The Times and The Flawed Iran Debate

March 6, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: NYTX

Obama Meets Netanyahu

By Ben Schreiner:

It is widely held, and quite rightly so, that an Israeli attack on Iran would be nothing less than disastrous.  This much the New York Times editorial board has been in general agreement with.  But just why, and in what way, is quite telling of how skewed the entire debate over the Iranian nuclear crisis (or the so-called “Iranian threat”) has truly become.

In an editorial on President Obama’s firm commitment to Israel’s security (“Iran, Israel and the United States”), the Times went on to present the “high costs and limited returns” of an Israeli strike.  In addition to unleashing a wider regional war, the paper argued that such a strike “would also cast the Iranian government as the victim in the eyes of an otherwise alienated Iranian public. It would tear apart the international coalition and undermine an increasingly tough sanctions regime, making it even easier for Iran to rebuild its program.”

Firstly, as despotic as the Iranian government may be, it is difficult to imagine how a government sanctioned for over thirty years, encircled by the military of a hostile global power, and facing constant threats of bombardment and “regime change” from this very same power, could not already be seen as a victim of sorts.  The bullied always have a way of assuming victim status.

Moreover, the intensifying punitive sanctions regime the Times argues ought to remain intact has already largely turned the Iranian public against the West.  For instance, according to Gallup, a mere 8% of Iranians currently approve of the leadership of the United States.  (For perspective, that’s on par with the amount of Americans who approve of the leadership of Iran.)  This is rather unsurprising, given that, as Gallup also finds, nearly one in two Iranians reported not having enough money to buy the food their families needed in the past year.

Secondly, missing from the Times’ cost analysis of an Israeli strike is the simple fact that any such preemptive attack on Iran would be illegal under international law.  It would be an act of international aggression—i.e., a war crime.  What’s more, the Times fails to include the inevitable human cost of such aggression.  And with the scars from the Iraq War (which the Times readily helped to furnish) still unhealed, one ought to see both the aforementioned factored into any serious analysis weighing the costs of yet another Middle East war.

Yet, if such omissions alone weren’t enough, the Times editorial board made sure to twice imply nefarious motives when referring to Iran’s nuclear program.  As the paper wrote: “Iran’s nuclear appetites are undeniable.”  It then later continued: “We don’t know if there is any mix of sanctions and diplomacy that can persuade the mullahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.”  The reader is of course meant to infer that such nuclear appetites and ambitions are military in nature.

But Iran, according to both U.S. (as the Times reported) and Israeli intelligence estimates, has no nuclear weapons program, and is not currently pursuing one.  Furthermore, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is entitled “to peacefully use nuclear technology.”  It is, once again, unsurprising that a majority of Iranians support the development of a peaceful nuclear program.

So then, although the Times editorial board claims to favor diplomacy (albeit a diplomatic path which clearly imposes a heavy burden on ordinary Iranians), its latest editorial simultaneously inflated the threat from Iran and minimized the costs of a military confrontation.  And in adhering to the parameters of such a flawed debate, the paper ultimately sends its readers along the path that culminates at war.

Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer based in Oregon.  He may be reached at [email protected].


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