Global Independent Analytics
Navid Nasr
Navid Nasr

Location: Croatia

Specialization: Global security, Politics

Oceania vs. Eastasia: Iran, the Mainstream Media and the Atlanticist Establishment

"Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."

With the recent demise of the sanctions regime that had been imposed on Iran by the US and its international satraps you would think that the professed proponents of global peace and democracy would take advantage of this opportunity, mend fences, extend an olive branch, bury the hatchet - and carry out every other cliche you can think of that's synonymous with actually making peace. Especially since, on the surface at least, both countries seem to have a lot of common interests these days. Defeating ISIS, stabilizing Iraq, bringing the war in Syria to a speedy resolution and stabilizing Afghanistan, are some of the issues that immediately come to mind.

But anyone who scratches the surface can't help but come to two closely related realizations. First, that professed goals are often just that. Professed. And second, that there is often quite a lot of planning and intent that goes into "unintended consequences."

Which is why, professed goals aside, one country is far more interested in taking down Assad and making sure that Iraq and Afghanistan are robbed of any semblance of independence and are firmly in its grasp than it is in any kind of peace and stability in those countries, or in the region.

So the olive branches and handshakes have been returned to their holsters and in their place we have, frankly, the same as before, only more of it. And by that I mean enmity, vitriol and demonization. And, as always, it's the mainstream media that's leading the charge against its favored enemy of the past 36 years. Yup, the career, professional Iran-haters like Peter Tatchell, Michael Ledeen and Mary Rizzo are not really the major concern here. They have their audience and they exercise some influence on them specifically, but the mainstream media still has a bullhorn that can reach out to and influence millions of people at a shot and they are frequently far ahead of even the State Department and the Department of Defense when it comes to belligerence and hawkishness. Let’s examine the claims  against Iran one by one in earnest:

Booga-Booga! Revolutionary Guards!

The very interesting and telling thing is that on both sides of the Atlantic, the talking points are nearly exactly the same. I'm not going to "Fisk" any of these pieces but I will touch on one or two of the most favored talking points.

For example, there are many government-owned companies and industries all across the developing, and developed, world. But just add the phrase "revolutionary guards" into the mix and all of a sudden this concept takes on a scary and sinister air.

Capital Punishment and Drug Trafficking

I am categorically opposed to the death penalty and capital punishment in Iran, across the board, no matter the context or circumstance. The numbers coming from Iran can't be denied. Neither can the fact that the vast majority of those who are executed are non-violent drug offenders on one end or the other of the drug trade.

But part of this story that almost always goes unsaid is the horrific toll that the drugs surging out of Afghanistan have taken on Iran for decades now, both before and after the revolution in '79. Iran, in fact, is the first stop on the road to Europe and North America for international drug smugglers and being on the front line it has paid a heavy price, in more ways than one:

By the late 1980s, an estimated 50 percent of Afghan opiate production was passing through Iranian territory, and the Iranian markets were flooded with Afghan opium, heroin, and morphine. Starting in the early 1990s, Tehran constructed more than 260 kilometers of static defenses -- including concrete dams that blocked mountain passes, anti-vehicle berms, trenches, minefields, forts, and mountain towers -- at a cost of over $80 million. By the late 1990s, more than 100,000 police officers, army troops, and Revolutionary Guardsmen were committed to antinarcotic operations.

Yet both the social policies and the border fortifications were fruitless. Although the Iranian authorities seized nearly eight times the amount of narcotics in 1999 than they had in 1990, they could not keep up with the expansion of Afghan opium production, which rose in those years from approximately 1,500 metric tons to roughly 4,500. Iran also found that the number of intravenous drug users was growing. Ironically, the prisons and camps where addicts were expected to kick their habits became epicenters of drug use, in which people learned how to inject heroin and shared primitive infection-prone needles.

The rise in malignant drug use brought with it more deaths, more cases of addiction, and, most embarrassingly for Iran’s leaders, a full-blown HIV/AIDS epidemic.

But instead of continuing with business as usual, Iran recognized that things were sliding downhill fast, and so it radically altered much of its policy with regards to drugs and drug use. And this also always goes unsaid when pundits point fingers at the harshness of Iran's "war on drugs":

Instead of focusing on punishing addicts and trying to stop the drug supply, Iran decided to try to reduce the harm of narcotics and the demand for them. By 2002, over 50 percent of the country’s drug-control budget was dedicated to preventive public health campaigns, such as advertisement and education. Iran’s conservative and previously intransigent leadership opened narcotics outpatient treatment centers and abstinence-based residential centers in Tehran and the provinces.

The Islamic Republic also began to allow nongovernmental organizations to launch their own prevention and treatment efforts. The government began to implicitly support needle-exchange programs, going so far as to encourage the distribution of clean needles in the Iranian prison system. Gradually, the road was paved for methadone maintenance treatment centers and clinics that dispensed locally produced opium pills, in a bid to turn injection drug users into medicated patients.

In making this shift, Iran sought not only to halt the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic but also to reduce the demand for illicit narcotics and to reintegrate drug users back into the economy. These new measures began to show results: the number of new HIV cases among intravenous drug users dropped from a high of 3,111 in 2004 to 1,585 in 2010. This trend was particularly notable among Iran’s prison population, which witnessed a drop in HIV prevalence from a high of 7.92 percent in 1998 to a low of 1.51 percent in 2007. Additionally, in areas where the country set up harm-reduction programs, improvements were observed in addicts’ life expectancies and psychological well-being, coupled with an overall reduction in the illicit consumption of opiates.

Daniel Denvir delved into some of the paradoxes with Iran's stance on drugs and drug trafficking a bit more in Salon:

Iran, I think leads the statistics in the death penalty for drug traffickers. It is a very problematic situation, the fact is that Iran shares a very long border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and over the last 35 years Iran’s war on drugs has resulted in 3,000 people dead among Iranian law enforcement agents. So they have paid a very high price in fighting drug trafficking. And this has been supported by Europe and the United States. The flow of drugs from Afghanistan is toward Europe, toward the rich markets.

It hasn’t produced really substantial results. There are lots of drugs, while in Afghanistan, since the U.S. invasion, opium production has increased an astonishing number.

Under economic pressure, drug trafficking becomes one of the main sources of income, especially among populations that have been under very difficult economic situations for the past decade. The east region of Iran is very poor, very underdeveloped, and its been paying a high price for the war on drugs. The same in Afghanistan.

And there you have it. Being demonized for on the one doing the US' dirty work for it, and on the other hand being victimized by US policies in Afghanistan since 2001 that have only aided and abetted the opium trade.

LGTBQ Persecution

While it is true that homosexuality is criminalized in Iran, there are once again crucial facts left out of the discussion on this topic altogether in favor of blanket condemnation.

For example, how widely known is it in the West that more sex-change surgeries are performed in Iran than in any country in the world other than Thailand?

And on the issue of "hanging gays" I will just say that everyone should read this piece by Scott Long in full. I won't quote from it because it's really written as a full narrative, not as a column, and deserves to be read that way. It really exposes how facts have become immaterial and irrelevant in the ceaseless propaganda war against Iran.

Imprisoning Journalists and visiting Iranian-Americans

Given how many Iranian-Americans travel to Iran each year and how such a tiny percentage of them are ever held or incarcerated for any reason, and how many of those who are held, end up having very interesting personal histories, is it really so difficult to give Iran the benefit of the doubt here and assume that it had a good reason for detaining Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi?

The Groupthink of the Ruling Elite: Manufacturing "Reality" by Turning Reality On its Head

But none of this really matters. It is ridiculous on the face of it to believe that the U.S. or any of its allies genuinely cares about the human rights of the people of Iran when it's leading figures speak so openly and casually about their desire and determination to "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" and "obliterate them."

As always this is about bringing recalcitrant "regimes" to heel. Any reason, any excuse to demonize the non-compliant, non-subordinate country in question - will do. And the "reasons" given are frequently 180 degrees removed from reality. As Robert Parry stated recently:

...how exactly Iran is responsible for “enormous problems” across the region doesn’t get explained. Everybody just “knows” it to be true, since the claim is asserted by Israel’s right-wing government and repeated by U.S. pols and pundits endlessly.

Yet, in Iraq, the chaos was not caused by Iran, but by the U.S. government’s invasion in 2003, which then-Sen. Clinton supported. In Yemen, it is the Saudis and their Sunni coalition that created a humanitarian disaster by bombing the impoverished country after wildly exaggerating Iran’s support for Houthi rebels.

In Syria, the core reason for the bloodshed is not Iran, but decisions of the Bush-43 administration last decade and the Obama administration this decade to seek another “regime change,” ousting President Bashar al-Assad.

Supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers, this U.S.-backed “covert” intervention instigated both political unrest and terrorist violence inside Syria, including arming jihadist forces such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its close ally, Ahrar al-Sham and – to a lesser degree – Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State.

[...]

However, while Israel and the Sunni powers get a pass for their role in the carnage, Iran is blamed for its assistance to the Syrian military in battling these jihadist groups. Official Washington’s version of this tragedy is that the culprits are Assad, the Iranians and now the Russians, who also intervened to help the Syrian government resist the jihadists, both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s various friends and associates.

"How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four."

"Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."

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