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2009

Iran: Riding The "Green Wave" At The Campaign For Peace And Democracy And Beyond - Part I
Thursday, 06 August 2009 05:18
by Media Lens (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson )

There are many problems with the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's "Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis," issued by the CPD on July 7, and widely circulated since then.

The CPD adopted this format, it tells us, because "some on the left, and others as well, have questioned the legitimacy of and the need for solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement," and the CPD believes "those questions need to be squarely addressed."

We believe, on the contrary, that the CPD's 13 questions-and-answers do little to clarify issues related to Iran's June 12 presidential election and its tumultuous aftermath, and even less to help leftists and "American progressives" decide how they should respond to them.

As we try to show below, when stripped of its didactic format, this Q&A amounts to little more than an emotional plea to its target audience to surrender what remains of their leftist instincts (long under siege in the States, and shrinking rapidly), and join its authors for a ride on the "green wave" of yet another color-coded campaign that fits well with one of their government's longest-running programs of destabilization and regime-change. We believe that any "confusion" felt by the left and "American progressives" towards these events is a confusion that has been sown by our would-be instructors.

1. Consider first the CPD's selectivity. A look at its "Past Sign-on Statements and Letters" and elsewhere on its website (e.g., "Statement of Purpose") shows that, in contrast to its lengthy, 4,000-word Q&A of July 7, as well as its earlier statement on the "Crisis in Iran" (June 17), the CPD has yet to put up a Q&A related to or a statement announcing its solidarity with the mass demonstrations in Honduras after the June 27-28 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of the country, Manuel Zelaya. Neither has the CPD announced its solidarity with the 100 or more indigenous victims of a June 5 massacre by the government of Alan García in Peru, which some groups are calling the "Amazon's Tiananmen," nor with the high numbers of civilian victims of the several-year-long U.S. and NATO bombing campaigns over Afghanistan and Pakistan, now sharply escalated by the new Democratic administration.

If we expand the purview of perpetrator-and-victim sets beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan to other theaters of U.S. and NATO violence, the possibilities for Q&A's and shows of solidarity with the victims would become unmanageably large. But as of July 2009, shouldn’t Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Honduras rate a very high priority among American progressives precisely because the U.S. government and its military are destructively engaged in the first two theaters, and in the third, where the U.S. is deeply involved in training and arming the military, and where its influence is unmistakable, almost surely could have prevented the coup, and still could easily reverse it, had the U.S. leadership wanted it reversed?

Given that Hosni Mubarak's Egypt is on the U.S. payroll and a part of the "global spider's web" of secret prisons run by Washington, shouldn't we have been more concerned with Egypt's last presidential election in September 2005, which Mubarak, effectively Egypt's president-for-life, won with 89% of the vote? Shouldn't we pay more attention to the complete absence of elections in U.S. client Saudi Arabia? Or to client-state Mexico, where presidential elections have a long history of vote-rigging, the last one, in July 2006, stolen in favor of the pro-business, U.S.-favored candidate Felipe Calderon, and inspiring a massive tent-city protest in the center of Mexico City to demonstrate people's support for the leftist runner-up, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador?

In each of these theaters and the many others that fall within the U.S. sphere of influence and responsibility, the potential benefits of a sustained left-critique and consciousness-raising about U.S. policy and its devastating impact on the lives of people are far greater than anything to be gained by urging "solidarity" with dissenters in a distant land where the U.S. influence for constructive purposes is minimal, but its hostile and destructive interventionism has been and remains great.

2. Is it a mere coincidence that these neglected matters, all of which bear undeniably on the cause of peace and democracy, are also ones in which a thoughtful Q&A would inevitably challenge U.S. policy action or inaction, whereas a focus on Iran at this moment fits instead the long-term U.S. policy of demonization, isolation, sanctions, destabilization, and eventual regime-change?


Contemporaneous New York Times coverage of events inside Iran and Honduras (for example) reflects exactly the same set of priorities: That is, on the one hand, a heavy focus on the Iranian election, the charge of vote-fraud on behalf of Ahmadinejad, the protests against this, the violent crackdown across Iranian society, and the shaken legitimacy of the Islamic Republic; and, on the other hand, the downplaying of the Honduran coup and the protests and repression there, the possible U.S. role behind the scene, the credulous reporting of the formula repeated by the Obama administration that it seeks the "restoration of the democratic order in Honduras," rather than of the ousted President, sober questions about what the Honduran Constitution does and does not permit, and a barely concealed apologetics for the coup.

The contrast in the Times's treatment of Iran and Honduras for the first 15 days of coverage after the June 12 election (i.e., June 13 - June 27) and after the June 28 coup (i.e., June 29 - July 13) has been dramatic. The Times devoted at least 61 reports to Iran, and 19 to Honduras, with at least 21 of the Iran reports beginning on Section 1, page 1; in fact, the Times devoted page-1 reports to Iran consecutively for all 15 days in our sample. Only two reports on Honduras started on page 1. The Times also devoted 14 op-eds and 2 editorials to Iran, but only 2 op-eds and 1 editorial to Honduras.

In terms of content, the Times's opinion pages unequivocally rejected the fairness and legitimacy of Iran's election and its government's handling of the protests. (Its two editorials were "Neither Real Nor Free" (June 15) and "Iran's Nonrepublic" (June 18).) But when discussing Honduras, it was the legitimacy and tactics of Manuel Zelaya's government that the Times and its contributors questioned, with Zelaya dismissed as an "ally" of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, "The Winner in Honduras: Chavez" (June 30) and the editorial "Mr. Arias Steps In" (July 10)), and a politician whose "larger goal seemed to be a change from our democratic system into a kind of 21st century socialism…to create a Hugo Chavez-type of government" (Roger Marin Neda, "Who Cares About Zelaya?" (July 7)).

For progressive Americans, aren't the New York Time's priorities upside-down? But then how about those of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy? It is interesting that the CPD actually lauds the news media's performance on Iran, claiming that "there is no good evidence so far that Western news reports on the government's electoral fraud and violence repression of dissent have been fundamentally inaccurate" (#7). But there were gross inaccuracies in the establishment media's assertion of vote fraud.

As Mark Weisbrot points out, the first sentence in the lead, front-page story run by the New York Times on June 23 reported that "Iran's most powerful oversight council announced on Monday [June 22] that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million, further tarnishing a presidential election that has set off the most sustained challenge to Iran's leadership in 30 years."

Yet, Weisbrot adds, Iran's Guardian Council had actually stated something completely different: Candidates campaigns have said that in 80-170 towns and cities, more people have voted than are eligible voters. We have determined, based on preliminary studies, that there are only about 50 such cities or towns….The total number of votes in these cities or towns is something close to three million; therefore, even if we were to throw away all of these votes, it would not change the result.

So there were 3 million total votes in the 50 towns and cities, not 3 million over-votes. Furthermore, the over-votes did not prove fraud. Iranians can vote at any polling place, so it is—according to the government—common to have more votes than eligible voters where there are a lot of commuters, vacationers, or areas where the voting districts are not clearly delineated. Yet the Times misleading report was picked up widely and used to convince people that the government had “admitted” to having stolen three million votes.

Given the U.S. news media's history of systematically biased and unreliable reporting on issues central to U.S. foreign policy and when dealing with an official enemy, is the CPD's position on media coverage of Iran's election credible? We wonder if the CPD also found media performance on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq to be fundamentally accurate, ca. 2002-2003? Or on Israel's recent wars against Lebanon (2006) and the Gaza Palestinians (early 2009)? Or on the alleged "threat" that Iran's nuclear program poses to the world? Or is it just the news media's performance on the election and its aftermath in Iran that the CPD finds fundamentally sound?

3. By portraying the Islamic Republic as even more of an outlaw regime than it had been portrayed prior to June 12, doesn't this intensive focus on discrediting the Iranian election feed nicely into the U.S.-Israeli destabilization and regime-change campaign? No matter how much the CPD protests otherwise (#13), doesn't its call for "solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement" and its advocacy for "a different form of government in Iran" encourage leftists to pull-down their natural defenses against U.S. imperialism?

Much intelligent analysis has pointed to similarities between a strategy employed by the Mousavi camp in June 2009, and the strategy's use in earlier campaigns of destabilization against U.S. targets for regime-change that date back to the elections in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and the Ukraine in 2004, to name three where it succeeded. As was the case in these three other countries, the challenger Mousavi and his aides started by declaring Mousavi the "definite winner" by very wide margins on the day of the election (Friday, June 12), long before the polls had closed and the votes were counted; one Mousavi aide even told Agence France Presse that "Mousavi has got 65% of the votes cast," a "landslide victory," AFP called it.

This was followed by Mousavi's claim on the next day (Saturday, June 13) that his rightful victory and therefore the will of the Iranian people had been stolen by the incumbent President Ahmadinejad's supporters in the Ministry of the Interior, with the official result delegitimized; from here went the calls to Iranians and all democracy-loving peoples the world-over to reject it.

But the regnant portrayal of Iran's 2009 election as a sham, riddled with fraud and illegitimate, also reminds us of the Reagan administration's propaganda campaign in 1984, which focused on the hostile Sandinista treatment of the newspaper La Prensa, the withdrawal of Contra leader Arturo Cruz from the election, and other actions that delegitimized it, thus justifying further U.S.-sponsored terrorism. As early as July 1984, Ronald Reagan himself had likened the Sandinistas' proposal to hold elections in November to a "Soviet-style sham."

The editors of the New York Times picked-up on their President's rhetoric, warning first that "If [the Sandinistas] go forward with plans to hold a sham vote..., they will confirm Mr. Reagan's thesis" (October 7), and concluding one month later that "Only the naïve believe that [the] election in Nicaragua was democratic or legitimizing proof of the Sandinistas' popularity…. The Sandinistas made it easy to dismiss their election as a sham" (November 7).

For progressive Americans who'd like to "make it clear to the Iranian people that there is 'another America', one that is independent of the government and opposed to its oppressive and anti-democratic foreign policy" (#12), but whose memory of their own government's history has yet to be Twittered-away, isn't the net-effect of the CPD's activism to increase the likelihood that the next president of Iran, some time in 2013 (if not sooner), will be a U.S.-supported candidate—in the pattern of the "remarkable victory" of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990 that delivered a "devastating rebuke to the Sandinistas," as the New York Times editorialized, a "clear mandate for peace and democracy," in the first President Bush's words?

4. Even the language used by the CPD displays a revealing bias. At no place in its July 7 Q&A does the CPD refer to the United States or to Washington or to any U.S. leader as "murderous" or "vicious" or "barbaric," or any U.S. action as "ferocious." Instead, such language is reserved for U.S. targets such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic (#9), and for the clerical-state in Iran. Thus, the CPD's introduction speaks of their "horror at the ferocious response" of Iran and the "brutal repression" in support of the "electoral fraud," and later the CPD refers to the "ferocious violence of the security forces" against the protestors and the general public (#8).

But in the CPD's November 2002 statement (later updated), "We Oppose Both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War on Iraq: A Call for a New Democratic U.S. Foreign Policy," such invidious language is used only to describe the regime of Saddam Hussein, whom it calls a "killer and serial aggressor," and a "tyrant who should be removed from power," but never the United States.

"War"—not George Bush or the United States—but "War threatens massive harm to Iraqi civilians," the CPD stated, "and will encourage international bullies to pursue further acts of aggression."

The CPD recognized that President Bush's objective was "to expand and solidify U.S. predominance in the Middle East, at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives if necessary" (and many more, ultimately). But this didn't make the United States or Washington or President Bush a "bully," a "killer and serial aggressor," or a "terrorist" on a grand scale.

5. The CPD goes to great length to deny that the post-June 12 protests in Iran can be regarded as a consequence of U.S. policy towards that country, and is adamant that U.S. interference played no role in the election and its aftermath. "[F]oreign meddling does not prove foreign control," the CPD asserts, and "foreign meddling does not automatically discredit mass movements or their goals; it depends on who is calling the shots... . [T]there is no evidence that the CIA or any other arm of U.S. intelligence—or Mossad—had anything to do with initiating or leading the protests in Iran...[T]there has been not a scrap of credible evidence that the millions of people in the streets these past few weeks were brought out by CIA money" (#6).

But "foreign control" and "calling the shots" are extreme forms of foreign meddling, and we regard them as straw men of the CPD's making. Another straw man is the CPD's repudiation of the notion that "millions of people in the streets" were on the CIA's payroll, the CPD implying strongly that the consequences of U.S. meddling are too insignificant to be a factor.

But who ever said that huge numbers of Iranians were on the CIA's payroll? More to the point: Does the CPD have any "credible evidence" that none of them are?

Surely the CPD knows that in early 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested $75 million "in emergency funding to step up pressure on the Iranian government, including expanding radio and television broadcasts into Iran and promoting internal opposition to the rule of religious leaders"? Before the money was appropriated by Congress, $15 million of it was channeled "toward grants for software programmers who specialize in creating programs that thwart Internet firewalls erected by repressive countries such as Iran and China. The idea, which was championed by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), is intended to assist dissidents without making them the target of arrests and harassment."

The CPD ignores ABC TV's report in 2007 that the CIA "received secret presidential approval to mount a covert 'black' operation to destabilize the Iranian government," a policy that "would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," retired CIA officer Bruce Riedel told ABC. The CPD also ignores Seymour Hersh's report about a "major escalation of covert operations against Iran," worth $400 million, and "designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership." One source familiar with the presidential order told Hersh that its purpose was "to undermine the [Iranian] government through regime change," and involved "working with opposition groups and passing [out] money." As always with how the U.S. "intelligence" agencies spend their massive budgets, the potential for additional unreported operations is great.

The CPD ignores the existence, let alone the impact, of multiple, large, and overlapping governmental and nongovernmental programs devoted to developing the media and expertise necessary for "democratic movements" in other countries, and to "strengthen the bond between indigenous democratic movements abroad and the people of the United States," as the National Endowment for Democracy describes its mission.

Despite President Obama's semi-apologetic admission in his speech at Cairo University the week before Iran's election that the United States once "played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," USA Today reports that "The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents,...continuing a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President Bush." Part of the purpose of the $15 million Near Eastern Regional Democracy Initiative, a Senate Appropriations committees spokesman told USA Today, "is to expand access to information and communications through the Internet for Iranians."

In short, there is extensive evidence of U.S. meddling inside Iran, over a very long period of time, and these efforts cannot simply be dismissed as old-style leftist hyperbole.

6. Also relevant to assessing the true nature and scope of U.S. interference in the lives of Iran's 70 million people—and their election process—but virtually ignored by the CPD are the massive U.S. wars in neighboring Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, the constant threats of attack by the United States and Israel, the use of the International Atomic Energy Agency dating back to 2003 to harass Iran over its legal and NPT-compliant nuclear program, and the serious economic and political sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States, its allies, and the Security Council—all of which add-up to a sum that vastly exceeds "foreign meddling," and the impact of which cannot be dismissed by asserting that there is "no evidence that" the CIA has engineered yet another coup on the model of its 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddeq.

Isn't U.S.-organized economic warfare that reduces Iranian standards of living over many years, along with the likelihood that it can only be ended by a U.S.-approved political transformation, a grave form of foreign intervention in Iranian politics, in the June 12 election, and in its aftermath? Isn't it reminiscent of Reagan's and Bush One's blackmailing threat to continue the Contra's terrorist war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua until the people removed the Sandinistas from power? Isn't the CPD's insistence that "American progressives" can safely discount these forms of foreign intervention as having played no important role in recent events inside Iran a form of apologetics for the same ugly operations?

7. Apart from these ongoing destabilization campaigns, a series of reports since early July have described plans and training for possible future Israeli military attacks on Iran's nuclear program. It is important to remember that such reports have been regular features in the Western media for six years running, invariably contain a psychological warfare component, and are even discussed as psy-ops inside Iran.

But this time we notice some novel features to the reports, including an agreement with Egypt for Israeli warships to pass through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, an agreement with Saudi Arabia permitting the Israeli air force to traverse Saudi airspace, several long-range, joint U.S. and NATO training missions with the Israeli Air Force, and joint U.S.-Israeli tests of the Arrow interceptor missile "designed to defend Israel from missile attacks by Iran and Syria," according to the London Times. "It is not by chance that Israel is drilling long-range maneuvers in a public way," an Israeli defense official stated. "This is not a secret operation. This is something that has been published and will showcase Israel's abilities."

There is also U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's response to question by George Stephanopoulos on ABC - TV in the States, widely interpreted as giving a virtual go-ahead to an Israeli bombing attack on Iran:

Stephanopoulos: [I]f the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

Biden: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

We find it damning that as these U.S. and Israeli threats to attack Iran have escalated in June and especially in July, the U.S.-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy, while remaining silent on this major threat to international peace and security posed by the United States and Israel, which if carried out would undoubtedly kill many more Iranian civilians than the Iranian government has killed since June 12, initiated its campaign to delegitimize Iran's June 12 election as its cause celebre—and in effect laid down with the lions.

Part II (with endnotes) will follow shortly...
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Jared Israel said:

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Mr. Herman tries to drown out Iran
Mr. Herman's piece is a symphony of arrogant error. For example, Herman has the marvelous capacity to present as evidence for his thesis what is in fact evidence that disproves his thesis. Case in point: he claims that the quantity and status of New York Times pieces covering the conflicts in Honduras and in Iran show that, coincident with the establishment, the Times wishes to focus attention onto the one and away from the other. To this end, he says, during the 15 days after the Iran election the Times ran 61 stories on iran, while in the 15 days following the Honduras coup it only ran 19 on Honduras. That is of a bit more than three to one. Now, Iran, a country of 70 million plus inhabitants, is at the center of what is generally perceived - including, in the past, by Mr. Herman - as the most important conflict in the world. It has a unique governing apparatus, based on a theory of a semi-divine leader, plus Sharia law, plus a fanatically religious "revolutionary" organization that both controls much of the economy and acts as an above-the-law ideological guardian and represser of the people, reminiscent of Mussolini's black shirts. Iran is a world power that played a decisive role in the Yugoslav wars (sponsoring Islamic extremists in Bosnia and effectively lobbying to weaken Milosevic's support for the Bosnian Serbs) and it is convincingly accused of arming/directing Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. It is also of great importance regarding Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. The mass demonstrations immediately after the elections involved millions of people, with state violence on a spectacular scale, viewable in hundreds of amateur videos uploaded to the Internet -- giving us an intimate view of this struggle, a view unique in human history. In retaliation, the Iranian regime instituted a heretofore unique terror, including tracking down and arresting young people who posted the videos on the Internet. And the key point: the struggle has revealed massive dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic, which, if we are intellectually honest, must force all of us to rethink our world. By contrast, Honduras is a tiny country experiencing an important but not world shaking trauma, forcing nobody to rethink anything. If Herman is right that the Times wrote about Hondurus 1/3 as much as it did about Iran; if Herman is right that in the relevant periods, the Times ran two editorials about Iran and one about Honduras; then, manifestly, the Times has greatly downplayed the relative importance of events in these two countries *in favor of Honduras* and trivializing the world-shaking events - the most important events so far this century - in Iran. Methinks Mr. Herman is quite upset about Iran because it makes a mockery of his long standing apologia for Islamic extremism in the Middle East. After all, if this is how Iran's rulers treat Iranians, and if Hamas and Hezbollah are the Iranian Islamists' Islamists, then how should one suspect that, away from the public view, but in reality, Hamas and Hezbollah treat ordinary people, who are assumed to be supporters of Islamism because they never publicly oppose it? Iran shows that millions of Muslims hate Islamist clerical fascism, and Herman, being an apologist for this quaint form of fascism, doesn't like this, and so he cries: "this is all illusion, illusion, do you hear?"
 
August 14, 2009 | url
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