The war of words against Iran

There has been an escalating war of words by the US against Iran. The latest was the allegation that the top Iranian leadership is directly involved in supplying the Iraqi insurgency with refined IEDs called EFPs (for ‘explosively formed projectiles’) that can penetrate even the armored US vehicles. What is interesting is that the ‘evidence’ for this allegation was provided at a briefing where the US officials insisted on anonymity, recalling the infamous days before the invasion of Iraq when major media outlets, especially the New York Times, uncritically reported unsourced allegations by administration officials and Iraqi exiles saying that Saddam Hussein possessed all manner of dangerous nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. After the Colin Powell UN speech fiasco, it seems as if no one wants to be fingered if this too turns out to be bogus. The actual PowerPoint presentation that was shown by the anonymous Pentagon briefers in Baghdad can be seen here.

Michael Gordon, who with Judith Miller was responsible for much of the New York Times‘s shameful coverage prior to the Iraq war, in now doing the same thing with Iran. Gordon, described by Alexander Cockburn, as “a man of fabled arrogance and self esteem” recently wrote an article repeating the same kinds of things he wrote about in Iraq. As Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher notes in an article titled ‘NYT’ Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong Now Highlights Iran Claims:

Saturday’s [February 10, 2007] New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the “deadliest weapon aimed at American troops” in Iraq. The author notes, “Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile.” 

What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than “civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.” 

Sound pretty convincing? Well, almost all the sources in the story are unnamed. It also may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

The E&P article went on to give more egregious examples of Gordon’s pre-Iraq war coverage, demonstrating that he was little more than a shill for Bush administration propaganda. (This cartoon by Tom the Dancing Bug exactly captures the mindset of people like Gordon. You have to click on the link at the side and watch a short advertisement.)

But while we cannot take the factual content of such reporting seriously, they do serve a purpose in telling us what the Bush administration wants us to believe, and clearly what is being done here is to convince the US public that Iran is responsible for the setbacks that the US is experiencing in Iraq, and that some sort of action must be taken against it.

Why this particular propaganda push?

At the darkest level, it could be that we, the public, are being softened up for an attack on Iran. Iran has already been labeled as part of the ‘axis of evil’ and accused of harboring nuclear weapons ambitions and supporting Iraqi insurgent groups, but all that does not seem to be sufficient. The public still seems wary of further US military escalation.

I have always found it strange that very few people note the irony of the US, which actually invaded Iraq and currently has about 150,000 troops there, warning other countries not to ‘interfere’ in the internal affairs of Iraq. After all, interfering in the internal affairs of other countries has been standard US foreign policy for a long time.

Consider what the US did in Afghanistan. Zbigniew Bzerzinski, who was President Carter’s National Security Advisor at the time that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, said in an interview in 1998 that prior to that invasion there was a deliberate US policy decision before 1979 to intervene and destabilize Afghanistan so as to lure the Soviet Union into invading that country, so that they would get stuck in their equivalent of Vietnam. They did this by having the CIA (then led by current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) begin aiding the Islamic forces called the Mujahadeen in July 1979, six months before the Soviets invaded.

As a result of that invasion, Afghanistan has been in turmoil ever since. The US supplied arms and ammunition (including sophisticated Stinger surface-to-air missiles) to the Mujahadeen fighting the Soviet army, and the Soviet Union eventually was forced to withdraw in 1989, leaving behind a government they had put in place. But that government was unstable and collapsed in 1992, leading to a period of instability. The Taliban, originally a loose confederation of local units, became a unified body in 1994, gained popularity surprisingly quickly, and took over the government in 1996. The founder of the Taliban Mullah Mohammad Omar was once a Mujahadeen fighter. It is now feared that those same Stingers and other weaponry are being used by the same Taliban against US forces.

The cynicism of people like Jimmy Carter and Bzerzinski (now critics of the US intervention in Iraq), who destroyed the lives of the people in that impoverished country in pursuit of their geopolitical goals, can be seen in this excerpt from the interview.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

Bzerzinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Bzerzinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

In Bzerzinski’s point of view, who cares about the Afghan people? They are mere pawns to serve our purposes. It is worth it to us to deliver them into the hands of religious fanatics. Note that this interview was in 1998 and Bzerzinski was able to pooh-pooh the threat posed by militant religious fanatics, dismissing them as “some stirred-up Muslims.” I wonder how he would respond now.

This exchange precisely illustrates the problems that are created when you go with strategy instead of principles. To undermine the Soviet Union, the people of Afghanistan were thrown under the Mujahadeen/Taliban bus. That Taliban government then allowed al Qaeda to operate in that country, which in turn gave support to Islamist movements around the world that are now creating graveyards for US forces.

Given this history, it seems disingenuous for the US to protest about Iranian meddling in Iraq, even if it were true. But the US governments can always depend on two things: the amnesia of its population when it comes to unpleasant historical facts and its media to not ask the hard questions about history and consistency and principles.

Next: Other explanations for the rising rhetoric against Iran.

POST SCRIPT: Historians take a stand for free speech and human rights, and an end to the Iraq war

The New York Review of Books has published a statement signed by over 150 historians that states:

Whereas during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror, the current Administration has violated the above-mentioned standards and principles through the following practices:

  • excluding well-recognized foreign scholars;
  • condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;
  • reclassifying previously unclassified government documents;
  • suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;
  • using interrogation techniques at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society;

Whereas a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperiled by the practices described above; and

Whereas the foregoing practices are inextricably linked to the war in which the United States is presently engaged in Iraq; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the American Historical Association urges its members through publication of this resolution in Perspectives and other appropriate outlets:

  • to take a public stand as citizens on behalf of the values necessary to the practice of our profession; and
  • to do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.

The resolution will be put to an electronic vote of the entire membership of the American Historical Association (AHA) during the period March 1-9, 2007.


  1. says

    I don’t know about you but I was a bit disturbed when the Iranian president was invited to speak at Colombia University, yet was introduced as “an evil dictator”. Is that a way to present a speaker?

  2. says


    I was appalled by Lee Bollinger’s behavior. It is highly inappropriate to invite someone to your institution and, in the introduction, to trash him with ad hominem attacks.

    If he wanted to show his disagreement with the speaker’s ideas, all you had to do was schedule someone else to provide a response after the main talk. This is done all the time when people have controversial speakers.

    What Bollinger did was to respond to, and feed, the hysteria that is driving those who want to wage war with Iran. It was disgraceful.

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