Friday, May 24, 2019

When it comes to Iran, the U.S. press fails over and over


The great stare down is on again. The pawns are likely to get bloodied. Washington is ramping up its threats against Iran. Iran has continued to observe the Obama-era agreement not to build a bomb that Trump trashed on assuming office; Europe has tried to preserve what was a pretty good bargain. Meanwhile the Trump regime seems to be doing its best through economic sanctions and bluster to push Iran to break an uneasy peace.

Yeah -- we've seen this movie before in another oil rich nation adjacent to Iran. That didn't turn out so well.

The same anticipatory helplessness so many of us felt in the run up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2002-3 is back.

(Reuters) - Half of all Americans believe that the United States will go to war with Iran "within the next few years," according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll [PDF] released on Tuesday amid increased tensions between the two countries.

A plurality of us (49%) disapprove, but most believe there's no stopping the dynamic at work. And most say they would rally round the flag if they believed Iran had attacked our forces in the region -- so the situation is ripe for a "Gulf of Tonkin incident" like the phony provocation used by Washington to jump into our Vietnam adventure. That didn't turn out so well either.

Meanwhile, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who until recently headed up the Defense Department under Trump and knows something of war, had some words of warning:

"The United States should buy time to keep peace and stability and allow diplomats to work diplomacy on how to keep peace for one more hour, one more day, one more week, a month or a year," Mattis said during remarks in the United Arab Emirates.

Task and Purpose

You probably hadn't heard that. U.S. news media apparently didn't think the guy who was at the top of our military until recently had something important to say. (The report is from a specialized military newspaper.)

U.S. major media seem incapable of delivering a serious, rounded account of US-Iranian relations. This failure is so acute that Andrew Lee Butters, a former Time magazine Beirut bureau chief now teaching at Yale, shared tough conclusions about professional failures in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The broad psychological takeaway of reading the news is inevitably that Iran is a threat. Even balanced appraisals of Iran—that note, for example, that the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979 in part as a reaction to the American antidemocratic coup there, in 1953— get lost amid the noise of buzzwords like “terror,” “mullah,” “nuclear,” “proxies,” and “militias.” ... Even though the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal that Iran had negotiated with the Obama administration—a deal that stopped Iran’s nuclear enrichment program—most headlines and talking points on air tell us that Iran is “threatening” to resume the production of nuclear material.

The US, it must not be forgotten, has done its fair share to threaten Iran: encouraging Iraq to invade Iran in the 1980s and kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians, invading Iraq in 2003 and soon after eyeing Iran, selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to anti-Iranian Middle Eastern autocrats, embracing a known anti-Iranian terror cult—the MEK—in the hope of fomenting a regime change. ... The Iranian government has much to answer for, especially for its role assisting the Bashar al-Assad regime in the murderous suppression of the Syrian democracy movement, which was once peaceful. But to counter Iran’s regional military power with the application of more American military power is neither moral nor practical.

I’m pretty sure that most of the reporters and editors at CNN, the Times, and NPR know this. And I’m sure that most of them know exactly what game the Trump administration is playing. But there is some deep-seated loyalty to something like “balance” or “objectivity” that is misplaced, and ends up looking like regulatory capture. ...

Why the amnesia and partisanship from the media? Perhaps because it’s hard to tell Americans that a country full of angry-looking men with black turbans and beards who have captured our diplomats and designed bombs that kill our soldiers have real, legitimate reasons to be angry and afraid of us. And perhaps because it’s hard even for those American reporters who know the Middle East to keep that unconscious bias from slipping into our copy, especially in headlines and photo choices. Raised on American exceptionalism, it’s hard to swallow that our misdeeds in the Middle East may not be exceptions, but an extension of American rule.

We seem only to learn what a shitshow we've made in foreign regions at the cost of other peoples' lives and countries.

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