If you happened to catch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Meet the Press this past Sunday, you may have thought you were watching a rerun from ten years ago.
After all, it was September 2002 -- almost a decade ago to the day -- that Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press to sell Americans a war based on distortions that he claimed were an "absolute certainty."
And when Cheney met the press, he was never challenged. Eventually the free pass that the media gave Cheney and others led us into a quagmire in Iraq to dismantle WMD that didn't exist.
It was déjà vu all over again this past Sunday when Netanyahu presented his own absolute certainties to Americans. He told us that Iran "is racing to develop nuclear bombs" and said if the U.S. does not set a redline for war to block Iran's enrichment program, Iran would "proceed to the bomb."
Bibi's assertions contradict the very clear assessments of U.S. and Israeli intelligence. They agree that Iran has not made an actual decision to build a nuclear weapon and the U.S. intelligence community's assessment from 2007 still stands--Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program and is far from "racing" to develop a nuclear bomb.
Did Meet the Press' David Gregory raise this point?
Did he ask Bibi why the Prime Minister's assertions sounded ominously similar to his warnings just before the Iraq war, when he testified before Congress that Saddam Hussein was "feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons" and that Iran was also "racing to develop nuclear weapons"?
Did he question why Israeli political leaders have been warning since 1993 that an Iranian bomb is just around the corner?
No. Meet the Press gave Netanyahu the same free pass they gave Cheney.
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So we are launching a new project, IranFact.org, to educate the media and the public about the facts and empower the grassroots to hold the media and public officials accountable so we do not have an Iraq rerun. Our first order of business is to call on Meet the Press to correct the record from this past Sunday.
Netanyahu's claim that Iran is "racing" to build a bomb was not the only distortion that went unchallenged by Meet the Press. Netanyahu claimed that Iran is "six months away from being about 90 percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb." This statement creates the impression that in six months, Iran will be on the brink of having a nuclear weapon. Indeed, Reuters reported Netanyahu's Sunday interviews with the headline: "Iran on brink of nuclear bomb in 6-7 months: Netanyahu."
This implication is false. Having a bomb's worth of 20% enriched uranium *does not equal* being on the "brink" of having a nuclear weapon. And Iran's stockpile of this "medium-enriched" uranium, which is under strict UN inspection, has actually decreased according to the IAEA because Iran converted significant quantities to fuel plates for its medical research reactor.
As a bipartisan group of former senior military and political officials has noted, UN inspections "would almost certainly reveal any Iranian efforts to begin enriching uranium beyond 20% at declared sites." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently stated the United States would have at least a year to take action if Iran decided to build nuclear weapons and that the U.S. is "well-prepared" to act if Iran were to make such a decision.
Netanyahu went on to claim that the IAEA has found that Iran is "rushing forward with their enrichment program." But while the most recent IAEA report did note that Iran installed more centrifuges, none of those centrifuges are actually spinning--they're not even connected by pipes. And the new centrifuges are old models, not the advanced centrifuges most experts agree would be necessary for Iran to effectively produce high-enriched uranium for use in a weapon.
Finally, Netanyahu made the "irrational actor" argument. He claimed that Iran is racing for a bomb in order to "annihilate" Israel and unlike the rational Soviet Union, "they put their zealotry above their survival."
These claims are disputed by top U.S. and Israeli military, intelligence, and civilian officials who have publicly stated that they consider Iran to be a rational actor. Even Netanyahu himself implicitly acknowledged this--his own argument for setting redlines is that "Iran has been placed with some clear red lines on a few matters and they have avoided crossing them."
However, Meet the Press let Netanyahu have it both ways and gave him a platform sell a military confrontation with Iran to the American people. Until media outlets like NBC switch from "he said/she said" to real journalism that tries to establish and explain key facts, we will not get the fact-based debate that questions of war and peace deserve.
Visit IranFact.org to tell Meet the Press to do its job and correct the record regarding Netanyahu's misstatements