The Power of War Propaganda on Iran, and How It Works

A new poll finds 80% of Americans think Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that it is a threat to the US and its NATO allies. The poll, commissioned by The Israel Project, asked likely voters and found “72% of Democrats, 81% of independents and 89% of Republicans were convinced the Iranians were building nuclear weapons.”

This is a monumental success of war propaganda. And these results are largely consistent with other recent polls: one produced back in February by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Program on International Policy Attitudes found “An overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens believe that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and poses a serious threat to U.S. national security.”

Contrast these beliefs with the facts: The consensus in the whole of the intelligence community in the US (and Israel) is that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and has yet to demonstrate any intention of starting one anytime soon.

But false beliefs persist even when there has been ample reassurances from elite sources in politics, the military, and the news media that Iran has no weapons program. A matter of months ago, the Obama administration marched out their minions, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, all of whom reiterated the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, despite constant rhetoric to the contrary.

In February the New York Times ran a front page story entitled “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” It reported: “Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.” Again in March, they reported “top administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence community’s secret analysis.” Another in the Los Angeles Times was similarly headlined, “U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb.”

Furthermore, even if Iran did have nuclear weapons, there is broad consensus that it would not translate to nuclear war. Officials and elite analysts constantly explain Iran’s leaders are rational, unlikely to provoke a conflict, and have no interest in suicide as a result of nuclear retaliation by the US. The threat from Iran is manufactured.

So can the politicians and the media still be blamed for spreading falsehoods about Iran? In a word, yes. Former CIA officer Paul Pillar, when writing about the misinformation campaign to sell the Iraq war, explained it was “less a matter of instilling any specific mistaken belief than of instilling a mood and momentum.” It was “at least as much a matter of rhetorical themes as of manipulated evidence. The belief was cultivated by repeatedly uttering ‘Iraq,’ ‘9/11’ and ‘war on terror’ in the same breath.” Despite the official position that Iran has no weapons program and has not demonstrated an intention to build one, most of the political, military, and media elite are constantly regurgitating lines about blocking “Iran” from obtaining “nuclear weapons.” In Obama’s statement yesterday following his latest Executive Order imposing additional sanctions on Iran, he talked about the “Iranian government” and “its defiance” in its nuclear program. A Romney spokesman then came out and said Obama “has allowed Iran’s nuclear ambitions to proceed unimpeded,” and that Obama’s policy and Iran’s ongoing program “has imperiled our allies and jeopardized our national security.”

The administration officials that came out to reiterate the intelligence consensus did so in boring Congressional testimony, which no one watches. The more vociferous and rhetorical politicians going on tirades on the Senate floor or demagoguing on television and reinforcing the belief in Iranian weapons programs, by contrast, get the attention of the electorate. And far fewer Americans read the New York Times frequently enough that they may have caught those few articles dispelling the myth of Iranian nukes, than watch pundits on network news like Fox, CNN, and NBC, for example, which constantly mislead on this question.

Trevor Thrall, also writing in the National Interest in a follow-up post to Pillar’s piece on Iraq war propaganda, said much of the reason such false beliefs persist is because the American people are substantially ignorant of “what’s going on in the United States, much less the rest of the world.”

The 2008 civic literacy survey conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, for example, found that fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government and that almost 40 percent of Americans believe the president has the power to declare war. Just 27 percent know that the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the establishment of an official U.S. religion. The Pew Research Center, which tracks such things in a fruitless effort to find that news consumption improves political knowledge, found ample evidence of American ignorance in its 2007 survey: 31 percent could not name the current vice president (Cheney); 68 percent did not know that Sunni and Shia are two branches of Islam..[etc.]

And when briefly-appearing facts are explained in Washington and the media, it actually doesn’t hold much sway. Back in 2010, Joe Keohane wrote a piece in the Boston Globe about how political science research shows that “facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds.” He cited recent studies which found that

when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

People are not just ignorant, they’re ideological. They’ll believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately, such widespread and impenetrable false beliefs in the realm of foreign policy means that the political leadership can pretty easily launch a war if and when they decide to do so and whether it is warranted or not.

2 thoughts on “The Power of War Propaganda on Iran, and How It Works”

  1. More like the power of people like Glaser to ignore the facts and pretend that the Iranians are sweet innocent law abiding neighbors. They are not._Glaser as an expert in war propaganda simply fails to let his readers know what the IAEA itself concluded. It's pretty black and white in the IAEA report that Iran most assuredly is indeed working very hard to develop nuclear weapons:_The report is available online. Download the pdf and ctrl-f to find:_Atoms for Peace_Implementation of the NPT Safeguards _Agreement and relevant provisions of _Security Council resolutions in the _Islamic Republic of Iran_Report by the Director General_Page 8._43. The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are _relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device:_? Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment _and materials by military related individuals and entities (Annex, Sections C.1 _and C.2)_? Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material _(Annex,Section C.3)

    1. The report is GOV/2011/65
      To clarify your points:
      The Annex sections C1 and C2
      1. Regarding efforts "to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment _and materials by military related individuals and entities "
      Here is what the annex says:
      "In addition, throughout the entire timeline, instances of procurement and attempted procurement by individuals associated with the AMAD Plan of equipment, materials and services which, although having other civilian applications, would be useful in the development of a nuclear explosive device"
      Conclusion: they might have tried to get things that may be useful in a nuclear programme, but can equally be explained for other purposes. No specifics given on sources or justifications.

      The annex section C.3
      2. "Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material"
      To quote the document:
      "In 2008, the Director General informed the Board that: the Agency had no information at that time
      — apart from the uranium metal document — on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies,33 and that it had not detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies.34"
      With this, you could argue that the covert enrichment facilities are suspicious (clause 30), but remember that Israel has a history of bombing enrichment facilities – so it's not suprising Iran doesn't broadcast their presence.

      As I am sure you understand, there is a big difference between the enrichment of civilian nuclear material < 20% enriched, and weapons-grade which is >= 85% enriched. I am aware of no evidence that suggests Iran has, or is trying to have weapons-grade uranium.
      It would be expected that they would seek to be able to enrich civilian nuclear fuel, which explains the facilities.

      So while you are right to suggest that Iran isn't exactly a "sweet innocent law abiding" neighbour, there is a big gap between what they admit to doing (civilian nuclear fuel) and what the West (who are evidently keen on starting a war with Iran) want their populations to believe.

      1. Agreed… Iran can do whatever the hell they want. Case closed. They don't have to admit anything to anyone, especially the arrogant idiots in DC who think somone appointed their judicial contruct known as the USA the policemen of the world..

    2. Seymour Hersh was on Democracy Now late last year and he pointed out that the new UN IAEA director is a pro-war right-wing guy planted by the US gov't.

      Full Amy Goodman coverage here: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War Is Now Being Reused over Iran’s Nuke Program:

      The 16 US national intelligence agencies (NIE) declared no nuclear bomb making facilities are known to exist or suspected to exist in Iran, updated in 2011.

      Obama has been sanctioning and threatening Iran regardless of his own NIE report and prior UN IAEA report under Egyptian El Baradei and history of false charges trumped up with the Iraq war as explained in a prior article:

  2. As retired US Intel I can say for certain Iran has a nuclear weapons program and, the story about developing nuclear power for medicine and electricty is, bogus. Proof- no electrical grid from the alleged generation stations to industry and the public. This would involve sub stations, thousands of miles of wires, electrical towers. Maybe they plan on doing this as an afterthought? Imagine having to replicate the electrical grid system in our country? It would takemany years.

    1. As a retired Dali Lama, I can say for certain that you'd better get in touch with all the US intelligence agencies immediately, as apparently they are in dire need of your expertize.

    2. As a retired Martian I can easily say that Mars needs women. I can now confirm that I saw Elvis Presley with a brontosaurus riding in a UFO at area 51. I can also confirm that the North Pole is really at the South Pole and that up is down, unless you stand on your head in which case down is up. I thank you.

    3. If you are retired US Intel, perhaps you can tell us which alleged "generation stations" you are referring to?

      Also, since to my knowledge they have no active nuclear power plants, why would you expect these stations to be connected to their electrical grid? At best they would be research facilities.

  3. Fabulous article. I teach undergrads (speaking of which, you have a superfluous comma between "policy" and "means" in the last sentence), and the only term paper topic that is absolutely off limits is Iran. Any time I get an Iran paper, below the grade it inevitably says, "I asked for a research paper, you gave me propaganda."

  4. Having had their collective asses handed to them by pajama-clad Vietnamese peasants, Iraqi "dead-enders" "in their last throes," and poppy farmers in the Hindu Kush, the corporate U. S. military and political class needs another decades-long debacle of a war to lose real soon now. Just because they don't know whom to fight, where to fight, when to fight, how to fight, and why to fight doesn't mean that we shouldn't pay them lavishly and let them continue bankrupting us by "fighting" whatever they think they mean by "Iran."

    From the Best and the Brightest to the Worst and the Dullest, in only one generation.

    1. Wars are no longer fought to achieve 'victory'. They are fought to keep the War Industry going at full throttle. A 'victory' would be considered unfortunate as it would bring the war to a close.

    1. Well one day maybe more will come to realize that no faith should ever be put in the "majority".. Or any judicial construct that binds others to their will as part of a non-existing "social contract".

  5. Lets look at the facts. The US and Israel have plenty of nukes and have/are prepared to use them. The US has invaded over 50 countries since world war 2. Israel constantly threatens and attacks its neighbours ans u wmd's on occupied GAZA. The US circles Iran on all sides and threaten military action along with Israel which has nukes pointed at Iran. So who is the agressor?? Certainly not Iran. If i was them i would want nukes as a deterrent. Dont let the lame stream media brainwash you. Do your own thinking. They serve only the elite and the money men. You too would be a threat if you stood in their way. THINK, THINK, OPEN YOUR EYES, TURN OFF CNN, FOX, ETC, BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING, SALVAGE YOUR LIFE AND DESTINY, PRAY TO THE CREATOR, DONT LET THE MONEY MEN, THESE LIARS AND HYPROCRITES DICTATE THEIR LIES TO YOU. amen

  6. This proves that "the masses are asses". The zionist knew this all along and proceeded accordingly. They have the wealth, control the msm and have infiltrated the federal government like a spreading cancer.

  7. 1. Regarding efforts "to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment _and materials by military related individuals and entities "

  8. False beliefs lead to real wars, that is the power of propaganda and the weakness of America's corporate owned and controlled media. It can turn democracy into a 'dictatorship of deceit'.

    1. Democracy is no better than dictatorship.. In a democracy (though we don't actually have rule by the people), it allows the sheeple to believe they have a hand in what goes on.. They then seem to think that it is worthy, just, and works.. This all couldn't be further from the truth..

  9. This latest round of sanctions on Iran fall far short of what is needed. There needs to be an international ban on all food imports by Iran. Food is a well know "dual-use" item that can just easily be used to fuel the Iranian military that wants to Wipe Israel Off The Map and Destroy The Exceptional Nation of The United States of America, as it can be used to feed starving children…who, should probably be killed anyway as they haven't thrown of the shackles of the Hitler du jour that is Ahmadinejad.

  10. The monopoly of the media and the widespread of the U.S. and European multilingual ones comparing with the victim one, gives the western powers the upper hand in bringing any small targeted state to its court to force its judgment and make it guilty.
    What an innocent victim would do when he finds 100 testimony condemning him guilty in front of few ones defending him in the court of the aggressor ?! No choice but to resist extraditing himself in order to gain time and keep fighting for acquitting himself.
    The new rules of the US game following the revolution of the communications science and the monopoly of most of its tools need new rules of the game for the targeted vulnerable states this is what history advised.
    Tahsin Halabi
    Palestinian poet August 7-2012

  11. what is needed. There needs to be an international ban on all food imports by Iran. Food is a well know "dual-use" item that can just easily be used to fuel the Iranian military that wants to Wipe Israel Off The Map and Destroy The Exceptional Nation of The United States of America, as it can be used to feed starving children…who, should probably be killed anyway as t hackett

  12. Contrast these beliefs with the facts: The consensus in the whole of the intelligence community in the US (and Israel) is that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and has yet to demonstrate any intention of starting one anytime soon.thanksgiving day limousine

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