Many years ago, when I was being interviewed at the Immigration & Naturalization office for my application for citizenship, the young officer started asking me some patent questions: What are the colors in the American flag; How many States in the Union; etc. Finally, she asked me what I thought the most important advantage of becoming a citizen would be. The answer I gave, which I knew she expected, was having the right or the privilege to vote.
In the country where I came from, we also had the right to vote and were gifted by the Shah's administration with a Two-Party system, two sides of the same coin, of course, which gave the voters the fake choice of candidates! The voting was totally meaningless, and the ballot boxes served simply as window dressing! I am sure North Koreans and Egyptians also vote!
Here, we live in a democracy, and not just any democracy, but a capitalist, free enterprise kind of democracy. We don't have a "Shah" or an emperor who could dictate to us how to vote. The citizens of age are free to vote for whomever or whatever they choose; vote for the highest offices in the land or for the local propositions of little consequence.
The problem here in a "free" society is the question of the sources of information the public has access to, upon which the voters form their opinions regarding issues or people to vote for or against.
A recent book by Thomas E. Patterson, How America Lost Its Mind, digs deep into the roots of misinformation and the American public's general misperception of realities on the ground.
So, here we have a vast pool of information that has been fed by the mass media and political propaganda channels, whose headwaters are seldom examined by the unaware public to check for pollution and contamination. Bathed in this pool, public opinion is formulated and, when it remains unchallenged for a long enough time, jells into perceived realities. This is especially the case in matters dealing with the people's view of the outside world and the government's foreign policies.
Of course, the access to the internet during the past decades has provided unprecedented potential for the public to tap into a universe of information; but again, how would the average citizen or the huge majority of voting-age people determine where to look and how to differentiate between valid information and doctored-up, biased and misleading propaganda? In other words, yes, the potential is definitely there, but the ability to take advantage of that potential remains lacking for the most part.
There is an increasing global addiction to the so-called smart-phones, those ever-improving handheld gadgets that are replacing face-to-face communication and human-to-human contacts. It is rare to see the younger generation adults in particular, whether tech-savvy or not, anywhere who are not permanently attached to their smart-phones. The sense of being "connected" to whatever their hearts desire has become quite overwhelming, to a point that any interruption in this microwave service can create severe anxiety among especially the younger addicts!
Well, we could say the same thing about automobiles or television; in other words, about access to convenient mobility and entertainment, tools that have been with us for generations. However, the modern day smart-phone addiction is having an alarmingly consequential "dumbing" effect on the younger adult populations. Just as is the case with alcohol or tobacco, and now opioid and "vaping" addictions, the users do not realize that the principle purpose of the providers of these "services" to the public is to generate income for the corporation, and not to enhance the health or the lifestyles of the target people.
Now take the case of the information and entertainment media: Every one of them is a for-profit corporation, which means the bottom line determines what kind of output best suits their purpose. If a TV station or a newspaper puts out the kind of information that, regardless of how true and honest it might be, would go against the core beliefs of the target viewers and listeners, it would lose its ranking and its advertising revenues and will ultimately cease to exist!
This vulnerability to the weight of public opinion opens the way for the sources of power and influence to promote their special interests. In our "free" society, powerful corporations and special interest groups and lobbies have found their way open to pollute the confluence of input channels that feed the pool of information, and thus to create the kind of public mind-set or belief system which would support their agendas.
This affliction is not just an American problem; it is common among all open societies or Western style democracies throughout the world. The alternative is, of course, the government dictated and censured media, which means intolerance to dissemination of any information that does not meet the regime's agendas. As is obvious, one system is open and democratic, and the other oppressive and closed; and ironically, both could be subjected to the same criticism!
The greater irony is the fact that the public in closed societies are typically skeptical about the information they are fed through their mass media. Their better educated masses do not simply buy into the regime's propaganda lines. In the more open cultures, such as among the European countries, people do tend to be somewhat suspicious and not as easily accepting of their mass media outputs than is the case among the general public in the United States. The reason, perhaps, is the Europeans' more turbulent history and the resulting sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Here, as far as the great majority of the population is concerned, when things are going well enough, why bother questioning or casting doubt on what the infotainment media put on your plate: just eat and be content! Sure; the average voter does care about certain local or nationwide issues, such as the cost of living, healthcare, education, or environmental conditions, etc.; but when it comes to foreign policy and America's global involvements outside its borders the concern simply boils down to "what's in it for me here and now."
It's been said that ignorance is a bliss! However, as one TV add currently running shows, "What you don't see can hurt you."
Why is all the foregoing an important preamble to the following?
This writing is, as usual with this writer, about the situation we have been observing in the Middle East. The regional tapestry that has been created since the Islamic Revolution in Iran cannot be unwoven anytime soon; and the two principle actors in the region around whom most events of consequence have been taking place remain the same: Iran and Israel.
It is the American public's attitude about these two antagonists, which the lawmakers in the Congress and the State Department count on to formulate the nation's foreign policies. One party, Israel, has had enormous sympathetic support among the public through relentless efforts by the Zionist and Israeli propaganda machine and America's well-connected and influential advocates of the Jewish state. While sympathy for the land of one's religious roots, even for those of none Hebrew ancestry, such as the European Ashkenazim, is understandable, the broad support for Israel by the evangelical Christian lay people, as well as by the more educated, none Jewish members of Congress, is more curious.
For the culturally illiterate evangelicals, Israel is actually the sacrificial lamb that must survive against all odds until the second coming of Jesus and the End Time, when the Jews will be given the choice to either convert to Christianity or perish, thus fulfilling a weird Biblical prophesy unique to evangelical teachings. The Israeli regime doesn't mind this diabolical scenario, as long as it enjoys the support of that rather powerful lobby.
The unquestioned support for Israel by the members of US Congress, however, is not rooted in religious faith, but simply and purely in pragmatic, self-serving grounds. To get elected or to remain in office, politicians have to cater to their respective districts' voter opinions. Admittedly, it does happen on rare occasions that a candidate for a seat in Congress who openly opposes Israel lobby's pressures succeeds in winning his or her bid, as we see in the case of Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, for example. But, as it is fully expected, the smear campaign against these politicians soon follows unrelentingly to unseat them. It is, therefore, no surprise that the annual pilgrimage to Israel by members of Congress, arranged by the Israel lobby, is almost a prerequisite to ensure their tenure in office. This way, the ambitious politicians' bid to run a successful campaign, or to remain in office, is better secured through financial support and the mainstream media's all-so-typical pro-Israel endorsement.
In short, America's public opinion has been so influenced by the well-orchestrated Zionist opinion-molders, that no criticism of Israel policies or actions is ever seriously and beyond lip-service or rare slaps on the wrist takes place in the US Congress.
The public is accepting of this unequivocal support for anything Israel does, to a point that any public criticism or any other actions or statements, such as business divestment, etc. against Israel, and especially any hint of questioning the accepted narrative about the Holocaust, raises more concerns and even legal implications than criticizing or questioning the Biblical narratives or the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights!!
One scholar, Professor Norman Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust victims, strongly objected to the invocation of the horrors of the Holocaust as a tool for political and financial manipulation and influence peddling; and he has paid the price for his "misbehavior!"
He is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D. in political science at Princeton University. He has held faculty positions at Brooklyn College, Rutgers University, Hunter College, New York University, and DePaul University, where he was an assistant professor from 2001 to 2007.
In 2007, after a highly publicized feud between Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz, an academic opponent, Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul. He was placed on administrative leave for the 2007-08 academic year, and on September 5, 2007, he announced his resignation after coming to a settlement with the university on largely undisclosed terms. An official statement from DePaul strongly defended the decision to deny Finkelstein tenure and said that outside influence played no role in the decision. In 2008 he was banned from entering Israel for 10 years for criticizing Israeli policies.
To summarize: In the minds of the general public in the United States, Israel is one of the strongest friends and allies of America, the only symbol of democracy and civilized values in the Middle East, and a nation under constant threat of aggression, especially by the Islamic Republic of Iran and, therefore, deserving of all the financial, military and diplomatic support by the United States. Well; thanks to the sheepishly obedient US Congress and the State Department, Israel has been receiving all that support, even more than it has asked for, and often before asking!
Anyhow; that was the prevailing narrative describing the Jewish state half-way across the planet. So, no need to examine the merits of this almost theological belief, or questioning the one-sided friendship, the farce of democracy in an apartheid state, or a fictitious Iranian threat to a nuclear-armed state that has itself been actively and aggressively engaged in transgressions and acts of assassinations and terrorism throughout the region for decades!
The Islamic Republic of Iran: An enemy of circumstance and convenience!
Let's begin by siting two articles about Iran, which I hope would help illuminate the issues to a great degree:
First is a recent statement by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo:
'Iranian threat' gives Israel 'fundamental right, even obligation' to bomb whomever it wants - Pompeo
20 Oct, 2019
Israel should not be constrained by international borders or laws if it feels under threat, and can always rely on US support, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said following his meeting with the Israeli PM and the chief of Mossad.
The US administration has always been "very clear" that it gives Israel a free rein in hunting down any purported sprouts of 'Iranian threat' in the region, using national security as an ultimate excuse, Pompeo said in an interview with Jerusalem Post.
Israel has the fundamental right to engage in activity that ensures the security of its people. It's at the very core of what nation-states not only have the right to do, but an obligation to do.
The withdrawal of American troops from Syria raised some concerns in Tel Aviv, but Pompeo rushed to emphasize that the US remains committed to "continuing that activity that the US has been engaged in now for a couple of years."
We know this is a corner where Iran has attempted to move weapon systems across into Syria, into Lebanon, that threatens Israel, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have the capacity to identify those so that we can, collectively, respond appropriately.
Pompeo visited Israel following his urgent trip to Turkey, where he convinced President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to temporarily halt the cross-border operation in Syria, somewhat allowing the Trump administration to save its face after the 'betrayal' of its Kurdish allies.
In Tel Aviv, Pompeo held a meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, apparently reassuring them that the US withdrawal wasn't a sign of weakness or intention to reduce its pressure on Tehran.
I suppose people like Mr. Pompeo do not understand that the right to peace, prosperity and security of one people cannot be guaranteed by denying the same right for another!
Second is a longer article that basically says what I had been planning to say. Of course, I might disagree with some of the statements, but not by much.
The Absurdity of the Iran Obsession
By DANIEL LARISON
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have written an excellent article on our government's Iran obsession over the last forty years. They begin by observing that the fixation on Iran makes no sense when we consider the huge disparity in power between the U.S. and its clients on one side and Iran on the other:
In balance-of-power terms, Washington's obsession with Tehran is absurd. Iran's population is one-fourth the size of the United States', and its economy is barely two percent as large. The United States and its closest allies in the Middle East-Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates-together spend at least $750 billion annually on their armed forces, about 50 times as much as what Iran spends.
Iran poses no real threat to the U.S. itself, and its ability to threaten other countries in the region is limited. Their government cannot possibly dominate the region, and there is not much to suggest that they want to try. A policy focused on "containing" Iran is unnecessary and a waste of resources. "Containing" Iran has become a catchall excuse for everything the U.S. does in the region, but this effort at "containment" is doing nothing to advance real U.S. interests and it has often contributed to regional instability. The U.S. has been stuck holding an unusually strong grudge against Iran that is out of all proportion to the harm that their government has done to us over the years. As Benjamin and Simon note, the U.S. has buried the hatchet with far more despicable governments responsible for tens of thousands of American deaths, but it remains trapped in a fruitless standoff with Iran almost half a century since the revolution in Iran began.
Despite the constant warnings we hear about Iran's non-existent "expansionism," Iranian power projection is not very great. Even Iran's sponsorship of terrorist groups is not what it was:
It is true that Iran has committed more than its share of atrocities. Yet it is no longer the same country that it was in the 1980s, when its revolutionary Islamist government really was bent on remaking the regional order. Iran's support for terrorism, for example, has diminished substantially in the last 20 years.
Compared to Sunni jihadist groups, Iran-backed terrorism is a much smaller problem. The oft-repeated label of "leading state sponsor of terrorism" that Iran hawks apply to the Iranian government is outdated and inaccurate. There are far greater threats to international security than Iran, but the U.S. insists on putting Iran in a different category from other states that engage in destabilizing behavior:
Iran's activities are less damaging to global stability than, say, Pakistan's support for terrorist groups that target India or Russia's annexation of Crimea, yet Washington treats Tehran as a pariah while preserving relations with Islamabad and Moscow. There is clearly something going on that transcends strategic interest.
The Trump administration regularly demands that Iran become a "normal nation" at the same time that the U.S. has good relations and sometimes even close military cooperation with some of the worst and most destabilizing governments in the world. Iran is expected to meet a standard of being "normal" that the U.S. does not apply to many of its clients or to itself. Part of the problem is that Iran hawks remain stuck in a time warp and can't recognize how Iran has changed over the last 40 years. They continue to explain Iranian foreign policy through the distorting lens of ideology, which keeps them from seeing that Iran has been acting defensively and opportunistically for decades. Benjamin and Simon write:
The archrealist Henry Kissinger famously said that Iran must "decide whether it is a country or a cause." The phrase has been invoked by much lazier strategists to justify a permanent hard line against Iran. After all, if your adversary is motivated primarily by ideology, then it is less likely to be open to compromise or accommodation. The problem is that this framing has blinded many American analysts to Iran's real motivations: maximizing its security interests in a deeply hostile environment.
Arron Merat made a similar observation in his interesting profile of Qasim Soleimani last week:
US foreign policy gurus continue to view Iran through the lens of the 1980s. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, refers to "Iran's violent export of revolution": he sees the Trump administration's protection of Israel and opposition to Iran as a God-given mission that he will pursue until "the rapture." But while the Americans still regard Iran as an agent of revolution, for Iran's elites revolutionary talk has become mere rhetoric. You can see it in Soleimani's career, which has just as often pursued counter-revolution in the Islamic world as the opposite-propping up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against revolutionary, often millenarian, currents in their societies. What he offers the country is not ideology, but rather the ruthless pursuit of Iranian interests as he sees them.
Portraying Iran as an ideologically-driven "revolutionary" state is useful for fear-mongering, but because it doesn't describe the Iranian government or its foreign policy accurately it leads the U.S. to pursue policies that are divorced from reality. When analysis of another government's behavior starts with such old assumptions that no longer apply, it isn't possible to understand what is happening or how to respond to it. It is as if analysts working on the Soviet Union kept referring to the way the Soviets operated in the 1930s to explain Moscow's behavior in the era of detente. That isn't true of everyone that works on Iran, but it applies to quite a few. One reason for the persistence of this old, inaccurate view of Iran in our foreign policy debates is the dearth of Americans that know Iran really well. The lack of normal diplomatic relations contributes to this lack of knowledge, and it seems indisputable that our Iran policy would become more constructive if normal relations were restored. Normalization won't fix everything, but it is the only way forward over the long term:
Only when the U.S. embassy reopens in Tehran will there be enough regular, businesslike interactions between the two sides for the United States to influence Iranian decision-making.
Iran hawks like to inflate the threat from Iran and compare it to the USSR, but they have no interest in trying to study and understand Iran as well as our government wanted to understand the Soviets. It is easier and cheaper to rely on a simplistic ideological interpretation that bolsters the case for more aggressive policies than it is to get the answers right. Seeking to understand a hostile state might create openings for engagement and reduction of tensions, and that is the very last thing that Iran hawks want.
In the absence of understanding, there is predictably a lot of uninformed anger and hostility that fuels the Iran obsession. There are few other countries that are vilified as consistently in foreign policy debates as Iran has been, and that vilification impairs our ability to understand Iran and to resolve outstanding disagreements with them. Benjamin and Simon add that hostility to Iran has seemed to increase even as Iran's behavior has become less aggressive:
If anything, U.S. antipathy toward Iran has grown more intense over the last two decades, even as Tehran has dialed back its revolutionary ambitions.
Many of our politicians and policymakers have inflated Iran into a major adversary to provide themselves with a foil and a justification for their preferred regional policies, and they have also exaggerated the scale of Iranian ambitions. That has had the effect of convincing most Americans that Iran is a serious menace when it is at most a nuisance as far as U.S. security is concerned. Benjamin and Simon cite Gallup polls that have found that Americans have routinely viewed Iran as a greater enemy than China or Russia in the last two decades:
On 12 occasions over the last 18 years, the polling organization Gallup has asked Americans the question, "What one country anywhere in the world do you consider to be the United States' greatest enemy today?" Iran topped the list five times, ranking higher than China six times and higher than Russia eight times, despite not having nuclear weapons, a deep-water navy, or the ability to project power in any serious fashion.
When we see poll results like that, we can see how irrational and absurd the Iran obsession is. It makes no sense to view a medium-sized country on the other side of the planet that can't do anything to do us as our "greatest enemy" or anything close to it. The U.S. needs to stop catering to its regional clients by adopting their rivals as ours, and it needs to pursue genuine, sustained engagement with Iran to reduce tensions and to contribute to the stabilization of the region. Until that happens, the Iran obsession will continue to poison and distort U.S. foreign policy to the detriment of both of our countries.
The question is WHY; whose purpose is this portrayal of Iran actually serving?
The short but concise answer is: Israel and the Military/Industrial Complex; plus, not surprisingly, the power and influence of the ultra-conservative hardliners in Iran. Promoting the interests of the first two further empowers the Iranian hardliners, whose resulting antagonistic stance against both the United States and Israel becomes a justification for America's increasing support for Israel, and the sale of more arms that brings tens or hundreds of billions in revenue for the military industries - "protection-money" extorted from the oil-rich Arab states who have been told to fear Iran!
The perpetuation of this vicious circle might finally reach a catastrophic explosion, which neither Israel nor Iran could recover from!
A follow-up question is: Why would America want to promote peace and tranquility in the Middle East when instability and mayhem are serving the purpose politically and financially? Should an empire adopt more humane or "civilized" behavior around the globe, and jeopardize its hegemonic control? Would that not risk being replaced by even less globally friendly potential empires waiting to take over?
This is, indeed, a sad epitaph for humanity, which
regards itself as God's favored creation to rule over all else!
About the author:
Kambiz Zarrabi has devoted the last thirty-some years teaching, lecturing and writing about US/Iran relations. Previous to his retirement, his career included working as geologist/geophysicist in the oil and minerals exploration industries with American and Iranian firms and in the private sector. His tenure included serving at Iran's Ministry of Economy as the Director General of Mines in the late 60s and early 70s.
He received his college education at the University of California in Los Angeles, graduating in 1960.
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