A recent CBS News/New York Times poll showed that 65 percent of Americans endorsed diplomacy with Iran, while 10 percent favored military action. But when asked by an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll if the US should "destroy Iran's ability to construct nuclear weapons," the percentage that advocated an attack rose to 43 with 47 percent demurring.
The same poll also asked if we should attack Iran if it were found responsible for exporting roadside-bomb technology to Iraq. Those in favor were now in the majority -- 55 percent -- while 45 percent opposed.
The degree to which our opinions are manipulated by the introduction of mounting threats to the equation, as if from a dropper into an experiment, suggests we're unacquainted with the issue. Recent news of Iran seizing British sailors and marines would, if included in a future poll, also undoubtedly tilt answers to the martial side.
But opinion polls are predicated on the assumption that the public is informed. However, as Christopher Shea once observed in a Salon article on the effects of voter ignorance: "Most people base their votes, and their answers to polls, on only the vaguest feelings about how the economy, or life, is treating them."
Ideally, the polls would have prefaced the above questions with another: "Are you aware that the US is considering a military strike on Iran?" To many respondents, it might have been news.
Unless you work in a foreign-policy think tank, the subject probably doesn't come up much, if at all. Meanwhile, those aware of it are likely to comfort themselves with the thought: "We'd never do that. We're already over-extended in Iraq." Americans have enough trouble dealing with –- or, as the case may be, screening out –- one war.
We push the mute button on the drumbeat of war at our own peril. But it's even more dangerous when those in harm's way are in denial. It turns out that much of the Iranian public is tuning out the threat of an attack, too.
In his Salon article "The view from Tehran," Hooman Majd writes that, "by and large [Iranian officials, as well as the public] do not believe that the United States will attack Iran, mostly because they cannot envision that the White House could be. . . so foolish as to attack a country where 10-year-olds have been willing to strap grenades to their waists and run under enemy tanks [as in the Iran-Iraq war]."
They believe American saber rattling and deployment of aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf are a "psychological war to frighten Iran."Recently on Foreign Policy in Focus, Farideh Farhi wrote a piece about Iran's political environment, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling mullahs are often at odds. Its "highly contentious and fractured" nature is actually a "source of strength [emphasis added]," she reports, "rather than weakness, allowing for a wide range of input in the decision-making process."
In other words, Iran already has the democracy drawn up for them by the Neocons. Furthermore, writes Farhi, Ahmadinejad's opponents "have shown no hesitation at all in closing ranks behind the hard-line position if they perceive the Islamic Republic or its vital interests to be at stake."
Since Ms. Farhi's conversance with Iran is partly a result of living and working there for a time, we asked her if she thought Iranians were in denial. Bear in mind that, unlike the US, Iran (not to mention, much of the world) doesn't base all its decisions on polls and focus groups. Ms. Farhi writes:
"Given lack of polling on this issue, it is difficult to gauge exactly what the Iranian public thinks. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that after a short period of concern, which came about when there was almost daily talk of attack on Iran in the European and American press, the Iranian public doesn't think much about the issue.
"Iranian New Year [Nowrooz, March 21] is [upon them]. . . and basically thinking about what may be an impending war is not a nice way of living. So my bet is that most of the Iranian public is ignoring the issue not necessarily because there is denial but out of the necessities of everyday life.
"What is significant, however, is that Majd is correct and much of the political class, particularly those with a conservative bent, thinks that only extreme irrationality would make US attack Iran. Ahmadinejad has even said in an interview that the US would not be so stupid.
"The Iranian military brass and hard-line newspapers have also talked about the assessment that most of what is going on is psychological war. I am aware of only one official that has [publicly] entertained the possibility of attack. In a long interview with the Iranian television, Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, said that George Bush is a singularly determined man and if he decided to attack Iran, he will do it no matter what the obstacles are."
We also asked M.K. Bhadrakumar, the former Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey who writes for Asia Times Online on Iran and other issues, to weigh in.