Friday, September 4, 2015

Talkin' the Iran Deal on CounterSpin Radio

As the fight for Congressional approval of the Iran deal heats ups and misinformed rhetoric about the agreement and Iran's nuclear program abound, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janine Jackson on CounterSpin, the weekly radio show of the vital media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

You can listen to it here, or below. My interview begins around the 9:40 mark and runs about nine minutes.

The program also features an excellent discussion about the media and Native Americans with journalist Mark Trahant, professor at the University of North Dakota.



September 11, 2015 - FAIR has posted a (lightly-edited) transcript of my CounterSpin chat with Janine Jackson. Here it is:

'This Deal Affirms the Peaceful Nature of the Iranian Nuclear Program'

Janine Jackson interviewed Nima Shirazi on recent coverage of the Iran deal for the September 4 CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: A recent story in Politico reported that the pending pact with Iran over its nuclear program was figuring into Senate electoral campaigns as “Republicans are attacking Democrats backing the deal as soft on national defense.” Two days earlier, aPolitico story explained, as the headline says, “The Ultimate Argument in Favor of the Iran Deal: The Agreement Would Make It Easier to Bomb Iran,” noting that this is a selling point offered by White House officials.

The two pieces aren’t at essential odds: Both assume Iran to be bellicose and threatening, and consider the main criterion for any deal to be how bellicose and threatening it allows the US to be. That’s been the climate of much of the conversation on Iran, conversation also marked by serious misinformation on a factual level. Now it looks as though Republicans don’t have the votes to kill the pact itself, but there’s little chance that the misinformation will disappear on that account.

Joining us to discuss Iran and the media is Nima Shirazi; he writes the political blog Wide Asleep in America and co-edits Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazineMuftah. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Nima Shirazi.

Nima Shirazi: Thanks so much for having me.

JJ: Even if both proponents and opponents of the pack based their arguments on the idea that Iran is developing, or wants to develop nuclear weapons, despite the absence of evidence for that and Iran’s repeated denials, can we see the deal’s passage as suggesting, anyway, that there is some response the US can have toward a country it perceives and portrays as an enemy other than dropping bombs on it? I know that’s a low bar, but here we are.

NS: Yes indeed, that is a very low bar. I do think that the deal itself is a very positive thing. As you mentioned, of course, the rhetoric has not yet changed: the concept that Iran is hellbent on building a nuclear weapon, which has been disproven time and again, the concept that Iran is a perennial cheater and that all it’s doing is now biding its time for another two and a half decades before it finally races towards a nuclear bomb–which it says is completely strategically, morally, ethically and politically unviable.

I think that we are still seeing so much of the propaganda, which has permeated this discussion for so long, still taking hold. Some of it is divided kind of bipartisanly right now, with deal opponents insisting that Iran will get this massive windfall of money as a signing bonus, even though it’s actually Iran’s money that has effectively been held in escrow, or that Iran will be able to inspect itself, which is absurd, or that there will be a 24-day waiting period mandatory before any inspectors visit any nuclear sites. All of these are completely bogus.

JJ: Yes, when something like a New York Times editorial says in favor of the pact–they said, if negotiations fail, “Iran is likely to embark on an even more aggressive search for a nuclear weapon.” It’s like a mobius strip of misinformation there: You can’t have a more aggressive searching when there is no evidence of any searching, and then how is the absence of a deal going to force Iran to do the thing that it is not doing and has said it doesn’t want to do?

Well, talking about the current situation where we’re reading that the deal is veto proof, media are now talking about how it can be improved. Already I see John Kerry out there saying, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do this, but we will also give Israel more missiles.” Again, it’s seeming like maybe it’s not exactly peace that’s being argued for here.

NS: No, its kind of interesting, proponents of the deal have used that Obama and Kerry quote basically that don’t worry, the deal makes the world and Israel safer, and yet were still going to give Israel these other weapons, just in case. It kind of undermines their concept about how safe the deal makes Israel, but behind all of that is that Iran is actually no threat to Israel. Israel, which has an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, and constantly threatens to bomb Iran, is actually much more of an existential threat to Iran that Iran could ever pose to Israel.

JJ: It also seems that we have to accept as a premise–to even get into the debate, you have to accept that somehow the US, along with Israel, that the US is somehow not the main driver of violence in the region, but is a force of stability.

NS: Precisely. We constantly hear, in nearly every single article that is written about this deal and its potential consequences, that Iran is a bad actor in the region and that it has nefarious activities, that it is doing all of these bad, bad things, and never mentions that we, the United States itself has wrought more destruction over that area of the world than anyone else, ever, and that Iran, which actually is a country in that region, has been prevented from playing a role that may be stabilizing, simply because it is seen as being in an adversarial position to US and Israeli interests.

JJ: Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner noted recently that there are going to be disagreements on implementation of this deal, assuming it goes through; that’s why there is a section on dispute resolution, and that won’t mean the plan itself is broken. The implication being any hiccups or problems with inspections going forward will be put forth as evidence that the deal was a mistake. What are you thinking we should be looking for going forward in terms of media representation of this situation?

NS: I think that we’re simply going to see the continuation of what we’ve seen for the past few decades, unfortunately. We are going to see allegations that Iran is cheating, and that Iran is doing everything they can to push the legal limits of this deal in order to prepare themselves, down the line, to break out in some nuclear fashion and destroy the world. The good news is that, at the base of this, the deal is here to stay, regardless of what Marco Rubio said about the deal could only last or will only last through the term of this president, seeing that the next president is not beholden to it.

That will not be the case. This deal is here to stay. It has many other partners that are already beginning to implement the terms of the agreement, and hopefully the Iranian nuclear dossier will become normalized within the IAEA so that even more of these allegations will kind of fail to stir up all of these threats, all of these kind of hysterical claims.

But at the base of this, what the deal does is it affirms the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program and it also effectively removes any threat of military action: With this deal in place, no one is going to bomb Iran.

JJ: David Swanson at World Beyond War wrote that one of the lessons is that we saw that there is never an urgent need for war, that wars are often begun with great urgency, not because there is no other option, but because delay might allow another option to emerge. This would seem, if anything, a case that we can use to say, it’s not that stark a choice, at least there is another road to try.

NS: It’s true, diplomacy is always an option; concerted diplomatic efforts can reap real rewards. I think we’ve seen that here. I think that everyone also needs to realize that the main concessions here, almost all of the concessions here, have been made by Iran. The US has given up nothing in this deal. It has all of its own rights intact. All that has happened is it will then stop imposing punitive sanctions on Iran for something that Iran was never doing in the first place.


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