War propaganda against Iran

In response to my earlier post condemning the murder of the Iranian scientist as an act of terrorism, one commenter posed a serious objection that calls for a detailed response that I thought merited a new post in its own right.

To equate the Iranian weapons scientists assassinations with the equivalent against the US or Israel is silly. Neither the US nor Israel has threatened to destroy Iran simply because it exists. In addition, most of the world feels that Iran getting a nuclear weapon is A Really Bad Thing.

In short: If you were Israel (or the US, for that matter), what’s the alternative, assuming sanctions won’t work? This Administration has narrowed its demands on Iran to a much greater degree than the previous, drawing the line at a nuclear weapon (rather than previously with enrichment et al). Which is one of the reasons most of the rest is going along with the sanctions to one degree or another.

I assume that you would not have been opposed to assassinations against WWII Germany or Japan (and we conducted them, to be sure; the most noteworthy being Yamamoto). Yet when we’re talking nukes, you can’t wait until the war has started. So, again…..what’s your alternative?

The entire premise of the objection rests on the implication that Iran wants to destroy Israel ‘simply because it exists’. The inference is that if Iran should obtain a nuclear weapon, then its leadership is so crazy and suicidal that it will use it on Israel even if the certain consequence is a devastating retaliation, hence even the deliberate murder of Iranian scientists is justified if it will halt the process. This belief that Iran has threatened to destroy Israel has gained wide currency and is a major success story of the propagandists because it has survived numerous debunkings. Juan Cole once more tries to debunk this and other myths about Iran and its leadership.

I find it extraordinary that in less than a decade since that very same argument (“Oh my god, Saddam Hussein is trying to get nuclear weapons to kill us all!”) was used fraudulently against Iraq, it is again being used to justify an attack on another country, and people are buying it. As I wrote way back in 2006 (it is somewhat depressing how little things have changed):

The success of the media propaganda model (see here, here and here) is not in how it answers particular questions but in how it frames the debate. The real service that the media serves in advancing the interests of the pro-war/pro-business party is in narrowing the boundaries of the discussion, so that important but awkward questions are not asked and thus the official narrative is not seriously challenged.

Take the current case of Iran. The question currently being hotly debated in the media is essentially “What is the best way of dealing with the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its crazy leader?” Once it is posed this way, “serious” people start debating whether “we” should first try diplomacy and sanctions via the UN and use force only if those fail, or whether should we stop wasting time and invade immediately. Those are the only options.

This way of framing the debate reduces it to a discussion of strategy, thus avoiding more fundamental questions.

As author Thomas Pynchon said, “If they get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers.” The late Charley Reese, on the other hand, asked the right questions back in 2006:

For example, by what right do the United States and the Europeans tell Iran it cannot enrich uranium? Other nations enrich uranium. Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it grants the right to enrich uranium. Where does the United States get off telling the Iranians they can’t do it?

Oh, the U.S. claims Iran wants to build nuclear weapons. Well, first and foremost, Iran denies that, and there is no proof to the contrary. But suppose Iran does want to build nuclear weapons. Why shouldn’t it? We have nukes. The British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Israelis all have nuclear weapons. Why shouldn’t Iran? For that matter, what right does anyone have to tell the North Koreans they can’t have nukes and can’t even test their missiles? Everybody else tests the missiles.

What you see is that the United States and some of the European states are still trying to run the world to suit them, even though formal colonialism has been a long time dead.

Exactly who are the belligerents in this conflict? Hardly a day goes by without the leaders of the US and Israel threatening actual war against Iran. The economic sanctions imposed on that country already can be construed as an act of war but we’ll ignore that for the moment. It seems like the US is deliberately turning the screws on Iran in the hope that at some point they will do something, anything, in retaliation (such as closing the Straits of Hormuz) that will provide an excuse for attacking that country.

The US and Israel have a long history of invading other countries. They also have huge stocks of nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them and the two countries also implicitly threaten to use nuclear weapons against Iran by refusing to rule out their use, repeatedly saying that ‘all options are on the table’. Can anyone say when was the last time that Iran initiated a war against another nation? One has to go way back into deep history to find an example. It is a classic example of the success of the propaganda machine that despite this history, it is Iran that is portrayed as the wild-eyed aggressor.

But even granting that premise, it is simply not true that this justifies the cold-blooded murder of civilians, like the Iranian scientist. Even in the case of actual declared wars, there are rules about what is and what is not an acceptable target. Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter II, Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions states unambiguously, “2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited. 3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”

Furthermore, according to Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter III, Article 54, deliberately targeting civilians or the destruction of civilian infrastructure like water, electricity, and sewage systems that have no direct military value is also a war crime.

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.

Chris Floyd takes to task the execrable New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for being one of the chief propagandists for the mindset that “we” are justified in doing almost anything to “them”, because of course “we” are always Noble and Pure and always have Good Intentions while “they” are Evil. And Friedman is by no means the only mainstream pundit who cheerfully advocates war crimes.

I agree with Reese when he says, “I don’t think the world will know peace until all the nations of the world agree to respect each other’s sovereignty.” This does not mean we approve of everything that other nations do. But it does mean that we do not allow some countries to set themselves up as the world’s police force with the right to decide what other countries can and cannot do.


  1. Upright Ape says

    I am very sorry sir, but you are quite wrong on several points.
    The situation is quite different from what happened in Iraq. Iraq was really not a threat because before the war it had been subjected to numerous crippling sanctions for many years. Tough sanctions are being imposed on Iran only now.
    Iraq was not holding holocaust denial conferences. Iraq was not demanding “a world without zionism”. Iraq did attack Israel a few times with ballistic missiles but it wouldn’t be able to do so again, while Iran is putting new missiles to the test every day.
    In the case of Iraq intelligence was faulty and that was why it was met with scorn in Europe and at the IAEA. They are at the forefront of efforts against Iran now. While Iraq denied its weapons capabilities programs Iran is boasting about them.
    The regime of Iran is a threat to its own people, including me, and I the whole world.. The world simply cannot tolerate this regime getting access to weapons of mass destruction.

  2. usagichan says

    As far as I’m aware, there is only one country in the world that has developed nuclear weapons that has actually used those nuclear weapons -- A country that frequently executes foreign policy through force of arms. Perhaps we should concentrate on getting that country (that seems to present a demonstrable threat, a willingness to put real armies of occupation in place and has a history of deceit and propoganda justifying those occupations) to disarm -- perhaps the likes of Iran are simply learning through example?

  3. slc1 says

    Re Upright Ape @ #1

    In addition, the notion that Iran is not acting against US interests in the Middle East is false. The mad mullahs who run Iran are currently providing support to the Government of Syria in its murderous attempt to suppress the popular rebellion; thus far, the criminals running Syria have killed upwards of 6000 people. They also supply weapons and other assistance to the Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and the Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon. The current Government of Iran is a terrorist regime.

    As for Juan Cole, he was shown to be a liar several years ago by the late Christopher Hitchins who published an article by a native Iranian demonstrating that Prof. Cole had mistranslated speeches by Mr. Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. Prof. Cole claimed that the Iranian president never threatened to remove the State of Israel from the Middle East and that translations of the latter’s speeches where he did just that were erroneous. In fact, the native Iranian speaker showed conclusively that it was Prof. Cole who was incorrectly translating Ahmadinejad’s speeches.

  4. Ze Madmax says

    slc1 @ #3

    The mad mullahs who run Iran are currently providing support to the Government of Syria in its murderous attempt to suppress the popular rebellion; thus far, the criminals running Syria have killed upwards of 6000 people. They also supply weapons and other assistance to the Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and the Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon. The current Government of Iran is a terrorist regime.

    Under that logic, the United States’ support for the Saudi regime (as well as the support provided to the recently deposed Mubarak) is proof that the United States is a terrorist regime*, and similarly, should be prevented (by force, even!) from accessing its nuclear arsenal. And as noted before, the U.S. is the only nation to date that has used nuclear weapons against enemy targets, which is further cause of concern.

    Oh wait. It’s only terrorism when They do it, not when We do it.

    *This of course, does not take into consideration the actions taken by the United States in the relatively recent past, which include widespread support of murderous totalitarian regimes (e.g., the Shah of Iran, the CIA-backed totalitarian regimes in much of South America) and insurgent movements (e.g., the Contras in Nicaragua, the mujahideens in Afghanistan). Seriously, the U.S. has been one of the largest enablers of terrorism in history (but as Mano Singham mentioned in a previous post, it’s only terrorism when They do it)

  5. tort says

    I have a few problems with this lets start with the most obviously wrong thing you said. I think we can both agree that nuclear weapons are bad and that no one should be testing/using them. If we accept that point then your argument becomes a logical fallacy, the argument from hypocrisy. The US is right about the fact that Iran should not have nuclear weapons and wrong about the fact that it should be allowed to. The fact that the US isn’t getting rid of it’s nuclear weapons doesn’t make it alright for other nations to have them, it doesn’t make the US wrong when it says other countries should not have nuclear weapons, only wrong when they say they should.

    The second problem I have is the idea that we have to respect the sovereignty of other nations. What exactly do you believe we should do when another country starts committing genocide. It’s happened many times in the past and will no doubt happen again. Do you believe we should not intervene in another nation to stop genocide? You even call economic sanctions an act of war, do you oppose even using economic sanctions to stop genocide? What about the murder of non-violent protesters or political opponents, something that is going on in Iran. As it currently reads you are claiming that economic sanctions are an act of war and that we should respect the sovereignty of Iran, that very clearly indicates that you do not believe that we can use economic sanctions at least at their current severity to prevent the murder of non-violent political protesters. I disagree very strongly with this.

    I do not want a war with Iran and I believe the killing of scientists is wrong for some of the reasons you state but some of your arguments are just wrong.

  6. slc1 says

    Let’s take this argument of Mr. Madmax to its logical conclusion. Since the US has engaged in bad acts, therefore the intervention in WW 2 against the Nazi regime of Frankenberger was unjustified. After all, according to the logic of Mr. Madmax, Frankenberger wasn’t any worse then Roosevelt and his predecessors.

    Relative to the Shah and Mubarak, I would be the first to admit that they were not nice guys. However, compared to some of the other bad actors in the neighborhood (e.g. Saddam Hussein, Assad pere and fils) they were angels. The fact is that there aren’t any nice guys in that neighborhood, there are only bad and worse. And no, Bibi Netanyahu isn’t a nice guy either, except he is far less bad then his opponents.

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