The United States recently put Iran “on notice.” National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn stated, “The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests. The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”
This type of dangerous sabre rattling with the Islamic Republic depends on the US media and public accepting the repetition of three “truths” to justify U.S. aggression. Though repeated more than Huxley’s 62,400 times, the “truths” the US peddles should be questioned since they are derived from the fantasy that Iran is expansionist, the US acts rationally, and the Islamic Republic is evil.
The classic case of an American official realizing that long held “truths” needed to be analyzed involves the work of the late U.S. Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara. McNamara left the U.S. government in 1968, but refused to leave the lessons he learned from his service behind, documenting 11 by the time his memoir was published in 1995. Though all are relevant today, one stands out in relation to the current U.S. mindset that has engineered nearly two decades of constant war, and now portends conflict with Iran.
“Our judgment,” McNamara said, “of what is in another people’s or country’s best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image as we choose.”
If the United States hopes to work diplomatically with Iran to avoid war, it will be imperative to consider McNamara’s statement in light of these perceived American truths.
Truth 1: Iran is expansionist
Although frequently described as an expansionist power, Iran has not actually expanded since the days of Safavid Empire in the 16th century. But this has not stopped US presidents from perpetuating the fiction that Iran is a dangerous expansionist state.
President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in an “Axis of Evil” and President Obama’s threat that if Iran violates the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal “All options are on the table” are clear examples of the aggressive stance the US has taken against the specter of Iranian expansion. But Donald Trump has raised existing tensions by stating, “Iran is playing with fire” and “they don’t appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me!”
Such statements may play well with a US public indoctrinated to believe that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was born in the bowels of hell rather than a response to US support for the brutal Reza Shah regime, but to many in Iran they are nothing but threats that precede war.
Truth 2: Iran is extremist while the U.S. is rational
Frequent use of terms like “extremist” has served to obfuscate any understanding of what Iran stands for, since the term packs with it a powerful anti-American and uncivilized wallop that is rarely analyzed. This takes on greater significance when one considers the fear trumpeted by U.S. media outlets and public officials that refugees from the US destabilization of the Middle East will infiltrate and destroy western civilization. That the US, not Iran, is responsible for this crisis is somehow incredibly lost amongst assertions that Iran’s goal is to destabilize the region.
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Much of this rhetoric stems from the fact the Iran supports Hezbollah, a State Department designated terror group that most successfully operates in Lebanon, where its members have served in the parliament. On the other hand, US support for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia is accepted uncritically and could never be labeled as “extreme” in the US press, though a brief look at the support for terrorism, human rights abuses and violation of international law by these three US allies would yield considerable evidence of “extremism”.
Furthermore, if one were to add up the lives lost and treasure squandered in the US “war on terror” since 2001, a strong case for “extreme” American polices could be made.
The level of “doublethink” or “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” required to defy this reality is a testament to the US media and education systems’ success in “manufacturing consent.
Truth 3: Iran as the personification of evil in the Middle East
The U.S. government and media speak with disdain and disbelief that Iran would dare interfere in the affairs of its neighbors, Iraq or Afghanistan.
These statements are uttered without a hint of irony, even though the U.S. has reserved for itself the right “to remake” the entire region. The fact that Iran, surrounded by the U.S. military on three sides (Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf), may feel threatened by a U.S. administration determined to use force rather than diplomacy, is rarely considered as the Islamic republic explores ways to further its national interests and survival.
Moreover, as the second-leading democracy in the Middle East behind Israel, Iran is much closer to the American model of self-government than US allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In addition, as Shiite Muslims, Iranians are the sworn enemies of Sunni groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the belief that Iran is the incarnation of evil hinders any diplomatic dialogue and strategic cooperation.
Challenging the Truths
It is unrealistic to expect that the U.S. government and media will challenge these “truths” overnight. They are solidly embedded in our education system, woven into our historical narrative, and prevalent in subtle, though daily reminders that seep into our news broadcasts and entertainment.
On the other hand, it is not unrealistic to believe that a conversation challenging these three “truths” could be initiated. Such a discussion, if started, might pressure U.S. policymakers to ask themselves if American diplomatic efforts toward Iran are leading toward peace or war. This would require a re-examination of how we perceive and speak about Iran, as well as the truth about ourselves and our allies.
The alternative may be the war with Iran that many in Washington seem to want.