A stern faced broadcaster opens against a backdrop of military drums and bold captions: “ The Sum of All Fears”! He goes on to speak of President Obama as the “Commander in Chief” – and announces that the “conflict with Iran is escalating”.
A map of the strait of Hormuz, reminiscent of war room paraphernalia flashes, pointing to the “apparent provocation” by an Iranian vessel, which got so close to an American navy ship that the latter was “forced to fire flares” in response to the “hostile action”.
Then came the MSNBC report, which in an eerie echo of the run up to the Iraq invasion, opened with: “…now that it looks like Iran is actually trying to start a war either with the United States or with Israel…” and went on to ask his guest whether there was still hope for diplomacy even after the attacks against the Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand.
All this alarmist talk may be great for TV ratings, and perfect consumption material for an audience who by now fear all things Middle East, but it raises serious questions as to the role of media in a democracy and their responsibility to provide unbiased account of all sides over public airwaves.
In fact, the hostile elements were small smuggling boats, hardly a match for an aircraft carrier, not belonging to the Iranian government, its military or even the revolutionary guards and acting on their own. It would be like bracing for war with the Somali government in response to the Somali pirates – although wait – did we do that? – Furthermore, the details of the bomb blasts are still unclear despite the almost buffoonish episode in Bangkok which left an Iranian legless, so let’s not buckle up for war just yet. Perhaps they were behind the blasts, why pick India, or Thailand as staging grounds and risk losing friendly allies in a shrinking network of trading partners. More puzzling — if they did mean to teach Israel a lesson for the assassination of their nuclear scientists, why not take credit? i.e. what is the point of taking revenge if the “revengee” does not know where the blow comes from? It would be like the loan shark letting the banana peel take the wrap for the broken leg.
Yet, the Iranians have flatly denied all three attacks in contrast to the Israelis who have remained silent on whether they were behind the assassinations of the Iranian scientists, much like their policy on whether or not they own nuclear arsenal. Or whether they arm, fund and train the MEK, a terrorist organization, to conduct attacks in Iran – points which merely get a passing mention in the press, and have been drowned by the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear program — no real investigation, no indignation and most certainly no bold headlines demanding U.N. action.
It is not surprising that Israel should push for war in spite of its own best interest. It is also not surprising that the likes of Lieberman and Graham should wish to rule out diplomacy and insist on a red line, sooner, rather than later, even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirms there is no evidence that Iran has decided to make a bomb. The US and Israel both have an interest in placating hard line elements in their administrations and of course, what could be better than war-talk to distract from real issues like jobs, economy, and illegal settlements in an election year.
The single-visioned focus on the nuclear issue has already sidelined the human rights tragedy and snowballed into “crippling” sanctions, tightening the noose on ordinary people. Over 70 million innocent Iranians – men, women and children increasingly find it difficult to get access to basics, with staggering effects on health care, nutrition, education and basic livelihoods, rippling through years to come. We only have to look to Iraq to see the devastating toll years of sanctions took as it impoverished and displaced hundreds of thousands even before Bush unleashed his war on “terror”. It is ironic that the West should be repeating the same scenario and tightening the screws on millions of civilians in Iran, all the while rising up in protection of the same in Syria – as though civilians have ever been anything but tools of manipulation for politicians anywhere in the world.
One thing is certain. The days of the chivalrous state warfare are long gone and countries now work in parallel with covert operations, targeted assassinations, unmanned drones, proxies and contraband arm deals through third parties to accomplish their objectives. They leave the justifications to the media, then brutally repress dissent or deftly horse trade on the Security Council to block opposition. Iran is no exception, but let’s ask the right questions and hang blame at the door of the appropriate aggressor.
We live in a realistic world – and power seeks to consolidate, whichever its face and whatever its cost. It’s the media we count on to give us the facts and hold each party to scrutiny.
Press! Do your job! This is news — not reality TV.