September 1, 2012 · 0 Comments
Above: An expert-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement took place in Tehran on Aug. 26, 2012. Vahid Salemi /AP
By Michael McGehee:
Iran recently hosted the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM)16th summit. The timing couldn’t have been any better, as the U.S. and Israel continue their attempts to isolate and destabilize the government in Tehran via sanctions, computer virus attacks, assassinations of nuclear scientists, possible links to terrorist groups, and a likely upcoming overt war. And even though the IAEA has recently come out with a report that offers “findings validating [the] position that while harsh economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation may have hurt Iran, they have failed to slow Tehran’s nuclear program,” (New York Times, “Report on Iran Nuclear Work Puts Israel in a Box,” August 30, 2012), it was not surprising that, largely in response to the issue, the NAM meeting ended with the 120-nation group “unanimously decreeing support for the disputed Iranian nuclear energy program and criticizing the American-led attempt to isolate and punish Iran with unilateral economic sanctions,” as the New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and Rick Gladstone noted in their article “Nonaligned Nations Back Iran’s Nuclear Bid, but Not Syria.”
NAM was created in the early 1960s by Yugoslavia, and served the bulk of the world’s leaders who didn’t want to take sides in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. And though the latter ceased to exist more than twenty years ago NAM has remained as a large bloc of world leaders from “the South” (i.e. developing countries) opposed to the colonialism and imperialism which continues to exist in the form of economic policies imposed on the developing world by means of international financial institutions controlled by the developed world. In his book, The Food Wars, author Walden Bello wrote that it was the structural adjustment programs “imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund on more than ninety developing and transitional economies over a twenty-year period beginning in the early 1980s,” and which were demanded by the international financial institutions in order to receive aid, that explains the contentious relationship between the developing and developed countries. In fact, the groups “Performance Report of the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Implementation of the Sharm El Sheikh Plan of Action (July 2009 – August 2012)” not only deals with this topic considerably, but also issues like Palestine, Cuba, Africa, South-South cooperation, economic development, nuclear weapons, terrorism, climate change, food security, women’s rights, etc.
But this hasn’t stopped the Western establishment from taking jabs at NAM.
New York Times editor Andrew Rosenthal claim that “after the Cold War, the organization has no meaning at all.”
And NYT columnist Thomas Friedman made a similar remark when he recently wrote:
“Nonaligned against what and between whom?” asked Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy specialist at Johns Hopkins. The Nonaligned Movement was conceived at the Bandung summit in 1955, but there was a logic to it then. The world was divided between Western democratic capitalists and Eastern Communists, and developing states like Egypt, Yugoslavia and Indonesia declared themselves “nonaligned” with these two blocs. But “there is no Communist bloc today,” said Mandelbaum. “The main division in the world is between democratic and undemocratic countries.”
Yet one would be hard pressed to find a similar statement by Mandelbaum, Rosenthal, Friedman, et al. on NATO—which is another Cold War relic that is still around, expanding, and using deadly force in military conflicts despite there no longer being a Warsaw Pact, which for decades was the basis for NATO’s existence. Quite simply, there is no comment from Mandelbaum and co. claiming NATO should cease to be because “there is no Communist bloc today.”
After reviewing New York Times coverage of the NAM summit, where the concerns of the developing world and their opposition to Washington’s policies towards Iran received an almost completely muted response, and much of the attitude towards Iran compliments Washington’s agenda, it only goes to show how serious those concerns of the South are. In nearly all of the articles published an imperial attitude is taken where either participating countries are criticized for not going along with Washington’s plans, or it is implied that Iran is taking advantage of the summit to force an agenda on the participants.
For example, in Rosenthal’s piece, the Times editor tells us that, “I was appalled that the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has decided to attend an international gathering in Iran, despite the vociferous objections of the United States,” as if that should have any bearing on what the top UN official does. But Rosenthal takes it further when he claims that, “Ban can accomplish nothing with this trip beyond hindering efforts to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear weapons programs.”
The first problem with this statement is that there is no proof of a “nuclear weapons program,” and the New York Times knows this. How Rosenthal—whose job duties include “oversee[ing] the editorial board, the letters and Op-Ed departments, and Sunday Review”—is unaware that this past January the New York Times published an article which quoted U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as saying, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No,” or when more than a month later the same “paper of record” published the article “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb,”or how a month after that they also published an article that stated “Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, agrees with the American intelligence assessments” that “information has not been significant enough for the spy agencies to alter their view that the weapons program has not been restarted,” is a question Rosenthal should answer.
The next problem with Rosenthal’s comment is that it ignores the topics of the meeting, which was adopted at the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Coordinating Bureau in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt this past May. As one Chinese media source, Xinhua, recently stated: “According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, nuclear disarmament, human rights and regional issues will be the main topics,” and that, “During the summit, Iran may draw up a new peace resolution aiming to resolve the Syrian crisis.” An observant reader might notice that the New York Times fails to note any of this, in Rosenthal’s blog piece and much of the articles covered below.
And Friedman commented further on the NAM summit by saying Egypt should not attend because “there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran’s people that the world approves of their country’s clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement.” Not only does he make the absurd claim that Iran is somehow hoodwinking forieng leaders and their general population, but Friedman also tries to tell us that this is all about “choosing between democracies and dictatorships,” as we can tell by Washington’s long list of support to foreign dictators like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equitorial Guinea, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, Emomalii Rahmon of Tajikistan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, and more. Not to mention past dictators like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, the Somoza family of Nicaragua, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (who recently passed away), and literally dozens more. In short, while Friedman is correct to say, “This has nothing to do with Israel or Iran’s nukes,” his real beef with Egypt’s prime minister Mohamed Morsi attending the summit is that Morsi is not taking orders.
In one op-ed published by the New York Times the executive director of the American Jewish Committee David Harris, “Summit Meeting in Iran,” space was provided for Harris to claim it is “deeply worrisome” that Iran is “leading the 118-nation Nonaligned Movement for the next three years.” In regards to “United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who reportedly is planning to travel to Tehran for the summit meeting,” Harris asks an absurdly hypocritical question: ”Why should he visit a country that brazenly flouts Security Council resolutions, serially ignores the International Atomic Energy Agency’s norms and, as recently as Aug. 2, called for the ‘annihilation’ of a United Nations member state, Israel?” That the U.S. and Israel routinely undermines international law, the IAEA (Israel, who actually has nuclear weapons, refuses to open up their programs for inspection, or to become a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty), and are complicit in the slow genocide of Palestine are of no concern to Harris.
The New York Times also published an anonymously written editorial on “Iran’s Nuclear Quest” which claims that the NAM summit is a “major blow” to U.S. efforts to isolate and punish Iran because what is needed, the editorial claims, is for the world “to stay united in enforcing sanctions and isolating Iran,” and the summit undermined that. The chief problem with this view is that the would was never “united” to begin with. Much of the world has recognized this conflict over Iran and its nuclear program is more about Washington’s attempts to destabilize an independent force in the energy-rich Middle East, and less about nuclear proliferation. This shows up in NPT meetings and annual UN General Assembly votes.
For example, at the most recent U.N. General Assembly, the world voted in favor of a resolution titled “nuclear disarmament” (A/RES/65/56). The votewas 168-3, and while the U.S. was among those who voted in favor there was also a vote titled, “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments” (A/RES/65/59). Thevote was 167 to 4 against. Of those voting against was the U.S. Of those voting in favor was Iran.
The U.S. will vote in favor of disarmament—which one could say the resolution was largely symbolic and a token gesture on the part of the U.S.—but will vote against steps “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world.” This trend that can be confirmed by looking at past votes. In 2007 the world voted on no less than 15 resolutions dealing with nuclear disarmament. Only one nation voted against all of them: The U.S. But back to the most recent votes: Iran noted the hypocrisy and even said of the “nuclear disarmament” resolution that, “It is an irony to call this nuclear disarmament and talk about a world free of nuclear weapons while one of the parties to this treaty has officially announced the allocation of more than $100 billion for modernizing nuclear warheads and constructing new facilities for developing nuclear weapons. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to those clear and obvious facts.”
And of course, in 2010 Brazil and Turkey tried to get an arrangement made that would resolve the issue. Iran was willing. The U.S., however, wouldn’t back down from its confrontational stance. Even as Iran was willing to exchange their uranium for fuel, the U.S. still claimed they were trying to seek nuclear weapons. At the time Reuters reported that, “It was less than 24 hours after Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan joined Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Tehran to revive a stalled nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran which they hoped would remove the need for sanctions,” that the U.S. announced their plans for more sanctions. “U.S. dismissal of Brazilian and Turkish diplomatic efforts in Tehran” angered the two nations and was the likely reason as to what made “the two nations to vote against a new round of U.N. sanctions for Iran,” which the article said “was the first time any council members had opposed Iran sanctions.”
According to Thomas Erdbrink’s article, which is equipped with the highly misleading title “At Summit Meeting, Iran Has a Message for the World,” the meeting has “proven to be something of a public relations success for Iran.” What is misleading about the headline and the above statement is that the summit meeting is a message from a large bloc of the world to the U.S., and it certainly not a public relations stunt—much like similar U.N. General Assemblies often come to the same conclusions (see above).
Erdbrink proceeds to note in his Times article some other “setbacks for efforts by the United States to isolate Iran and cripple it with sanctions”: “United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, decided to attend despite pressure from the United States and Israel,” and “Egypt’s new president also said he would come to the conference.” Probably most upsetting to Washington is that “India’s prime minister [Manmohan Singh] plans to bring a delegation of 250 people in an attempt to advocate for more trade with Tehran.”
In another NYT article, this time by journalist Jodi Rudoren, “Developments in Iran and Sinai Deepen Israel’s Worries About Egypt,” we read that Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi “will defy the West and break with Egyptian precedent to attend a summit meeting of nonaligned nations in Tehran, complicating Israeli and American efforts to define Iran as a pariah state because of its nuclear program.” Rudoren also notes that Morsi “would visit Washington next month,” but that “the gesture to the Obama administration was somewhat clouded by his decision to go first to Iran.”
Rick Gladstone also weighed in at the Times in his article “U.N. Visit Will Set Back a Push to Isolate Iran,” when he wrote that, “Efforts led by the United States and Israel to isolate Iran suffered a setback on Wednesday when the United Nations announced that Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, would join officials from 120 countries in Tehran next week for a summit meeting.”
And while Gladstone writes that, “Acknowledging that Mr. Ban has been under pressure not to attend, Mr. Nesirky, his spokesman, said Mr. Ban viewed the visit as a chance to raise the issues of Iran’s nuclear program, its support for Syria and its campaign against Israel directly with his hosts,” he does not point out that the summit meeting is based on the “Final Document,” as noted above.
According to Gladstone, in one of the most honest statements published on the summit meeting at the Times, the attendance by Ban, Morsi, and others like India’s prime minister Singh, “reinforced Iran’s contention that a reordering of powers is under way in the Middle East, where Western influence is waning, and that the American-Israeli campaign to vilify Iran as a rogue state that exports terrorism and secretly covets nuclear weapons is not resonating in much of the world.”
Then Erdbrink and Gladstone team up in the article “U.N. Leader Broaches Delicate Topics in Meetings With Top Iranian Officials,” where the two journalist note that UN secretary geneal Ban had “very serious meetings” with “four members of the [Iran’s] hierarchy on Wednesday, including the supreme leader,” which “addressed the disputed Iranian nuclear program, the Syria conflict, human rights problems and what he called the leadership’s objectionable comments about Israel.”
On the nuclear program, we are told that Ban said Iran “needed to take concrete steps and prove to the world its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes,” yet there is no explanation of why the burden of proof is on the defendant, and not the plaintiff, the latter being a judicial norm.
And in regards to Syria it was welcome that the two gave space to Iran to respond: “Ayatollah Khamenei told Mr. Ban that ‘Iran will not spare any effort to resolve the Syrian crisis,’ Iran state radio reported, but added that ‘solving the Syrian problem has a condition, and that is to prevent the export of weapons to irresponsible groups inside Syria.’ ” Going beyond the one-way direction where the onus and expectations are on Syria and its allies, is a break from the norm in many articles published by the New York Times in regards to the conflict.
As for the “objectionable comments about Israel” it is interesting, though not surprising, to note that the New York Times reveals considerable hypocrisy and flaws in its coverage on the issue. In his article “Iran’s President Calls Israel ‘an Insult to Humankind’,” Rick Gladstone quotes Iranian president Ahmadinejad of saying, “The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations,” and that, “all human communities [should] wipe out this scarlet letter, meaning the Zionist regime, from the forehead of humanity.” Elsewhere in the Times (see Erdbrink’s and Gladstones “Nonaligned Nations Back Iran’s Nuclear Bid, but Not Syria,” and David Harris’ op-ed, as just two examples, and which were mentioned earlier in this piece), these comments have been referred to as “threatening to annihilate Israel.” But Ahmadinejad was talking about the regime in Israel, not the state itself, or the inhabitants. As noted below, Egypt has taken a similar position on Syria, yet the New York Times and the UN Secretary General are not labeling it as “threatening to annihilate Syria.”
Erdbrink and Gladstone teamed up again in a relatively good NYT article: “Egypt’s Morsi Pushes for End of ‘Oppressive Regime’ in Syria.” Other than the headline which highlights the NYT‘s contradictory stances between Iran and Syria, two items stood out: the veto power at the UN Security Council and a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, including recognition of Israel’s nuclear weapons.
On the former, Erdbrink and Gladstone write: “In their separate speeches, Mr. Morsi and Ayatollah Khamenei both said that the makeup of the United Nations Security Council, in which the five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — can veto decisions, should be reformed.”
And on the latter, Erdbrink and Gladstone tell us that, “Both leaders called for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East,” and Ayatollah Khamenei is even quoted as saying that the U.S. and its allies have “equipped the usurper Zionist regime with nuclear weapons, which now pose a great threat to all of us.”
By simply acknowledging the U.S. aids Israel in having nuclear weapons, or by quoting Ayatollah Khamenei as saying the UN veto power is abused by the U.S. to the point that the Security Council is little more than a “flagrant form of dictatorship” where “this mechanism [is abused] in order to impose its will on the world”—and Erdbrink and Gladstone do all of this in one article—performs an important journalistic duty that is often not done at the “paper of record”: inform the public about the realities of American imperialism.
Where the two err is in their writing on the Syrian conflict, which comes off as biased in favor of the West’s (see U.S.) preference for regime change. While noting in their previously mentioned article above where Iran said a “condition” of their help in resolving the conflict was stopping the weapons being delivered to the Syrian rebels, in this particular article the one-way street is reinforced. Morsi is painted in a positive light, where the Egyptian prime minister talks about their “full and just support for a free, independent Syria that supports a transition into a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality at the same time, preventing Syria from going into civil war or going into sectarian divisions”, while Iran is cast negatively by Erdbrink and Gladstone saying “Iran’s official line” about the Syrian rebels being “U.S.- and Israel-backed terrorists” were “complicated” and unhelpful.
Erdbrink and Gladstone do provide a sliver of insight into Morsi’s bias, though they shy from linking it to the Sunni-Shia divide (it is never even considered that Morsi’s posturing is based on ethnicity and regional politics, and not morality), when they note that, “Mr. Morsi, pointedly, did not mention unrest in Bahrain, possibly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, which has helped Bahrain’s monarchy suppress the uprising,” but it is perplexing they didn’t provide this same scrutiny to Morsi’s apparent depiction of the Syrian rebels as being forces for “a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality,” which is highly debatable considering their conduct thus far (see the article “War crimes by Syrian rebels must be condemned too” by Peter Beaumont at The Guardian UK for a glimpse).
The NAM summit meeting is not indicative of a PR campaign orchestrated by Iran, or “a venue for Iranian leaders to convince their domestic audience of Iran’s international importance,” as Erdbrink tries to claim, but the biggest bloc of world leaders, outside the UN General Assembly, acting independently of Washington’s imperial plans. Rather than note this, with the exception of Gladstone, the New York Times instead chose to paint the meeting as “setbacks for efforts by the United States” which has expressed “vociferous objections” because it is “hindering efforts to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear weapons programs,” only to receive defiance and a break with “precedent.” Or as Erdbrink hypocritically wrote, “Most Iranian media outlets did not comment on the contentious parts” of the meeting. This assault on Iranian media is odd considering that the New York Times hardly fared any better, though there certainly were a number of significant comments. But from an editor (i.e. Andrew Rosenthal) who claimed the “nuclear weapons” existed as fact to a columnist who expressed outrage to a foreign country acting independently to the absurd interpretation of Ahmadinejad’s comments about the “Zionist regime” to weak jabs at NAM’s continued existence to the silence on the role of the organization being a counter to American hegemony and much more, the “paper of record” routinely shaped their coverage of the NAM summit to smear Iran, berate others for attending, and generally serve Western interests, as they routinely have done in regards to the Syrian conflict, where the politics and human rights record of the Syrian rebels (who are routinely viewed as forces of liberation) and their reliance of foreign support from unsavory states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. is simply ignored.