February 8, 2007
An "Existential" Conflict
By GARY LEUPP
In a very interesting analysis last month, the former chief of staff of the Russian Army, Gen. Leonid Ivashov, predicted a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran by this April. "Within weeks from now," he wrote, "we will see the informational warfare machine start working. The public opinion is already under pressure. There will be a growing anti-Iranian militaristic hysteria, new information leaks, disinformation, etc." I'm afraid this has the ring of truth.
Then you have Gen. Oded Tira, chief artillery officer of the Israeli Defense Forces declaring last month that "an American strike on Iran is essential" for the very existence of the Jewish State. Suggesting that "President Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran," he urgently appealed to the resurgent Democratic Party to work towards that Israeli goal. "As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence," he declared, "we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors. We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure."
Tira specifically urged the Israel Lobby in the U.S. to "turn to Hilary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party so that they support immediate action by Bush against Iran." The Lobby seems to be doing a great job at that, Tira's criticisms about Democrats' "foolishness" notwithstanding. All the Democratic presidential frontrunners have assured AIPAC or Israeli audiences that they're at least as hawkish on Iran as the unpopular Bush. Meanwhile the Israeli allegation that Iran poses an "existential" threat to itself, made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the U.S. Congress last year, has insinuated its way into American official discourse.
Referring to the vaguely defined "war on terror" in general, Cheney recently told Fox News, "This is an existential conflict. It is the kind of conflict that's going to drive our policy and our government for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years." His daughter Elizabeth (Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and the VP's liaison with the spooky new "Office of Iranian Affairs") wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last month, "America faces an existential threat We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or 'solve' their jihad." The administration, still led by neocons clustered around Cheney, has embraced the Israeli rhetoric of paranoiac prophesy. It has decided to attack the Islamic Republic, to end its existence, for the self-defense of Israel and America. To gain support it must sow fear and must demonize Iran, ratcheting up the rhetoric week by week.
The "informational war machine" to which Ivashov alludes has been shoveling out disinformation faster than the public can digest, no doubt on the assumption that rumors even if later disproved can usefully damage reputations and set up targets for attack. The Straussian neoconservatives who tirelessly campaigned to foist their Noble Lies about Iraq on the American people up to the Iraq attack in March 2003 might not much care if the lies they tell now about Iran are exposed down the road. What they want is regime change soon and therefore, a compelling casus belli or two.
During the lead up to the Iraq War, the main charge against Baghdad (skeptically received at the UN) was that it possessed weapons of mass destruction threatening the whole world including New York City, which President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials warned could result in a mushroom cloud over the Big Apple. Bush and Cheney intimated to certain audiences that Iraq posed a particular threat to Israel, but in general this issue was downplayed, probably because the administration wanted to avoid the accusation that it was going to war "for Israel" as opposed to America or the mythic but impressive-sounding "international community."
This time it's different. Although Israel attacked and destroyed Iraq's French-built Osiraq nuclear rector in 1981 (in an illegal action then condemned by the Reagan administration and virtually all other governments, although Cheney and his neocons find inspiration in it today), and although the Israeli government enthusiastically greeted the invasion of Iraq, it didn't overtly campaign for the war. But now it is feverishly beating the drums for a U.S. war on Iran. And as Cheney has pointedly noted, if the U.S. doesn't attack Iran, "Israel might do it without being asked." Most likely it will, if it happens, be a joint effort.
Notice how the case against Iran articulated in Israel forms the bulk of the Bush administration's brief. It runs something like this. Iran is a radical Islamist theocratic state that supports terrorists, including Lebanon's Shiite Hizbollah (which follows the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini), and various Palestinian organizations. It is large, powerful, and hostile to Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. The Iranian regime is anti-Semitic; President Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Iran is concealing the existence of an illegal nuclear weapons program, a program that threatens the existence of the Jewish state. Therefore it is guilty of "planning to commit genocide"---just like that universally acknowledged incarnation of evil, Nazi Germany.
To this alarmist case, the U.S. propaganda mill adds the charges that Iran harbors al-Qaeda members; provides improvised explosive device (IED) components to "insurgents" in Iraq, who use them to kill Americans; and generally "meddles" in Iraq. (One should ask how those occupying a country, against the will of its people, 6000 miles from U.S. shores can talk about a neighboring country sharing a 600 mile border with Iraq, a common Shiite religious faith and 3000 years of incessant interaction can complain about Iranian "meddling" with a straight face. Especially when they cherish their own right to meddle in Latin America whenever it pleases them.) But these flimsy charges haven't been at the top of the list. The main issue, as in the Iraq case, is the WMD one, and specifically the future prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel producing a second Holocaust.
From the (often Israeli-American dual national) neocons' point of view, what can you do as an encore after terrifying Americans with the vision of mushroom clouds over New York? What image has the terrifying power of that one? Why, genocide of course! The conscious, evil, extermination of a whole people---in this case a people regarded by many American evangelical Christians as God's Chosen People, whose miraculous reestablishment of a state in the twentieth century fulfilled biblical prophecy and whose state indeed augurs the yearned-for Second Coming of Christ. This genocide issue looks like the ideal issue to get the American people on board a massive, likely nuclear, assault on Iran.
In December, following lots of discussion in Israel on this issue, outgoing U.S. UN Ambassador John Bolton called on the UN International Court of Criminal Justice to charge Ahmadinejad with "inciting genocide." "It's time to take action," Bolton told a Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations symposium. "We're being given early warning, unambiguously, on what his intentions are." There was apparently no doubt in Bolton's mind that Iran wants to kill all Israelis. (For the record, Bolton has in the past asserted confidently that Cuba's widely admired pharmaceutical research projects are actually a front for the development of biological weapons. The State Department itself, embarrassed and acknowledging no evidence for this claim, had to shut him up.)
Also last December, former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu summoned seventy foreign diplomats in Israel to a meeting to pressure them to join Israel in efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the meeting was "the first event in an international public relations campaign. It will include a proposal to file a complaint in the International Court of Justice against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for war crimes, and his plans to commit genocide will be presented."
"We must cry Gevalt before the entire world," declared Netanyahu. (Gevalt: a Yiddish expression of shock or dismay.) "In 1938, Hitler didn't say he wanted to destroy [the Jews]; Ahmadinejad is saying clearly that this is his intention, and we aren't even shouting. At least call it a crime against humanity. We must make the world see that the issue here is a program for genocide."
But Netanyahu (like Gen. Tira) is probably much more concerned about American public opinion than that of "the world." He knows that the average American hearing the official Israeli case, ill-equipped to challenge its vilifying assumptions, might actually be inclined to embrace it. Ignorance and fear are excellent allies here, and should be countered with some rational presentation of historical fact, the neocon propagandists' great enemy.
Most Americans do not suspect, for example, that Hizbollah (which Israel tried in vain to destroy last summer) is a popular political party in Lebanon, where it represents the Shiite population and is respected for the efficient social services it provides. It emerged as a resistance movement among the Shiites in the south after the Israeli invasion of 1982. (Initially, many Shiites had actually welcomed the Israelis, since they were targeting the PLO at a time of considerable conflict between Palestinian refugees and the Lebanese. But the occupying troops were deeply hated, and resistance mounted.)
Most Americans don't know that in the last parliamentary election Hizbollah and its allies won 27% of the total seats. It had ministers in the Lebanese cabinet before withdrawing them recently in protest of the U.S.-backed prime minister's policies. It has radio and television stations. Hizbollah is widely credited with forcing the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and can attract hundreds of thousands, even a million protesters to demonstrate in a country of 3.8 million. It has forged an alliance with General Michel Aoun, a Christian military leader who once fought against Syrian forces and now heads a mainly Christian political party. Netanyahu knows that few Americans think about these things when they hear him describe Hizbollah as a "terrorist organization."
Nor do most Americans know much about the Palestinian organizations that Iran supports with office space, funds, or weapons. They've probably heard of Hamas, but have no idea whether it's Shiite-based (and thus connected to Iran religiously), or Sunni and less influenced ideologically by Iran. (It is Sunni.) They may not realize that Hamas grew up in opposition to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (once categorized as a "terrorist" organization by the U.S. but later recognized by Israel---and funded by the U.S. and other countries--- in the form of the "Palestinian Authority") and are widely seen as more honest, capable and pious than the PLO politicians widely associated with corruption, inefficiency and secularism. They may not realize that Hamas handily won the last Palestinian elections, which were fair and fairly reflected the sentiments of the Palestinian people. They may not sense a contradiction between President Bush's rhetoric about "democracy in the Middle East" and his government's refusal to accept a democratically elected government in Palestine. They may not know that Hamas called and maintained a ceasefire with Israel for 16 months before June 2006 (when Israeli artillery shells killed seven Palestinians, including three children, at a family picnic on a crowded Gaza beach). And they certainly know little of the histories of other Iran-backed Palestinian organizations. That makes them easy targets for anti-Muslim disinformation campaigns in general.
Most Americans are sheltered from news reports about Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, or in the vast prison-camp of Gaza. They are conditioned to perceive Arab and Muslim hostility to Israel as a reflection of anti-Semitism and religious animosity and intolerance, rather than understandable reaction to the historical experience of Palestinian displacement and abuse, repeated Israeli attacks on Lebanon, continued construction of illegal Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank, annexation of the Golan Heights, etc. They are inclined to believe that Israel, as a "democracy," is America's natural ally in the Middle East, while many American Christians are convinced that its very existence is in fulfillment of biblical prophesy. Netanyahu understands all this, basking in the glow of the evangelicals' adulation and perhaps marveling at their gullibility.
The American media has repeated ad infinitum the report that Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. This matter-of-fact acceptance of the validity of the quote has been a huge boon to the vilifying warmongers. The Persian-language statement, which has now been analyzed and translated by several western scholars, in fact makes no reference to any map at all.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jonathan_steele/2006/06/post_155.html What Ahmadinejad said, quoting Ayatollah Khomeini (who died in 1989) was that "the occupation of Jerusalem" will be "erased from the page of time." The statement is a bit vague and in poetic language but makes no reference to a map at all, to say nothing of genocide. Yet Bolton and Netanyahu want us to read it as a clear intention that Ahmadinejad wants to destroy all Jews! Ahmadinejad used the quote in a speech noting that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union itself, and the regime of Saddam Hussein all ended in time, as he maintained the Israeli occupation of one of Islam's holiest cities would too.
It's true that the Iranian president has made provocative statements questioning the occurrence of the Holocaust. But his political powers are limited, he does not control foreign policy, and he faces substantial criticism from other members of the Iranian power elite. Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad's predecessor as president from 1997 to 2005 and still an influential player in the Iranian power structure, has pointedly distanced himself from Ahmadinejad's comment, telling an Arab audience that the Holocaust was "an historical fact." But then, he's an internationally respected proponent of the "dialogue of civilizations" who while in power sought better relations with the U.S., only to be rebuffed. Anyway Americans don't hear much about differences among Iranian leaders; we're encouraged to see them all as threatening and vile. When in February 2003 Secretary Colin Powell's lieutenant Richard Armitage matter-of-factly called Iran a "democracy," Cheney's neocons were all over him.
Americans aren't supposed to know that Iran has hotly contested elections, even though all candidates for office must be approved by the Guardian Council of six jurists elected by the Majlis (Parliament) and six clerics chosen by the Supreme Leader, who is himself elected by a parliamentary body of 86 people. (Basically, the democratic process is constrained by repressive religious oversight. But that happens elsewhere too. Note that Israeli "democracy" is predicated on the idea that any Jew from anywhere arriving in Israel gets citizenship and voting rights. Israeli Arabs have these rights too, but they do not exist among the four million strong Palestinian exile community denied their right of return.)
But back to the big issue, the putative nuclear weapons program that might someday destroy Israel. The U.S. press refers routinely to "Iran's nuclear weapons program" as though it obviously had one, while most Americans don't know that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, actually issued a fatwa against the production, stockpiling or use of nuclear weapons in 2005. Most know that Iran is enriching uranium, but probably don't know that all countries have the right to enrich uranium, and that countries without nuclear weapons programs (like Japan, Germany, the Netheralnds, Brazil) have enriched it without American protest. Signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty are in fact guaranteed the right to do so, so long as they renounce nuclear weapons development and submit to IAEA inspection---as Iran has done. (Indeed, Iran has submitted to unprecedentedly intrusive UN inspections.) Meanwhile, countries that haven't signed the treaty (like India, Pakistan, and Israel, non-signatories that have nuclear weapons) aren't legally bound to its terms at all! Americans might ask: Why do these three countries enjoy such close relations with the U.S. despite their defiance of the nonproliferation regimen the U.S. demands Iran respect? (North Korea was a signatory but withdrew from the Treaty in 2003 in the face of unremitting U.S. hostility and tested nuclear weapons in 2006.)
Most Americans probably don't know that Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a man who understands the science, keeps saying there is no evidence that Iran's enrichment program is related to a military program. True, he declared, after a meeting with Condi Rice in March 2006 (in which she agreed to lift U.S. efforts to fire him as IAEA head), that the IAEA was "not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran." The Bush administration has used that convoluted double-negative statement, and the September 2005 IAEA statement on Iran, to justify its preparations for war.
According to that statement Iran's "many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement [voluntarily signed by Iran in 2003]constitute non-compliance" with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while the "history of concealment of Iran's nuclear activities" and "resulting absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council." Most Americans don't realize that this statement was actually opposed by 13 of the 35 voting countries (including Russia, China, Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela and South Africa) but backed by NATO country representatives voting as a bloc. (This was used to produce UNSC Resolution 1737, which having affirmed the right of Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories "to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination," contradictorily "decides" that "Iran shall without further delay suspendall [uranium] enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.")
Misled by politicians (including AIPAC heroine Hilary Clinton) and poorly served by the mainstream news media, many Americans just might swallow the accusation that Iran is planning genocide, in league with Hizbollah and Hamas. Some might believe that a nuclear Iran would somehow threaten the Homeland, perhaps by sharing nuclear arms with terrorist groups. More might believe that Iran is at least developing nuclear weapons, following Dick Cheney's reasoning that Iran with all its oil can only be pursuing a nuclear program with weapons in mind. (They might not know that in the 1970s, U.S. administrations and corporations such as General Electric were encouraging Iran to develop a peaceful nuclear program! But that was when Iran was under the Shah, a U.S. client toppled in the most mass-based genuine revolutionary upheaval in the modern history of Islamic countries in 1979.)
But there is in fact no reason to suppose that Iran plans to attack any country. It has not, for the record, in modern times although it was itself attacked by Iraq (supported by the U.S.) from 1980 to 1988. The closest it came to invading a neighboring country came in 1998, when following the killing of seven Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan, Tehran mobilized against the Taliban regime. (In 2001 it cooperated with Washington to topple that regime and replace it with one rooted in the Northern Alliance forces.)
In August 2006 Ahmadinejad stated that Iran was not a threat to any country, "not even to the Zionist regime." French President Jacques Chirac recently acknowledged, in an unguarded honest moment, that even if Iran had a few nuclear weapons it would still be "not very dangerous." It is ludicrous to depict the Iranian regime as a menace to the United States, which has half the world's total military budget, troops based in 120 countries, and bases surrounding (and threatening) Iran in Afghanistan and Iraq. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson has revealed, the State Department received an Iranian offer in mid-2003 to end support for Palestinian militant groups, cooperate with the U.S. in stabilizing Iraq and settling the Israeli-Arab dispute, and make its nuclear program more transparent. In return Iran asked for an end for U.S. support for the Mujahadeen Khalq Iranian militant group based in Iraq, withdrawal of trade sanctions and an end to U.S. hostility. Welcomed by Powell, the overture was contemptuously rejected by Cheney's office-much as overtures from Iraq and Syria had been summarily rejected earlier by officials saying, "We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it."
Is it not obvious that any strike against Israel or the U.S. from Iran would result in unacceptable consequences for the Islamic Republic? Is it not obvious that Netanyahu's sensationalistic genocide charge is part of a general propaganda campaign intended to pave the way for an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation? In Israel itself, supposedly marked for annihilation, the putative Iranian threat is hyped by some, downplayed by others. Efraim Halevy, former head of the dreaded spy agency Mossad, recently dismissed the notion that Iran poses "an existential threat to Israel."
"Israel is indestructible today," he declared. "It's not so simple just to think you
can have a device on your hand and you will able to hurl it on to a certain location and wipe out a nation Israel has known of this threat [from Iran] for more than a decade-and-a half and has watched this threat grow you must assume that Israel was not sitting on its hands ... or [waiting] for someone else to do the job" Can Iran destroy Israel? "I don't think this is doable in pure operational terms."
So enjoy what Ha'aretz called the "international public relations campaign," the general the "informational warfare machine" as it heats up. Expect to be told more and more in the coming weeks that Iran is not only killing U.S. troops in Iraq, but threatening your very existence. Imagine the boldest of Straussian "Noble Lies" screaming from your TV screens for weeks. Iran's fanatical leaders, we'll be told, want a caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia. They want mushroom clouds over New York. They want genocide---indeed they're already planning genocide. And so (as Bush and Hilary both declare) "nothing is off the table" when it comes to "dealing" with the Islamic Republic.
Gevalt! Netanyahu cries. "Gevalt!" one should reply to the warmongers, and ask:
How have these shameless disinformation artists fooled so many people about this Iran 'threat'?
How has a discredited administration brought us so close to another crime against peace as defined by the Nuremburg Principles and United Nations Charter?
How has the Iran attack lobby acquired such political clout in this country?
How have shrewd political manipulators even been able in any respectable forum to connect opposition to the slaughter of Iranians with anti-Semitism?
How did the 9-11 attacks of receding memory propel this country into such an era of madness?
How can the Democrats swept to power in a wave of antiwar revulsion sit on the fence or actively assist as the administration plans to use its own (real, existing) nuclear weapons on Iran?
Ivashov doubts that "the world's protests can stop the U.S." and suggests that "the revenues of [the U.S.] military-industrial complex" is what "matters to Americans." I can only hope we prove him wrong, mobilizing to end the Iraq War, to impeach the war criminals in power, and to stop the attacks on Iran and Syria before they start.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: email@example.com