Friday, January 1, 2010

Changing the Narrative for War

By Philip Giraldi

In spite of the calamities of the past eight years, there continues to be no shortage of neoconservatives in one's face in the media, advising their fellow Americans that wars can be won quickly and decisively and that using military force to change how other nations behave is sound policy. The Washington Post features Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, all three Kagans, John Bolton, and Eliot Cohen on a regular basis. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is the epicenter for those who favor muscular interventionism. The New York Times, America's most influential newspaper, is somewhat more circumspect, featuring neocons-lite David Brooks and Thomas Friedman regularly, but also including the more measured foreign policy analysis of Frank Rich and Roger Cohen. But even at its best The Times never really breaks the mold by bringing in someone who rejects the entire American imperial and interventionist enterprise. Such individuals do exist and many appear regularly at Ron Paul events and on Campaign for Liberty, but it is as if the mainstream media has decided that such views are outside the pale, the journalistic equivalent of praising Mussolini for making the trains run on time or advocating the disenfranchisement of women voters. And occasionally the Times features a real game breaker that goes in the other direction in the form of an op-ed that sets new benchmarks in terms of audacious support of Washington's self proclaimed right to enforce its own standards on the world. Such an op-ed was "There's Only One Way to Stop Iran" by Professor Alan J. Kuperman which, ironically, appeared on Christmas Eve.

As a former intelligence officer I frequently shake my head when I read a piece like "There's Only One Way to Stop Iran" because I know exactly how what the Soviets used to call disinformation works. When the policy stinks and you have to create buzz about it anyway, you dig up someone who can plausibly describe himself as an "expert" and then find some obliging folks in the media to publish a piece that enables you to change the story line. That is what I used to do myself back in the days when I was working hard to demonize the Soviets. Take an incident or development, twist it a bit so you can come to a conclusion that is at odds with the facts, get your paid asset to write it up, hand it over to another paid agent in the media, and then let it fly. It will be picked up here and there, spread around the world and incorporated into other news coverage, and eventually everyone is saying we have to stand up to the Russians. Or Chinese. Or Iranians. Or the Yemenis.

Recently we have seen change the narrative applied to justify all sorts of outrages, including the pastel revolutions in Eastern Europe, where, so the accepted story goes, brave bands of reformers took on corrupt and authoritarian old regime leaders. The reality was much different, with European and American Non-Government Organizations funding one group of criminals against another with not a touch of genuine reform in sight. And then there is poor little Georgia, hardly plausible that Tbilisi might have been the aggressor against Russia, was it? But it was (John McCain please take note).

That kind of narrative shift is precisely what Kuperman and those who are like minded are doing, changing the story to turn black into white to make war appear to be the only option to resolve a thorny international problem. Appearing in The Times is particularly damaging because when the Grey Lady gives over its pages to someone like Kuperman they are providing their seal of approval and legitimizing his point of view. Even if they don't explicitly endorse the article they are in effect saying that the argument is extremely credible and worth considering. With the Times imprimatur, the story then becomes part of the broader neoconservative narrative which can exploit the appearance in the Times to convince Americans that a war against Iran would not be such a bad thing and could, in fact, be the best way to eliminate the possibility that Tehran might develop a nuclear weapon.

The only problem is that the entire Kuperman narrative is itself nonsense. It starts by rejecting negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program after assuming that something is true, namely that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. There is no evidence that that is the case and even the US intelligence community continues to assert that Iran abandoned its weapons program in 2003. It then goes on to assume that any agreement with Iran to enable it to buy enriched fuel for electricity generation will inevitably lead to the uranium being further enriched to weapons grade. That amounts to taking a worst case scenario and combining it with another worst case scenario to draw a conclusion. Kuperman then piles on a third worst case assumption, that Iran would unhesitatingly hand over its expensively acquired nuclear deterrent weapon to a terrorist group. In baseball, three strikes and you are out, but apparently three non sequiturs in a single article does not rule you out for a New York Times op-ed.

Kuperman then describes the mechanics of defanging Iran, how taking out the country's alleged nuclear sites would be quick and relatively painless with little in the way of collateral damage to the US. Does anyone hear the word cakewalk? Kuperman has clearly not spent much time in the real world. Using American air power to attack Iran would be piling Pelion on Ossa, with terrible consequences including making it far more likely that Tehran will actively seek a nuclear weapon while guaranteeing a wave of terrorism that could well become global. There would also be a major spike in oil prices that would sink the already struggling American economy, whether or not the US Navy succeeds in controlling the Straits of Hormuz. Kuperman concedes that military action could backfire, but he draws on the analogy of the completely dissimilar Israeli destruction of Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, which he regards as a success. He notes somewhat ominously that Iran's much larger infrastructure would require repeated bombings coupled with the threat to use still more force if Tehran were to retaliate. It all sounds a bit like the Cheney doctrine of first attacking Iran and then threatening it with nuclear weapons if it seeks to defend itself. On an optimistic note, Kuperman also throws in a final added benefit to a bit of devastating aerial bombardment, concluding that "air strikes against Iran would be a strong warning to other would-be proliferators."

Actually, they wouldn't be. Attacking Iran would not necessarily destroy its ability to build an atom bomb if it chooses to do so and would only encourage other potential proliferators to proliferate, if only to obtain a deterrent against being bombed by the United States or Israel. Also, thousands of completely innocent Iranians would die, which does not appear to be a consideration that bothers Kuperman very much. As Ron Paul and others have warned, yet another illegal war of choice in the Middle East would inflict damage on the US constitution and the rule of law and would also be a human and economic catastrophe both for Iran and the United States. It would likely not do much good for Israel either. Kuperman surely understands that. The op-ed by-line indicates that Professor Alan J. Kuperman is director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas. If a sustained bombing campaign is the best policy that the Prevention Program can come up with it is perhaps time for the good people in Texas to begin to wonder what exactly their tax dollars are supporting.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D. is the Francis Walsingham Fellow at The American
Conservative Defense Alliance ( and a former CIA
counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer.

Copyright © 2009 Campaign for Liberty

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