Paris, December 4, 2007 – The newly released American National Intelligence Estimate concerning Iran’s nuclear status has been like the discovery of a freshwater spring in a Carolinas swamp.
In its clarity, professionalism and evident concern for exact statement it could not be in more contrast with the bombast, distortion, political rhetoric, dissimulation and sheer lies with which the American public debate over Middle and Near East policy has been conducted during most of the past decade – and thanks to Washington, in most of the western world as well. How could this have happened?
It seems that this NIE has been ready since the summer. A ferocious battle to change or suppress it must have been fought by the president’s and Dick Cheney’s men, as well as by the surviving neo-conservatives in the policy apparatus. Since the document’s first internal government circulation, the president has nonetheless continued saying that Iran’s (non-existent) weapons program threatened world war III.
Have the president and vice president now simply given up serious defense of the policies they have ruthlessly promoted during the last seven years, and the dissimulation and distortion which accompanied most of those policies? That would be an admission that the Bush administration has been worn down or even defeated by forces within the government itself.
Can having made General Michael Hayden Director of Central Intelligence and Robert M. Gates Defense Secretary been sufficient to restore the authority of professional standards, and belief in public duty and candor, within the Washington bureaucracy?
An added intimation of presidential defeat was provided in George W. Bush’s willingness to allow Condoleezza Rice to have her Annapolis conference, and her last grasp for some kind of Middle Eastern progress. The president’s manifest lack of interest in any of it, during his brief visit to Annapolis, and his lack of courtesy towards the Arab leaders who had been bullied or blackmailed into attending, conveyed the sense of a man who has thrown down his cards and now simply wants to get his term over and not look back.
One would like to believe that the appearance of one honest and professional public policy document in the Washington debate is harbinger of a springtime of truth and wisdom. Virtually nothing in the presidential primary season thus far would justify an assumption that the lies, mendacity and manipulation would end, whoever was elected president.
The language of policy and political discussion and debate in the United States has been poisoned during the last seven years, in the U.S. and to a considerable extent abroad, where other governments, and the United Nations, automatically have adopted the vocabulary and concepts current in Washington.
The debasement of language is political, due to the American electoral system, by which campaigning is entirely by unlimited paid television (or radio) advertising, imposing demagogy and simplism, frequently testing the limits of defamation and calumny. It also is due to the power of special interests in Congress and their influence on the public debate in Washington, distorting argument, cultivating euphemism, setting the media agenda, and imposing demagogy.
There has, for example, been little or no honest mainstream public debate on Iran, Iraq, the Palestinians, the other Arabs, and Israel, in the United States since the Israeli war of 1967 and the Iranian revolution of 1979.
The debate has been systematically distorted by considerations of American government desire (and to a considerably lesser extent, that of the American public) for revenge on Iran for the 1979 humiliation of the United States, taking American diplomats prisoner, and the fiasco of the failed American rescue operation a year later.
It is distorted by Israel’s identification of Iran as its most important enemy in the region, now that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has been destroyed, producing global efforts to exaggerate Iran’s regional and international importance, its military potential, and its threat to its neighbors.
It is distorted by a counterproductive American policy to dominate oil production and commerce in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and to exaggerate the true significance of nuclear proliferation, whose interest to a state like Iran, confronting major nuclear powers, is wholly deterrent. Nuclear weapons have no offensive value for a state like Iran; they simply limit the freedom of action of others.
The distortion of language distorts reality. The NIE says Iran gave up its effort to develop nuclear weapons four years ago. Iran has since has been constantly paraded in American official statements as a rogue state on its way to assault the world, against whose power missile defenses must be constructed in the Czech Republic and Poland.
It has all been bunkum, if not calculated lie. There was no Iraq mass destruction weapons threat. There is no Iranian nuclear threat. It was never a serious proposition that Islamic terrorists had to be fought in Iraq to stop them from attacking American cities. There has never been a serious intention in Washington or Jerusalem to allow a two-states settlement in Israel-Palestine. Allied countries nonetheless took all these lies seriously. So did the Palestinians. So, for that matter, did the Iraqis, and so – most of all – did Americans. As the great American carnival showman P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
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