This article was last modified on June 27, 2009.

Empire Strikes First: Iran

June saw the Iranian people take part in a historic election, with massive turnouts from all segments of the population. What essentially started as a referendum on President Ahmadinejad quickly became a display to the world of what happens when the populace grows weary of their despotic, corrupt leadership. Millions marched in the streets of Tehran, protesting what was most likely a rigged election. On June 19, the Ayatollah publicly declared the elections fair and legitimate. Saying so does not make a thing true, but sadly in Iran, there is not much recourse.

Regardless of how everything pans out, one thing is sure to remain constant: Iran will continue to be the primary perceived adversary of the United States, whether we call them part of the “axis of evil” or not. This has been the case for decades, and President Obama’s calls for talks will not change this.

The Bush Administration made Iran public enemy number one, at least since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And the American people listened — the politicians, the media and the general public all knew there was no doubt that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, and his primary goals were the destruction of the Jewish race and the threat of nuclear war with America. There was no mention of his loosening restrictions on women or his policies of distributing oil wealth to the poorest members of his country. How did we come to believe the worst? Where was the evidence? How can the average American be so convinced of something when they were never given a reason? Yes, Ahmadinejad is corrupt and Iran deserves a better government, but he is not the inhuman monster we have made him out to be.

The most ubiquitous misinformation comes from a loose and reckless mistranslation. In 2005, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying he wanted to “wipe Israel off the map”, and a simple news search will reveal this statement has been printed almost every day in one or more newspapers around the world since. Yet those familiar with Farsi, the language spoken in Iran, make it clear that no such statement was ever uttered. There was a call to replace the “Zionist regime” in Jerusalem, which produces an altogether different connotation. He has compared the future of Israel to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Hoping for a new Israeli leadership is not the same as calling for a country’s annihilation.

Alongside this is the claim that Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. There is no record of him denying this horrible event. On the contrary, we must presume that he accepts it, as he has said that Europe has used the Holocaust to justify the creation of Israel. He asks, and I think rightly, how can the near destruction of a race by Europeans justify the displacement of the Palestinians? Two wrongs do not make a right. If we want to find an anti-Israel country, we need look no further than our ally Saudi Arabia, where Jews are referred to as “apes” in one of their school’s textbooks.

We have Iran allegedly feeding weaponry to Hamas and Hezbollah. Even if true, does this action have any less validity than America’s own arms dealing worldwide? If we desire peace, why do we supply Egypt, Israel and countless other nations with killing devices? If Iran has influence in Iraq, what makes their sway any less legitimate than ours? Does America alone have the right to decide the fate of the Iraqi people, even if the Iraqi leadership favors Iran?

Is Iran a nuclear threat? Not if we tune out the echo chamber of those in power here and listen to more informed voices. America’s own National Intelligence Estimate of December 2007 declared that if Iran did have a nuclear weapons program, such a setup was disbanded by 2003, despite the talk of war-mongering neocons. No less a personage than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa — a religious decree — against nuclear weapons in 2005, all but ruling out the possibility of a weapons program. When Ahmadinejad says the development of nuclear weapons “is illegal and against our religion”, he’s quite serious.

Even with Bush gone, we’re still reading the news that Iran is a “threat” — while North Korea considers nuclear war, politicians such as Mitt Romney are still fixated on the idea that Iran is the real villain. Why would a country sitting on huge oil deposits want a peaceful nuclear program, he asks. Perhaps because Iran knows something the rest of the world has known for a long time: fossil fuels are not an unlimited resource. If allegations from decorated journalist Seymour Hersh are accurate, America has been sending spies and saboteurs into Iran for several years now, trying to destabilize the country. Allegedly, Vice President Cheney even considered dressing up Navy SEALs as Iranian PT boaters and having them fire upon American ships, in order to initiate a war. Who is the threat in that scenario?

Surely the people of Iran have not forgotten Operation Ajax, the 1953 CIA-organized overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. The coup included bribing Iranian government officials, reporters, and businessmen, probably not much different than what Hersh is claiming now. There is more than a little irony that America can feign concern about democracy in Iran while at the same time knowingly having opposed it, perhaps even today.

The very idea of Iran being a threat is illogical nonsense. Basic geography shows us that no missile from the Middle East is capable of crossing thousands of miles of land and ocean to hit our shores. While attacking Israel is possible, it would be a foolish and destructive blunder. Israel’s superior weaponry, along with their plethora of allies, guarantees that any direct attack on them would result in a retaliation of mass proportions. Iran would be crushed within days. Canadian political commentator Linda McQuaig says it best: “Why would Iran want to provoke a war with Israel and the U.S. — both heavily armed nuclear powers — when it has no nuclear weapons itself?”

What will we see over the next three to seven years from Obama? Although Ahmadinejad’s lack of legitimacy complicates things, we will no doubt continue some sort of dialogue. But the message to the American people from above will be the same; rather than focus on the real troubles in Iran — the corruption and oppression made obvious this past month — we will inevitably hear more about the threat to Israel and America, the country’s nuclear ambitions and other fabrications. When a government thrives on propaganda, the truth is not important. Keeping the people submissive and in fear of something is job number one.

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