Election cycles always rev up the rhetorical engines, but nothing matches war when it comes to attempts at shaping public perception. Anyone who lived through the march to Iraq can attest to the impact propaganda has on judgment and outcome.
Which brings me to Iran…
Now, before you go thinking that I’m some kind of hippie peacenik, know that I am quite fond of blood and guts and gore and veins in my teeth. Even as someone whose foreign policy views verge on realpolitik, I recognize the threat of a nuclear Iran to Middle East stability. I’m also aware that our options are limited.
But this isn’t about geopolitical choice so much as the language that shapes how we perceive choice itself.
“Whoever says ‘later’ may find that later is too late,” Israeli Defense minister Ehud Barak said. (The Post notes he switched from Hebrew to English when saying the words, “Later is too late.”) Leon Panetta, meanwhile, declined to refute a report that he was worried about an Israeli attack.
It’s probably unsurprising that Israel is trying to convey a sense of inevitability here. Still, one wonders if Israel has the capability of neutralizing the below-ground, concrete-reinforced facilities that comprise Iran’s nuclear workshops. In which case, the drum beating may be a nudge to the US to hurry up and complete work on its Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which may or may not be up to the task. (Either way, the MOP can be seen as a major advancement in military hardware as phallic symbol.)
Exhibit B: U.S. Intel: Iran Willing To Attack on American Soil
American intelligence officials believe that Iran might be willing to conduct attacks inside the United States. That was the big take-away from the prepared testimony Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
The Washington Post explains that the concerns arose after the alleged plot by the Islamic Republic to assassinate the Saudi ambassador while he was in Washington came to light last year. According to Clapper, that incident “shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”
This is right out of the escalation playbook. Remember the “mushroom clouds over American cities” line that Condi Rice used as justification for a preemptive attack on Iraq? Then there’s this old saw from Hermann Göring: “It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. … All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”
The difference here is that James Clapper is talking about an attack by Iran if they’re “threatened.” And what could possibly make them feel that way? Perhaps the constant talk of preemption by our proxies in Tel Aviv? In this light, the self-justification nestled in Clapper’s proclamations should be quite evident.
At this point, Iran might not even have the choice to abandon its nuclear program for fear of looking like it is capitulating to the West. Yet continued defiance will only serve the purpose of demonizing the country and justifying preemptive action. Worse, threats of attack may encourage even disenfranchised Iranians to back its current rulers. The natural outcome is conflict.
With Iraq complete and a scheduled 2013 drawdown in Afghanistan (or is that a redeployment?) the door is open for US military engagement. Should hostilities with Iran become unavoidable, it will be important to listen closely for clues about the real objective. Something tells me it’s not just to halt or slow down Iran’s nuclear progress. I think we may be seeing a new marketing strategy for “regime change.”
Again, I’m not saying this would necessarily be a bad thing, although I have questions about how such a goal would be accomplished. Part of transparency and accountability in policy — military or otherwise — is understanding what our leaders are really saying when they speak. That way, we can hopefully avoid sacrificing American life and treasure on ill-defined adventures.
I know I’ll be listening very closely.