New York Times Hypes Iran Threat By Pretending Not To

By David Swanson,

The New York Times doesn’t mention the pivotal role it played in lying us into a war in Iraq, but it doesn’t have to. Everybody knows. On Wednesday, the Times put this article on its front page, and I highly recommend it as an ideal liner for bird cages:

In Dispute With Iran, Path to Iraq Is in Spotlight
By SCOTT SHANE, New York Times

WASHINGTON — To many Americans, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations on Iraq’s unconventional weapons was powerfully persuasive. It was a dazzling performance, featuring satellite images and intercepts of Iraqi communications, delivered by one of the most trusted figures in public life.

And to most people around the world and to many Americans it was a transparent crock blatantly misrepresented by the US media. And even if it hadn’t been, we all now know that it consisted of a pile of intentional lies and “evidence” derived from torture.

Then a long and costly war began, and the country discovered that the assertions that Iraq possessed illicit weapons had been completely unfounded.

Now the United States’ confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is heating up, with the disclosure last week that the Iranian government is building a second uranium enrichment complex it had not previously acknowledged.

It had not previously acknowledged it, because it was not operational and still isn’t. Iran announced it far ahead of the schedule required by international agreement.

The question is inevitable: Is the uproar over the secret plant near Qum another rush to judgment, based on ambiguous evidence, spurred on by a desire to appear tough toward a loathed regime? In other words, is the United States repeating the mistakes of 2002?

In what sense is it a secret plant? In what sense is there some question as to whether the plant exists? Whose mind have you read to determine that the motivation for the lies you only hint at here has been to appear tough? How do you know that the motivation is not to justify an attack on Iran by the United States or Israel? Proving that a plant openly disclosed ahead of schedule exists does absolutely nothing to prove that it is going to be used to make weapons, so why are you trying to conflate the two questions? Proving that it is going to be used to make weapons does absolutely nothing to prove that such weapons would be used in a national suicide by attacking the United States or its colonies. Proving that a nation has weapons does not in any legal sense justify launching a war. The claims that Iraq had weapons, as laughable and tragic as they were, would not have legalized a war of aggression even if true. Shouldn’t the New York Times, which pushed both the idea that the possession of weapons justified a war and the lies about the weapons take a step back and examine both points?

Antiwar activists, with a fool-me-once skepticism, watch the dispute over the Qum plant with an alarmed sense of déjà vu. And some specialists on arms control and Iran are asking for more evidence and warning against hasty conclusions.

Antiwar activists were not fooled the first time. And it is an overwhelming majority of Americans — who god knows are mostly not active — who don’t believe the lies this time around. Why do you say “more evidence” when you have not offered the first crumb of any evidence that Iran is making nuclear weapons. If you mean more evidence that the nuclear power plant exists, what the hell more evidence could you want than an open announcement of it far ahead of the required schedule?

But while the similarities between 2002, when the faulty intelligence estimates were produced, and 2009 are unmistakable, the differences are profound.

Faulty? Estimates? The documentation of intentional lies is beyond dispute, and the New York Times more than anyone else in the world has an obligation to admit it, and to admit having missed or collaborated in it. There is also now a history of years of disproved lies about Iran. The similarities have long been profound. Let’s see what you think is so profound about the differences.

This time, by all accounts, there is no White House-led march toward war. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that military action would merely delay Iranian nuclear weapons for one to three years, and there is no evidence that President Obama wants to add a third war to his responsibilities.

All accounts? Whose vice president was it who recently defended Israel’s absurd alleged sovereign right to attack Iran? Whose president interrupted a summit on economics to warn of the “discovery” of the “secret” plant that Iran had publicly announced? No evidence Obama wants a third war? What do you call the endless bombing of Pakistan? What is under consideration is the bombing of Iran, not the occupation of it. You may not consider bombing to constitute a war, but the people of Iran will.

This time, too, the dispute over facts is narrower. Iran has admitted the existence of nuclear enrichment facilities, and on Tuesday it acknowledged that it was building the plant underground, next to a military base, for its protection.

No shit? You don’t say. I wouldn’t call that a narrow dispute. I might even go so far as to call that no dispute at all.

Still, Iran disputes claims that the plant is part of a weapons program.

This, on the other hand, I would not call narrow. I would call it an infinite chasm. The United States says without any evidence that Iran is building weapons, or might be, or could consider doing so – which almost sounds even scarier. And Iran says that is not true. Neither is Iran pretending to be building weapons in order to facilitate its own destruction, as our media pundits love to falsely claim that Iraq did. Iran is stating clearly and unequivocally that it is not building nuclear weapons.

American intelligence officials say that they learned a traumatic lesson from the Iraqi weapons debacle, and that assessments of Iran’s nuclear program are hedged and not influenced by political or policy considerations.

Horseshit. They lied and did not need to learn that they had lied. There is nothing OTHER than policy considerations shaping announcements that Iran is building weapons or might be, or announcments that Iran has done something different from what the United States and Israel and other nations do when it has tested missiles.

“We’d let the country down, and we wanted to make sure it would never happen again,” said Thomas Fingar, who before the Iraq war led the State Department’s intelligence bureau, which dissented from the inaccurate claims about Iraq’s nuclear program. Dissent from majority views in intelligence assessments is now encouraged, and assumptions are spelled out, said Mr. Fingar, who is now at Stanford University.

“Now, it’s much more of a transparent tussle of ideas,” he said.

Good. At least the next war launched from Stanford won’t be launched. That’s a relief.

That tussle produced a surprising conclusion in a 2007 national intelligence assessment on Iran’s nuclear program: that Tehran’s work on designing a warhead was halted in 2003. Today, the American view is that the design work has still not resumed, a more conservative stance than that of some close allies, who say they believe the work has resumed or never stopped at all, including Germany, Israel and, according to a report Tuesday by The Financial Times, Britain.

When there is evidence for such claims, you should report it. The IAEA and the United Nations should address it. But there STILL will not be the slightest glimmer of a legal justification for bombing another country.

In assessing the construction near Qum, the Central Intelligence Agency “formed its conclusions carefully and patiently over time, weighing and testing each piece of information that came in,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “This was a major intelligence success.”

Not all are persuaded. Glenn Greenwald, an author and a left-leaning blogger for the online magazine Salon, called the parallels with the charges that Iraq had so-called weapons of mass destruction in 2002 “substantial and disturbing.”

“The administration is making inflammatory claims about another country’s W.M.D. program and intentions without providing any evidence,” he said.

Why in the hell do you have to quote someone else and call him left-leaning in order to note that there is no evidence. Either there is evidence or there isn’t. Why not report that? Why not put it in the first paragraph?

Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University, said that ever since 1992, American officials had claimed that Iran was just a few years away from a nuclear bomb. Like Saddam Hussein, the clerical government in Iran is “despised,” he said, leading to worst-case assumptions.

“In 2002, it seemed utterly naïve to believe Saddam didn’t have a program,” Mr. Sick said. Now, the notion that Iran is not racing to build a bomb is similarly excluded from serious discussion, he said.

Utterly naive? Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice reached that conclusion in 2001. George Tenet made it clear to Sir Richard Dearlove, and Alan Foley made it clear to CIA analysts, in 2002. Powell described weapons at the United Nations based on the account provided by Hussein Kamel who had, although Powell didn’t mention this, also reported that all of the weapons had long since been destroyed. Joseph Wilson made his debunking trip to Africa in 2002, and later wrote about it in a well-known but highly over-rated US newspaper.

Mr. Sick, like some in the intelligence community, said he believed that Iran might intend to stop short of building a weapon while creating “breakout capability” — the ability to make a bomb in a matter of months in the future. That chain of events might allow room for later intervention.

Allow room for intervention? Is that New York Times speak for legalize bombing? Because according to actual laws, such a thing does not legalize bombing. Nor is bombing likely to help in such a situation. Didn’t you already quote Gates on that?

Without actually constructing a bomb, Iran could gain the influence of being an almost nuclear power, without facing the repercussions that would ensue if it finished the job.

In other words, Iran could be blamed for an Israeli or US attack on Iran even if Iran doesn’t violate any laws? So, we’ve moved from fighting wars in defense, to fighting wars against countries with imaginary weapons and imaginary ties to al Qaeda, to fighting wars against countries that we openly admit don’t have weapons but that we think might build them (and we don’t even bother with the al Qaeda lies anymore)? This is the new transparency? Why does the old dishonesty start to look attractive?

Greg Thielmann, an intelligence analyst in the State Department before the Iraq war, said he believed that the Iran intelligence assessments were far more balanced, in part because there was not the urgent pressure from the White House to reach a particular conclusion, as there was in 2002. But he said he was bothered by what he said was an exaggerated sense of crisis over the Iranian nuclear issue.

“Some people are saying time’s running out and we have to act by the end of the year,” said Mr. Thielmann, now a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association. “I’ve been arguing that we have years, not months. The facts argue for a calmer approach.”

Years until what? Years until we attack another country?

David Albright, a former nuclear arms inspector who is now the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran’s “well-documented history of undeclared nuclear programs” lent credibility to American suspicions.

Still, Mr. Albright said, the government must provide more information to back up its charges. On the Qum plant, for example, he asked, do intelligence agencies have evidence that it was intended to produce weapons-grade uranium, or merely that it could accommodate the equipment for such a purpose?

“They have to show their hand,” he said of American intelligence agencies. “Or we don’t have to believe them.”

Again you fail to point out that this is not an opinion but a statement of the most important fact in play here.

In many dissections of the blunders before the Iraq war, the news media, including The New York Times, came in for a share of the criticism, for repeating Bush administration claims about Iraq without sufficient scrutiny or skepticism.

An excellent admission, if far from sufficient. The New York Times facilitated those claims by obediently publishing selected bits of declassified “intelligence” thus permitting the warmongers to talk about those misleading reports.

Mr. Greenwald, the Salon blogger, said he found in the coverage about the Qum plant little improvement in the performance of the press. “There is virtually no questioning of whether this facility could be used for civilian purposes, or whether Iran’s reporting it more than a year before operability demonstrates its good faith,” he said.

Well said by Greenwald. Badly buried at the bottom and presented as a biased quote by Shane.

Greg Mitchell, whose 2008 book “So Wrong for So Long” analyzed the media’s failures on Iraq, said he would give the Iran coverage better marks. “I don’t see the same level of blindly accepting what the hawks are saying,” said Mr. Mitchell, editor of the trade publication Editor & Publisher. “I think the press has learned some lessons.”

That’s a very low hurdle to clear, and we should hardly be complimenting a performance as shabby as this one.

David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town:

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