When President Obama took the Republican presidential candidates to task last week on their hyper-macho rhetoric on going to war with Iran, the major news outlets dutifully reported it. What they haven’t done is owned up to their duties in reporting on the Iranian nuclear situation in the first place. If they did that, of course, voters would have the tools to condemn this rhetoric on their own.
Happily, Stephen Walt has written about their failures for Foreign Policy, or at least about the top 10 of them. If you’ve been getting your Iran coverage from people who have spent time in the country and recognize how the country is actually run, you’ll recognize much of this. If not, once you’ve read it, you’ll understand why I grumble at my television and computer whenever the topic comes up.
#2: Loose talk about Iran’s “nuclear [weapons] program.” A recurring feature of Iran war coverage has been tendency to refer to Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” as if its existence were an established fact. U.S. intelligence services still believe that Iran does not have an active program, and the IAEA has also declined to render that judgment either. Interestingly, both the Times’ public editor Arthur Brisbane and Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton have recently chided their own organizations for muddying this issue.
#3: Obsessing about Ahmadinejad. A typical insertion into discussions of Iran is to make various references to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, usually including an obligatory reference to his penchant for Holocaust denial and his famously mis-translated statement about Israel “vanishing from the page of time.” This feature is often linked to the issue of whether Iran’s leaders are rational or not. But the obsession with Ahmadinejad is misleading in several ways: he has little or no influence over Iran’s national security policy, his power has been declining sharply in recent months, and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini — who does make the key decisions — has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam. And while we’re on the subject of Iranian “rationality,” it is perhaps worth noting that its leaders weren’t goofy enough to invade Iraq on a pretext and then spend trillions of dollars fighting an unnecessary war there.
Iran is being used–by our politicians, by our allies–to manipulate us into action we might otherwise not want to take. It’s been a bogeyman in international affairs since the 1970s without doing much to maintain its status. People, particularly pro-interventionist hawks with concerns that the U.S. doesn’t control enough oil, keep pointing to Iran as though there were a reason there that we must allow them to dictate our fears and our policies.
I can’t urge you strongly enough to read this article and start talking back to the fear-mongers, whether they be politicians, policy “analysts”, or the press.