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Has the New York Times Declared War on Iran?

In its quest to paint Iran as a violent aggressor, the US media does not care to provide relevant history

Iranians walk in Valiasr Street in northern Tehran on 8 May. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Iranians walk in Valiasr Street in northern Tehran on 8 May. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Once upon a time, the United States launched a war on Iraq with the help of false allegations of WMD. 
 
The corporate media—and most memorably the US newspaper of record, the New York Times—thrust itself onto the PR frontlines by presenting as reality the unhinged claims of the George W Bush administration.

A repeat performance

Now, more than 16 years and an obscene quantity of Iraqi deaths later, it seems we may be witnessing a repeat performance of the same old media tricks, this time targeting Iran - although at least Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has not yet decreed that the Iranians be made to “suck on this”.
 
First off, of course, there’s the ongoing nuclear hysteria, which apparently can’t be put to rest no matter how many times we review the facts.

More than 16 years and an obscene quantity of Iraqi deaths later, it seems we may be witnessing a repeat performance of the same old media tricks

As Mehdi Hasan points out over at The Intercept, the Times report of 13 May on US visions of “sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons” fails to answer a simple question: “How can the Iranians 'accelerate work' on weapons that do not exist?”
 
Then there’s that Times editorial cartoon, published the same day with the title “Will Iran Revive Its Nuclear Program?" and featuring a caricature of the Ayatollah Khamenei retrieving a "nuclear programme" from his kitchen freezer.

A helpful correction published three days later notes that “[a]n earlier version of a caption with this cartoon erroneously attributed a distinction to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has not produced highly enriched uranium”.
 
But selective retroactive fact-checking can hardly reverse a tsunami of radioactive propaganda.

Relevant history

Nor does the US media, in its quest to paint Iran as a violent aggressor, generally care to provide relevant history re: US violence vis-à-vis Iran- like the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, which enabled the long-term rule by terror of the torture-happy shah, dedicated customer of the US arms industry.

And guess what: the shah’s reign also saw intense US efforts in support of a nuclear Iran.
 
The recent reported sabotage of four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates - the timing of which seems rather suspiciously convenient - has meanwhile offered anonymous US officials exciting new opportunities to point the finger at Iran in the press.

See, for example, the Wall Street Journal’s announcement that "U.S. Says Iran Likely Behind Ship Attacks”, in which “a U.S. official” is credited with relaying this most explosive “finding”.

Perhaps more analysts should be asking what the US is doing in the Middle East

And it’s not just about tankers; the coterie of unnamed warmongers has plenty of other complaints to register concerning Iran - all dutifully transmitted by journalists who are meant to be speaking truth to power.

The Washington Post, CNN and the rest of the usual suspects have been having a field day churning out breathless alerts about “Iranian threats”. 
 
A 10 May Times article headlined “Pentagon Builds Deterrent Force Against Possible Iranian Attack” contains repeated allegations that Iran is trying to “provoke” and “prod” the US into a “military overreaction”.

To be sure, US National Security Advisor John Bolton - the man who in a 2015 Times op-ed urged the country to "Bomb Iran" and who has accrued gobs of speaking fees courtesy of the Iranian regime change extremist cult, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) - would require a great deal of provocation.
 
The article furthermore states that Iran is “secretly threatening attacks on the United States” - which might cause the average propaganda-fed reader to imagine, say, mullahs launching nuclear missiles at the US mainland.

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What the authors are actually referencing, however, are alleged “intercepted communications between the Iranian government and its proxy forces that analysts have interpreted as encouraging attacks by Iranian-backed terrorist groups on American forces and bases in the Middle East”.

US carte blanche

Perhaps more analysts should be asking instead what the US is doing in the Middle East - and why the country has endowed itself with a unilateral carte blanche to rain death and destruction on the region in defence of capitalist imperialism.

The Washington Post, CNN and the rest of the usual suspects have been having a field day churning out breathless alerts about 'Iranian threats'

It bears reiterating, too, that US sanctions—often cast as a civilised form of diplomacy—are weapons of mass destruction in themselves.

Then again, “proxy forces” do have a uniquely ominous ring about them. In the same Times article that warned of Iran’s potential to "accelerate work on nuclear weapons", we are informed that the Trump administration recently “described, without evidence… new intelligence indicating that Iran was mobilising proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack American forces”.
 
Six paragraphs later, the arrangement has magically morphed into one in which “new intelligence reports, including intercepts, imagery and other information, have… indicated that Iran was building up its proxy forces’ readiness to fight and was preparing them to attack American forces in the region”.

Fake news

A 16 May Times article datelined Jerusalem similarly reports that “Israeli experts say, without any clear-cut proof, that Iran was behind a pair of recent purported attacks” - and then proceeds to provide six full paragraphs validating Israeli claims, with extensive quotes from a fellow at pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy about how a US failure to react to Iranian “provocations” would constitute a catastrophe of existential proportions

As for things that do boast clear-cut proof, these might include Israel’s own massive nuclear arsenal - which exists in contravention of the very nonproliferation treaty that is used to criminalise Iran - as well as a certain US and Israeli habit of fabricating casus belli.

Given the catastrophic state of the sheeplike media, meanwhile, it’s risible that US President Donald Trump has managed to lambaste “the Fake News Washington Post, and even more Fake News New York Times” for perceived personal affronts in their reporting on the Middle East. 

If nothing else, the Trumpian hissy fit serves to obscure the fact that the function of the US media is often to speak lies on behalf of power - and thus to disseminate the “fake news” of the US regime itself.

Enduring lessons

Now, there has been plenty of ink spilled by well-intentioned observers urging journalists to recall the lessons of Iraq and to refrain from enlisting in the war effort against Iran.

But the enduring lesson is that it quite literally pays to toe the official line, and that war - whether it achieves its purported aims or not - is the modus operandi and the essence of the global superpower, acting on behalf of an elite minority

In an ostensible breath of fresh air, the Times published a 15 May op-ed by former US under secretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman on "How to Stop the March to War With Iran”, which, while laudable in its premise, fails to acknowledge the bipartisan US commitment to inflicting calamity worldwide.
 
Sherman concludes her piece with a reminder that, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, “many of our most reliable news outlets repeated and amplified what was, in fact, a flimsy case for war”, and contends that “it is crucial that the news media in the United States and elsewhere continue its crusade for the facts about what is going on with Iran”.
 
But just as The Intercept’s Hasan remarked on the impossibility of accelerating work on weapons that don’t exist, it’s impossible to continue a crusade that never started in the first place.

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Belén Fernández

Belén Fernández

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.

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