Watching American (and Iranian-Americans who haven't been to Iran since the revolution of 1979) "experts" talk about Iran can be a painful experience. Most of the analyses are not only superficial and stereotypical, they also lack the depth that is required in order to make sound policy.
Of course the ultimate phony expert is none other than the anti-intellectual George W. Bush. Last week in front of the Israeli Knesset, he likened the willingness to talk to Ahmadinejad to the appeasement to Hitler. But the administration and their Israeli friends have navigated through a number of phases and systematic distortions throughout the past three years in order to prepare us for what they will try to do: Use something Ahmadinejad said in 2005 against the Democratic candidate for president in 2008.
Here are the stages of Neoconservatives' and Bush's propaganda campaign on Iran:
1) The time line starts in 2005 when one of Ahmadinejad's statements was grossly mistranslated with the unanimous consent of the American media. Then, Ahmadinejad had said "Imam [Khomeini] said this occupying regime in Jerusalem must vanish from the page of times." The statement was mistranslated as "Israel should be wiped off the map."
What started as Ahmadinejad quoting Imam (Khomeini), the leader of the 1979 revolution, criticizing Israel's government was deliberately mistranslated not only to attach the quote to Ahmadinejad, but to use to further the propaganda campaign against Iran. The quote is about the "regime in Jerusalem" with "occupying" mentioned as justification for making the statement. Wanting a government gone for its policies is nothing new or radical. Last time I checked, about 71% of this country wanted the Bush regime gone for its policies. And despite placing one in the minority, wanting Israel gone is not an unacceptable position. Understand that when people talk about the existence of Israel, they are not talking about the people in Israel, but whether Israel, the West Bank and Gaza should be one country for both Arabs and Jews or Israel should be a separate and Jewish state. Why can we have frank discussions about whether Kosovo should be an independent country or part of Serbia but cannot have the same conversation about Israel?
Not only did Al Jazeera, (which some believe is doing Arab world's bidding to isolate Iran and create friction between her and the West), mistranslate Ahmadinejad's quote by replacing the words "occupying regime" with "Israel," but the occupation that Ahmadinejad had hinted at in the original quote was eliminated to make the statement an irrational and irreconcilable desire to annihilate the people in Israel -- and by extension, Jews, because in the eyes of neoconservatives, no Arabs lives in Israel. And how about the 8 million Palestinian refugees who were uprooted? "What are you talking about?"
2) The second stage is what neoconservatives have sixty years of experience at, which is equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Following the statement, the Bush administration did not waste any time to completely take Ahmadinejad's statement out of context and make it appear as if it were against Jews. Of course anyone with a thorough knowledge of the region knows that Iran is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel. People in Iran do live under oppressive theocratic laws. But Jews don't have it any worse and don't get it any worse than they did before Ahmadinejad came to power. But when Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations calls a former US president, Jimmy Carter -- whose extraordinary efforts to bring peace to Israel earned him the Nobel Peace Prize -- a "bigot" for talking to HAMAS, one does not expect Ahmadinejad to be treated any better than he had been for quoting a criticism of Israel.
3) In order to effectively portray Ahmadinejad as dangerous, the administration realizes that the next step was to pretend that Ahmadinejad's statement was a policy declaration. This is when neoconservatives like William Kristol and the members of the Bush administration began making statements like Ahmadinejad "wants to wipe Israel off the map." Of course one's saying something must be done is by no means the same as one saying he wants to or is going to do it. When Nancy Pelosi says Bush must go, does anyone interpret it as a death threat against Bush?
4) The fourth stage is an extension of the previous distortion. It involves pretending that not only Ahmadinejad has expressed the desire to destroy Israel, but he has in the power to do so. This is to deny one major fact, which is that Ahmadinejad is not the government official who is in charge of foreign policy. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader in Iran, is the one who calls the shots. Nonetheless, at this stage, people are led to believe that Ahmadinejad is going to do what he is wrongly alleged to have said he wants to do and can't even do if he wants anyway, which is wipe Israel off the map. John McCain denied this fact about the leadership structure in Iran again today.
Of course this notion is ridiculous and requires one to take what the second phony expert on Iran -- John McCain -- calls a "holiday from history." The fact is that Iranian leaders have been making anti-Israel statements since the 1979 revolution, but Iran has not attacked another country in more than a hundred years. Ahmadinejad's words (such as calling Israel a "stinking corpse") are nothing more than empty rhetoric for domestic consumption. If anything, the "stinking corpse" remark should be reassuring for Israel; one is highly unlikely to want to destroy what one considers to be dead already! Looking into these remarks as indicators of actual policies betrays one's complete ignorance of Iran.
5) The fifth aspect involves addressing criticisms. One can make the argument that Iran is not going to commit suicide by attacking Israel knowing that Israel alone possesses at least 300 nuclear weapons and can destroy every major city in Iran overnight without the help of the United States. In order to counter these arguments, neocons invoke an absurd notion that the leaders in Iran aren't pragmatic and function according to an apocalyptic world vision and, hence, cannot be deterred as the Soviets were during the Cold War. This is of course a temping but inaccurate response. One needs to look back no further than the 1980s when Iran was secretly buying weapons from Ronald Reagan while publicly leading crowds to chant "Death to America." Does anyone really believe that if Iran's leaders had an apocalyptic vision, they would have bought weapons from the Christian "Great Satan" to kill fellow Muslims in Iraq?
These stages have brought us to where we are today: A few quotes by Ahmadinejad have been misquoted, mistranslated and misinterpreted to the point of distorting reality, drawing him as a powerful anti-Semitic dictator with an apocalyptic vision and nuclear intentions who will sooner or later try to destroy Israel.
As someone who was born in Iran and lived there for seventeen years, this blogger is under no illusion that the regime in Iran is one of the most repressive in the world. Many of my fellow liberals who think oppression in Iran is due to "cultural differences" need to let go of the fairytale. Oppression is real, and Iranians do face oppression unmatched in nature by any other country. Nonetheless, the notion that Ahmadinejad is a modern-day Hitler and needs photo-ops with the "Great Satan" to prosper when chanting "death to America" has worked out much better for him, or that talking to him amounts to appeasement is one of the most fundamental distortions that neoconservatives have purported in this campaign.