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Axis of Hardliners, From Tehran to Washington
By Norman Solomon
The huge gap between Tehran and Washington has widened in recent
months. Top officials of Iran and the United States are not even
within shouting distance. The styles of rhetoric differ, but the
messages in both directions are filled with hostility.
While visiting Iran's capital in early summer, during the home
stretch of the presidential campaign, I was struck by paradoxes. From
all appearances, most Iranians despise the U.S. government but love
Americans. Repression, imposed from above, coexists with freedom
taken from below. The press is largely dogmatic, but some media
outlets show appreciable independence.
I was fascinated to observe a rally of 10,000 people who gathered in
a Tehran stadium to vocally support a reform candidate for the
presidency, Mostafa Moin. One speaker after another called for
political freedom. The Tehran Times reported that Moin was promoting
"a Democracy and Human Rights Front in Iran to defend the rights of
all Iran's religious and ethnic groups, the youth, academicians,
women, and political opposition groups."
That seems like a long time ago. The Moin campaign didn't make it
into the runoff. And the wily Iranian power broker Hashemi
Rafsanjani, a former president with centrist inclinations, lost his
deep-pockets bid to return to his old job.
Since taking office, the triumphant presidential contender, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, has provided ample evidence that he is a reactionary
zealot. While not a cleric himself, Ahmadinejad is aligned with
fundamentalist ayatollahs whose agenda includes continuing to
suppress the rights of women. And the president's foreign-policy
views are also grim. In late October he twice expressed a wish to
"wipe Israel off the map."
At the same time -- despite the impression routinely left by U.S.
media accounts -- Iran is far from monolithic. Ahmadinejad's recent
statements about Israel, which came in the form of approvingly
quoting the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Khomeini, caused an
uproar in Iran. "The reason is that Iran has changed since Khomeini,"
the insightful British journalist Peter Beaumont explained in the
London-based Observer. "Despite the continued grip on power by
institutions set up by Khomeini, a large part of its youthful
population has made complex accommodations between life lived in
public and private. That has masked the loosening of those
institutions' grip on the individual. The newly resurgent hardliners,
with their strongest support among the poor and ill-educated, are now
trying to reimpose that grip."
Those hardliners in Tehran are benefitting from other nationalistic
ideologues -- in Washington. When President Bush denounced Iran's
election campaign as meaningless while it was still underway, there
was palpable resentment in Iran, and not just among pro-government
propagandists. I talked with reform-minded Iranians who were angered
by Bush's declaration. They saw bombast from Washington as red meat
that was much appreciated by Iran's fundamentalist rulers.
Between the hardliners in Tehran and Washington, there is a love --
or at least mutual justification -- that dares not speak its name.
The more belligerent Iran gets, the more administration officials in
Washington use that belligerency to justify their own. And vice
On Nov. 2, the Tehran government announced the removal of 40 Iranian
diplomats from their posts abroad; Reuters described some as
"supporters of warmer ties with the West." No one could doubt that
the Bush administration would cite the news as further justification
for Washington's increasingly threatening stance toward Iran.
The overt flashpoint of tensions between Tehran and Washington has to
do with Iran's atomic program. Stripping away the propaganda from
both sides, it seems fair to say that the Iranians are pursuing
nuclear power development for electricity while keeping their options
open for nuclear weapons later on.
By any credible estimate, Iran could not build an atomic bomb before
the end of this decade. The Iranian government is allowing U.N.
inspections but asserting its right to process uranium. Given the
U.S. government's relentless hypocrisies and geopolitical agendas --
including a covetous eye on Iran's enormous quantities of oil and
natural gas -- there's big trouble ahead.
An Associated Press story, appearing in newspapers on Nov. 3, noted
that "Washington is pressing for Tehran to be referred to the U.N.
Security Council, where it could face sanctions for violating the
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty." Such news accounts rarely mention
that Israel -- which has a nuclear arsenal estimated at 200 warheads
-- cannot be accused of violating that treaty because Israel has
never been willing to sign it. The same is true of Pakistan and
India, two other nuclear-weapons states also embraced by Uncle Sam.
American media coverage of Iran is often driven by righteousness that
detours around U.S. double standards. That may seem professional. But
we're much better off when journalists strive for independence.
Norman Solomon is the author of the new book "War Made Easy: How
Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For information, go to: