The Media Beats the War Drum for an Attack on Iran

Graham Bell, 4 November 2011

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

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“Iran’s nuclear ambitions have already started a war with the west”, reads the headline of Julian Borger’s piece in the Guardian yesterday, in which he discusses operations of espionage and sabotage in Iran started by the Bush government in 2007. The headline would have you believe that Iran brought these acts of espionage and sabotage upon themselves through their behavior, like it was some sort of inevitable reactionary force of good vs. evil. This theme has been running through almost all news reporting about Iran for several years and the message is something along the lines of “the Iranian regime is unhinged and hostile towards us and we have the responsibility to react”.

Framing the question

The media coverage around a possible invasion of Iran seems to centre on the idea that if Iran has nuclear weapons, they need to be contained. In its editorial about the possibility of war with Iran, which the Guardian has given the Hollywood title “Iran: War Games”, the first line tells us that “No one should be naïve about the possibility that Iran is building a nuclear bomb”.

We have here a situation in which three powerful countries (all armed with nuclear weapons) want to attack a considerably less-powerful country which may or may not be trying to develop nuclear weapons. Yet the debate being stirred up centers on whether or not Iran has the capability of being in the process of creating a weapon of destructive power similar to those owned by the US, UK and Israel.

Reporting throughout the media buries the question of whether it is legal or even acceptable for the US/Israel/UK to invade Iran and asks instead whether Iran has nuclear weapons. The news media smothers the notion that any invasion (or for that matter, any threat of invasion) is an illegal war crime, regardless of the progress of any development of nuclear weapons in Iran.

The responsible west don’t want war

The message conveyed through the news tells us that western powers would not go to war because they choose to; it must be because they have to. The Guardian’s editorial warns us of the case in which “a calamitous war looms”. In a separate article Ewen MacAskill and Harriet Sherwood tell us that a war with Iran is “the last thing Barack Obama needs”. MacAskill says that “the drumbeat from Israel is growing louder”, alluding later to the WikiLeaks revelations that both Israel and Saudi Arabia are asking the US to invade Iran. This particular Wikileaks cable worked as a healthy PR stunt for the west, alleviating them in the public eye of the lion’s share of the blame for any invasion. While US foreign policy concerning the Middle East is obviously influenced by Israel, the exploitation of this cable in the media gives the impression that this war will be forced upon the US.

Forget history

News reporting in the run up to an invasion tends to forget history. The message on the present situation is clear: this is entirely about Iran’s potential procurement of nuclear weapons. Forget thinking that it has anything to do with long-term Iran-UK-USA relations, tainted since the 1979 revolution overthrew the Shah (who had been installed following the 1953 CIA coup which overthrew Iran’s democratic government). Forget also that the US, the UK, France and the Netherlands have lost control of Iran’s oil since the Shah was ousted.

Don’t think about the western invasion of Iraq in 2003 which we now know was based on lies. Don’t think about Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction, which we found did not exist.

Lastly, don’t remind yourself that one of the countries now threatening war on Iran is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in combat and has threatened the use of nuclear force many times on numerous countries in the last 60 years.

Demonise the current regime

The regime in place today is an oppressive theocracy, and frequent reference is made in the news to the Islamic rule, the death penalty and human rights abuses. This same problem, however, is rarely if ever voiced about Saudi Arabia, a strong ally of the west, which has an equally, if not more, oppressive Islamic state. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has provided countless hours of digestible western news with his inflammatory rhetoric. But the media rarely address the fact that Ahmedinejad has little influence over military, nuclear or foreign relations decisions – such decisions are made by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmedinejad, however, provides a more eccentric side that the media like to portray when creating their image of Iran.


The headlines of news surrounding the threat of war have tended to look more kindly on the forces that may invade. For instance, when the Guardian discuss the threat of America invading Iran, the headline is “Is the US heading for War with Iran?”, but when reporting on Iranian comments about retaliation, the headline is “Iran warns US to avoid clash over nuclear programme”. The US might be "heading" for war along it's path of morality, but Iran on the other hand threatens with "warnings". This headline also of course serves to suggest that this “clash” is indisputably about Iran’s nuclear programme.


Judging by how excited the media gets every time the IAEA releases a report on Iran, and how the BBC and other news sources cling to every word that alludes to even the slightest possibility of the development of nuclear weapons, the media already has its mind made up about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

But any war wouldn’t be because of nuclear weapons. It’s more likely of course that, like most of the west’s wars, the real reasons would be rooted in politics and business, and suppressed from the public eye. Reasons would be given to the public that would maintain sufficient public support. The notion of an unstable regime that hates the western way of life and can’t be trusted not to develop and use atomic weapons is talked up by the media for public consumption.

Western leaders, however, have confirmed to us in the last ten years that they have no problem with destroying foreign countries in order to pursue their goals - that they will stop at nothing. The parroting of Whitehall "concerns" (Iran are "newly aggressive, and we are not quite sure why”) in the mainstream media ensures that any invasion will be based on the spread of fear and the denial of facts.

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

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