When Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, invited
President Bush to engage in a "direct television debate" a few days
ago, the White House predictably responded by calling the offer "a diversion."
But even though this debate will never happen, it's worth contemplating.
Both presidents are propaganda junkies or, more precisely,
propaganda pushers so any such debate would overdose the audience with
self-righteous arrogance. The two presidents are too much alike.
Each man, in his own way, is a fundamentalist: so sure of his own
moral superiority that he's willing to push his country into a military
confrontation. This assessment may be a bit unfair to Ahmadinejad, who
hasn't yet lied his nation into war; the American president is far more
experienced in that department.
By saying that it's an open question whether Nazi Germany really
perpetrated a Holocaust, the Iranian president has left no doubt that he
is dangerously ignorant of history. Bush's ignorance of history is
decidedly more subtle though, judging from his five and a half years
in the Oval Office, hardly less dangerous.
Ahmadinejad questions whether a huge historical event actually
occurred. Bush doesn't bother to question key historical facts. He just
ignores them apparently on the safe assumption that few in the U.S.
news media will object very strenuously.
Overall, American journalists pay only selective attention to
history. Often they're too busy helping to lay groundwork for the USA's
next war effort.
So, we hear little about the direct CIA role in organizing the coup
that toppled Iran's democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadegh,
in 1953. Or about the torture and murder inflicted on Iranian dissenters
by the secret police of the U.S.-installed Shah for the next quarter of a
century, until his overthrow in 1979.
When I was in Tehran last year, during the presidential election
campaign that ended with Ahmadinejad's victory, the ghosts of the coup
that destroyed Iranian democracy were everywhere. The nightmare of the
Shah has been replaced by the nightmare of the Islamic Republic both
made possible by the coup that Washington hatched.
But the U.S. president copes with such unpleasant history by
simply and simplemindedly refusing to acknowledge it. And American
news media routinely go along for the detour. The avoidance makes Iranian
hostility toward the U.S. government seem totally irrational.
Meanwhile, the commentaries from major media keep echoing
unsubstantiated claims from Washington as if they were facts. Even
mainstream outlets inclined to urge restraint give enormous ground to the
On Aug. 25, while ostensibly sounding a note of sobriety about Capitol Hill
bombast, a New
editorial flatly declared: "Iran's fundamentalist regime and its nuclear
ambitions pose a strategic threat to the United States." The newspaper
added: "It's obvious that Iran wants nuclear weapons, has lied about its
program and views America as an enemy." But it should be no less obvious
that the United States and its ally Israel both with a record of lying
about their own military intentions have nuclear arsenals and view Iran
as an enemy.
More hawkish than the Times, the
Washington Post printed an editorial on Aug. 24 warning Russia and
China that they "should not undercut Western efforts to defuse the Iran
crisis by peaceful means." With an oddly menacing twist, the editorial
proclaimed: "No responsible power has anything to gain from further tension
in the Middle East, still less an eventual war over Iran's nuclear ambitions."
We should remember how the same newspaper wielded its editorial cudgel the
last time the White House was laying groundwork for a military attack. On Feb.
6, 2003, the Post under the headline "Irrefutable"
told readers in no uncertain terms: "After Secretary of State Colin L.
Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is
hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."
Such limited imagination continues to infuse the Post's editorial outlook
and, for that matter, the world views of most U.S. media outlets. The
fantasy of a debate between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and George W. Bush might be
strange, but the reality of American journalism is grotesque as Washington escalates
its extremely dangerous confrontation with Tehran.