COMMENT Iranophobia hits Ground Zero
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
In the run-up to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United
Nations in New York next week, the Iran-bashing sentiment in the US media has
escalated to new, unprecedented levels, with presidential hopefuls such as
former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the former governor of
Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, adding fuel to the fire with their increasingly
incendiary rhetoric against Iran.
Thus, whereas Romney has written to the UN requesting
Ahmadinejad's arrest on arriving on US soil, citing the Geneva Conventions,
Giuliani has used his European tour to second the warmongering sentiment of
French leaders, promising to set Iran back "five to 10 years" if it refuses to
comply with demands that it suspend uranium-enrichment activities.
And as for the US media, in their seemingly stiff competition on who will win
the Iran-bashing trophy, New York's Daily News was the winner, with its
full-front-page photo of Ahmadinejad circled in red with the accompanying
write-up that he should "go to hell" for daring to request a visit to the
former site of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York known as Ground
Another New York daily, Newsday, has been equally venomous, referring to
Ahmadinejad as a "madman".
Such vicious, unbounded personal attacks on Iran's president recall earlier
manifestations of US jingoism perpetrated against, among others, Cuba's Fidel
Castro, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and, during the Cold War, various Soviet and
Eastern European leaders.
With such a long and rather unsavory tradition, the US media have once again
fallen victim to an orchestration of "enemy image" that aims to vilify,
intimidate, deface and demonize a Middle Eastern leader who, ironically, has
been unusually forthcoming in his expressions of warm feelings toward the
American people (though not the US government and its policies).
Never mind that Ahmadinejad has released a few Iranian-Americans who were
suspected of instigating a "velvet revolution", or that he has broken the ice
of diplomatic non-dialogue with the US by consenting to direct meetings between
Iranian and US ambassadors in Iraq, or that he has made the most far-reaching
Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to date.
None of this matters the least to frenzied pundits and politicians who want to
cash in on the feverish anti-Iran mood in the US, whose government has done
nothing to quell this Iranophobic frenzy and, instead, is fanning the flames by
escalating accusations against Tehran.
The latest was the arrest of an Iranian "officer" by US forces at a hotel in
Baghdad who is identified by Iraq's government as part of a trade delegation on
an official visit. It remains to be seen whether the United States' allegations
against this individual turn out to be correct or a tissue of disinformation
timed with Ahmadinejad's New York visit.
Iranophobic US politicians and pundits have no doubt been heartened by the
simultaneous attack on Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the UN's
atomic watchdog agency, the IAEA, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who
has in undiplomatic tone warned ElBaradei to "butt out of Iran diplomacy".
ElBaradei's bold anti-war language is, of course, behind all the recent attacks
on him, which dates to 2002 when he was similarly vilified for opposing an
invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei's other guilt is that he has dared to draw
comparison between the anti-Iran war hype today and the pre-Iraq-invasion
circumstance, when his agency's failure to find weapons of mass destruction was
repudiated by most of the "respected" media pundits in the US, including those
writing in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Sadly, history repeats itself, and the US media frenzy against Ahmadinejad,
rooted in the US government's failures in Iraq and Iran's defiance of
international pressures on the nuclear issue, will undoubtedly gear up to even
higher levels once Ahmadinejad sets foot in New York. He has reportedly agreed
to debate the president of Columbia University, and that too may become a
casualty of the Iran-bashing campaign that succeeded in last year's
cancellation of a similar event at Columbia.
What is disturbing about this tidal wave of Iran-bashing in the US is the
cowardice of more moderate elements of the US media and politics to speak
against the irrational tone of such attacks on Tehran, which many leading US
politicians who helped draft the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Report have called on
the US government to "engage" diplomatically.
Yet instead of speaking out against the opposite policy of "isolating" Iran by
the White House, most of those politicians - with the sole exception of Lee
Hamilton, a co-chairman of the ISG - have opted to stay silent.
But that does not make sense, given the United States' national interests and
the fact that the onset of US-Iran dialogue on Iraq has been a positive
development requiring a timely deepening, for example via next month's
conference on Iraq and its neighbors in Turkey, where Rice and Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will have an opportunity to discuss the issues
dividing their two countries, which have a large pool of (non-zero-sum) shared
interests in the region.
In light of the US media's reports on Rice's preference for diplomacy, as
opposed to warfare, with Iran, which has been seconded by President George W
Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it is indeed surprising that the US
Department of State has not weighed in on the issue of Ahmadinejad's request to
lay a wreath at Ground Zero.
Sure, such a gesture provides a "photo op", as claimed by some New York City
officials, but then again it is a small yet concrete step by Iran to reinforce
and bolster its anti-terrorist image, given its steady cooperation with the
anti-terrorist committee at the UN Security Council, and the US government is
dreadfully wrong not to seek such visible signs of Iran's commitment.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of
"Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume
XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping
Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.