Picture Imperfect: False Image, Real War

Juan Cole can dispense more penetrating wisdom in a casual blog post than the entire corps of corporate media commentators can muster in year of their blatherings. He does it again here, in a short piece tacked on after another of his indispensible readings of Iraq's Arabic-language press. First, he takes neo-con Kenneth Timmerman to task for peddling the latest scaremongering lie about Iran – that it has bought a nuclear warhead from North Korea.

Cole then draws on Foucault for an insight that captures perfectly the dynamic that led first to the Iraq invasion and is now leading – inexorably, inevitably – to a military strike on Iran. Cole writes:

Foucault defined "representation" as a process whereby a culture creates a stereotype of something and then substitutes the stereotype for the reality forever after. Once a "representation" is established, the reality can never challenge it, since any further information is filtered through the representation. The "representation" of Iran as a nuclear power, when it just has a couple hundred centrifuges (you need thousands) and is not proven even to have a weapons program, is becoming powerful and unchallengeable in the US media.

You can certainly see this dynamic playing out in the Western media – and the UK press is just as bad as the US in this respect. Everywhere, even among those opposed to the
Iraq war and a strike at Iran, you find the accepted notion that Iran is on the verge of creating nuclear weapons – a fearsome arsenal which, as the conventional wisdom continues, will be wielded by the country's "madman" president, Ahmadinejad. Yet as a certain perceptive commentator by name of Cole has pointed out in the past, said madman does not actually command Iran's armed forces nor does he have control of Iran's nuclear program; nor would he have control of an Iranian nuclear arsenal, if one was ever built. (Of course, the manic war fever now being roused against Iran by the "madman" president in Washington is the surest way to guarantee that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons one day.) Cole points out that in Iran, the president's powers are actually quite limited – which is why Ahmadinejad's predecessor, the popular, moderate reformist President Khatami, was unable to accomplish much of anything during his eight years in office. If the Iranian presidency actually was the unrestrained autocracy of current Western fantasy, then Khatami would have transformed the country, for the good, during his tenure. But he didn't because he couldn't. Neither can Ahmadinejad act on his every aggressive whim or intemperate turn of phrase.

The facts of the "Iranian crisis" are these: Iran has a right, under international treaty, to develop a nuclear energy program, which necessarily includes enriching uranium. The nation's leaders have repeatedly declared – in religious edicts, no less – that it would be illegal and unrighteous under Islamic law for Iran to develop a weapons p
rogram. The country's nuclear program has been subjected to perhaps the most extensive international inspection process in history, which has not produced any evidence of a clandestine weapons program.Yet it is more likely than not that before the year is out, the United States will launch some sort of military action against Iran, using the Foucaultian "representation" of Iran long entrenched in the American psyche by the hostage-taking in 1979 as the unconscious trigger for war fever among the public, who will thus be predisposed to accept whatever line of bull the Bushists feed them. And, as with Iraq, this bull will be augmented with heaping helpings from leading Democrats, ever anxious to display their warrior spirit in the vain hope of attracting a few Fox News Republicans. Are we really going to sleepwalk into this waking nightmare once again?

Looks like it.

This piece has been edited since its original posting.