During former US President Bill Clintonâ€™s recent trip to Australia, he said the two greatest threats facing the 21st century were terrorism and global warming. The Age welcomed Clintonâ€™s presence in Melbourne as the coming of an almost god-like figure. â€œWhile much of the worldâ€™s population struggles simply to surviveâ€, it breathlessly offered, â€œlarge numbers of the rest of us are searching for heroes.â€ The fact that Clinton oversaw the bulk of sanctions against Iraq, and the death of over 500,000 men, women and children, was airbrushed out of existence. For the Age, Clinton wasnâ€™t Bush or a Republican, and therefore a person worth respecting.
Clinton was right on one issue, however. Global warming is a major problem and still largely side-lined by governments and mainstream media alike. Readers of the UK Guardian on February 8 were treated to this striking piece of news:
â€œSweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years – without building a new generation of nuclear power stations. The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world’s first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.â€
Sweden is the first Western country to attempt such an endeavour and yet the news was ignored in Australia. Instead, our self-appointed terrologists, â€œwar on terrorâ€ devotees and fear-mongering government prefer to focus the publicâ€™s attentions on the next target of liberation: Iran.
As the quagmire in Iraq deepens, and Islamophobia becomes both politically correct and encouraged, the same blood-stained figures that led us into Saddamâ€™s lair are now trying to achieve a similar result next-door. Perhaps somebody should inform John Howard. He told Southern Cross Radio on February 27 that Iraq is â€œinching towards a more stable futureâ€ and foreign troops were needed for the â€œstabilisation process.â€ In reality, the occupation is the main source of the ongoing insurgency. The fact that Howard is lying is dismissed as part of the political game. In the UK, there are currently moves to ensure politicians promise to never lie while in office. The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alaistair Graham, says that the public demands politicians â€œtell it as it is and own up to mistakes.â€ Taking a country to war on a lie would hopefully classify as a â€œmistake.â€
We live in an environment where Muslims are portrayed as backward, looking for Western assistance and irrationally violent. Take this example from UK columnist Julie Burchill, writing in Haaretz on February 17:
â€œAnyway, from now on I think I’ll get just a few less accusations of racism when I point out that Muslims can be a bit, well, narrow-minded. Mind you, it’s a long hard struggle trying to make bleeding-heart liberals see sense. Especially when you live in a country where a sizable part of the print and broadcasting media are such guilt-ridden cretins when it comes to Islam that if they saw Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein sexually sharing their own grandmother, they’d swear the poor old lady asked for it.â€
Perhaps Muslims need a good dose of Western invasion and occupation. And Iran is the next victim. A poll taken in the US in mid February suggested that people believe Iran will develop nuclear weapons but also use them against the United States. We are constantly told that Iran is a â€œthreatâ€. Barry Cohen, federal Labor MP from 1969-1990 and a minister in the Hawke government, informed readers in the Australian on February 17 that Iran was led by fanatics and desired to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. â€œThe fanatics donâ€™t care if they dieâ€, he wrote, â€œOn the contrary, many will welcome it. At the risk of being repetitive â€“ we have a problem.â€ His solution wasnâ€™t articulated, but he clearly believed that military strikes against Iran were both necessary and urgent. The Iranian people â€“ a recent report said that untold thousands of civilians would die in a US attack â€“ were clearly irrelevant.
Larry Derfner, a senior journalist and columnist at the Jerusalem Post, offered another perspective. He believed that Iran was going to get nuclear weapons whether the West liked it or not. His answer, however, was for Israel to build â€œmore and better nuclear weapons of its own.â€ This kind of â€œdeterrenceâ€, Derfner wrote, â€œworks well.â€ He also encouraged the Jewish state to develop better chemical and biological weapons than Iran. The lunatics have most certainly taken over the asylum. Witness Republican Senator John McCain, who told US television last Sunday that, â€œThe Iranian threat to the world is the biggest since the Cold War.â€ What he meant to say, of course, is that the Iranian threat is the biggest since the Iraqi threat, which is the biggest since the Taliban threat.
The world asked Saddam Hussein to “prove a negative” and insisted he prove that he did not have weapons of mass destruction. Now we are asking Iran to prove another negative: that it is not developing nukes. Common sense teaches us that it is impossible to prove that something does not exist. The rise of a supposedly nuclear Iran is not to be tolerated, weâ€™re informed, but India and Pakistan can build their arsenals with Western blessing. Israelâ€™s open secret of between 200 and 500 nuclear warheads isnâ€™t even susceptible to international inspections, while Iran has allowed UN inspectors to comb the country looking for weaponâ€™s material. It should be noted that North Korea has undoubtedly learnt the best way to avoid US invasion. Build a bomb – maybe a few – and watch the world suddenly lower the rhetoric.
The inevitability of some kind of Western offensive against Iran is gathering steam. Even ABC Radioâ€™s PM is not immune. In mid-February, host Mark Colvin interviewed an English professor on international affairs and asked him how the West should deal with the â€œIranian nuclear threat.â€ John Pilger recently explained in the New Statesman how we are being set up again:
â€œLike the invasion of Iraq, an attack on Iran has a secret agenda that has nothing to do with the Tehran regime’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction. That Washington has managed to coerce enough members of the International Atomic Energy Agency into participating in a diplomatic charade is no more than reminiscent of the way it intimidated and bribed the “international community” into attacking Iraq in 1991.
â€œIran offers no “nuclear threat”. There is not the slightest evidence that it has the centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium to weapons-grade material. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has repeatedly said his inspectors have found nothing to support American and Israeli claims. Iran has done nothing illegal; it has demonstrated no territorial ambitions nor has it engaged in the occupation of a foreign country – unlike the United States, Britain and Israel. It has complied with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to allow inspectors to “go anywhere and see anything” – unlike the US and Israel.â€
The deputy head of Russiaâ€™s foreign intelligence service told a Russian daily on February 22 that his country had no evidence Iran had any nuclear warheads or a sufficient amount of plutonium for constructing them. Flynt Leverett, former senior director for Middle East affairs in the US National Security Council (NSC) revealed in late February that the Bush administration deliberately sabotaged Iranâ€™s assistance on al-Qaeda in the period after September 11, as the mullahs had many contacts in Afghanistan and were willing to share them with Washington. Furthermore, even though Iranian officials assisted the US in unseating the Taliban in Afghanistan, the neo-conservatives were determined to isolate Iran and include it in the â€œaxis of evil.â€ It is therefore unsurprising that Iran would feel the need to at least explore its nuclear options in response to US aggression. Perhaps the biggest bomb-shell – as yet unreported in the mainstream media – lies in the case of Valerie Plame, a former CIA agent outed by the Bush administration after her husband, Joe Wilson, challenged White House allegations about Iraq allegedly obtaining uranium from Niger. The Raw Story website discovered in mid-February that one of the main reasons Plame may have been outed was because she was working on discovering Iranâ€™s nuclear capabilities, if any, and represented a direct threat to the neo-con agenda. In other words, by removing Plame from the scene, the US intelligence community was virtually blind in determining Iranâ€™s nuclear progress – the neo-conâ€™s ideal situation. Step forward the same charlatans and war-freaks who led us into Iraq.
We live in an age of extreme spin. The US Government Accountability Office released a report in mid February that revealed the Bush administration spent at least US$1.6 billion on public relations and advertising campaigns over 30 months. It is a startling though unsurprising figure. The Bush regime recently asked Congress for a further US$75 million to broadcast US radio and television into Iran, assist Iranians to study in America and support pro-democracy groups inside the Islamic state. Since 9/11, however, many students of the Arab world have decided to shun the US and study elsewhere. Aside from overly repressive entry requirements, many Muslims feel marginalised in the land of the free. Free speech is also under attack, with Senator Lindsay Graham recently suggesting to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that a new target for the administrationâ€™s domestic spying operations should be so-called â€œfifth columnistsâ€, allegedly disloyal Americans who sympathise and collaborate with the enemy. Presumably tens of millions of Americans are guilty as charged, both questioning and challenging the spurious â€œwar on terror.â€
The situation in Iran remains uncertain. I, for one, am not suggesting Iranâ€™s leadership hasnâ€™t made inflammatory or outrageous comments, not least President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ€™s suggestion that Israel should be â€œwiped off the mapâ€ and denial of the Jewish Holocaust. Such statements are both unacceptable and repulsive, though the priorities of the European Jewish Congress to file a complaint in the International Criminal Court in the Hague against the Iranian leader, for incitement to genocide, seems misplaced. Rather than focusing on leaders who have actually caused death and destruction â€“ take Bush, Blair and Howard in Iraq and the estimated toll of over 100,000 dead â€“ the Jewish group wanted the world to focus on a country that poses no direct threat to anybody. Sadly, Israel and many of its supporters are at the forefront of demonising Iran and advocating military action. Not unlike Iraq, Iran is a perceived threat to the Jewish state and must therefore be obliterated. Israeli generals and politicians know Iran is not a serious threat but they never underestimate the political need to create a regional bogeyman to rally an ever-fearful Israeli population. One of the great unspoken truths about the so-called â€œwar on terrorâ€ has been the ascendency of Iran. Iranian influence now stretches through Iraq, through the Kurdistan region into Turkey, a weak Syria and through into Lebanonâ€™s Hezbollah-dominated south, on Israelâ€™s border. Iranâ€™s reach also extends into the Arabian peninsula through Shiite communities scattered in the Persian Gulf countries. The US is fearful that as their regional influence is waning, a religious doctrine is taking its price. What better way to distract public opinion than a trumped-up scare campaign? The Financial Times reported last week that US marines are already launching probes into Iranâ€™s ethnic minorities in an attempt to determine whether Iran â€œwould be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that are splitting Iraq.â€ It should be noted that China is rushing to complete a deal worth as much as US$100 billion that would allow a Chinese state-owned energy firm to take a leading role in developing a massive oil field in Iran. Clearly, not everybody is worried about Tehran.
When Murdochâ€™s pro-war mouthpiece, the Australian, tells its readers that â€œthe media must not become the tool of propagandistsâ€, we truly know that responsible commentary is dead. Fancy the Australian telling us about propaganda, an institution more than willing to support the neo-liberal agenda in the far corners of the globe. The paperâ€™s editorial on February 16 concluded:
â€œThe distortion of accuracy and loss of trust among a wider public that looks at biased news coverage, smells a rat, and switches off is only part of the danger. The other, more sinister, side of the equation is that any old despot can ensure favourable coverage of his regime, so long as he presents a properly anti-Western front. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, for one, is a master of this tactic. When news judgments are clouded by a warmed-over postmodernism that filters every conflict through a cloudy lens of class and power struggles, and where the US is the worst bad guy of all, totalitarians and terrorists turn the West’s hard-won free press into their own ministry of propaganda.â€
The total failure of the Iraq project should not be taken as a comforting reason the US and its allies would not attack Iran. The storm clouds are nearly upon us. The US and Israel are gathering public opinion on board for yet another illegal and immoral intervention. It is the mediaâ€™s duty to stop it. Unfortunately, the corporate mediaâ€™s sole responsibility is to make money in the marketplace. Truth already comes a distant second to happy shareholders.
Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and author. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney’s Sun-Herald, The Bulletin, Znet, Counterpunch and others. He is currently writing a book on the Israel/Palestine conflict for Melbourne University Publishing, due July 2006. Random House will publish his next book, on the Australian media, in 2007. He website is at http://www.antonyloewenstein.com/
He can be reached at antloew [at] yahoo.com.au