Manufacturing Fear on Iran Nukes

By embracing false or unproven allegations about foreign adversaries, U.S. policymakers may believe they are looking tough or pleasing some important constituent group. But they are also creating a situation that can get out of hand and get lots of people killed, as Lawrence Davidson notes is happening now with Iran over its nuclear program.

By Lawrence Davidson

June 10, 2011

On June 3, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh gave an interview to Amy Goodman for the radio program “Democracy Now!” The topic was Iran and whether or not it is developing nuclear weapons.

Hersh answered this question definitively for Goodman as he also did in a comprehensive piece for the New Yorker magazine entitled “Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Threat?” His answer: There is no Iranian nuclear weapons program. There is no threat.
Hersh set this issue against the background of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that case there was no credible evidence for weapons of mass destruction yet we had high government officials going around talking about the next world war and mushroom clouds over American cities.

Both the U.S. Congress and the general population bought into this warmongering. Hersh is obviously worried about a replay of that scenario.

Thus, in his interview, Hersh said “you could argue it’s 2003 all over again. … There’s just no serious evidence inside that Iran is actually doing anything to make nuclear weapons. … So, the fact is … that we have a sanctions program that’s designed to prevent the Iranians from building weapons they’re not building.”
In 2003, those kinds of sanctions applied to Iraq. Along with the accompanying misinformation campaign, they led to a tragic and unnecessary war. Are we now doing it all over again?

As Amy Goodman pointed out, “the Obama White House … has repeatedly cited Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to the world. President Obama raised the issue … during his speech before AIPAC,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, on May 22.

Obama told his audience, “So let me be absolutely clear: we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Obama went on to characterize Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program, which is its only program and perfectly legal, as “its illicit nuclear program.”
Finally, Hersh pointed out that there have already been two National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on the question of Iran and nuclear weapons. These express the collective opinion of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Their unanimous conclusion has been that “there is no evidence of any weaponization.”

If this is the case, what in the world was President Obama talking about when addressing AIPAC? What in the world was Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talking about on Dec. 18 when, during a visit to the Gulf sheikdom of Bahrain, he announced that “from my perspective I see Iran continuing on this path to develop nuclear weapons….”?

And what are the members of Congress talking about when they address this question? The vast majority of them take the same line as the President and Admiral Mullen. In addition, this assumption about Iran’s nuclear ambitions has crept into the mainstream press.

Amy Goodman asked Hersh about a New York Times report on May 24 stating “the world’s global nuclear inspection agency [IAEA] … revealed for the first time … that it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon.”

Hersh quickly pointed out that the word “evidence” never appeared in the IAEA report and, it turns out, the type of nuclear trigger the New York Times was referring to is so fraught with technical problems that, according to Hersh, “there is no evidence that anybody in their right mind would want to use that kind of a trigger.” So, what in the world is the New York Times telling us?
What’s Real?

Questions One and Two: The questions about Iran’s nuclear development are not open-ended. They have real answers.

First: Is Iran developing nuclear energy? The answer to this is a definitive yes. No one, Iranian or otherwise, denies this. Their aim here is energy production and medical applications. This is all legal.

Second: Is it developing nuclear weapons? According to every reliable expert within the intelligence agencies of both the United States and Europe, the answer is a no. These answers describe reality in relation to Iran and its nuclear activities.
Question Three: The really important question is why do American politicians and military leaders refuse to accept reality as regards this issue?

That too must have an answer. And intelligent people who investigate these matters should be able to figure it out. I consider myself in this crowd, and so I am going to venture forth with my answer.
Answer to question three: It’s politics. However, it is not just U.S. politics. Others have helped write the script. These others can be identified by asking to whom are American officials pledging to pursue the Iranian nuclear weapons fantasy?

The President pledged to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, that the United States will “prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” And Admiral Mullen assured the Gulf Arabs that he, as the head of the U.S. military, takes seriously the notion that “Iran [is] continuing on this path to develop nuclear weapons.”
Israeli politicians are addicted to the Iran threat. Iran serves, alongside the Palestinians, as the latter-day ruthless anti-Semite who would destroy the Jews.

Zionists seem to need this kind of “existentialist” enemy. This is the equivalent of the Islamic fundamentalist taking the place of the hateful communist as the great enemy that the United States also seems to need.

The Israeli lobby is more influential in formulating U.S. foreign policy toward Iran than all of this nation’s intelligence services put together. Hence our politicians from the President on down, chase shadows. Not just verbally, mind you, but in terms of definable policy (like sanctions against Iran).
The Gulf Arab leaders are also addicted to the Iran threat. While Israel’s addiction comes from centuries of conditioning based on anti-Semitism, the fear in the minds of the oil sheiks comes from centuries of conditioning based on Sunni-Shiite competition.

The Gulf Arabs are all Sunnis and they have been raised to dislike Shiites. Iran is an up-and-coming Shiite power and its people have been raised to dislike Sunnis.

For the oil sheiks even the rumor, just mere gossip, about a nuclear armed Iran sends them into a panic. And it is these Arabs who supply the West with a big percentage of its oil.

So, their fantasies have to be taken seriously. Not just verbally, mind you, but in terms of definable policy (like naval fleets shadowing the Iranian coastline).
U.S. politicians and military leaders cannot talk like this and create policy like this without the mainstream press following along. The thinking goes: Where there is smoke, there must be fire. Plus, ever since the Iranian hostage crisis (1979-1981), Americans have been told that the Iranians hate us.

So be it Fox TV, whose fanatical conservative backers have always lived in a bipolar fantasy world of good and evil, or the New York Times, whose quasi-liberal backers empathize with Israel just enough to buy into that country’s paranoia, the message is that the Iranians are crazy people out to destroy the West.

And the evidence? Who needs it?
Danger of False Assumptions
What happens when a well-armed individual cannot tell the difference between reality and unreality? What happens when a well-armed individual just knows, in his gut, that the other guy is plotting to destroy him?

Chances are good that something horrible will happen. And, the American public ought to know that this is so, because collectively we have already lived out this tragedy in 2003. In that year we had leaders who were much more influenced by their gut, by religious imagery, by duplicitous Iraqi con men, by scheming Zionists and ideologically driven neo-cons, than anything vaguely resembling hard evidence.

That “something horrible” cost the lives of over a million human beings, according to some estimates.
But, your might argue, Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. There is a high likelihood that Obama and his military people actually take seriously the intelligence reports (those NIEs) that tell the truth about Iran.

Alas, they do not appear to be able to tell this truth publicly to you and me or the media. If they did that, the Israeli lobby would get mad, the Gulf Arabs would get mad, and the Republican opportunists would scheme to say they were weak and naive come the next election.
So let us get this straight. It seems there are two worlds: The real world of facts and evidence and the unreal world of political fantasy.

Our political leaders and their advisers are, apparently, stuck in the unreal one. Their words and their policies are built on the assumptions of this fantasy world. They go to war and kill people based on beliefs that are demonstrably false.

And the rest of us? Most of us are stuck in our own local niches and beyond them we do not know what is real or unreal. So we rely on others to tell us what is allegedly real beyond our local sphere.

Who are the others? They just happen to be our political leaders and their advisers. Well, that makes a nice little circle. And, a predictably fatal one at that.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.