Deja vu in Iran

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 14, 2020
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People attend a rally against war with Iran outside the Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 9, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

On the night of January 8, 2020, Fox News ran a graphic with the text "Showdown with Iran." During the evening's shows, the conservative American news channel constantly aired dark footage of Iranian missiles flying over Iraq at night, along with maps of showing the American military bases where the missiles struck. 

Host Sean Hannity declared dramatically: "There is a massive price to pay. You don't get to do what they did tonight. They're going to get hit hard."

Iran fired a number of missiles at two American bases in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian general Qasem Suleimani. The Americans also struck facilities used by Hezbollah, killing 25 people that they claimed were militia soldiers.

For a few hours on that night and into the following morning, it felt like America was on the verge of war. No one was killed in the missile strikes, but that didn't stop American political pundits from hyperventilating, accusing Iran of being "the number one State sponsor of terror."

As an American watching back in 2002-2003, when then-president George W. Bush was banging the war drum in the media to lead America into its worst quagmire since Vietnam, I felt a foreboding sense of deja vu that cold January night. I've felt it since 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected and gradually increased tensions with Iran. 

Now, the threat of an imminent American escalation has subsided, at least for the time being; Trump made a speech on Jan. 9 foreclosing on the possibility. However, the situation is still extremely dangerous and the risks of a conflagration over the next year or so persist. 

A president surrounded by hawkish advisors thinks military power and aggression equals "strength." Slight provocations against the United States are exaggerated while the American side's responsibility for escalations is denied. 

In Trump's speech, he went back to 1979 to attack Iran for having invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran and seizing 52 hostages who were held for 444 days until Jan. 20, 1981. No mention there of the fact that the U.S. overthrew Iran's elected prime minister 67 years ago and installed an autocrat; or that the U.S. aided Iran's bitter enemy, Iraq, in its war of aggression against Iran from 1980-88, including the use of chemical weapons. 

The most recent crisis was initiated when the U.S. violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal it and five other countries negotiated with Iran, just two-and-a-half years after agreeing to it and then imposed sanctions with the intent of crippling the country's economy.

Bush cited shoddy and exaggerated patched-together intelligence claims to accuse the Iraqi government of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction – a claim that proved to be false. After killing Suleimani, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went in front of cameras to accuse Suleimani of plotting "imminent" attacks on four unidentified American embassies. 

However, no one from the intelligence community has been able to point to any intelligence supporting this claim, and the Trump administration refused even to brief the United States Senate on what evidence they were supposedly relying on. 

Even Defense Secretary Mark Esper admitted on January 12: "I didn't see one [piece of specific evidence] with regard to the four embassies."

Americans are being whipped up into a frenzied state of fear and patriotism, inhibiting critical thinking and greasing the skids for war. Already with an animus towards Iran in many Americans' minds, if and when the next controversy erupts, those Americans will be demanding retribution. Raise the stakes. Hit them hard. 

Meanwhile, supporters of peace and diplomacy, critics of the Trump administration, are being branded as anti-American. Democrats are "mourning the loss of Suleimani," former American UN ambassador Nikki Haley said. Democrats are "in love with terrorists," Rep. Doug Collins said. Democrats "sympathize" with Suleimani, columnist and commentator Asra Q. Nomani said. 

This might make it hard for politicians or the press to express the proper degree of skepticism about Trump's Iran policy. Mainstream politicians seek majority approval. If they are cowed by false accusations of disloyalty, the opposition could be made to shut up.

This happened during the Iraq War. Democrats who opposed the unnecessary Iraq War or pointed out Bush administration's mishandling of the war were accused of "hating the troops," "slandering their own country" and being "traitorous." 

It is ironic that those who wanted to protect American lives and advance America's foreign policy interests by staying out of a costly mess were smeared as unpatriotic. But that's what happens in a state of heightened paranoia.

It is unfortunate that the same underlying psychological flaws that have led humans into the abyss so many times before are inherent and exacerbated by a sensationalistic media and a demagogic leader. We ought to learn from past mistakes, but it is difficult to escape our human flaws.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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