Lessons From the U.S. Stance Towards Iran

by Jeremy R. Hammond / July 9th, 2007


Prior to the military invasion of Iraq in 2003, the government and media,
for whatever various motives, had engaged in a propaganda campaign that
effectively deceived the American people on a massive scale. The propaganda
continues to this day, such as the implausible denial that there ever was
such a campaign and the fabricated myth that there was an "intelligence
failure" leading up to the war. But the propaganda isn't limited to Iraq.
Iran has become a major focus of U.S. propaganda efforts. That this state of
affairs continues demonstrates the failure of the American people to learn
the most obvious lessons from the course of events that led us to be in Iraq
in the first place.

One front in the propaganda war is to blame Iran for the situation that
exists today as a result of U.S. actions. Iran, we are told, supports the
resistance against the U.S. occupation and is intent upon destabilizing the
country. We are told this at the same time that it is acknowledged that
Iran's best interests lie in maintaining friendly relations with the current
Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. No attempt to reconcile the
contradiction is ever made.

The basic framework for present debate concerning Iran is founded upon the
assumption that any Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs is illegitimate and
wrong. The legitimacy of our own actions is unquestionable, and it's
accepted as an axiom that, though we may make mistakes from time to time,
our presence in Iraq is one of benevolence. The U.S. waged a war of
aggression, "the supreme international crime" as defined at Nuremberg,
inflicting death and destruction upon the country and resulting in almost
total destabilization (Iraq was recently ranked second only to Sudan in
Foreign Policy's annual failed states index). But, still, the U.S. is
basically good and her intentions benign; and no one must ever question that
basic assumption.

To point out the obvious, Iraq is a country on the other side of the world
from the U.S. while it shares a border with Iran. We may imagine the U.S.
reaction to the invasion and occupation of, say, Canada, by, say, Russia or
China. The assumption, were the Iranian and U.S. roles to be reversed, would
be precisely the opposite; it would be assumed that the U.S. would have a
"right" to interfere in the affairs of its neighboring country.

That this would be so is self-evident if we set aside the hypothetical and
examine the plethora of examples wherein the U.S. has actually claimed some
sort of inherent right to interfere with the affairs of others. Take the
U.S.'s war against Nicaragua, for which it was condemned by the World Court
for the unlawful use of force. This is an action which, since a proxy armed
group was employed, falls short of an act of aggression and falls into the
category of state-sponsored international terrorism, if we give the U.S. the
benefit of the doubt.

Or look at U.S. interference in Iran. We criticize Iran today for allegedly
interfering in the affairs of its neighbors while having had overthrown the
government of the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh,
and installing the hated Shah, ushering in an era of brutal repression and
ultimately leading to the Islamic revolution that resulted in the Shah's

The hypocrisy of condemning Iran for so much lesser than what the U.S. is
responsible for is lost upon mainstream commentators.
Simply stated, the
framework assumes that when we do it, it's good, but when they do it, it's
bad. If you go outside of that framework, you're some sort of radical and
must hence be disregarded.

There is also the question of whether the claims made against Iran are even
true or not. There's been no shortage of claims made against Iran by the
government and media attempting to demonize the country. In one particularly
noteworthy example, U.S. News & World Report ran a story that claimed
Iranian troops had "surrounded and attacked" American soldiers "well within
the border of Iraq". The claimed source for this sensational "exclusive" was
a U.S. Army report. The interesting thing is that the Army report contained
no such information. Anyone who actually took the time to examine the source
for the story, conveniently supplied to readers by the U.S. News & World
Report website, could see that it doesn't say American troops were
"surrounded", but "approached" by Iranian soldiers from whom they retreated
(which they couldn't have done had they been surrounded); and the report
states explicitly that it was uncertain whether this incident actually
occurred in Iraq or not. The author, to put it plainly, lied and fabricated
a "news" story which U.S. News & World Report found fit to print.1 While
certainly an instructive example of deceitful propaganda for its blatant
dishonesty, it is by no means the only one.

In February, the Pentagon held a press conference to provide evidence to
support months of claims that Iran had been supporting attacks upon American
troops in Iraq. President Bush had claimed that "Iran is providing material
support for attacks on American troops." Government officials said that
weapons were being smuggled into Iraq by an elite unit of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard known as Quds Force on orders "coming from the highest
levels of the Iranian government." But at the press conference, the defense
analyst present acknowledged the inconclusiveness of the evidence, noting
that such conclusions were based on "inference" and that "The smoking gun of
an Iranian standing over an American with a gun, it's never going to

At the heart of the controversy was the "explosively formed penetrator", or
EFP, an explosive device that projects a slug of metal when it explodes.
According to the government and media, these weapons have been provided to
Iraqis by Iran. This was admittedly a conclusion based upon the assumptions
that the components for these weapons could not be manufactured in Iraq and
that they must have been provided to Iraqis with the knowledge of the
Iranian government. On one hand, this conclusion assumes Iraqis (whom we
were told prior to the invasion were on the verge of constructing a nuclear
bomb) would not be capable of producing the necessary components, and on the
other that foreign-made components could not be purchased, either openly or
on the black market, without the knowledge and blessing of the government in
the country where they were manufactured. Both assumptions are, needless to
say, highly questionable.2

In the latest manifestation of the same story, a New York Times headline
tells us that "Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.'s", at least according to
the U.S. government. The article was based on a Pentagon press conference in
which Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner detailed the extent of Iran's alleged
involvement in what the Times called "the most specific allegation of
Iranian involvement in an attack that killed American troops".

Bergner claimed that "The Iranian Quds Force is using Lebanese Hezbollah
essentially as a proxy, as a surrogate in Iraq" in order to destabilize Iraq
and attack U.S. forces. The Times noted that while earlier briefings focused
"on accusations about an Iranian role focused on technical analyses of arms
said to have been supplied by Iran to Shiite militias in Iraq, including
explosively formed penetrators, some critics said the evidence was
circumstantial and charged that the Americans appeared to be offering a new
rationale for maintaining or increasing the military commitment in Iraq."
The Pentagon was trying to present that "smoking gun" image of "an Iranian
standing over an American with a gun". But this is as much examination into
the views and skepticism of "some critics" that the Times was willing to

According to the Pentagon, information upon which the newest claim is based
was "drawn from interrogations of three men". One of the men, Bergner
claimed, was a Lebanese Hezbollah agent. The other two, so we have been
told, were Iraqis working as agents for the Iranian Quds Force. Bergner for
some reason felt it necessary to stress that this information was not
extracted from these individuals by means of torture: "We don't torture. We
follow scrupulously the interrogation techniques in the Army's new field
manual which forbids torture and has the force of law."3

Of course, the truth of this statement depends upon how one defines
"torture", differentiated in international law from "inhuman or degrading
treatment", which the U.S. does do, including the use of "stress positions",
sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other interrogation methods of dubious
legality and questionable morality.4

General Bergner, the Pentagon spokesman, claimed that the Hezbollah agent
had "helped the Quds Force in training Iraqis inside Iran" and that these
groups had been responsible for violence in Iraq. "I think the reality of
this is that they're killing American forces, they're killing Iraqis,
they're killing Iraqi security forces, and they are disrupting the stability
in Iraq." Again, of course, it's not bad when we do it. That goes without

Bergner went further, adding that "the senior leadership in Iran is aware of
this activity." Of course, no evidence was provided to support any of these
claims, and the public is expected to take the word of government
spokespersons at face value. Hezbollah reportedly rejected the claims, and
Iran responded by calling Bergner's story "fabricated and ridiculous". The
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "It has been four and a half years
that U.S. officials have sought to cover up the dreadful situation in Iraq,
which is a result of their mistakes and wrong strategies, by denigrating and
blaming others."

For a long time now, there have been calls from prominent Americans for
bombing Iran. After the Pentagon briefing, Senator Joseph J. Lieberman said,
"The fact is that the Iranian government has by its actions declared war on
us" and that "a credible threat of force" against Iran was necessary. While
he fell short of previous calls to bomb the country, he reiterated the often
heard remark that we must keep open "the possibility of using military force
against the terrorist infrastructure inside Iran."5 The consequences of the
U.S. use of violence in Iraq are not enough; we must also wage, or at least
threaten to wage, violence against Iran.

While the resistance movement against the U.S. occupation is predominantly
comprised of Sunni Muslims, various Shiite militias - most notably the Mahdi
Army - have also taken up arms against the occupying power. It is the Shiite
groups that Iran is said to support. The truth of the allegations is
uncertain, but the interesting thing about the debate is the assumption,
accepted as a truism, that it is wrong for Iran to do so while the
legitimacy of our own actions is unquestionable. We support various groups
and militias, but it's condemnable when Iran also does so. We invade and
occupy a foreign nation on the other side of the world, but it's an outrage
when Iran interferes in the affairs of its neighbor. We wage violence and
cause immense suffering, throwing an entire nation into chaos, and yet
somehow we are still capable of pointing a finger at Iran, projecting onto
Iran our own image - the image of a monster.

That the discussion coming from the government and media could continue as
long as it has under this basic framework, the incredible hypocrisy as the
proverbial elephant in the room, speaks volumes about American society and
the willingness of people on such a massive scale to deceive themselves
about their own role and the role of their own government in the world.

It's understandable that nobody likes to look in the mirror and see a
monster. But it's unjustifiable for a nation of people to see what they want
to see instead of facing up to reality when the consequences of such
self-imposed delusion are so real, so profound, and so deadly to other
people of other nations.