Has Nothing Been Learned Since 2003? Corporate Media and Warhawks Target Iran

January 12th, 2020 - by Eoin Higgin / Common Dreams & Jim Webb / The Washington Post

“No voices calling for peace. No voices critical of empire. Just establishment media and current and former Pentagon officials who feed off the trillion dollar war machine.”

Eoin Higgin / Common Dreams

 (January 9, 2020) — As President Donald Trump spent the early days of 2020 instigating and then backing down from a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Iran, corporate media in the US turned to the very same people who promoted the country’s worst foreign policy disaster in a generation to advocate for repeating the mistakes of two decades ago. 

The decision of networks and cable news outlets like CNNMSNBC, and Fox News to bring on a stream of past advocates for and architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was panned by progressives who watched in horror and frustration as the same arguments were deployed in service of all-out war with Iran.

“It’s War Inc. all over again,” tweeted The Nation‘s Dave Zirin.

Trump’s ordered assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3 proved the catalyst for escalated tensions between the US and Iran. It also opened the door for news outlets to welcome back some of the key Bush-era war cheerleaders.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, wrote Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson.

“The Trump administration’s sudden, violent confrontation with Iran stands in contrast to the methodical march to war with Iraq under George W. Bush and his neoconservative cabinet in 2003,” Dickinson wrote. “But the rhetoric around the two conflicts has been strikingly similar — as has the reliance on ‘razor thin’ evidence of an imminent threat to establish a cause for war.”

Soleimani’s death by drone strike was celebrated in real time by former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, who spent the run-up to the Iraq War selling the public on the necessity of the conflict.

“I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani,” Fleischer told Fox in the hours after Soleimani’s killing, flanked by Bush administration advisor Karl Rove.

In contrast to Fleischer’s prediction, Soleimani’s funeral and remembrance ceremonies over the weekend turned out mourners enraged at the assassination across Iran in the millions. Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s similar claim in 2002 that US troops in Iraq would be “welcomed as liberators” was equally true.

Fleischer was nonetheless welcomed back to Fox on Tuesday and Wednesday to give his thoughts on the conflict and attack Democrats for questioning the rush to war.

“It’s concerning, to say the least, to see some of the biggest backers of the Iraq War — an abject failure that, coupled with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, has cost the United States trillions of dollars and thousands of lives — are publicly (and in some instances, gleefully) opining about the potential impact of war with Iran, in some cases even using the same rhetorical stylings to do so,” said Vox‘s Jane Coaston of the similarity in rhetoric.

On MSNBC, which bills itself as a liberal alternative to right-wing behemoth Fox, host Ari Melber on January 7 in the wake of Iranian retaliation for the assassination spoke to former General Barry McCaffrey, who called for a devastating response against Iran. 

“Our only good response at this point is an overwhelming dominance of air and naval power that can be employed against the Iranian homeland,” said McCaffrey.

Unmentioned in the segment was McCaffrey’s position on the board of Raytheon, a major US weapons suppplier. 

The next day, Melber hosted former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat whose embrace of the Bush administration’s push for war across the Middle East led to an unofficial expulsion from the Democratic Party in 2006, though Lieberman was re-elected as an independent.

Not disclosed by Melber to his audience? The fact that Lieberman works for Israel Aerospace Industries, a defense company with $1 billion in sales in the US.

Melber did not respond to a request for comment at press time. 

“In a sane and just society, the architects of the nearly 17-year-old war in Iraq . . . would face war crimes charges and those who cheered them on would be thoroughly discredited.” — Jessica Schulberg, HuffPost

As Popular Information‘s Judd Legum reported Thursday morning, Lieberman and McCaffrey are hardly alone in advocating for war in the media without revealing their financial interests in the conflict. Legum lists nine former government officials with ties to the defense industry who are being presented to the American people as experts without noting their connections to the military industrial complex.

One of the people profiled by Legum is Michael Chertoff, the former Bush-era secretary of Homeland Security. On CNN, Chertoff claimed Trump has unilateral power to attack Iran and start a war. 

But, Legum pointed out, there was some context for those remarks conveniently left out of the coverage:

Neither Chertoff nor CNN disclosed that Chertoff is chairman of the board of the American subsidiary of BAE Systems, the fourth largest weapons manufacturer in the world. 

Print media was not immune to the lack of accountability shown by tv. On January 5, the Washington Post ran a piece by former Bush administration national security advisor Stephen Hadley saluting the assassination of Soleimani and calling for war if necessary. 

That Hadley is on the board of Raytheon alongside MSNBC‘s McCaffrey did not receive a mention.

The onus for disclosure, wrote Eyes on the Ties reporter Rob Galbraith, is on the Post‘s editor Fred Hiatt: 

Running another hawkish column by Hadley without noting his enormous financial incentive to stoke the engines of war shows that the Post in general, and Hiatt in particular, has failed to learn anything from Syria, Iraq, or any of the other times that war profiteers have used their pages to clamor for missile strikes and invasions. This is made all the more egregious since, however dismissively, Hiatt acknowledged Hadley’s conflict of interest in 2013, and yet still went ahead and printed his op-ed today without disclosing this conflict — again.

“It’s not 2003, but it sure feels like it,” wrote HuffPost‘s Jessica Schulberg in a piece detailing a number of the Bush administration officials and varied Iraq War boosters brought on by the corporate media to discuss the push for war.

“In a sane and just society, the architects of the nearly 17-year-old war in Iraq — which is still ongoing and has left an estimated half-million people dead — would face war crimes charges and those who cheered them on would be thoroughly discredited,” Schulberg continued. “Instead, they are the ‘experts’ praising President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate top Iranian military commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani and offering the public insight on the way forward with Iran.”

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Killing Leaders Who Haven’t Attacked Us

When did it become acceptable to kill a top leader of a country we aren’t even at war with?

Jim Webb / The Washington Post

(January 9, 2020) — Strongly held views are unlikely to change regarding the morality and tactical wisdom of President Trump’s decision to kill Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani as he traveled on a road outside the Baghdad airport after having arrived on a commercial flight. But the debate regarding the long-term impact of this act on America’s place in the world, and the potential vulnerability of US government officials to similar reprisals, has just begun.

How did it become acceptable to assassinate one of the top military officers of a country with whom we are not formally at war during a public visit to a third country that had no opposition to his presence? And what precedent has this assassination established on the acceptable conduct of nation-states toward military leaders of countries with which we might have strong disagreement short of actual war — or for their future actions toward our own people?

In 2007, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling on the George W. Bush administration to categorize Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as an international terrorist organization. I opposed this proposal based on the irrefutable fact that the organization was an inseparable arm of the Iranian government.

The Revolutionary Guards are not independent actors like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. They are part of the Iranian government’s formal military structure, with an estimated strength of more than 150,000 members. It is legally and logically impossible to define one part of a national government as an international terrorist organization without applying the term to that entire government.

Definitions define conduct. If terrorist organizations are actively involved against us, we attack them. But a terrorist organization is by definition a nongovernmental entity that operates along the creases of national sovereignties and international law. The Revolutionary Guards are a part of the Iranian government. If they are attacking us, they are not a terrorist organization. They’re an attacking army.

The 2007 proposal did not succeed. But last April the State Department unilaterally designated the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist entity. Although more than 60 organizations are listed in this category, this is the only time our government has ever identified an element of a nation-state as a terrorist organization. And the designation was by many accounts made despite the opposition of the CIA and the Defense Department.

The assassination of the most well-known military commander of a country with which we are not formally at war during his visit to a third country that had not opposed his presence invites a lax moral justification for a plethora of retaliatory measures — and not only from Iran. It also holds the possibility of more deeply entrenching the US military in a region that most Americans would very much prefer to deal with from a more maneuverable distance.

No thinking American would support Soleimani’s conduct. But it is also indisputable that his activities were carried out as part of his military duties. His harm to American military units was through his role as an enabler and adviser to third-country forces. This, frankly, is a reality of war.

I fought as a Marine in Vietnam. We had similar problems throughout the Vietnam War because of Vietnam’s propinquity to China, which along with the Soviet Union provided continuous support to the North Vietnamese, including most of the weapons used against us on the battlefield. China was then a rogue state with nuclear weapons. Its leaders continually spouted anti-US rhetoric. Yet we did not assassinate its military leaders for rendering tactical advice or logistical assistance. We fought the war that was in front of us, and we created the conditions in which we engaged China aggressively through diplomatic, economic and other means.

Now, despite Trump’s previous assertions that he wants to dramatically reduce the United States’ footprint in the Middle East, it seems clear that he has been seduced into making unwise announcements similar to the rhetoric used by his immediate predecessors of both parties. Their blunders — in Iraq, Libya and Syria — destabilized the region and distracted the United States from its greatest long-term challenge: China’s military and economic expansion throughout the world.

At a time when our political debates have come to resemble Kardashian-like ego squabbles, the United States desperately needs common-sense leadership in its foreign policy. This is not a failure of the executive branch alone; it is the result of a breakdown in our entire foreign policy establishment, from the executive branch to the legislative branch and even to many of our once-revered think tanks. If partisanship in foreign policy should end at the water’s edge, then such policies should be forged through respectful, bipartisan debate.

The first such debate should focus on the administration’s unilateral decision to label an entire element of a foreign government an international terrorist organization. If Congress wishes to hold Iran to such a standard, it should then formally authorize the use of force against Iran’s government.

The failure of congressional leadership to make these kinds of decisions is an example of why our foreign policy has become so militarized, and of how weak and even irrelevant Congress has allowed itself to become in the eyes of our citizens.

Here’s what you need to know to understand what this moment means in US-Iran relations.

What happened: President Trump ordered a drone strike near the Baghdad airport, killing Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and leader of its special-operations forces abroad.

Who was Soleimani: As the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, Soleimani was key in supporting and coordinating with Iran’s allies across the region, especially in Iraq. Soleimani’s influence was imprinted on various Shiite militias that fought US troops.

How we got here: Tensions had been escalating between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal, and they spiked shortly before the airstrike. The strikes that killed Soleimani were carried out after the death of a US contractor in a rocket attack against a military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, that the United States blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia.

What happens next: Iran responded to Soleimani’s death by launching missile strikes at two bases hosting US forces in Iraq. No casualties were reported. In an address to the nation, Trump announced that new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran.

Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, served in the US Senate from 2007 to 2013 and was secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1988.

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