Everyone who goes to the movies knows about a game police interrogators play called "Good Cop/Bad Cop". The "good" cop tries to seduce the accused, promising he will go easy if there is co-operation.
The "bad" cop is more menacing, threatening and sometimes inflicts brutality to force admissions or a confession. The duo coordinates their approaches to give their victims a false sense that they can wriggle out of their problems with the bad by cooperating with the good.
Tel Aviv and Washington are playing this game with Iran.
Israel plays the attack dog, threatening to bomb what it calls an "existential threat", as nuclear scientists are mysteriously murdered with Mossad efficiency, and a nuclear programme Iran insists is peaceful is sabotaged. Iran fights back with bellicose rhetoric and covert counter-attacks.
The US poses as good cop to the world, claiming that it is trying to rein in its ally but now says publicly that it fears it will fail, as if the tail is wagging the dog.
All of these tensions amid a basic policy agreement were on display when the powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC convened its annual pressure cooker of a conference in Washington to mobilise its supporters and intimidate any politicians who may not want to vote its way.
One of the opening acts at these ritualised events is a speech by the US president and leaders of both major political parties. Barack Obama, who has rarely seen an Israeli request for arms he didn't support, was challenged to continue to pose as the good cop, even as he vowed to the right-wing crowd that "we have your back".
Aware that US intelligence agencies have found no evidence that Iran has a bomb, he nevertheless needs to play the hawk by pledging that the US could and would bomb Iran, that it has taken no military option "off the table".
At the same time, he had to assure world opinion, and especially the Arab world, that he was not totally in Israel's pocket. He did that with a rhetorical slight of hand: the Los Angeles Times reported that Obama portrayed himself as reasonable, not vengeful, by criticising "too much loose talk of war".
This is not because such war talk is wrong, but because it has, in the words of the article, "benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, on which Tehran depends to fund its nuclear programme. Now is not the time for 'bluster'", Obama told a gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
"Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built," Obama said. "Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly. Carry a big stick.'"
As this calculated game of overt and downplayed threats inflames tensions, oil prices rise – with the US president correctly insisting he lacks the power to lower them. What he doesn't admit is that the full-court press that Washington is orchestrating against Iran fosters the very uncertainty and fear that drive prices up.
Both Obama and Netanyahu are aiming their broadsides at different constituencies, using the media to heighten war fever. To prepare public opinion, the New York Times carried a pro-war op-ed by a former Israeli intelligence official warning that if the US says no to war, they will go ahead anyway.
There is now more speculation of a possible war in October, a prospect that the administration is keeping in its back pocket for now, depending on the president's re-election prospects then.
So while pushing "diplomacy" with hard-edge rhetoric, the White House has escalated military pressure on Iran with new carrier groups and tougher financial sanctions.
Some peaceniks praised Obama's hawk-dove good cop speech. For example: "Americans for Peace Now (APN) commends President Obama for an AIPAC speech that was staunchly pro-Israel, unabashedly pro-peace, and responsible yet sober on Iran."
In Iran, meanwhile, there has been a public show of confidence in its Supreme Ruler – as shown in the recent parliamentary elections – and less worry about all the threats, perhaps because Iran has been lectured to by the West for 30 years. Recently, Tehran reached out to new potential allies halfway around the world in Latin America with a new Spanish-language TV channel and has targeted what it perceives as another major cultural enemy: Hollywood.
Perhaps Tehran knows that the world public is distracted by the economic crisis, and is already estranged from increasingly unpopular governments and slippery politicians.
So they found a new non-governmental "soft" target – a global symbol of what they perceive as US and pro-Israeli propaganda they have renamed "HollywoodISM". This is pictured as a behemoth of visible media power they tie to Israel, known in Iran only as the "Zionist Regime". (Not sure how they now explain the Oscar award won by the Iranian film "A Separation" last week).
I was at a major three-day conference in February on the issue. It mixed critical analysis of Hollywood films and "Hollywood values" – militarism, materialism, commercialism, violence and cultural sabotage of emerging nations – with a large dose of anti-Zionism with two strands:
- An attack by international academics on Israel's treatment of Palestinians with US complicity, aided by an alleged indifference and/or support in US and world cinema;
- Thinly veiled holocaust denial by a controversial French scholar who charges that there was no gas chamber at Auschwitz, along with a group of reinforcing supporters – including a French filmmaker who produced and showed a crude "comedy" on the Holocaust that many found deeply offensive.
Hollywood and human rights
I was among many in the conference – including a few other journalists and Iranians – who denounced the Holocaust deniers' presence as divisive and insensitive and that will, if anything, harden hatred of Iran in the West, providing its enemies with another pretext for lashing out at the Islamic Republic.
One of three pro-Iran, pro-Palestinian Orthodox rabbis present, who lost family members in the Holocaust, passionately scorned their arguments and questioned their agenda in an emotional statement that moved many.
They, in turn, claimed to be just truth-seeking "revisionist" historians persecuted under counter-productive French anti-hate and Holocaust speech laws. Iran is one of the only countries that invites them to be heard in public forums.
Most of their interventions seemed focused on seeking self-serving validation for their arguments, with little interest in the more timely political issues about media and propaganda raised at the event. By discrediting the Holocaust, they seek to discredit Israel – as if their "scholarship" and footnotes will make it vanish.
Their leader, Robert Faurisson, apologised to the conference for not being able to show a new long documentary – about him!
What global media coverage there was of the event centred more on their publicity-seeking, not the appeals against new attacks on Iran that many fear could lead to a third world war.
Much depends on what Washington will or will not do:
- Will the Obama Administration continue to publicly quarrel with Israel while mounting covert actions and military pressure on Iran? Or will it become an echo chamber for hysteria emanating from Tel Aviv for domestic political reasons?
- Do the president's political advisors believe a war on Iran will rally the country to his side and assure his reelection?
To my surprise, visuals from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton popped up on the screen in the final session of the conference. They were seen denouncing human rights violations against protesters in Libya and Syria.
The images played over their audio, though, showed violent police attacks on Occupy protesters in the US. It made a point about human rights abuses in the US that is seldom made by US media outlets – which are, in some cases, aligned with Hollywood studios.
As an old blues song says: "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself."
News Disssector Danny Schechter blogs at Newsdissector.com. His new book is Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street (Coldtype.net) His radio show is heard Fridays on Progressive Radio Network (PRN.fm). Email comments to [email protected]