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Tomgram: Tony Karon, The Bomb-Iran Debate From Hell

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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For Star Trek fans, the news is grim. Some set of maniacs on planet Earth is ready to take all the pleasure out of that low-budget TV show and its ensuing set of big-budget movies. They are actually planning someday to manufacture phasers, ones large enough to vaporize incoming missiles and others small enough to be hand-held and, if not vaporize, then inflict terrible pain. Sooner or later, they expect to beam them down to this planet and set them to work.

Oh, sorry, those aren't maniacs; they're the weaponizers at defense giant Raytheon (in conjunction with the U.S. military). As the National, the English-language newspaper of the United Arab Emirates,reported recently, Raytheon is in an arms race with Boeing to produce such weaponry perhaps for the coming decade.

One of the strangest aspects of these last years when two administrations, the U.S. intelligence community, and the American media have focused on, obsessed about, speculated wildly about, and generally chewed over a single potential proliferation story -- Iran's nuclear program -- is how little other weapons proliferation stories even qualify as news. I'm excepting, of course, the usual alarums over possible nuclear weapons developments in North Korea, Syria, and the like. And I'm certainly not referring here to the estimated 200 to 400 nuclear weapons in Israel's undeclared arsenal that hardly rate a peep in our media.

I'm thinking about us. We are, after all, the numero uno weapons proliferator on the planet. I'm thinking about -- to pick a few weapons systems almost at random -- the U.S. Air Force's next generation bomber, an advanced "platform" slated for 2018; or the truly futuristic bomber, "a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere," on the drawing boards for 2035. I'm talking about the coming generations of ever more powerful, ever more independent pilot-less drones which the Air Force is now planning out until 2047.

As with the drones today, the story of those Raytheon "phasers," large and small, if they ever come on line, will be reasonably predictable. Ever since the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, the world has been experiencing an arms race of one. A single great power, the United States, continues to develop new weapons technology, often for the distant future, that is staggeringly advanced and strikingly destructive(potentially reaching, in some cases, an almost nuclear level of local devastation). It continues to act, that is, as if it were still in an arms race with another threatening superpower. Once our latest wonder weapon is developed, whatever it may be, it is sooner or later sold to allies -- after all, we now control almost 70% of what's still dubbed the "global arms trade"-- while other states rush to develop their own versions of the same. (Just last week, for instance, Iran proudly unveiled its first "drone bomber.") Sooner or later, such weaponry will predictably drop down to the level of non-state groups. Just wait for the first "suicide" drone to hit something American, or the first terrorist to unsheathe a "phaser" on some airplane. Then, of course, a drone or phaser proliferation panic will set in, "rogue states" will be threatened for having the nerve to develop such weapons, and we will redouble our anti-drone or anti-phaser research, while our media discusses appropriately aggressive actions that need to be taken ASAP.

Hence, Iran's present nuclear adventure (which, by the way,began in 1957, thanks to the Eisenhower administration's Atoms for Peace program). As you read TomDispach regular Tony Karon's deconstruction of the present "debate" over whether to bomb Iran back to the pre-nuclear age, take a second to wonder why there is no media debate over whether to bomb the U.S. After all, we are the planet's foremost weapons proliferator; we have a reputation for using what we produce and parceling it out as well; and, as it happens, we're still investing money in improvements to our vast nuclear arsenal. Tom

Two Minutes to Midnight?
Cutting Through the Media's Bogus Bomb-Iran Debate

By Tony Karon

America's march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, TIME's Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran's nuclear facilities was "back on the table." In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an "inexorable" dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de resistance in the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel's corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was amore than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer.

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one. After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn't believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

It's not lost on many of his progressive critics that, when it came to supporting a prospective invasion of Iraq back in 2002, Goldberg proved effective in lobbying liberal America, especially through his reports of "evidence" linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Then and now, he presents himself as an interlocutor who has no point of view. In his most recent Atlantic piece, he professed a "profound, paralyzing ambivalence" on the question of a military strike on Iran and subsequently, in radio interviews, claimed to be "personally opposed" to military action.

His piece, however, conveniently skipped over the obvious inconsistencies in what his Israeli sources were telling him. In addition, he excluded perspectives from Israeli leaders that might have challenged his narrative in which an embattled Jewish state feels it has no alternative but to launch a quixotic military strike. Such an attack, as he presented it, would have limited hope of doing more than briefly setting back the Iranian nuclear program, perhaps at catastrophic cost, and so Israeli leaders would act only because they believe the "goyim" won't stop another Auschwitz. Or as my friend Paul Woodward, editor of the War in Context website, so brilliantly summed up the Israeli message to America: "You must do what we can't, because if you don't, we will."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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