she scoffed. Of course, American debates between only two candidates last roughly two hours. Iran had eight candidates. Quadruple the contenders, double the time. How absolutely insane.

Also, towards the end of her bit, Maddow claimed that Ahmadinejad was recently in a helicopter crash, when - based on the article her own staff shows onscreen - it was an emergency landing due to unspecified technical problems. The article itself states clearly that "the pilot managed to land the aircraft safely."

Still, Maddow repeats the word "crash" four times in less than thirty seconds and speculates that the reason the helicopter landed hastily was due to foul play. Her evidence? The media put the word "accident" in between quotation marks when reporting on the story. Here's how she put it, using her most ironic voice:
"The media reports on the Ahmadinejad helicopter crash put air-quotes around the word accident, as in 'President Ahmadinejad just survived a helicopter crash. It's reported to have been an accident, nudge nudge, wink wink, yeah right'."
Ok, first, print media can't put "air-quotes" around anything, Rachel. They're actual quotes.

Second, the reason the media put the word accident in quotes is because...wait for it...the reports were quoting from the primary source of the news. And what was that primary source that called the incident an accident? Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's official website.

But, for Maddow and her inept interns, "The media apparently thinks he was set up." No, the media stated the emergency landing was due to an "accident," because that's what the president's press release said.

But when it comes to Iran, the liberal media darling Maddow is no different than the neoconservative editors of the Washington Post. Facts are irrelevant and propaganda prevails.

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Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has also posted about Maddow's promotion of misinformation.

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