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2006

IRAN - THE MEDIA FALL INTO LINE

Writing in the Guardian last month, Timothy Garton Ash observed:

“Now we face the next big test of the west: after Iraq, Iran.”

Garton Ash thus blithely ignored the fact that every last scrap of evidence coming out of Iraq has pointed to only one conclusion - that Iraq’s “big test” was in fact the West’s big lie. Iraq was offering a threat to precisely no one outside its own borders.

Nevertheless, Garton Ash warned: “we in Europe and the United States have to respond. But how?” (Timothy Garton Ash, ‘Let's make sure we do better with Iran than we did with Iraq,’ The Guardian, January 12, 2006)

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee joined the propaganda chorus demonising Iran:

“Now the mad mullahs of Iran will soon have nuclear bombs, are we all doomed?... Do something, someone! But what and who?” (Toynbee, ‘No more fantasy diplomacy: cut a deal with the mullahs,’ The Guardian, February 7, 2006)

Gerard Baker provided the answer in the Times:

“The unimaginable but ultimately inescapable truth is that we are going to have to get ready for war with Iran”. (Baker, ‘Prepare yourself for the unthinkable: war against Iran may be a necessity,’ The Times, January 27, 2006)

Why might this be?

“If Iran gets safely and unmolested to nuclear status, it will be a threshold moment in the history of the world, up there with the Bolshevik Revolution and the coming of Hitler.”

Readers will recall near-identical propaganda ahead of the assault on Iraq. Baker continued with some fearsome predictions:

“Iran, of course, secure now behind its nuclear wall, will surely step up its campaign of terror around the world. It will become even more of a magnet and haven for terrorists... Imagine how much more our freedoms will be curtailed if our governments fear we are just one telephone call or e-mail, one plane journey or truckload away from another Hiroshima. ”

This is the same Gerard Baker who wrote in the Financial Times in February 2003 that “victory [in Iraq] will quickly vindicate US and British claims about the scale of the threat Saddam poses”.

Baker was positively gleeful:

“I cannot wait to hear what the French, Russians and Germans have to say when the conquering troops begin to uncover the death factories Mr Hussein has been hiding from inspectors for 12 years... And do not be shocked if allied liberators discover all kinds of connections between Baghdad and terrorism around the world”. (Baker, ‘Defeating prejudice with persuasion,’ Financial Times, February 20, 2003)

A year later, Baker had airbrushed his own justification for war from history:

“Saddam Hussein asked for the benefit of the doubt. But that was not something a wise leader could possibly have given him. His actions had shown again and again the threat he represented. This threat lay not in vats of chemicals or nuclear centrifuges but in his ambitions.” (Baker, ‘Freedom from fear is a worthy goal,’ Financial Times, March 18, 2004)

In his February 2003 article, Baker had predicted: “it will become clear, even to the most rabid of anti-Americans just how much better off Iraqi people will be without their current president. The lifting of the yoke of Saddam Hussein will be an act of humanity far greater than the unseating of the Taliban.” (Baker, op. cit)

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman describes the current state of Iraq sans “yoke”:

“In fact, reconstruction has failed. Almost three years after the war began, oil production is well below prewar levels, Baghdad is getting only an average of 3.2 hours of electricity a day, and more than 60 percent of water and sanitation projects have been canceled. So now, having squandered billions in Iraqi oil revenue as well as American taxpayer dollars, we have told the Iraqis that from here on in it is their problem.” (Krugman, ’State of delusion,’ New York Times, February 3, 2006)

According to the Los Angeles Times, America's would-be Marshall Plan in Iraq “is drawing to a close this year“ with “much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding”. (Cited, ibid)

Baker is a signatory to the Statement of Principles posted at the website of The Henry Jackson Society. Patrons include mild-mannered neoconservatives like former US assistant secretary of defence Richard Perle, William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. Other signatories include former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, Colonel Tim Collins, Oliver Kamm, Andrew Roberts and Jamie Shea.

The Society declares that it: “Supports a ‘forward strategy’ to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so. This would involve the full spectrum of our ‘carrot’ capacities, be they diplomatic, economic, cultural or political, but also, when necessary, those ‘sticks’ of the military domain.” (http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org)

Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq know all about the “’sticks’ of the military domain”.

Four of the Society’s eight “Principles” refer to military intervention and military power - another notes that “only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate”.

Everyone else, we can presume, is fair game.

Ten Years From A Bomb

When officialdom targets a new ‘deadly threat’, journalists often embarrass themselves in their rush to be ‘on side‘. The January 20, 2005, BBC 1 Lunchtime News saw diplomatic correspondent James Robbins declare that US relations with Iran were "looking very murky because of the nuclear threat". (BBC1, 13:00 News, January 20, 2005)

Four days later, Robbins responded to Media Lens emailers:

“I accept that it would have been better to have said ‘alleged nuclear threat‘. I am sorry that my wording was not as precise as it could have been.” (Email to Media Lens, January 24, 2005)

Similarly, in a front-page article this week, the Guardian reported that Iran's foreign minister had threatened immediate retaliation over a move to refer its "nuclear weapons activities" to the United Nations security council. A correction was printed in the paper two days later:

“We should have said ‘nuclear activities‘, not ‘nuclear weapons activities‘.” (Corrections and clarifications, The Guardian, February 7, 2006)

Although Iran has removed the seals it put in place at its nuclear fuel research sites, experts say it is at least a decade away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. Consider the current media hysteria in light of the basic facts below.

Atomic weapons can be produced in two ways - either by using highly enriched uranium, or plutonium. Iran is known to have produced reconstituted uranium, "yellow cake", at its conversion facility at Isfahan. However, according to a September 2005 report by The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), this material is contaminated and not currently useable. If Iran were able to overcome the problem of purification, it would then need to enrich the uranium.

Whereas uranium used in nuclear reactors requires only a small amount of enrichment, weapons-grade uranium must be highly enriched. This can be done using gas centrifuges, of which Iran has 164 installed at its plant at Natanz. But this constitutes just 20 per cent of the number required to produce a bomb. Frank Barnaby, of UK think tank The Oxford Research Group, comments:

"They don't currently have enough centrifuges working - so far as we know - to produce significant amounts of highly-enriched uranium or even enriched uranium. They would need a lot more." (Sarah Buckley and Paul Rincon, ‘Iran “years from nuclear bomb“,' www.bbc.co.uk, January 12, 2006)

Given these and other problems, the IISS believes it would take Iran at least a decade to produce enough high-grade uranium to make a single nuclear weapon. Dr Barnaby agrees:

"The CIA says 10 years to a bomb using highly enriched uranium and that is a reasonable and realistic figure in my opinion."

Alternatively, Iran could use plutonium to produce a bomb. But the IISS notes that Iran would need to build a reprocessing plant suited to the fuel used in its Bushehr nuclear reactor - an extremely challenging technical task. Iran is also constructing a heavy-water research reactor at Arak. But, again, this will not be ready until at least 2014, and probably later, according to the IISS.

The West’s hypocrisy and double standards could hardly be clearer but they are off the media agenda. The United States is estimated to be in possession of no less than 10,600 nuclear warheads. Its leading ally in the region, Israel, also has nuclear weapons, as do Russia, Pakistan, India and China. Britain has recently sold nuclear-capable bombers to India, while the United States has sold nuclear-capable bombers to Pakistan. Iran’s is indeed a “tough neighbourhood”.

The media never mention the military coup organised by Britain and the United States to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 to secure the country’s oil. No mention is made of the massive military support subsequently sent to the Shah dictatorship before it was overthrown in 1979. Britain and America were thus directly responsible for a country that had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture" which was "beyond belief". It was a society in which "the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror", according to Amnesty International. (Martin Ennals, Secretary General of Amnesty International, cited in an Amnesty Publication, Matchbox, Autumn 1976)

All of this is waved away as inconsequential by journalists. Objections to military action are usually raised on grounds of possible negative consequences for the West. The likely cost in lives to the Iranian people is rarely even discussed.

Last month, the journalist Felicity Arbuthnott described the cataclysm generated by the US-UK 'liberation' of Iraq:

“For Iraq watchers, the daily carnage of liberation, the searing, wailing grief of the bereaved, bombed, bereft, haunt. Neighborhoods, evocative ancient homes reduced to rubble by the 'liberators', the surviving, bewildered, standing on shattered bricks, mortar, toys, belongings, liberated even from home's secure warmth.

“In the distorted horrors of today's Iraq, many never make it home: disappeared, kidnapped, shot by the occupying forces for driving, walking, and playing, in familiar venues. Iraqi lives are the earth's cheapest. 'Government' or occupying troops kill 'insurgents' (even if baby or toddler ‘insurgents’) and few questions are asked.” (Felicity Arbuthnott, ‘Death of Humanity,’ PalestineChronicle.com, January 18, 2006)

Despite even this, despite everything that has happened, Western journalists are once again falling obediently into line as the British and American governments begin the long, arduous process of demonising another oil-rich target.

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to one or more of the journalists and editors below. It is more effective to write in your own words.

Write to the Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash
Email: tga@timothygartonash.com

Write to the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee
Email: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk

Write to the Times’ Gerard Baker
Email: gerard.baker@thetimes.co.uk

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