By Stephen Gowans
“There have been,” write Julian E. Barnes and Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2012), “a series of provocations by Iran in recent years. US officials say Iran has been responsible for a series of cyberattacks this year on US banks. There have also been incidents in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian fast boats have threatened US and British warships.”
Barnes and Solomon make no mention of the more frequent and menacing provocations aimed at Iran by the United States and its Middle East partner in aggression, Israel:
• Washington virtually declaring war on Iran when it designated the country a member of an “axis of evil.”
• Cyberattacks on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
• Assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
• Penetration of Iranian airspace by US drones.
• Massing of US and British warships in the Persian Gulf.
• US deployment of anti-missile systems to its Gulf allies (what an aggressor preparing for an attack does to protect its allies from retaliation.)
• Innumerable threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
• Economic warfare of crippling trade sanctions and financial isolation which is destroying Iran’s economy and its ability to provide medical care to its population.
The United States bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, only 150 miles from Iran. It has an aircraft carrier-led battle group in the Persian Gulf. Its warplanes and thousands of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Qatar. In terms of provocation, this is roughly equivalent to the Chinese basing a naval fleet in Havana, a battle group in the Caribbean, warplanes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and troops in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We needn’t ask whether Washington would denounce China’s massive deployment of military force close to US borders as provocative, doubly so were this accompanied by Beijing branding the United States part of an axis of evil and declaring that in its dealings with Washington all options are on the table.
And this tells only part of the story. China is no match militarily for the United States, but US military capabilities overwhelmingly outclass Iran’s. The hypothetical aggressive deployment of Chinese military force to US borders isn’t a tenth as provocative as Washington’s actual deployment of massive military force to the Persian Gulf.
So it is that no one with a rudimentary grasp of current international relations could possibly conceive of the relationship between the United States and Iran as one of Iran provoking the former, rather than the other way around. Since it’s fair to assume that the journalists Barnes and Solomon are not without a rudimentary grasp of the subject, it can only be concluded that they write propaganda for the US state despite working for a private organization—and that the propaganda is every bit as much chauvinist and congenial to US foreign policy goals as the bilge pumped out of Washington’s official propaganda agency, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
So how does the Journal reporters’ selective-references to provocation aid US foreign policy? In this way: There is a pattern of aggressive powers—from imperial Britain to Nazi Germany to the United States—justifying their military interventions as necessary responses to “provocation.” If cruise missiles are to smash into Iran, it will be helpful to justify Washington’s unleashing of its military force as a response to Iranian provocations, since a legitimate casus belli doesn’t exist. Even a case for war that public relations specialists could falsely invest with the appearance of legitimacy—namely, eliminating an Iranian nuclear weapons program—has become impossible ever since the US intelligence community declared that there is no credible evidence Iran has one. This led George W. Bush to lament in his memoirs, “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons?”(1)—a question that doubtlessly troubles his successor. Iranian “provocations,” then, become a useful pretext for the use of military force in the absence of a legitimate case for war.
That Barnes and Solomon should act as imperialist-friendly propagandists is hardly surprising, since any dispassionate analysis of the mass media’s multiple linkages to the state through the corporate ruling class inevitably leads to the conclusion that the mainstream media’s take on foreign affairs will portray US foreign policy as admirable, virtuous and right, while the intended victims of the profit-driven quest to extend US hegemony will be depicted as democracy-hating, terrorist-promoting, economy-mismanaging, human rights-abusing, provocateurs (which, come to think of it, is a fairly apt description of the US government itself.)
(1) David Morrison, “George Bush was ‘angry’ when US intelligence said Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/iran-bush-on-nie.htm . Morrison has written a number of trenchant and beautifully crafted analyses, available on his website http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/.