Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 15th, 2012

Repeat of Iraq’s invasion “lack of political discussions” re-applied to Iran: Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy

Stephen M. Walt did a brief interview for All Things Considered last Friday.  The topic was “media handling of the current war scare over Iran. Here’s a link to the story, which ran over the weekend. You may read my post first if you like https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/and-after-israel-bombs-irans-nuclear-program/

Walt  wrote in Foreign Policy (with slight editing on my part):

“The interview got me thinking about the issue of media coverage of this entire business (on Iran).  I’m sorry to say that most mainstream news organizations have let us down again.  The current failures haven’t been as egregious as the New York Times and Washington Post’s wholesale swallowing of the Bush administration’s sales pitch for the war against Iraq in 2002.  On the whole, the high-end media coverage has been disappointing. Here are my Top Ten Media Failures in the 2012 Iran War Scare.

#1: Mainstreaming the war. As prominent media organizations keep publishing alarmist pieces about how war is imminent, likely, inevitable, etc., this may convince the public that it is going to happen sooner or later, and it discourages people from looking for better alternatives. See Exhibits A and B for this problem by Jeffrey Goldberg and Ronan Bergman’ s articlesBoth articles reported that top Israeli leaders believed time was running out and suggested that an attack might come soon.

#2: Loose talk about Iran’s “nuclear [weapons] program.” A recurring feature of Iran war coverage has been tendency to refer to Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” as if its existence were an established fact. U.S. intelligence services still believe that Iran does not have an active program, and the IAEA has also declined to render that judgment either.

Interestingly, both the Times’ public editor Arthur Brisbane and Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton have recently chided their own organizations for muddying this issue.

#3: Obsessing about AhmadinejadA typical insertion into discussions of Iran is to make various references to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, usually including an obligatory reference to his penchant for Holocaust denial and his famously mis-translated statement about Israel “vanishing from the page of time.”

This feature is often linked to the issue of whether Iran’s leaders are rational or not. But the obsession with Ahmadinejad is misleading in several ways: he has little or no influence over Iran’s national security policy, his power has been declining sharply in recent months, and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini — who does make the key decisions — has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam.

And while we’re on the subject of Iranian “rationality,” it is perhaps worth noting that its leaders weren’t goofy enough to invade Iraq on a pretext and spend trillions of dollars fighting an unnecessary war there.

#4: Ignoring Iranian weaknessAs I’ve noted before, Iran is not a very powerful country at present, though it does have considerable potential and could exert far more international influence if its leaders were more competent. But its defense budget is perhaps 1/50th the size of U.S. defense spending, and it has no meaningful power-projection capabilities.

Iran could not mount a serious invasion of any of its neighbors, and could not block the Strait of Hormuz for long, if at all. Among other things, that is why it has to rely on marriages of convenience with groups like Hezbollah or Hamas (who aren’t that powerful either). Yet as Glenn Greenwald argues here, U.S. media coverage often portrays Iran as a looming threat, without offering any serious military analysis of its very limited capabilities.

#5: Failing to ask why Iran might want a bomb. Discussions of a possible war also tend to assume that if Iran does in fact intend to get a nuclear weapon, it is for some nefarious purpose. But the world’s nine nuclear powers all obtained these weapons first and foremost for deterrent purposes (i.e., because they faced significant external threats and wanted a way to guarantee their own survival).

Iran has good reason to worry: It has nuclear-armed States on two sides, a very bad relationship with the world’s only superpower, and more than three dozen U.S. military facilities in its neighborhood. Prominent U.S. politicians repeatedly call for “regime change” there, and a covert action campaign against Iran has been underway for some time, including the assassination of Iranian civilian scientists.

#6: Failing to consider why Iran might NOT want a bombAt the same time, discussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions often fail to consider the possibility that Iran might be better off without a nuclearweapons capability. As noted above, Supreme Leader Khamenei has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam, and he may very well mean it.

Khamenei could be lying, but that sort of lie would be risky for a regime whose primary basis for legitimacy is its devotion to Islam. For another, Iran has the greatest power potential of any State in the Gulf, and if it had better leadership it would probably be the strongest power in the region. If it gets nuclear weapons some of its neighbors may follow suit, which would partly negate Iran’s conventional advantages down the road.

Staying on this side of the nuclear weapons threshold keeps Iran from being suspected of complicity should a nuclear terrorist attack occur somewhere. For all these reasons, I’d bet Iran wants a latent nuclear option, but not an actual nuclear weapon. But there’s been relatively little discussion of that possibility in recent media coverage.

#7: Exaggerating Israel’s capabilitiesIn a very real sense, this whole war scare has been driven by the possibility that Israel might feel so endangered that they would launch a preventive war on their own, even if U.S. leaders warned them not to. But Israel IDF doesn’t have the capacity to take out Iran’s new facility at Fordow: they don’t have any aircraft that can carry a bomb big enough to penetrate the layers of rock that protect the facilities. And if they can’t take out Fordow, then they can’t do much to delay Iran’s program at all and the only reason they might strike is to try to get the United States dragged in.

In short, the recent war scare, whose tap-root is the belief that Israel might strike on its own, may be based on a mirage.

#8: Letting spinmeisters play fast and loose with facts. Journalists have to let officials and experts express their views, but they shouldn’t let them spout falsehoods without pushing back. Unfortunately, there have been some egregious cases where prominent journalists allowed politicians or government officials to utter howlers without being called on it.

For example, when Rick Santorum announced on Meet the Press that “there were no inspectors” in Iran,  host David Gregory didn’t challenge this obvious error. (In fact, Iran may be the most heavily inspected country in the history of the IAEA).

Even worse, when Israeli ambassador Michael Oren appeared on MSNBC last week, he offered the following set of dubious claims, without challenge:

“[Iran] has built an underground nuclear facility trying to hide its activities from the world. It has been enriching uranium to a high rate [sic.] that has no explanation other than a military nuclear program – that has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency now several times. It is advancing very quickly on an intercontinental ballistic missile system that’s capable of carrying nuclear warheads.”

Unfortunately, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell apparently didn’t know that Oren’s claims were either false or misleading:

1) Iran’s underground facility was built to make it hard to destroy, not to “hide its activities,” and IAEA inspectors have already been inside it.

2) Iran is not enriching at a “high rate” (i.e., to weapons-grade); it is currently enriching to only 20% (which is not high enough to build a bomb).

3) Lastly, Western intelligence experts do not think Iran is anywhere near to having an ICBM capability.

In another interview on NPR, Oren falsely accused Iran of “killing hundreds, if not thousands of American troops,” a claim that NPR host Robert Siegel did not challenge. Then we got the following exchange:

Oren: “Imagine Iran which today has a bunch of speedboats trying to close the Strait of Hormuz. Imagine if Iran has a nuclear weapon. Imagine if they could hold the entire world oil market blackmailed. Imagine if Iran is conducting terrorist organizations through its terrorist proxies – Hamas, Hezbollah. Now we know there’s a connection with al-Qaida. You can’t respond to them because they have an atomic weapon.”

Siegel: Yes. You’re saying the consequences of Iran going nuclear are potentially global, and the consequences of a U.S. strike on Iran might also be further such attacks against the United States…”

Never mind the fact that we have been living in the nuclear age for some 60 years now, and no nuclear State has even been able to conduct the sort of aggressive blackmail that Oren suggests Iran would be able to do. Nuclear weapons are good for deterrence, and not much else, but the news media keep repeating alarmist fantasies without asking if they make sense or not.

Politicians and government officials are bound to use media moments to sell whatever story they are trying to spin; that’s their job. But It is up to journalists to make this hard, and both Mitchell and Siegel didn’t. (For another example of sloppy fact-checking, go here).

9. What about the human beings? One of the more bizarre failures of reporting on the war debate has been the dearth of discussion of what an attack might mean for Iranian civilians. If you take out some of Iran’s nuclear facilities from the air, there’s a very real risk of spreading radioactive material or other poisonous chemicals in populated areas, thereby threatening the lives of lots of civilians in the (Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan…)

Yet when discussing the potentially dangerous consequences of a war, most discussions emphasize the dangers of Iranian retaliation, or the impact on oil prices, instead of asking how many innocent Iranian civilians might die in the attack. You know: the same civilians we supposedly want to liberate from a despotic clerical regime.

10. Could diplomacy work? Lastly, an underlying theme in a lot of the coverage is the suggestion that diplomacy is unlikely to work, because it’s been tried before and failed. But the United States has had very little contact with Iranian officials over the past thirty years, and only one brief set of direct talks in the past three years.

Moreover, we’ve insisted all along that Iran has to give up all nuclear enrichment, which is almost certainly a deal-breaker from Tehran’s perspective. The bottom line is that diplomacy has yet to succeed-and it might not in any case-but it’s also never been seriously tried.

I’m sure you can find exceptions to the various points I’ve made here, especially if you move outside major media outlets and focus on online publications and the blogosphere. Which may be why more people are inclined to get their news and analysis there, instead of from the usual outlets. But on the whole, Americans haven’t been well-served by media coverage of the Iran debate. As the president said last week, “loose talk” about an issue like this isn’t helpful.

Note: Jeffrey Goldberg’s September 2010 article in The Atlantic Monthly and Ronan Bergman’s February 2012 article in the New York Times Magazine.

 

Is Earth exhausted? Is mankind immune to “endangered specie” category?

I attended a local TEDx meeting in Awcar (Lebanon), and two talks, seemingly contradictory, were shown, and a heated intelligent discussion ensued.

Paul Gliding said that mankind is currently consuming 1.5 times what earth can sustain and regenerate naturally, and that by the year 2020, mankind will consume twice what nature is able to naturally deliver. By the year 2050, when mankind has reached 9 billion, the cycle will be irreversible if no serious actions are implemented at a global scale.

The global problems for the ecological disaster (CO2, polluted water sources,…) have been known for 3 decades, but political actions have been delayed and the problems are steadily deteriorating.

Gliding said “EARTH IS FULL and fear should get us acting strongly. It takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we fear loss, we are capable of quite extraordinary things”

The other speaker was Peter Diamandis. Peter said: “Creating abundance is not about creating a life of luxury for everybody on this planet; it’s about creating a life of possibility.” Diamandis view is that current technology can feed every single one, cloth every single one of us, cure all kinds of diseases, provide potable water to every one, generate plenty of energy to every one of us. Peter is forecasting that in 2020, 3 billion individuals will be directly connected to internet and sharing knowledge, information, pieces of intelligence, alternative resolutions, new technologies…

Think of this vast network of interaction among people, this powerful force for change among very learned and engaged people…

My reaction is:

1. If current technologies can extend all these feats and miracles, then why a kid die of famine every 7 seconds? Why million die of curable diseases and can be cured with effective 3-decade old antibiotics?  Why epidemics that we thought were eradicated are returning with savage vigor and new antibiotics are helpless to fighting them?

2. If nanotechnology is showing good prospect of cleaning up contaminated soil and water sources, how much scientists know of the long-term effect of nano particles on human and living species?  Didn’t pesticide use follow the same process of heavy applications, only to discover that it is lethaly harming the living species?

The amiant based products, used in insulated product for many generations and labelled the “white gold” in Canada (first producer in the world) harvested million upon million of users in lung cancer before the authorities banned it.  And yet, the current Canadian government is reopening the excavation fields and exporting the product to India …

3. If current technology can recycle polluted water, how much can it recycle for irrigation purposes? And the list is long and stretching in length by the year…

Suppose we have 3 billion well-connected in the internet and sharing ideas, you can bet that 95% of them will never generate any profit for their “ingenious” ideas and will suffer the “trickle-down” effect before they enjoy any relief.

It is the kinds of people in TED, members owning companies, registering their patents, and enforcing the “capitalism patent rights” with the support of their powerful government, and enjoying the necessary funding to executing the ideas that will reap all the benefits…

Those 3 billion well-connected in the internet will not even be able to cross the physical borders to get physically in touch with the potential movers and shakers. If they surmount the indignities and humiliations of obtaining a lousy visa, they’ll have to submit to colon search at airports…And their expenses in the hundred of dollars will not be refunded if visa is denied…

The technology is there.  The insurmountable problem is political in nature.  Thinking global will be much easier to reach, but how acting locally is to be executed?

The main task of the 3 billion well-connected on the internet will be to educate the “most advanced citizens” on what is feasible and possible to activate in their local communities. Otherwise, the “advanced NGO’s” , ignorant of the sociopolitical structures in the third world, will be exporting what they think is most modern, efficient, and promising technologies and methods, and out of context,  for the third world people…

Well-connected internet users must be politically oriented and engaged, and they must read local dailies to pinpoint local difficulties.  Comprehending the multiple interactions of a problem is a first step, and selecting what is possible and feasible is another serious endeavor in order to applying good ideas and methods on the ground.

Most probably, when earth experience cataclysmic periods, it is the third world people who will survive: They have acquired their natural survival kit.  They can share a piece of bread, pick fruits from trees, slaughter a bird, extend help among their small closed-net communities…

On social platforms I read: “What is more efficient for mankind: Fear or hope?” I think this dichotomy is out of the subject matter.  Of course, hope is far more effective is sustaining survival, given that the sociopolitical environment tend toward equitable deals among communities and class structure.  Is it the inequity and blatant discrimination among classes that ruins confidence in development and the re-starting of a sustainable economy.

The issue is not technology or economy, but mainly political in nature. Occupy movement should be kept alive and spread again, with new pragmatic feasible programs that politicians can associate with and promote…

Note: You may read on the Singularity University club of elites https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/projects-to-live-700-years-what-is-singularity-university/


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