A weak point in the psyches of many Americans is that they allow their imaginations to run wild about potential threats to their personal safety, no matter how implausible the dangers may be. Perhaps, this is a side effect from watching too many scary movies and violent TV shows.
But this vulnerability also may explain why the current war hysteria against Iran is reviving the sorts of fanciful threats to the United States last seen before the Iraq War. Since right-wing Israelis and their neocon allies are having trouble selling the U.S. public on a new preemptive war in the Middle East, they have again resorted to dreaming up hypothetical scenarios to scare easily frightened Americans.
For instance, in a New York Times Magazine article on Jan. 29 by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman -- which essentially laid out Israel's case for attacking Iran -- Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, is quoted as explaining the need to make Americans very afraid of Iran. Bergman wrote:
"It is, of course, important for Ya'alon to argue that this is not just an Israeli-Iranian dispute, but a threat to America's well-being. ... 'The Iranian regime will be several times more dangerous if it has a nuclear device in its hands,' he went on. 'One that it could bring into the United States. It is not for nothing that it is establishing bases for itself in Latin America and creating links with drug dealers on the U.S.-Mexican border.
"'This is happening in order to smuggle ordnance into the United States for the carrying out of terror attacks. Imagine this regime getting nuclear weapons to the U.S.-Mexico border and managing to smuggle it into Texas, for example. This is not a far-fetched scenario.'"
But it is a far-fetched scenario. Indeed, there is zero intelligence to support this fear-mongering about such an Iranian plan. That the New York Times would publish such a provocative assertion without a countervailing pushback from serious U.S. intelligence analysts represents the kind of irresponsible journalism that the Times, the Washington Post and much of the mainstream U.S. news media displayed during the run-up to war with Iraq.
The fact is that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded -- and the Israeli Mossad apparently agrees -- that Iran has NOT even decided to build a nuclear bomb, let alone that it would do something as nutty as give one to people outside its direct control to attack the United States, thus guaranteeing Iran's own annihilation. [For more on the intelligence, see Consortiumnews.com's "US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes."]
Bergman's article, which covers nine pages, also manages to avoid any mention of the fact that Israel has a real -- and undeclared -- nuclear arsenal. The Times might have regarded this as a relevant point to include, both to explain why Iran might feel it needs a nuclear deterrent and to put into context the actual strategic balance in the Middle East. Instead, the Times article poses the nuclear threat to the region as emanating entirely from Iran.
In a New York Times report on Friday, Ya'alon was back again, pushing the claim that Iran had been developing an intercontinental missile that could travel 6,000 miles and strike the United States. "That's the Great Satan," he said, using Iran's epithet for the United States. "It was aimed at America, not at us."
In response to that claim, even the Times felt obliged to add some factual counterweight, noting that "the assertions went far beyond what rocket experts have established about Iran's missile capabilities, and American officials questioned its accuracy." There is also the point that such a hypothetical missile attack on the United States would be detected immediately and ensure a devastating counterattack on Iran.
"One Percent Doctrine"
But it should be clear what the game is. Israeli hardliners and American neocons want a return to former Vice President Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine," as described by author Ron Suskind. That is, if there is even a one percent chance that a terrorist attack might be launched against the United States, it must be treated as a certainty, thus justifying any preemptive military action that U.S. officials deem warranted.
That was the mad-hatter policy that governed the U.S. run-up to the Iraq War, when even the most dubious -- and dishonest -- claims by self-interested Iraqi exiles and their neocon friends were treated as requiring a bloody invasion of a country then at peace.
In those days, not only was there a flood of disinformation from outside the U.S. government, there also was a readiness inside George W. Bush's administration to channel those exaggerations and lies into a powerful torrent of propaganda aimed at the American people, still shaken from the barbarity of the 9/11 attacks.
So, the American people heard how Iraq might dispatch small remote-controlled planes to spray the United States with chemical or biological weapons, although Iraq was on the other side of the globe. The New York Times hyped bogus claims about aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. Other news outlets spread false stories about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger and about supposed Iraqi links to al-Qaeda terrorists.
There was a stampede of one-upsmanship in the U.S. news media as everyone competed to land the latest big scoop about Iraq's nefarious intentions and capabilities. Even experienced journalists were sucked in. In explaining one of these misguided articles, New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges told the Columbia Journalism Review that "We tried to vet the defectors and we didn't get anything out of Washington that said, "these guys are full of sh*t.'"