When the British Army of Lord Cornwallis boarded its ships to depart from Yorktown after being defeated by the Continental Army and the French under the command of General George Washington, a regimental band supposedly played an old ballad called “The World Turned Upside Down.” The music was intended to convey that the established order had been inverted by the American victory, with the king of England’s writ soon to be replaced by a union of states that eventually evolved into a constitutional republic.
There has been considerable press coverage during the past week that makes one think of a world turned upside down. Washington is unnaturally consumed with the Iranian Problem. Talk shows resonate over the question of what to do about Tehran’s nuclear program. There is a whole smorgasbord of things that Iran might do that are forbidden, including even having the knowledge of how to build a bomb. The negative press and commentary are being spun into a casus belli, something called the Iranian Threat writ large. The message is clear: even though Iran has a minuscule defense budget, has never attacked anyone, and is essentially a Third World country, it is nevertheless a global menace that must be dealt with by military means if all else fails. Oh yes, and brave little Israel will do the job if President Obama doesn’t have what it takes.
The only problem with all of the above is that the United States intelligence community confirms that Iran does not have a nuclear device and has not made the political decision to build one. Even Israeli intelligence agrees. So if you want a war, what do you do when that happens? You shift your narrative and develop a new way of defining the threat. Israel and its friends have consequently initiated a major offensive both back at home and in the United States to heighten the impression that Iran poses a genuine threat to Israel, the United States, and even to world peace in general. And make no mistake about what it entails: this is a major disinformation strategy that involves diplomatic, intelligence, and media resources.
The new narrative goes roughly as follows: Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and is close to having one in spite of what the intelligence people think. The weapon will inevitably be used directly by Iran or even given to terrorists to threaten Israel, Europe, and even the United States using ballistic missiles that are currently being developed. Because Iran is concealing or defensively “hardening” its new nuclear facilities, the window is closing on a military option to destroy the program. Iran is also planning to attack Jewish and American targets worldwide, including inside the United States, so a military attack is doubly essential to deter it from sponsoring such terrorist activity.
But there has been pushback within the U.S. government, particularly from the Pentagon and the CIA, with voices calling for calm. The Obama administration also does not want a war with Iran at this time, even though it has done precious little to prevent one. It has sent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Israel to warn the government of Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States will not support an uncoordinated military action by Israel. But Israel has refused the demand to provide advance warning of an attack and has defended its right to take action against the perceived Iranian threat. This does not sit well in Washington, but there is little that the White House can do in an election year, since any attempt to pressure Tel Aviv will result in an avalanche of criticism from Congress and the media.
Israel has been working hard to make a case through The New York Times and other media that retaliation by Iran really wouldn’t be so bad. The Netanyahu government has been circulating a memo that apparently details how Israel would easily counter Tehran’s reaction, also implying that the United States and its assets in the Persian Gulf would suffer little damage. The memo additionally makes the point that an attack on Iran would be perceived well by Iran’s Arab neighbors, leading to improved relations between Israel and all interested parties. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon also hyped the damage that Israel could inflict, saying last week that Israel would be able to attack all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, a statement that the Pentagon regards as whimsical.
But describing an Israeli attack on Iran as both potentially decisive and a benefit to everyone except Iran is apparently not enough. It has also been necessary to introduce other threats that will be deterred by the action. That is why the Israeli government and its usual cheering section in the media have been working up the story that Iran is planning terrorist actions inside the United States. This came to the fore in the press coverage of intelligence and defense community testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee last week in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein burbled enthusiastically as Persian perfidy was laid out for all the world to see. “Iran … willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds” read a headline for an article on the front page of The Washington Post on the following day. But paragraph three of the same article began with “U.S. officials said they have seen no intelligence to indicate that Iran is actively plotting attacks on U.S. soil.” The article then went on to cite the alleged Iranian-Mexican drug dealer plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington — which outside the government has been widely regarded as a fabrication — as possible evidence that “some Iranian officials … are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States.” When it comes to Iran as seen by official Washington, it is not necessarily what they do but what they might be thinking of doing.
The Israeli embassy in Washington then moved to drive something like the same message home, sending a memo around to Jewish groups indicating that “the threat on our sites around the world will increase.” This was picked up by ABC News and other national media after the allegedly confidential document was conveniently leaked. Overall, Tel Aviv’s disinformation program appears to be doing quite well, thanks to an obliging media and a receptive Congress.
But the real kicker last week was an op-ed by neocon-lite David Ignatius of The Washington Post, who is in Europe traveling with Panetta, in which he spelled out the steps the White House was taking to stop Israel from starting a war with Iran. Oddly, or perhaps not, the article included the following referring to possible U.S. abstention from the conflict: “Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.” Ignatius is unusually well-plugged in to White House and Pentagon circles, so what he says should be regarded as reliable. If his “could” should be understood as meaning “would,” his comment basically means that if Israel starts a war, even without warning Washington that it is coming, an Iranian reaction that hits civilian targets in Israel, either deliberately or not, would require a U.S. response because America is pledged to “defend” Israel no matter what and no matter who started the fighting. As Israel is physically a small country and Iranian missiles cannot hit targets with pinpoint accuracy, it is hard to imagine any Iranian response that would not strike civilian targets. If the U.S. response would be automatic, that means that the White House has effectively turned over its foreign policy to Israel’s kleptocratic leadership. The world has turned upside down.