Apparently having learned no lessons from the Iraq WMD debacle, the New York Times is pushing for a heightened confrontation with Iran, slipping into the same kind of hysteria that it and other major U.S. news organizations displayed in 2002 and 2003.
In its latest neocon-styled editorial – commenting on a new critical report about Iran’s growing truculence toward nuclear inspectors – the Times concluded with this judgment:
“Tehran, predictably, insists it is not building a [nuclear] weapon. Its refusal to halt enrichment and cooperate with the I.A.E.A. [International Atomic Energy Agency] makes that ever more impossible to believe.”
Beyond the grammatical point that “impossible” like “unique” is an absolute adjective that can’t be modified, the Times misses the point that its previous over-the-top hostility toward Iran – evidenced in its news columns as well as its opinion pages – has helped create the dynamic that is driving the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program to a crisis point.
Amazingly, the Washington Post, usually an even more reliably neocon bastion than the Times, offered a more thoughtful assessment in its own Friday editorial on the same topic. The Post noted that the most promising area for negotiation with Iran was its past willingness to swap some of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched isotopes for medical purposes.
But the Post observed that delays in reaching an agreement over a proposed swap of 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium – combined with the steady increase in Iran’s stockpile – “has greatly complicated the prospects.”
The Post said that “when the deal was first proposed, Iran would have given up more than two-thirds of its stockpile and would have been left with less than the amount needed for one bomb. To achieve the same effect, Tehran would now have to be induced to nearly double the amount of low-enriched uranium it turned over.”
The Post noted that Iran currently has enough low-enriched uranium to build two nuclear bombs, if it chose to bring the refinement up to much higher levels and committed itself to design and construct a nuclear weapon.
However, what the Post – and the Times – don’t mention in their two lead editorials is that they and their neocon friends were instrumental in frustrating President Barack Obama’s initial efforts to reach an agreement on the fuel swap last year and that they then helped sabotage a parallel deal negotiated by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey earlier this year.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva persuaded Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to accept the swap agreement in May, completing the negotiations that the Obama administration had begun.
At that point, the swap would have removed about half of Iran’s low-enriched uranium leaving the Iranianis only enough to theoretically begin work on one bomb, assuming they actually wanted to.
Though the swap would seem to have represented a major step forward – since one hypothetical nuclear bomb is far less threatening than two and since the agreement might have led to more Iranian concessions – the deal was trashed by opinion leaders at the Post and the Times.
The Post’s editors mocked the Brazil-Turkey initiative as “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
The Times star columnist Thomas Friedman chimed in, terming the Brazil-Turkey peace effort “as ugly as it gets,” the title of his column. Friedman, who was also a top cheerleader for invading Iraq (having dubbed himself a “Tony Blair Democrat”), made clear that he would only be satisfied with more “regime change” in Iran.
“Ultimately, [the success of the Iranian opposition] — 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.
Administration hardliners, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also treated the leaders of Brazil and Turkey as unwelcome interlopers who were intruding on America’s diplomatic turf.
Lula da Silva responded by challenging those Americans who insisted that it was “none of Brazil’s business” to act as an intermediary to resolve the showdown with Iran.
“But who said it was a matter for the United States?" he asked, adding that “the blunt truth is, Iran is being presented as if it were the devil, that it doesn't want to sit down" to negotiate, contrary to the fact that "Iran decided to sit down at the negotiating table. It wants to see if the others are going to go along with what (it) has done."
What Iran saw instead was a parade of American pundits and policymakers heaping scorn on the Iran-Brazil-Turkey accord.
Puzzled by the U.S. reaction, Brazil released a three-page letter from President Obama to President Lula da Silva encouraging Brazil and Turkey to go forward with the swap deal. In the letter, Obama said the proposed uranium swap “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
However, the administration’s hawks – backed by the elite opinion-shapers of the Post and Times – prevailed over Obama. Instead of embracing the swap deal, the Obama administration pressed forward with harsher sanctions against Iran, despite warnings that the sanctions would only harden Iran’s nuclear stance.
Now, after Iran predictably reacted with greater animosity and suspicion toward the international community, the Times editorialists are determined, again, to ratchet up the tensions in line with Friedman’s view that the only acceptable solution is “regime change.”
The Post’s editorialists at least were honest enough to note the failed swap deal, but they, too, ended on an ominous note, suggesting that a U.S. military attack may be the only solution.
Noting a new analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security that Iran may already be producing weapons-grade uranium at a secret facility, the Post concluded: “If that is the case, economic sanctions are unlikely to prevent it.”
So, this is where the biased journalism of the Times and the Post -- especially regarding Iran’s 2009 election (click here or here for details) -- has led the world, to the brink of another Middle East conflict.
Having brushed aside the disaster in Iraq and the related bungled war in Afghanistan, the neocons and their allies appear to remain the chief arbiters and the leading architects of U.S. foreign policy.
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 September 11, 2010.