Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The PR of war

If we are in a run-up to war with Iran, it would make sense for the preparations to proceed along parallel tracks, one being the demonization of the enemy-to-be as monstrous and bellicose. The Iranian mullahs offer plentiful opportunity for that and have ever since the unlovely eyebrows of Ruhollah Khomeini were contrasted with our nice-guy ally, the Shah. [U.S. Navy photo via AP]

But equally important is the contrasting image of oneself as an innocent lamb just trying to get along peaceably in a complex world. That’s where the rescue of Iranian fishermen from Somali pirates came in very handy, and while the act may have genuinely been a lucky accident, its utility to stoke to flames of war is a cynical triumph. How can the Iranians be so unreasonable, we might ask ourselves, when our friendly sailors are being so neighborly?

It might help by way of context to recall that the U.S. has not always behaved quite so gently towards the Iranian populace. For example, does anyone recall that in 1988 the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian airliner in the contested Straits of Hormuz, killing 290 civilian passengers, an act for which money, but no apology, was ever offered? Our guys said the whole thing was an unfortunate accident--would that have persuaded us had the roles and nationalities of attacker and victim been reversed?

And how many of today’s New Hampshire primary voters might recall the American support for Saddam Hussein for doing us the favor of waging war against Iran for eight years, including the use of his arsenal of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers? Yes, that Saddam Hussein and those weapons of mass destruction, which propagandists like Rice and Rumsfeld would later use to justify an unnecessary war of conquest.

So it’s nice that the fishermen were saved from kidnapping, and no, it doesn’t mean U.S. intentions are benign.

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