Wednesday, November 18, 2009

William O. Beeman--Attacks on Iran Are Attacks on Obama (New America Media)

Attacks on Iran Are Attacks on Obama

New America Media, News analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Nov 18, 2009 Review it on NewsTrust

In the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of unsubstantiated accusations against Iran. These accusations may seem to be aimed at Iran but, in fact, a pattern is emerging, which suggests that the attacks are really directed at destroying the Obama administration by discrediting its goodwill gesture toward Iran, which is a sharp departure from the Bush-era foreign policy.

One charge, launched against the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), accuses them of illegal lobbying for Iran. This attack has two prongs — allegations made by Iran analyst Hassan Daioleslam (aka Hassan Dai), and a “hit piece” by conservative writer Eli Lake in the Washington Times . NIAC has fought back with a lawsuit against Dai, but the damage has been done.

NIAC has primarily been a voice for Iranian Americans in foreign policy matters. However, they have committed a sin in the eyes of the neoconservatives, by consistently calling for a dialogue between Washington and Tehran.

The attacks on the NIAC and Iran are ultimately directed at undermining the Obama administration for its overtures toward Iran. It has now come to light that neoconservative author Kenneth Timmerman is behind the NIAC attacks, as reported by journalist Josh Rogin on the political blog, The Cable.

Another unsubstantiated claim is that Iran was helping Yemeni rebels from a Zaidi Shi’a sect known as the Houthis, in border attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have been attacking Saudi facilities for decades. The accusations have come largely from Saudi Arabia, but have been promulgated here in the United States as further “proof” that Iran aids terrorists. However, Middle East experts in the United States see no connection whatsoever between Iran and the Houthis.

Nevertheless, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute wrote on October 30 of the Houthi in Yemen: “Perhaps the greatest al-Houthi threat posed to the U.S. is the possibility that Iran has identified them as a potential proxy – similar to Hezbollah or Hamas – on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia, a prospect that could yield the mullahs leverage in international negotiations.”

This remark was inserted in an article claiming that the Houthi served as a “safe haven” for Al-Qa’eda—a group that advocates the assassination of Shi’ite Muslims, the religion of both the Houthi and the Iranians.

Another unsubstantiated claim is that Iran was shipping arms by sea to Hezbollah. On November 5, Israel seized a German-owned, Cypriot-operated cargo ship flying the Antiguan flag, carrying arms. The Israelis immediately announced that this ship was carrying Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah. However, there was no proof that any of the arms came from Iran, and Hezbollah denied that they were being directed to them.

There is also the flimsy FBI lawsuit -- initiated during the Bush administration -- against the tiny New York-based Alavi Foundation, which promotes instruction of the Persian language and culture in American universities and several mosques around the country. The FBI suit claims that the foundation was funneling income to Iran through Bank Melli, the Iranian national bank. Since the income from the foundation is miniscule in international terms, and is committed already to educational programs, it is hard to see how Iran could benefit much from its operations.

Finally, there are the renewed vacuous claims about the empty Iranian facility near Qom, discovered last summer and touted widely as “proof” that the Iranians were making a bomb. The latest IAEA report on the site has now been published, and it asserts that while Iran should have notified the IAEA about its plans to build the facility, Iranian officials, according to the report, “provided access to all areas of the facility. The agency confirmed that the plant corresponded with the design information provided by Iran, and that the facility was at an advanced stage of construction, although no centrifuges had been introduced into the facility.

Thus, the facility was non-operational, and no fissile material (uranium) had been introduced into the plant. 

These attacks follow immediately on the heels of the Vienna talks with Iran, which seemed to signal progress on the Iranian nuclear issue, and the appointment of two highly knowledgeable individuals on Iran and the Middle East at the Department of State -- Dr. John Limbert, Deputy Undersecretary of State for Iran, and Dr. Tamara Wittes, Deputy Undersecretary of State for the Near East -- marking a sharp departure from the Bush administration, which made appointments largely based on ideology rather than expertise.

The world has seen these tactics many times now. The moment the United States and Iran have the tiniest success in reaching accord on something, the accusations against Iran crank up. The fact that all of the above events lack substantive proof is of far less importance than their propaganda value. We see the accusations being trumpeted as truth by the press and by senior and seemingly sober politicians. Of course, all this takes place against a background of attempts to show that the Obama administration is "soft on Islam."

Clearly, substantial players in the United States (and Israel) want to make sure that the United States and Iran remain estranged forever. To achieve this, they engage in lies, distortion and misinformation. The effects of these accusations are as strong in Iran, where they are known to be false, as they are in the United States, where they are naively believed to be true.

That this is neither intelligent nor mature thinking, and is ultimately detrimental to U.S. interests, matters not a whit to the accusers. These people may think they are patriots for carrying out these actions, but they are corrupting America's future in the region.

There is, besides, plenty to complain about regarding Iran's leaders and their recent action without resorting to fiction.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is past-president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is The “Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.” (Chicago, 2008).