By James Fallows
Last week I mentioned Mike Lofgren's observations on the strange media-political history of the "Iran threat." The world is full of, ummm, imperfectly governed states, at least two of which actually have nuclear weapons: North Korea and Pakistan. But discussions of a potential nuclear weapon in Iran take on a ticking-time-bomb, apocalyptic tone usually missing when we talk about North Korea and Pakistan. All these countries pose serious problems, but on the editorial pages and in this year's campaign speeches we hear disproportionately, and with disproportionate shrillness, about Iran.
A young academic who has recently worked in the executive branch chimes in about the pattern Lofgren described:
I worked for the State Department as an intern early in the Administration. One of my main tasks was to keep track of Congressional activities regarding Iran.
The language that Republicans on the Hill used about Iran was absolutely stunning to someone new to D.C.. Every time they held a hearing on how to ratchet up sanctions, most of the politicians and "experts" compared Iran to the next Nazi Germany and invoked clear, but not perfectly explicit imagery of a nuclear bomb being dropped on the United States and a second Holocaust.
While I was at State, it seemed to be policy that it would be preferable to keep Congress out of foreign relations with Iran because our European allies were irritated at our attempts to force sanctions on their business and political institutions. But the administration never really came out and did anything to push back on the rhetoric. And despite multiple national intelligence estimates that publicly stated that it was unknown whether Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program, Hillary Clinton was going around claiming that Iran was building a weapons program. By the time I finished my stint there, it became clear to me that the administration was going to give in to any type of war mongering from Republicans because the fight wasn't politically worth it.
At the end of my internship State offered me a job to work exclusively on Iran issues. I immediately turned it down because I was really worried that we would end up in the exact situation we are in now after imposing more sanctions. My experience was so discouraging that I quit working in international affairs altogether, despite supportive mentors. I had moved to D.C. right after Obama was elected, thinking that Afghanistan and Iraq were two good reasons why our foreign wars would slow down. But the drums of war were growing louder and stronger even with a new administration that lauded "smart power" and international cooperation. The foreign policy community in D.C. is really a scary club of warmongers with very few exceptions.
Anyways, all that's to say, I agree with Mike Lofgren. And if you had been on the Hill in 2009, I think you would see the headlines today as a predictable development of a concerted campaign.
Also see Robert Wright on the difference between Iran-coverage and the way we discuss most other problematic regimes. Also, this excellent argument by Fareed Zakaria against the ticking-time-bomb view of Iran: "Nations have often believed that they face a closing window to act, and almost always such thinking has led to disaster."
This post was originally published at The Atlantic.
20 February 2012