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10 Myths About Iran—and Why They’re Dead Wrong
Posted on Mar 10, 2012
By Jasmin Ramsey, AlterNet
This article originally appeared on AlterNet, which requested that Truthdig’s first published version be revised slightly, as below. The 10 boldface statements below are intended to contradict myths; they reflect the truth and not the erroneous assumptions that abound in the current atmosphere.
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So it should come as no surprise that according to a 2012 Gallup poll, Iran is Americans’ “least favored nation” and has consistently ranked unfavorably since 1989. Gallup is not specific about why an overwhelming majority of respondents have such a low “overall opinion” of the Islamic Republic, but they suggest that “heavy scrutiny and criticism from the West over its nuclear programs” sheds light on American reasoning. Alarmist notions about Iran’s foreign and nuclear policy that spread through the media perpetuate a negative image that is oftentimes inaccurate—and help pave the path to war, which experts say would have disastrous consequences for Israel, the broader Middle East and the U.S.
AlterNet decided to look at 10 myths about Iran, many of them created by these alarmist notions—and explain why they’re dead wrong.
1. Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.
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Yet 71 percent of Americans said “Yes” to the question, “Do you think Iran currently has nuclear weapons, or not?” in the last poll to ask that question. The question was asked a little over two years ago and public opinion could have become more accurately informed. Then again, when widely read newspapers like the Wall Street Journal publish weekly pieces suggesting that “evil” Iran is “building a nuclear bomb” (while justifying terrorism against Iranian citizens), and when Republican presidential contenders like Mitt Romney write that Iranian “Islamic fanatics” are “racing to build a nuclear bomb,” the truth can understandably become muddied for the average person.
2. Iran is not rushing to build a nuclear weapon.
The most prevalent suspicion about Iran is that it is trying to obtain breakout capability, or the ability to produce a nuclear weapon in a short period of time if it made the decision to do so. But that idea often results in unfounded alarmism about Iran’s nuclear program. Former Mideast-focused Pentagon official Colin Kahl told attendees during a packed Capitol Hill briefing in February that there’s a lot of “hyperbole and hyperventilation about Iran’s program” based on estimated timeframes about its alleged nuclear ambitions.
But Kahl emphasized that “timelines” estimating how quickly Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon depend on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei making a “final decision” that “we have no evidence that he’s made, and we have every reason to believe we would detect if he did.” The Georgetown associate professor went on to point out that because of the very real existential threats the Iranians would face if they decided to start building a weapon, “we’re probably a number of years away” from the point at which Khamenei would “feel comfortable enough” in making that decision. According to nuclear nonproliferation expert Daryl Kimball, the main aim with Iran should accordingly be to affect Iranian “political will.”
Historian and Middle East expert Juan Cole also explained this week that Iran’s main decision-maker, Ali Khamenei, has consistently forbidden, on the basis of Islam, the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Cole says that if people believe Khamenei is being “dishonest,” they should prove it. Finally, as veteran Iran-focused journalist Scott Peterson recently illustrated, “breathless” assertions that Iran is speeding head-on toward nuclear capability “or worse” have been heard for decades while related predictions about imminent Iranian threats have “come and gone” unrealized.
3. Iran is not ruled by “irrational” leaders.
This is particularly true when it comes to Iranian foreign policy—and that’s according to America’s top-ranking military officer Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told CNN last month that the United States is “of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.” Former head of the Israeli Mossad Meir Dagan recently echoed that view, telling CBS that, “The regime in Iran is a very rational one.”
In January, director of National Intelligence James Clapper informed a Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran was using a “cost-benefit analysis” with its nuclear program decision-making process: “[I]f the decision has been made to press on with a nuclear weapon — and there are certain things they have not done yet to eventuate that — that this would be based on a cost-benefit analysis.” He added that the U.S. does not believe that the decision to build a nuclear weapon has been made by Iran’s leadership yet. And in February, the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “The [DIA] assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict”—another indication that Iran’s decision-making process is a calculated one.
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