A new article on Biden and Iran in The New York Times typifies the serious flaws in a lot of American reporting about Iran and related issues. David Sanger frames Biden’s approach to Iran as a “balancing act” between sometimes bombing Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and negotiating over the U.S. return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The two issues are “deeply intertwined,” Sanger informs us, but he doesn’t talk about the thing that actually links them, which is the ongoing economic war against Iran that Biden has continued. The only reference to sanctions in the entire article is a passing mention of sanctions imposed on the incoming Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi.
There are several points where the article presents the reader with false or misleading information, and there are several places where important context is left out. Sanger refers to Iran’s “march toward the capacity to build a nuclear weapon,” but there is no such march. To the extent that Iran has increased enrichment, it has done so to protest the sanctions imposed on them by Trump and kept in place by Biden. If the U.S. would rescind these sanctions, Iran would resume complying with the agreement as they had done for the first three and a half years since implementation started. He describes this “march” as being “in part an effort to demonstrate that Tehran is a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and beyond,” but the Iranian government had accepted extensive restrictions on its nuclear program and intrusive inspections to verify compliance just a few years ago. Whatever effort Iran might be making to show that it is a “force to be reckoned with,” it decided that building up its nuclear program was no longer a necessary part of that. The problem is that the U.S. under Trump refused to take yes for an answer and insisted on a raft of new demands that Iran was never going to accept.
Later in the article, Sanger comments on a meeting between Biden and outgoing Israeli president Reuel Rivlin: “It was intended as a signal that Israel and the United States share the same goal, even if they have very different concepts of how to disarm the Iranians. [bold mine-DL]” Iran has no nuclear weapons, it has no nuclear weapons program, and it does not enrich uranium to weapons-grade level, so there is nothing to “disarm.” The effect of Sanger’s language is to create confusion about the current state of Iran’s nuclear program and its current position on whether to build nuclear weapons. To say that Biden is seeking to disarm them implies that they are currently armed when they are not.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.