On July 7, the New York Times produced an alarming headline: “Iran Announces New Breach of Nuclear Deal Limits and Threatens Further Violations.” The “breach,” we were told — which would enable the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 deal — “inches Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb.” To hell, then, with the assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had been on no such path.
Other media outlets blared similar alerts. CBS News went with the headline “Iran ignores Trump’s warning, breaks another nuclear deal limit on uranium enrichment,” while the Associated Press opted for “Iran breaches key uranium enrichment limit in nuclear deal.” Politico spotlighted Iran’s “brazen move” in a dispatch titled “Trump will have to settle on a strategy after Iran violates 2015 nuclear deal,” and the New York Post editorial board charmingly contended that, because Iran is “asking for more pain by violating” the accord, “the correct response is to hit Tehran even harder.” A July 11 Newsweek op-ed fretted that “Iran’s nuclear clock is ticking once again” and advised the United States to prepare “military exercises for neutralizing Iran’s nuclear facilities and missiles.”
But wait a minute. How do you breach, violate, or break an accord that the United States already destroyed by unilaterally withdrawing from it last year? And why is the character that spearheaded the withdrawal allowed to issue warnings on the subject?
Granted, most of the articles on the “breach” do manage to mention Donald Trump’s abandonment of the accord. But this rather crucial factoid is apparently deemed not overly relevant to the overall story — which seems to be whatever the Trump administration says it is.
So much for speaking truth to power. And while Trump can foam at the mouth all he wants about the US media’s alleged hostility, they’re clearly not doing a very good job of it.
Funnily enough, one article that does put the nuclear deal “violation” in some semblance of context appears on none other than Israel’s Ynet news website and asserts that “the real violation was that of the Trump administration, which decided to pull out of the nuclear deal altogether and renew sanctions on Iran.”
Thankfully, the rest of the Israeli press pretty much makes up for it by clamoring for war — as in a recent Jerusalem Post piece that reckons: “So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes — but again, the US can do it better.” The author, one Eric R. Mandel, claims to “regularly brief . . . members of the [US] Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers,” lest anyone worry about the kind of information our policymakers are receiving.
Israel, of course, plays a starring role in the current Iran drama, and the New York Times quotes a member of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet on how Tehran’s “breach” announcement means “it is brushing off the red lines that were agreed.” This is a bold statement from a country that considers itself immune from any sort of red line and that also happens to possess a massive nuclear arsenal that exists in breach — you might say — of the very nuclear nonproliferation treaty that has forever been invoked to demonize Iran.
Obviously, Israel’s region-imperiling nuclear weapons endeavors are hardly ever deemed newsworthy; it’s much more fun to go ballistic over Iran’s non-endeavors, since Iran has been appointed Permanent Villain while Israel is only Permanently Acting in Self-Defense.
But Iran has plenty of reasons to be on the defensive, not least the presence nearby of an unhinged nuclear state that hates it. As the AP notes: “The US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers ,and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.” And yet such realities are rarely incorporated into media stories in a way that might detract from the image of Iran as preeminent aggressor. Ditto for pertinent history lessons, like that time the United States shot down an Iranian civilian airliner and killed 290 people, including sixty-six children — or the time the CIA orchestrated a coup against Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh, paving the way for the long-term rule by terror of the West’s favorite shah, torturer extraordinaire, and obsessive purchaser of US weapons. As historian Ervand Abrahamian writes: “Arms dealers joked that the shah devoured their manuals in much the same way as other men read Playboy.”
Speaking of history, it bears reiterating that — prior to the 1979 overthrow of the shah — the US was gung ho about the idea of a nuclear Iran. Nowadays, the continuous portrayal of the Islamic Republic as inherently violent and a threat to “international peace and security” fails to explain how Iran has somehow out-villained the global superpower that regularly attacks other countries and slaughters people. Hiroshima and Nagasaki also come to mind.
But back to the latest “violation,” and indications that Iran has now surpassed the 3.67 uranium enrichment limit to a whopping 4.5 or so percent (90 percent or higher is required to produce a nuclear weapon). In an article for Al Jazeera, James Brownsell notes that Iran “has always said its nuclear program was civilian and research-based, including for medical research,” while also shedding some light on the potential shortcomings of the whole “violations” narrative: “Iran agreed under the JCPOA [nuclear] deal to limit its stockpile of 3.67 percent-enriched uranium to 300 kg, a threshold it is now breaking after the most recent US sanctions stopped it from exporting what it created.”
Bear in mind too that, for all of their veneer of civilized diplomacy, sanctions themselves are weapons of mass destruction. This was perhaps best underscored by Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN under Bill Clinton, who affirmed in 1996 that “we think the price is worth it” when asked about reports that US sanctions on Iraq had killed half a million children — i.e. “more children than died in Hiroshima.”
As with the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, the US media is now reprising its role as cheerleader-accomplice by bombarding audiences with the notion that Iran is an existential threat. The Times article on Iranian “violations” presents the question of whether there is a “permanent way to stop Iran from developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon.”
A better question, however, would be how to stop the country whose national security adviser has used the Times’s own pages to push for bombing Iran — and whose media continue to violate the very foundations of journalism.