By Jeremy R. Hammond
Foreign Policy Journal
July 8, 2009
Gary Sick at the Daily Beast explains how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) have become a formidable power in Iran. “Technically,” he writes, “they take their orders from the leader, but has he ever dared to contradict them? On the contrary, he seems always to court them by granting them ever-greater influence and responsibilities.”
President Ahmadinejad “has appointed his fellow guardsman to positions throughout the bureaucracy” and “The economic role of the Revolutionary Guards has been remarked on in recent years. The Guards themselves and companies run by the Guards have won major contracts in every corner of the economy, from airport construction to telecommunications to auto manufacturing.”
“This is a formula for the kind of militarized and nationalist corporate state under a single controlling ideology that is not dissimilar to fascist rule in an earlier day”, concludes Sick.
He might just as well have been describing America’s military-industrial complex and the corporate revolving door of Washington.
It hardly needs to be said that there’s a tendency for American journalists and pundits to criticize and condemn the practices of other countries, and yet, while the criticisms and condemnations are often well deserved, at at the same time there seems to be an ideological barrier preventing these same characteristics from being recognized when they are shared by our own government.
Consider this comment in the New York Times several days ago: “The government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners.”
A fair charge, no doubt. The human rights record of the Islamic Republic is less than stellar. The point in this Times article, though, is to say: Look at those bad Iranians; they torture people into making “confessions” that the reason they took part in the protests following Iran’s disputed presidential election is because they were influenced by foreign propaganda. We must therefore dismiss the accusations.
There are two points to be made here. First, it’s certainly a correct conclusion that such “confessions” should be dismissed as evidence for the accusations of foreign interference, and such methods of coercion are certainly condemnable.
But the tendency of late in the mainstream media and blogosphere to simply dismiss the possibility that Western propaganda or covert black ops could have had anything to do with the chaos in the streets following the election is difficult to explain, considering the long history of U.S. interference in the internal affairs, including in elections, of other nations.
The rest of the world aside, in just Iran alone, the U.S. history is a quite remarkable one. The CIA in 1953 paid people to rampage through the streets in an effort to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and to start clashes with opposing groups who were also out on the streets and who, unbeknownst to either party, had also been doled out cash to by the CIA. Iranian reporters were paid off and the U.S. flooded the country with propaganda. During the chaos in the streets, the CIA issued false information such as that Mossadegh had stepped down and the new prime minister had already taken over the office.
The successful coup, of course, was followed by a quarter-century of tyranny under Shah Reza Pahlavi’s brutal rule. The CIA helped the Shah to create the SAVAK secret police who served as his Praetorian Guard and intimidated, tortured, or disappeared the Shah’s political opposition.
Then came the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The U.S. closed its embassy and pulled out, leaving the CIA without a base of operations.
But that didn’t stop the U.S. from selling weapons to the Iranian regime in the 1980s. The Prime Minister at the time, incidentally, was none other than Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate in the Iranian election whose followers have accused the government of electoral fraud. It was Mousavi’s good buddy, arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, who served as the go-between for the U.S., Israel, and Iran during the arms-for-hostages deals.
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a principle supporter of Mousavi during the recent election, was then Speaker of the Parliament. It was during this period of time that Hezbollah, backed by the government of Rafsanjani and Mousavi, held American hostages in Lebanon. The arms deals were intended in part to see the release of the hostages (and in part to finance the U.S. terrorist war against Nicaragua), but the cost for every next hostage just went up and Hezbollah just kidnapped more Americans. When the CIA cut Ghorbanifar out of the deal, he blew the whistle on the operations that became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
The U.S. also provided Iran military intelligence during the war with Iraq, whom the U.S., incidentally, was also supporting and providing with intelligence.
Under the Bush administration, the U.S. policy of regime change became well established under the guise (surprise, surprise) of a movement to “promote democracy”. The so-called neoconservatives in the administration had long listed Iran alongside Iraq as being countries where the U.S. should seek to implement a change of regime. Under the Bush administration, efforts to broadcast propaganda into Iran were stepped up, support for dissident and opposition groups was increased, and the CIA and Pentagon began running covert operations in the country, including by backing terrorist groups like the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), Kurdish rebels, and Jundullah, according to former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, and others.
We are supposed to believe, apparently, that this train suddenly came to a halt as soon as Barack Obama was sworn into the Executive Office. This is a dubious assumption, for one because of the fact that such policies gain a momentum that makes it very difficult to slow, much less reverse, even if so desired. Consider, for example, the debate that has arisen from Obama’s executive order to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the opposition to it just on the grounds that Bush’s detention policy has gained too much momentum for the U.S. to just up and close “Gitmo” on a whim from the President.
For another, Obama’s foreign policy has largely been a continuation of Bush’s and is in many regards virtually indistinguishable from his predecessor’s.
Recently criticized for the military withdraw from urban centers in Iraq, for instance, the Obama administration correctly pointed out in response that the agreement with the Iraqi government under which this occurred was negotiated and finalized under the Bush administration.
Similarly, the policy review towards Afghanistan that has led to an increase in the number of troops there began during the Bush administration and had already clearly gained enough momentum that it was obvious that the result would be an increased troop presence, well before Obama stepped into the Oval Office. And that’s just what happened.
Obama has continued Bush’s policy towards Pakistan, including the use of unmanned drones to wage attacks within the country, despite overwhelming public opposition to this among Pakistanis, condemnation of it from the Pakistani government, and the fairly widespread view among even mainstream analysts that the attacks have little strategic value and only do more harm than good.
While Obama has spouted some tougher rhetoric towards Israel with regard to ending settlement activities, U.S. support for Israel — financial, military, and diplomatic — continues apace, and Obama has promised that this support for Israel’s “security” will not ebb.
Before he was sworn in, as Israel was pounding the defenseless Palestinians of the Gaza Strip with U.S.-made weaponry fired from U.S.-supplied F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships, Obama declined to comment on Bush’s policy of supporting the operation, dubbed “Cast Lead”, on the grounds that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the President-elect to criticize the outgoing President. Notably, this rule only applied when it came of criticism of Israel and didn’t prevent Obama from criticizing other Bush policies between his electoral victory on November 4, 2008 and his being sworn in on January 20, 2009.
When asked in a recent interview whether the U.S. would stop Israel from bombing Iran, Vice President Joe Biden responded by making it clear that it the Obama administration would make it its business to not make stopping Israel its business.
The list goes on, but it’s superfluous to continue. The point is that there was a great deal of momentum in the government bureaucracy and among the military and intelligence towards implementing strategies for which the endgame was regime change in Iran. This was a principle goal behind the sanctions, John Bolton had so candidly pointed out under the Bush administration — sanctions which the Obama administration has not only kept in place, but is seeking to expand and escalate by bringing more members of the international community on board with the goal of implementing, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “crippling sanctions”.
And yet, we’re supposed to believe that this policy of regime change and the propaganda and covert military and intelligence operations against Iran just suddenly stopped because it’s now Obama’s feet up on the desk in the Oval Office, not Bush’s. Just the suggestion that it just might be possible that the U.S. has continued interfering in Iranian affairs by some commentators has brought ridicule and scorn from others, including on the left, who cannot even fathom this possibility. It simply must be dismissed offhand. Anyone daring to express an opinion to the contrary must be a defender of Iran’s tyrannical regime or an opponent of democracy, or guilty of some other such sin.
These are the same tactics and propaganda devices, it must be pointed out, that apologists for Bush policies used to try to discredit their critics and members of the anti-war movement.
Second, getting back to the comment in the New York Times about Iran’s coercion of “confessions”, one might observe that it would be an equally valid criticism were, say, an Iranian journalist to write, “The U.S. government has made it a practice to to use coerced confessions from prisoners against them in military courts after having held them indefinitely without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, stress positions, solitary confinement, and torture techniques such as waterboarding.”
And yet, when we do it, we have no problem at all accepting the “confessions” obtained. Take, for instance, the 9/11 Commission. Anyone who actually took the time to read their report and, moreover, look at the footnotes, would have noticed that a great many of the findings of the 9/11 Commission regarding the planning and operations of the terrorist attacks of September 11 were based largely upon statements obtained by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed through just such methods of coercion, including waterboarding.
When the Bush administration was lying to start a war in Iraq, one of the claims they used was that Iraq had trained al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons. This claim was based upon a single source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was tortured by the CIA and afterword recanted his “confession”.
Or take the ideological barrier that exists with regard to the Iranian presidential election itself. As with the suggestion that the U.S. has attempted to destabilize the country, many commentators find it simply inconceivable that Ahmadinejad could have legitimately won.
Gary Sick, for instance, at the Daily Beast continues: “Why did the regime resort to such a frantic manipulation of the vote when it was entirely possible that Ahmadinejad would have made a respectable showing — or possibly even have narrowly won–a fair election, and when the opposition in any event was devoted to the concept of the Islamic republic as it existed?”
Sick offers no evidence, so we are left to infer the logic he uses to arrive at the conclusion by inductive reasoning. He acknowledges that Ahmadinejad had substantial support, enough that he may have even won, “narrowly”. But the premise seems clearly to be that Ahmadinejad couldn’t possibly win by a large majority. In the end, he didn’t win “narrowly”, but by a landslide. So, logically, there must therefore have been a “frantic manipulation” of the vote.
This is, of course, the fallacy of begging the question, not to mention the fallacy of basing the argument upon a premise of dubious validity to begin with. But Sick would not alone if this is indeed his argument.
Take Joe Klein, writing in Time magazine, for another similar example. “It has to be assumed”, he writes, “that the Iranian presidential election was rigged, but it is impossible to know how heavily the government’s thumb rested on the scales.”
No evidence is required; it “has to be assumed“. We have no choice about it. This must be accepted simply as an article of faith. Notice again the tacit acknowledgment that Ahmadinejad might actually have won without any element of fraud or manipulation, even while asserting that we must assume there was fraud anyways.
The reason should be clear enough: Iran is an officially designated enemy, and within the various factional splits within the Iranian political establishment, Ahmadinejad is perceived as the greater evil. He must therefore be delegitimized by any means necessary, real or manufactured (take, as an example of the latter, the obligatory assertion — nearly always accompanied with a statement about Iran’s alleged development of nuclear weapons — that Ahmadinejad has “threatened” to “wipe Israel off the map”).
Many observers, including Obama himself, have pointed out that there’s really very little difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. If Mousavi was the president, Iran would still pursue its nuclear program, for instance. Mousavi is no stranger to the Iranian political establishment, and, while calling himself “reformist”, would hardly represent a serious fundamental shift, politically or ideologically, for the Iranian government. Iran’s election was really one between two members merely of different factions in which the public got to choose between either this candidate chosen to run by that same political establishment, or the other candidate chosen by, yes, that same political establishment.
This observation, a perfectly valid one, has been made by numerous sober political commentators. Few, if any, though, have bothered to point out that, like Sick’s remarks about fascism or the New York Times’ remarks about coerced “confessions”, this characterization would be equally valid if applied to the political system and elections in the United States.
Recent events in Iran are already having consequences for U.S. policy under the Bush administration. Obama has stated that his administration would be willing to engage in discussions with Iranian officials over their nuclear program. The talks would be predicated upon the U.S. demand that Iran stop enriching uranium, despite its right to do so being guaranteed under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But even this small nod towards the idea that we should try diplomacy is under threat, with influential figures now arguing that to engage in talks with the regime now would be to legitimize the Ahmadinejad government and show weakness in the face of Iran’s violent suppression of protesters in Tehran.
There is a risk this argument could gain acceptance, and even the small sliver of hope that the Obama administration might engage diplomatically with Iran could easily slip away. Political commentators, particularly those who do not wish to see this narrow opportunity disappear entirely, should keep that in mind as they put pen to paper. If sober observers don’t act now to counter the propaganda and active efforts being put forth to derail even this slight move towards peaceful negotiations, it’s a virtual certainty that Obama’s promises will come to naught and the policy of isolation and intimidation implemented under the Bush administration will become even more permanent.
And that, whether tomorrow or ten years from now, is a path towards war. If Iraq has taught us anything, it should be that once U.S. policy has set the nation on a course for violent conflict, it is very, very difficult to offset that momentum, turn things around, and prevent further tragedy from occurring.
Jeremy R. Hammond is the editor and principle writer for Foreign Policy Journal, an online publication dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and commentary on U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the “war on terrorism” and events in the Middle East, from outside of the standard framework offered by government officials and the mainstream corporate media. He has also written for numerous other online publications. You can contact him here.
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