When Americans wonder how their country has ended up in so many pointless and seemingly endless conflicts around the world, like the meandering Afghan War and the bloody mess in Iraq, a good place to start would be the “prestige” newspapers, the Washington Post and the New York Times.
And, they are now engaged in a replay regarding Iran.
On Saturday, the Post’s editorial writers joined their counterparts at the Times in a new Establishment chorus demanding “regime change” in Iran through the ouster of the country’s Islamic-directed government by supporting the opposition Green Movement, which lost last year’s presidential election and then mounted public protests.
Since that election one year ago, it has become an accepted truth in the major U.S. news media that the Green Movement’s candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi won the election which was then stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
So, the thinking goes, President Barack Obama must abandon his naïve efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program and instead ratchet up bilateral tensions by throwing more U.S. support behind the Iranian opposition – and winking at Israeli plans to launch airstrikes against military targets inside Iran. Those attacks would supposedly spark an uprising in Iran.
This wishful thinking is reminiscent of the run-up to war in Iraq. Then, too, the Post and Times – plus much of Washington’s foreign policy elite – bought into a mythology of their own making, wanting to believe that the internal opposition in Iraq was much stronger than it was and that negotiating with the official leadership was a sign of weakness and betrayal.
The fantasies about Iraq led to neoconservative dreams of a "cake walk" for U.S. troops as Iraqis threw rose petals. Now, similar uncritical thinking is being applied to Iran.
“A year ago,” the Washington Post’s editorialists wrote on Saturday, “a movement was born that offers the best chance of ending the threat posed by Iran’s support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons,” adding that:
“Mr. Obama’s strategy hasn’t slowed Iran’s nuclear program or its aggressions toward Iraq, Lebanon or Israel. The popular discontent reflected in the Green Movement offers another avenue for action, one that is more in keeping with America’s ideals. It’s time for the president to fully embrace it.”
Last Thursday, a New York Times editorial took a similar line, praising the new round of anti-Iran sanctions that the Obama administration pushed through the U.N. Security Council, though the Times said they “do not go far enough.”
The Times also took a mocking swipe at Brazil and Turkey, which voted against the new sanctions after having convinced Iran to swap about half its low-enriched uranium for more processed uranium that could only be used for peaceful purposes.
“The day’s most disturbing development was the two no votes in the Security Council from Turkey and Brazil,” the Times wrote. “Both are disappointed that their efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran didn’t go far. Like pretty much everyone else, they were played by Tehran.”
But the truth was that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was torpedoed by the United States, although President Obama had privately encouraged it. Turkey and Brazil weren't "played by Tehran"; they were double-crossed by Washington.
In recent weeks, Times star columnist Thomas L. Friedman also has weighed in with an influential column advocating U.S. backing for the Green Movement rather than further negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The Green Movement’s “success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal,” Friedman wrote.
These moralistic “tough-guy” tones might sit well with armchair warriors like the Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and the New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, but they appear likely to continue America’s stumbling progression toward another Middle East war.
And, as during the prelude to the Iraq War, the attitudes of the Post and Times editorialists are in sync with the warmongering of the neoconservatives. Regarding Iran, it is hard to distinguish between the opinions of the Post, the Times and, say, neocon propagandist Michael Ledeen writing recently in the Wall Street Journal.
So, over the past several weeks, it has become the collective judgment of key honchos from American journalism that the Obama administration should refuse to seek compromises regarding Iran’s nuclear program and instead push for “regime change.”
However, beyond the human consequences of such war-like policies, there’s the journalistic concern about these prestigious opinion leaders making up their own “reality.”
For instance, there’s the troublesome fact that virtually all the available evidence indicates that – contrary to Western hopes and desires – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12, 2009, election in Iran and that his chief challenger Mousavi didn’t even come close.
As an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes discovered, not a single Iranian poll – whether before or after the election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]
However, the Post and Times seem determined to place their cherished myth of Mousavi’s victory at the center of U.S. foreign policy. Over the past year, whenever they mention the Iranian elections, the Post and Times characterize the vote as “disputed” or cite the opposition’s accusations that the results were “rigged” or “fraudulent.”
Though one might argue that such wording is fair given the controversy, it is worth noting that the two newspapers took the opposite approach toward the U.S. presidential election in 2000 when the evidence was overwhelming that George W. Bush stole the victory from Al Gore, who got more votes nationally and apparently got most of the legal votes in the key state of Florida.
Rather than forthrightly present the findings of a news media study which discovered Gore’s rightful Florida victory a year after the election, the editors of the Post and Times buried the startling result and instead highlighted hypothetical partial recounts that still left Bush ahead.
The editorial thinking – after the 9/11 attacks – apparently was that the truth would undermine Bush’s “legitimacy” amid the crisis and open the newspapers to accusations that they had undercut the patriotic unity that was then sweeping the country.
To enforce the "Bush-won" judgment, prominent commentators, such as the Post’s media writer Howard Kurtz, mocked anyone who bothered to read the recount study’s actual results and who dared notice the unacceptable outcome (Gore’s victory). Those who did became “conspiracy theorists.” [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]
So, the major U.S. news media harps on what is essentially an unsupported conspiracy theory – that Ahmadinejad “stole” the Iranian election – while treating as a “conspiracy theory” the accurate recognition that Bush did steal the U.S. election. You can look far and wide for the Post and Times referring to Election 2000 as "disputed" or "rigged" without much success.
To make matters worse, the Times and Post editorialists now have elevated their mythology about Iran’s “fraudulent” election into the chief rationale for relying upon the Green Movement to facilitate “regime change” in Iran, despite recent evidence that the opposition is fizzling.
“As a formal political organization, the reform movement is dead,” reported Will Yong and Michael Slackman in a news story for Saturday’s Times that nevertheless carried the hopeful headline, “Across Iran, Anger Lies Behind Face of Calm.” (Given today’s economic dislocations, a similar headline could be applied to nearly every country on the planet, including the United States.)
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, as the U.S. and NATO casualty lists grow, the New York Times also is taking a hard line, publishing an editorial on Monday, condemning Afghan President Hamid Karzai for even exploring a possible peace deal with the Taliban.
As happened with Obama regarding his initial interest in engaging the Iranian government, Karzai is portrayed as foolish for thinking that a negotiated peace is possible for Afghanistan, at least not before U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal gets more time to pummel the Taliban.
Though acknowledging that McChrystal’s war escalation so far has met little success, the editorialists said his “counterinsurgency strategy still seems like the best chance to stabilize Afghanistan and get American troops home.”
As for Karzai’s peace overtures, the Times concluded: “We don’t know if the Taliban leaders will ever compromise. But we are sure that they will consider it only under duress. General McChrystal is going to have to do a much better job [in an upcoming offensive] in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai is going to have to drop his illusions and commit to the fight.”
It apparently is beyond the ken of the smart editorialists at the Post and Times that they may be the ones suffering from “illusions.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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This story was published on June 14, 2010.