Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do You Feel Your Strings Being Pulled --Again? (Interview with William O. Beeman)


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do You Feel Your Strings Being Pulled -- Again?

The media branch of the Great American War machine has just dropped a bunker-busting propaganda bomb.  The New York Times Magazine virtually declared war against Iran on behalf of Israel in this week's cover story by  Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist.

"Israel vs. Iran," the cover graphic shouts, and the subtitle asks not "if" but "When will it erupt?"  Bergman's answer: sometime in 2012.  Why? Because, according to Bergman, Israel's leaders believe that the three conditions for attacking Iran have been met.  The conditions are (1) that Israel is capable of "severely damaging Iran's nuclear sites" and of withstanding the inevitable counterattack; (2) there is at least tacit support from the international community, especially the United States and (3) all other possibiities for "the containment of Iran's nuclear threat" have been exhausted; war is the last resort.

This comes immediately on the heels of a magazine piece by the Times's former executive editor, Bill Keller, headlined "'Bomb-bomb-Bomb, Bomb-Bomb-Iran?'"  The Times's main news section has published, often under misleading headlines, stories by  David Sanger, Erick Schmitt and Steven Elranger that contained distortions, questionable interpretations or outright falsehoods.  For just one example, on Jan. 4, Erlanger wrote:

"The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign."

Twice on the main page introducing Bergman's article last Sunday, Times editors used  the phrase "Iran's nuclear threat" as if it were an accepted fact.

It is not.  Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton: "The IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multi-year effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb." William O. Beeman, professor and chair of anthropology and specialist in Middle East studies at the University of Minnesota: "Israeli and American officials state flatly that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and is not likely to have one soon. There is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the opinion of the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration, and the latest IAEA report is that Iran’s enrichment is so far civilian in nature."  Ira Chernus, author and professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado: "The myth of 'poor little Israel, surrounded by fanatic enemies bent on destroying it' is so pervasive here in the U.S., most readers might easily take this Iranophobic article at face value, forgetting the absurd premises underlying all arguments that Israel 'must' attack Iran."

Early in the Times magazine article, Bergman quotes Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map."  This is quotational abuse equivalent to "hoist on his own petard" (Shakespeare wrote "with") and "play it again, Sam" (Bogart said, "Play it, Sam. Play, 'As Time Goes By.')  Dead wrong, but in the language to stay.

Beeman again: "The quote about wiping Israel off the map is inaccurate. It was an old quote from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978. It is a wish or desire expressed in the subjunctive, and there are several possible translations, but none of them call for wiping Israel off the map. Here is the original Persian: een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad::

"One translation would be 'The regime occupying Jerusalem should (eventually) disappear from the pages of time.' Because it is subjunctive, it could also be seen as a wish or a hope: 'May it be that the regime occupying Jerusalem disappear from the pages of time.' However it is translated, it is not a policy or directive or anything that could be seen as a threat or a call to action. This is one of the most abused and misused pieces of propaganda for the last six years. I am thoroughly sick of hearing it misquoted by people who obviously know better, and more importantly being used as an excuse to justify attacking Iran. Shame on everyone, especially Ehud Barak, for indulging in this ongoing lie."

Last night, CNN rejoined the war chorus, with a "special report" on Iran full of dire language, which even trotted out one of those retired military officers who are paid by the Pentagon to lobby for war.  During the segments I saw there was no one who represented the views of Beeman, Chernus or John Glaser of the Anti-War Forum.

Beeman did score several important points in a recent debate on Real News Radio with Leonard Spector, deputy director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. It was a wide-ranging discussion, rich in technical detail.

After raising the straw man of what Iran "could do" with its current uranium enrichment program in terms of "possibly" developing a weapon, Spector acknowledged that "Mr. Beeman may be correct that by the letter of the law, perhaps they are within bounds in some of these areas, but when you see all of these things piling up, nobody can be comfortable about it."

Beeman responded that  "the letter of the law, is precisely the point. And what Iran is saying to the world community is, we are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and you are not allowing us to exercise our rights; you are forcing us to do something that no other signatory to the treaty has been asked to do, and that is to stop enriching uranium, which is our inalienable right--and I use that word very carefully, because it's in the preamble to the NPT: it is their inalienable right to enrich uranium, or to do anything, really, for peaceful purposes.

"There are about 20 other nations who have exactly the same capability. They've been doing exactly the same things. Japan  . . . is developing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. They declare it. They're quite open about it. And the United States doesn't worry at all about Japan's capacity to build nuclear weapons, even though they're even far more advanced in this than Iran. But I wanted to go back to the question about the enrichment of uranium. You're talking about an enrichment to 20 percent of uranium. And Iran several years ago . . . said that they were running out of uranium, running out of isotope generators for the treatment of cancer. You may not know this, but Iran is a major provider of medical services for the entire region. There's medical tourism going on to Iran all the time, because their treatment of medical problems is superior to almost everybody in the region. They declared to the United States two years before they began to enrich uranium to 20 percent that they were running out of these isotopes, which had been provided . . . by the United States many years ago. And so the United States said, well, we're not going to give you any more enriched uranium. And so the Iranians started to do it themselves. Iran has a few thousand centrifuges. They need sixty or seventy thousand centrifuges in order to be able to enrich things to (weapons grade) 90 percent. We're talking about something that is theoretically way down the road."

The Times magazine article generated a huge barrage of comments before the comments were cut off.  One commenter wondered what section of international law entitles one country to wage war upon another because of what it  "could" or "might" or "might become capable of" doing ?

There is no such law, of course.  But neither is there an iota of law to support many other wrongful aspects of American foreign policy under Bush II or Obama.

American media, resuming their enabler role in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, don't want to raise the difficult questions that Beeman, Chernus, Glaser and many others are raising about Iran's alleged nuclear program.

What folly.  What madness.
Thomas Wark is a retired newspaper editor: New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer.