No country for optimists

Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday I participated in a panel at Our Lady of the Lake University on the media and war coverage — the “media” being two gentlemen from the Express-News and yours truly from the Current.

When we got to the open-discussion portion of the evening, one of the very first questions was about Iran, and others followed: Are we likely to invade? What can be done to stop it?

E-N military reporter Sig Christenson responded that an invasion of Iran is not only possible, but likely. His opinion, alarmingly, is shared by the subject of this week’s special news feature, arms expert Scott Ritter.

A former Marine Corps intelligence officer and chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, Ritter was a prominent critic of the Bush administration’s WMD ruse. His subsequent 2006 book, Target Iran, which argued that planning for a U.S. strike against Iran is already well underway, seems prescient given both the mainstream media’s and Congress’s compliance (witting or not) in painting Iraq’s politically complex, mostly Shiite neighbor, as the next big threat to our freedom-lovin’ ways. W. Kim Heron and Curt Guyette, the editor and news editor of Current sister paper the Detroit Metro Times, draw out Ritter’s up-to-date analysis — which is nothing if not alarming — beginning page 9.

It’s also enlightening: As other independent commentators have noted, painting our invasion of Iraq as solely about oil reserves dangerously oversimplifies the scope of the neoconservative endgame. “It’s about geopolitics,” says Ritter. “It’s about ... the need to dictate the pace of Chinese economic development by controlling their access to energy.”

When the stakes are cast in this larger mold, it’s easier to buy the argument that the administration is determined to take on Iran at any cost. That a meaningful public debate isn’t occurring about this answers, in part, another question asked at that November 14 OLLU panel: Is the media covering the Bush administration’s case for attacking Iran more skeptically than it did the buildup to the Iraq War?

Although this paper has been consistently critical of the Iraq invasion, we have been guilty of optimism these last few months — since early last winter, actually, when the Democrats took Congress in part because of dissatisfaction with the war’s progress (and when the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports public sentiment on the conflict turned decisively sour).

But as Ritter points out in this week’s interview, you need only track the administration’s case for attacking Iran as it’s made in our nation’s major media outlets to realize that the campaign has already laced its boots and fired up the jet engines.

The progressive non-profit watchdog Media Matters for America noted the trend in the fall of 2006, with a report on the Washington Post’s eerily familiar coverage of Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions: An August 24 front-page story in the Post reported that a GOP-led House Intelligence Committee report supported the White House’s assertion that Iran is going nuclear, while a September 12 rebuttal from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency appeared two days later — on page A17.

Ritter notes that diplomatic skepticism has since forced the administration to change tactics. It now argues more simply that Iran is a terrorist nation and the biggest source of fuel for Iraq’s ongoing insurgence — allegations repeated without analysis in such august outlets as The New York Times, CBS, and NBC, reported Media Matters in February.

Locally, the E-N has produced mostly uncritical coverage of politically connected mega-pastor John Hagee’s open lobbying for a military strike, commentaries advocating for economic sanctions, and an official editorial commending Governor Perry for championing the state’s divestment in Iran (That one actually began, “Investing in evil is not worth it. Gov. Rick Perry knows it ...” which must have caused TURF’s Terri Hall to snort coffee out of her nose.)

It’s not aluminum tubes, maybe, but the small drips are adding up to a gusher: An October 2007 Zogby poll found that a slim majority of Americans would support a military strike “to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon” — a case the White House has so far failed to make. Nonetheless, this nuanced statistic was shorthanded in media outlets large and small, without reference to a 2006 Zogby poll that found only 27 percent of Iranians “said the country’s top priority should be to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons,” a smaller number than the 31 percent who’d like to see their country become more secular and liberal.

Maybe we aren’t as gullible as we used to be, but the administration is doing its best to railroad us into another high-stakes conflict, and the mainstream media has yet to do a proper job of analyzing the real risks for the American people. Consider the Ritter article a step in the right direction.

But you have to remain skeptical, too. About the same percentage of Americans who say they’d support a military strike against Iran to prevent its nuclearization favored military action in Iraq in the winter of 2003 — a number John Zogby told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson reflected an optimism that our military would get in and out quickly. “Under no circumstances do Americans support ground troops `in Iran`,” Zogby said. In which case, you need to voice your opposition to a military strike now, because if there’s anything this administration’s taught us, their campaign for global domination doesn’t warrant optimism.

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