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Romney and the Dogs of War

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Posted on Nov 5, 2012
BriannaCK (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Jeremiah Goulka, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

The public appears to be primed.  A large majority of Americans believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, 71% in 2010 and 84% this March.  Some surveys even indicate that a majority of Americans would support military action to stop Iran from developing nukes.

opinion that Iran once had such a program, but closed it down in 2003. U.S., European, and Israeli officials consistently say that Iran does not have an ongoing program and hasn’t even decided to pursue one, that at most the Iranians are hanging out near the starting line.  Iran’s supreme leader himself issued a fatwa against building nukes.  Why, then, is the American public so certain?  How did we get here?

There are three main reasons, only one of which is partially innocent.

What’s in a Name?

The first is linguistic and quite simple.  Say these words out loud: Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

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Does that sound familiar?  Do those words look normal on the page?  Chances are the answer is “no,” because that’s not how the media, public officials, or political candidates typically refer to Iran’s nuclear activities.  Iran has a civilian nuclear power program, including a power plant at Beshehr, that was founded with the encouragement and assistance of the Eisenhower administration in 1957 as part of its “Atoms for Peace” program.  Do we hear about that?  No.  Instead, all we hear about is “Iran’s nuclear program.”  Especially in context, the implied meaning of those three words is inescapable: that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons.

Out of curiosity, I ran some Google searches.  The results were striking.

  • “Iran’s disputed nuclear weapons program”: 4 hits
  • “Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program”: about 8,990 hits
  • “Iran’s civil nuclear program”: about 42,200 hits
  • “Iran’s civilian nuclear program”: about 199,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear weapons program”: about 5,520,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear program”: about 49,000,000 hits

Words matter, and this sloppiness is shaping American perceptions, priming the public for war.

Some of this is probably due to laziness.  Having to throw in “civilian” or “weapons” or “disputed” or “possible” makes for extra work and the result is a bit of a tongue twister.  Even people with good reasons to be precise use the shorter phrase, including President Obama.

But some of it is intentional.

The Proselytizing Republican Presidential Candidates

The second reason so many Americans are convinced that Iran is desperately seeking nukes can be attributed to the field of Republican candidates for the presidency.  They used the specter of such a weapons program to bash one another in the primaries, each posturing as the biggest, baddest sheriff on the block—and the process never ended.

The hyperbole has been impressive.  Take Rick Santorum: “Once they have a nuclear weapon, let me assure you, you will not be safe, even here in Missouri.”  Or Newt Gingrich: “Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it’s 300,000 dead. Maybe a half million wounded. This is a real danger. This is not science fiction.”

And then there’s Mitt Romney: “Right now, the greatest danger that America faces and the world faces is a nuclear Iran.”

The Regime-Change Brigade

Even if they’re not exactly excusable, media laziness and political posturing are predictable.  But there is a third reason Americans are primed for war: there exists in Washington what might be called the Bomb Iran Lobby—a number of hawkish political types and groups actively working to make believers of us all when it comes to an Iranian weapons program and so pave the way for regime change.  It should be noted that while some current and former Democrats have said that bombing Iran is a good idea, the groups in the lobby all fall on the Republican side of the aisle.


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