Originally published in OtherWords.
For at least the past two decades, political leaders in the United States and Israel have warned that Iran was on the threshold of building a nuclear weapon. From what we’ve been hearing lately from the media, Iran is once again…on that threshold.
Touting thousands of pages of carefully vetted intelligence, menacing satellite imagery, and tales of a mysterious Soviet nuclear scientist, the media is telling us that Iran is about to get The Bomb.
It began when the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report that laid out the case against Iran. One newspaper headline called it a “red alert.” An ABC TV reporter said Iran is “carrying out activities whose sole purpose can only be the development of a nuclear weapon.”
Let’s play “Back to the Future” for a minute. Does anyone remember the last time we were told that a country with a four-letter name starting with I-R-A had amassed fearsome weapons based on solid, “slam dunk” intelligence?
The big media failure on Iraq was that the major broadcast and print outlets weren’t skeptical of official claims. And that’s exactly what’s happening with Iran. Does that IAEA report really flash “red alert”?” Hardly.
The agency reports that Iran isn’t diverting enriched uranium for military purposes — which is exactly what the IAEA is supposed to be monitoring. But that’s not the news here.
The nuclear intelligence that the media is fixated on consists mostly of allegations of abstract research that have been floating around for years: computer models, warhead designs, and so on, much of it happening years ago. If any of these allegations were true, there’s no solid evidence that Iran is attempting to turn theoretical knowledge into a working weapon. The report says as much, if anyone bothers to read it.
And what about the nuclear weapons scientist from the former Soviet Union who tutored Iran in explosives? It turns out that he may have nothing to do with nuclear weapons at all — his field of specialization for the past 50 years has been the use of conventional explosives to create industrial diamonds.
The media is, once again, failing to do its job. The only good news is that few outlets are openly calling for the United States to take military action.
But the Iran story has been a boon to Republican presidential candidates, who can use the story to boast that they’d take a harder line than Barack Obama. Frontrunner Mitt Romney had this to say at a recent debate: “If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.”
You’ll recall that Rick Perry’s brain freeze when he couldn’t name all three government agencies he would eliminate could very well spell the end of his campaign. Here we have the relatively moderate GOP frontrunner claiming he can singlehandedly stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. It’s absurd, but it didn’t cause a stir — probably because making outrageous claims about Iranian nukes isn’t considered a “gaffe” by the media elite.
Indeed, The Washington Post‘s editorial page declared that this IAEA report “ought to end serious debate” about Iran’s nuclear program.
Isn’t ending serious debate what got us into trouble with Iraq?