How the UK Media Legitimise the Idea of a War on Iran

The Editors, 26 January 2012 | 2 Comments

Categories: Iran | War | The Guardian | Middle East | BBC News |

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The UK media has over the last three months obediently towed the line of western leaders in their increasingly hostile posturing towards Iran.

Despite their reporting of (to give a few examples) a covert war on Iran, the entry of a US spy drone into Iranian airspace, and the recent assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist, our media overwhelmingly empathises with the concerns of the US and the UK governments.

The UK media echo the sentiments of David Cameron (Iran's chosen path 'threatens the peace and security of us all') or William Hague (Iran 'is continuing to breach United Nations resolutions and refusing to come to meaningful negotiations on its nuclear programme'), whose statements lack sufficient evidence and are based on little more than speculation. Yet the rhetoric goes unquestioned in news reporting.

The findings of the November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, showing no evidence of nuclear weapons development, appear of no importance. Julian Borger (the Guardian's security correspondent), for example, has disclosed that a former IAEA inspector claimed there to be 'no smoking gun' in the report, yet this fact has had little effect on his subsequent reporting.

As if the western leaders have not been trying hard enough to establish pretexts for their hostile stance towards Iran, Borger, in an article on 11 January, found it necessary to hypothesise about potential grounds for an attack: 'If Americans had been killed in the Georgetown restaurant [location for alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US] that was supposedly the target, the Obama administration would have been obliged to respond militarily'. Borger simply went ahead of leaders on this one and legitimised the idea of military action against Iran once again.

In an interview with John Humphrys on the BBC's Today Show, Liam Fox stated that: 'The first [risk in formulating policy toward Iran] is, obviously, Iran is a nuclear weapon state.' It might have been helpful to counter that, in reality, Israel is the only country in the region which actually possesses nuclear weapons. Recent news reports are littered with unchallenged claims which imply that Iran does have an operational nuclear weapons programme, such as when George Osborne, unopposed, stated that Iranian banks are involved in 'the development of Iran's weaponised military nuclear weapon programme.'

The reasons for invading Iran have slightly shifted in recent weeks. In November, the talk of invasion was simply on the basis that a nuclear programme was underway. A bombing campaign was necessary to stop this nuclear programme, we were told, because western countries believed that the country had nuclear military ambitions. Then came sanctions (now to include 'a phased oil embargo, a partial asset freeze of the central bank of Iran, measures against Iran's petrochemical sector and a ban on Iranian transactions involving gold') and the response from Iran that it would close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions persisted. Now an attack might hinge on the Strait of Hormuz.

There are comparisons to be drawn between the war-posturing towards Iran and the Iraq of a decade ago. In Iraq too, the reasons for war were ever-metamorphosing. First we were told (and here the sense of déjà vu should begin) an attack on Iraq was unavoidable because Saddam Hussein had 'gone to elaborate lengths... to build and keep weapons of mass destruction' (George Bush). One would think it would be unnecessary to rehash this once again, and yet history, with all its grave (however intended) mistakes, is currently repeating itself. As Robert Fisk writes, 'after Iraq, it's amazing that the old weapons of mass destruction details are popping with the same frequency as all the poppycock about Saddam's titanic arsenal.'

On Monday Conservative MP Robert Halfon stated that war 'is looking increasingly possible' against Iran which 'supports terrorism, undermines democracy and is trying to stop the Arab Spring in Syria.' Of course, the second pretext for the war on Iraq was the promotion of democracy, which would then, we were told, spread to the whole region. It will be very important in the coming months to maintain perspective on our government's regard for democracy in the Middle East, which was made patently clear during the events of the Arab Spring. In February 2011, when pro-democracy protesters flooded Bahrain's Pearl Roundabout, Saudi troops put a violent end to their demonstrations, with western consent. Of course, Saudi Arabia itself will be exempt from the 'democracy promotion' efforts of the UK and US as long as it remains an ally.

Writing this month on US policy, Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described how 'the [Obama] administration downplays democracy and human rights in a number of nondemocratic countries for the sake of other interests. This inconsistency represents a familiar pattern rather than a change in U.S. policy.' The same applies to the situation in the UK.

Speaking to the Times in September 2011 Tony Blair again expounded the merits of regime change in the Middle East (in this instance in relation to Syria and Iran) followed by 'nation building'. 'Regime change in Tehran would immediately make me significantly more optimistic about the whole of the region', he said. Blair continues to push the line that the purpose of western intervention in the region is to build 'open' and 'democratic' nations, when British policy has demonstrably been concerned with regional dominance, regardless of how open or democratic a country may or may not be.

In reality, our media seems to care little about what the reasons may be for a potential attack on Iran. The proclaimed grounds shift and change without receiving appropriate scrutiny. The myth that government policy is benign and that an aggressive stance will only be taken when provoked is preserved at the expense of rational critique of events which, if they are allowed to, may well lead to yet another war.

For more analysis of the UK media's treatment of Iran, see our previous article Language Creep: Iran and the Nuclear 'Threat'

Categories in which this article appears: Iran | War | The Guardian | Middle East | BBC News |

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Comments (2)

1. michael krug27 January 2012 09:13

The 'threat' from Iran is evolving from an emphasis on their supposed 'nuclear programme' which is vague, but is understood to mean a nuclear weapons programme, towards the threat they pose to the Straights of Hormuz and the West's access to Middle East oil.

In reality though, the 'threat' Iran poses to western interests is... the very existance of their state which is clearly not within the boundaries of what's acceptable inside the sphere of western influence, or, put another way, Iran is too independent, has too much real sovereignty, and isn't a 'vassal state' dominated by the US empire.

Even if Iran didn't have huge reserves of oil and gas, and a vital strategic position, this 'carrying independence too far' would be grounds for isolating and attempting to topple the Iranian regime. But with Iran brought to heel the Middle East would, arguably, change significantly, probably for decades. Without Iran giving support Syria would be forced to come to an accomodation with the West's demands and make peace with Israel. Lebanon would follow, and the Palestinians would have no friends anywhere and have to 'surrender' on terms dictated by the West.

Ond could also add that changing Iran's regime would effectively roll back 'radical Islam' and weaken both China, which imports 20% of its oil from Iran, undermine Russia's southern flank, and put pressure on Pakistan.

There are lots of real advantages in toppling the regime in Iran, and seen from this cold, harsh, perspective, it's surprising the West has allowed the 'Islamic Revolution' to survive for so long.

2. Chris28 January 2012 06:42

Threatening another country with war is violation of the Kellog-Briand pact of 1928, which reminds binding and which was the basis for the article 2, paragraph 4 of UN charter:"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." It could be argued that the countries threatening war on Iran are in breach and should be condemned by the UN and punished by sanctions. I don't hold my breath, law is for the weak, the strong ones don't need to bother.

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