January 04, 2008

We all let old newspapers pile up, don’t we? For my peace of mind, I hope so. At what point does this activity become compulsive behavior? A few days ago, on the last day of 2007, I found myself rearranging stacks of unread national editions of the New York Times along with some weekend editions of the Financial Times thrown in. It took most of the day. What did I do with them? I transported them to another location in my apartment, and stacked them up again more neatly. Of course, I took the time to glance at a few, and absorb certain bits and pieces of information.

When you have newspapers going back months and sometimes years, you can compare the then with the now, on the spot. An exhilarating experience. At the moment, I am looking at page 4 of the Financial Times from September 2/3, 2006. A little section titled “Middle East & Africa”. There is an article with the headline: “Iran’s president proves a star turn”. Actually, I am not familiar with the term “star turn”. Remember, this is an English newspaper, and I don’t get out much. They talk and think differently over there on John Bull’s first island. A “star turn” is, according to Webster’s International Unabridged, “chiefly Britain : the featured skit or number in a theatrical production; broadly : the most widely publicized person or item in a group”. So I have learned something already.

The article is about the Iranian president’s challenge to the American president for a debate. I do not recall G.W. Bush’s response to the challenge; probably on the sound advice of his brain, Karl Rove, Bush ignored it. (Bush may have considered it, on condition that he could bring Dick Cheney along as a co-debater. Remember that G.W. demanded something along these lines when Congress tried to get him to testify about 9/11.) Above the FT headline is a snappy photo-montage of our controversial president and the equally, or perhaps even more, controversial Iranian president, whose name the FT insists on spelling Ahmadi-Nejad, not Ahmadinejad. The FT must be right. Next to the two images, there are competing quotes regarding the then-bigger-than-life brouhaha over Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”, which comments, after you take the recent National Intelligence Estimate into account, make the Iranian president appear slightly less nuts than the dauphin.

President G.W. Bush: “The world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran…we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon…it is time for Iran to make a choice.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad: “Exploitation of peaceful nuclear energy is our obvious right…the west’s claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is a sheer lie…the west basically opposes progress by Iran.”

You see what I mean? In the aftermath of the NIE on Iran’s nuclear portfolio, we have a problem. The credibility meter at the White House is hugging zero. As defense and foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis put it in his column “Revenge of the Spooks” of December 10th, “Ironically, Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush & Company was lying through its teeth, just as it did over Iraq and Afghanistan.”

It is a sad day in America when we find out that our Ivy League president has been more deceitful on a topic of international importance than the president of a country considered to be part of the developing “third world” and a member of the “axis of evil”. Why the lying and wholesale deception in Washington? Why bully Iran? What is the point? What are the White House and the politicians of both parties in Washington afraid of? Certainly not Iran. Could it be simple ignorance—maybe willful ignorance—instead of lying? Or something else?

It is not simply a question of explaining what makes G.W. tick and what is going on inside his head. The EU and the UN Security Council—most especially Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy—went along with this neocon-inspired, warmongering campaign. They are still going along with it, the NIE notwithstanding. Are Europe and a majority of the UNSC just paying lip service to the White House, to run out the clock on this bizarre Administration—or could EU leaders themselves and a majority of the UNSC be just as deceitful and high-handed as the soon-to-be-retired occupants of the White House?

In this regard, I am looking at page 10 of the January 12, 2007 edition of the FT, the “Leaders & Letters” section. There is a letter here from one Hamid Babaei, who is first secretary of the Iranian embassy in London. Here’s some of it:

“Sir, Your recent articles on US attempts to put pressure on Iran’s nuclear activities neglect one central fact. Measures such as last month’s United Nations Security Council resolution, which has been championed by Washington, are deeply unfair. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and as such has an inalienable right to the lawful use of nuclear energy. Yet it is facing an unprecedented hue and cry over its nuclear programme, while Israel, a wholly non-accountable nuclear power, has the full support of the US administration.

“Bear in mind that Iran has never attacked or threatened to use force against any United Nations member state. Iran gave the west assistance in removing the threat of Taliban terrorism in Afghanistan. It condemned Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. But, instead of being rewarded for taking such sensible stances, Iran faces a reprimand—one that is wholly undeserved.

“Sadly, the injustice of Security Council resolution 1737 is nothing new for Iran. Ours is a great country and rich civilisation that has had to overcome many historic injustices during the past six decades. In the 1950s, after Iran nationalised the oil industry, the response was a military coup organised by two permanent Security Council members. In the 1980s, western powers failed even to call for Saddam Hussein’s invading forces to withdraw from Iranian territory. The architects of the recent Security Council resolution turned a blind eye to the extensive use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians and soldiers. Tens of thousands of Iranians continue to suffer and perish as a result.

“In that light, it is clear that the decision to subject Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme to Security Council measures will not encourage negotiations or provide any kind of a solution. It is not intended to. Instead, it will only set a most unwelcome precedent: to deny countries their basic rights to use technology to provide clean sources of energy….”

Just one more straw in the wind from my stack of newspapers should suffice. I am referring to “Channeling Dick Cheney”, a meant-to-be-humorous column by Tom Friedman in the New York Times of November 18th, 2007. Friedman is the New York/Washington establishment point man for all things pertaining to the Middle East, as well as an enduring regular on the Charlie Rose show, another establishment stalwart. Friedman is treated reverently on the talk and interview shows, even when he has nothing but the most banal insights to offer and even though he generally swallows intact almost all the rotten chestnuts of American Mideast policy.

In “Channeling” we are informed that “After Iraq and Pakistan, the most vexing foreign policy issue that will face the next president will be how to handle Iran.” Indeed. Three exotic countries, and three difficult situations which U.S. policy-makers created. Friedman’s half serious suggestion is to put that wild and crazy guy, Dick Cheney, on the same ticket with the new wise man on the block, Barack Obama, should the latter end up with the Democratic nomination for president. “…Cheney is the hawk-eating hawk, who regularly swoops down and declares that the U.S. will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Trust me, the Iranians take his threats seriously.” Check. Friedman’s idea is that Cheney’s insane hawkishness would balance Obama’s apparent dovishness, and thereby facilitate negotiations. Not for an instant does Friedman address the central issue of “What actually is the problem here and who is responsible for it?”

He is right about one thing, though—the Iranians pay attention to Dick Cheney’s threats. After all, Cheney continues to be the CEO or Regent of the Bush Administration, which may well be the most reckless Administration in U.S. history, if we throw out FDR. The fact is, Iran had no nuclear weapons to begin with, and its supreme Islamic leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a Fatwa years ago prohibiting the acquisition of such weapons. In sum, the Iranian nuclear weaponry “threat” was a fraud and a fiction. Ergo, Cheney and his charge, the dauphin, POTUS 43, and their “neocon” wingnut associates had no business whatever threatening Iran. The stationing of a huge American armada in the Persian Gulf for months and years on end is madness. All of this was predictably lost on Tom Friedman. The last thing the world needs is another poisonous dose of Dick Cheney. “Hawk” is just a euphemism and camouflage for being a “useful idiot”.

Which brings me back to the efficacy of saving old newspapers. I suppose it is a good idea to read them when current. Then again, maybe it is a terrible idea, a waste of time, when one could be playing tennis, reading poetry, or taking a walk. Perhaps it is better not to read the establishment press at all, because with respect to politics and world affairs, the newspapers are invariably going to be jammed with remarkable misinformation generated by the-powers-that-be to advance their own sub rosa agendas. Wait, and read the newspapers later. It only later—by comparing what was reported, taken for granted, or made up back then with the reality now—that one can fully appreciate how bogus and dishonest it all is. This is certainly true of modern history.

The self-destructive, fratricidal world wars of the 20th century are worth considering, reevaluating and putting into perspective. We can now step back and calmly contemplate them with archival information, which was kept under wraps. True, honest men did not have that luxury at the time. They could sense what was happening, however, even if they were powerless to stop the mountebanks who were in the saddle. More recently, there is Vietnam and Iraq. These more recent disasters are less of a problem to comprehend, it seems to me, because the deceit, failure and idiocy are self-evident. Is there a pattern beginning to emerge here, starting in 1914 up until the present moment?





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