Hullo John got a new ‘puter?

Well, yes, I do, as my old one died two weeks back. That was Sandra’s old computer, Id bought for her from a co-worker in 2008 or so and the hard disks just gave up the ghost. Its been through the wars before and she had already lost the data that had been on it a long time ago, so no great loss. Might buy a cheap new harddrive and get it fixed anyway, just for kicks. The new computer is great and I’m well in the honeymoon phase of owning a new computer, except for having to reinstall all my old favourite programmes and settings, which is always a chore. Not of great interest to anyone but me, I know, so have some Alexei Sayle.

Of more interest, this casual suggestion that the US might have experienced its Suez moment:

Humphrey is increasingly of the opinion that we are witnessing the USA’s ‘east of Suez moment’ at which the US is faced with the same strategic challenges that all empires are faced with. The legions will be recalled from Europe soon, and this is going to leave a major series of security and other challenges that need to be filled.

Which would make the War on Iraq something like what the Suez Crisis was for the UK: a point at which America’s military capabilities outreach its political power. It was capable of invading and winning battles, but its military might did not help America reach its wider goals. The War on Iraq was the quintessential late imperial war, one not waged for a concrete, achievable goal, but more to show that the aggressor is still an empire, still top dog. It didn’t quite work out that way, which means the empire is still looking for another enemy to defeat to make everything right again, hence the confrontational stance with Iran.

First thing to remember is that Israel has the bomb

Arthur Silber is annoyed with a Peter Beinart article that’s supposedly opposed to any war with Iran:

Given the attention it is receiving from those who are nominally opposed to the United States’ foreign policy of criminal, aggressive war and intervention, it is understandable that unwary readers will view Peter Beinart’s article, “The Crazy Rush to Attack Iran,” as strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. And while Beinart’s piece may very superficially appear to oppose such an attack, opposition of this kind is no opposition at all. And it is far worse than that: Beinart accepts the entire framework of those whose warmongering he criticizes, and he thus makes an attack on Iran more likely, not less.

For those of us who paid attention back during the runup to the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, this is hardly surprising coming from Beinart, who spent most of it cheerleading for them, as well as policing the bordaries of acceptable dissent. Which is what he’s doing here, as in his very first paragraph he frames in such a way as to concede most of the issue to the supporters of a war:

The debate over whether Israel should attack Iran rests on three basic questions. First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?

This framing is of course completely embraced in the mainstream news media, where the question of whether or not Iran is actually even trying to create a nuclear bomb rarely is asked anymore. Any true opponent of war on Iran therefore needs to go back to this basic question: is Iran actually trying to create nuclear weapons and, as importantly, is this any business of ours as long as Israel, which does have several hundreds nuclear bombs and has had them for decades, isn’t dealt with in the same way? If instead you go by the assumption that Iran is building a bomb and that this is a Matter of Concern, you are already conceding much of the rationale for military action, at best you’re now arguing about tactics. Which is just what Beinart wants of course. Beinart isn’t interested in stopping a war or oposing it, he’s just concerned about seeming to oppose it.

In the meantime the whole issue of an Israeli attack on Iran is as much a giant distraction attempt as it is a real threat. For both Israel and the US having the focus on Iranian misbehaviour and the potential, sadly likely to be disproportionate Israel response, rather than on their own internal problems comes in very handy. It’s a distraction measure and while an attack on Iran can’t be entirely ruled out, it is unlikely to actually happen when the mere threat of it is so useful to both countries. Beinart’s weaselly article is just a small part of it.

The Iranian elections

Like Jamie I don’t share the Foreign Policy magazine’s experts certainty that the Iranian elections were rigged. Iran has a reasonable reputation for holding honest elections, even if they are, as Jamie puts it “engineered to produce the right results from the outset through candidate selection and so on”. Western experts and expat Iranians may have been convinced that Ahmadinejad was to be wiped from the pages of time and see the failure of this as evidence of voting fraud, but that doesn’t mean reality has to conform to their wishes.

The reason expert opinion has gotten it so wrong it seems to me is not fraud, but the myopia with which western news media and experts approach Iran: through the prism of US foreign policy. Iran is only in the news whenever its supposed nuclear weapons programme is brought to our attention again, or it’s accused of meddling in Iraq or Afghanistan. In the same way Ahmadinejad is only quoted when he says something stupid about the Holocaust or is supposed to threaten Israel with extinction again. We only get to see Iran as a menace and Ahmadinejad as a clown, with nobody really covering the reality of Iran’s internal politics.

So we get an incredible distorted view of Iran and Ahmadinejad and because we don’t like him we automatically assume this is the default view in Iran as well. But as Splinty points out, in the country itself he has a quite different reputation; he may not be liked by the western-orientated middle class, but he’s a friend of the poor and the peasants and they vote too.

And of course, expecting Iranians to vote according to our views of their foreign policy is as absurd as to have expected the last Dutch elections to have been decided on the withdrawal of Dutch troops from Iraq.

Preparation for future wars

I’ve talked about the failure of the antiwar movement before, in that it failed to stop the War on Iraq from happening, despite the protests held by tens of millions of people all over the world in the months before the start of the war. One common complaint heard at the time was that the protests came too late, that the troops were already in place, the preperations made and that therefore war was inevitable. I’m not sure this was entirely true; the protests did keep the Netherlands out of the war proper, though sadly not out of the occupation and I can see that if the Stop the War campaign had made different tactical and strategical choices in 2003 it might’ve kept the JUK out as well. There is however a kernel of truth in the idea that anti-war protests usually come too late, when the war is already started or preparations are so advanced stopping is impossible. It doesn’t help that for the most part anti-war movements are created largely adhoc, in response to a threatening war, that they die down in times of “peace”.

When you stop to think about it, it’s absurd that we live in a time when it’s assumed normal that even a country like the Netherlands, with no real enemies nearby is spending millions if not billions of euros each year on defence. Moreover we’re spending it not to defend our own country, but to enable our army to invade and occupy other countries. During the nineties, while our attention was elsewhere, the Dutch army transformed itself from a tank heavy Cold War style “defend the Fulda Gap” army into a lean, mean humanitarian intervention fighting machine, laying the foundations for getting involved first in Yugoslavia, then Kosovo and finally Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the status quo, in which criticism of defence spending is seldom on a fundamental level, but mainly on issues of cost or choice of spending.

What brought this to mind is the news that the UK ministry of Defence is going ahead with a thirteen billion pound tanker investment, in which it gets over a dozen new tanker/transport planes. These planes are not needed for the defense of the United Kingdom, certainly not in that number. Instead they’ll be invaluable for the next Iraq or Afghanistan… That’s why we need an anti-war movement that doesn’t just mobilise when war is imminent, but that opposes defence spending from the start. If we have an army that’s capable of “humanitarian interventions”, interventions is what we get. We need to take away these tools that enable our armies to start wars. We need to stop the preperations for future wars, not just the current war.

Manufacturing consent and the NIE

I came across two great remarks today on how that National Intelligence Estimate helps shape the received wisdom on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions. First quote is from Left I on the News, second quote from Aaronovitch Watch:

One of the successes of the new NIE is that virtually everyone in the “mainstream” (pundits, candidates, corporate media) now accepts as simple fact that Iran had a nuclear weapons program which it abandoned in 2003.


“News” in the same sense that it was “news” that Iraq didn’t have WMD – ie, it’s not news, it has been available for years, the international inspectors who know what they’re doing and publish their results have been giving exactly this message, but now some sekrit American intelligences have said the same thing, it is no longer possible to pretend otherwise[.]

The news cycle on this issue was from start to finish driven by the American government. The US says Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and the debate is on whether the US should impose sanctions or use military force to stop this, not on whether or not its claims are actually true. When the issue of truth did arise, it was presented as “he said, she said”, with the truth of the matter, that international inspectors had not found any evidence of Iranian wrongdoing, largely not being reported or only glossed over. Only when the NIE confirmed this was it converted to the official truth, though as Left Eye remarks, with the caveat that Iran had a nuclear programme before 2003, again something I haven’t seen any evidence for.

In other words, there have White House originated limits in the reporting on this issue, beyond which the newsmedia, whether approving or disapproving of the US stance on Iran, whether British, American or Dutch, have largely not strayed. And this is not done through some sort of Stalinist censorship, but purely through the news media’s internalised ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable reporting. As Chomsky and Herman discussed so many years ago, the media operate under a set of self imposed filters, filters that hinder its ability to determine the real truth and instead lead it to present a severely skewed image of the world.