Last week the internet erupted in a furor over a claim made in the conservative Canadian paper The National Post by prominent neo-conservative Amir Taheri who wrote that Iran was about to require non-Muslims to wear color-coded badges. Taheri's story was quickly proved to be completely false but not before it appeared in the Murdoch-owned New York Post as well as in the New York Sun and the Los Angeles Times. The story had all the earmarks of what Middle-East expert Juan Cole described as follows:
"... 'typical of black psychological operations campaigns', particularly in its origin in an 'out-of-the-way newspaper that is then picked up by the mainstream press' - in this case, the Jerusalem Post and the New York Post. A former US intelligence official described the article's relatively obscure provenance as a 'real sign of [a] disinformation operation'". (Source: Asia Times)
On yesterday morning's FOX & Friends Weekend [May 29,2006) hosts Kiran Chetry, Alisyn Camerota and Julian Philips had some cautiously optimistic things to say about Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The whole tone of the segment was markedly different from the usual "Nuke Iran" rhetoric one has come to expect from FOX's hosts and guests. It even included several suggestions that Iran wishes to open a dialogue with the United States.
At no time did any of the hosts cite a news source for their observations even though they virtually read everything right from their laptop computers. I did find a couple of online reports that seemed to refer to this story - Iranian politician urges U. S.-Iran ties and Standoff leaves Iran clerics on the sidelines, both by AP, published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Their tone did not seem as conciliatory as that taken by the F&F trio.
My transcript follows.
KIRAN CHETRY: We start the day talking once again about what is shaping to be a big power struggle or power grab in Iran. It's pretty fascinating.
JULIAN PHILLIPS: Yeah.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: There seems to be a power shift that's going on in Iran right now and it's really changing the dynamic in the country and it's all because of President Ahmadinejad. He is changing the way that country has done business for the past - I guess - 27 years since the revolution of 1979 ...
CAMEROTA: ... and what he's doing is he is commanding more of the power than the clerics. You know, they used to really have a lot of influence in terms of societal mores there and how the people dress and what they thought. He is eclipsing even those clerics.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. This is rare unity of elected and religious leadership here and I think a lot of it has to do with their willingness, I guess, in part, to try to get some sort of dialogue with the west, specifically the United States. Also, changing their infrastructure 'cause they realize there that the younger folks are not in tune to the strict rules that they have there - young people as well as women - so he's changing through this consolidation of power, perhaps, how women are treated in that country and also trying to get some sort of dialogue with the United States on their nuclear program.
CHETRY: Right. And those who watch Iran and have studied the politics of Iran for years say that it has to be, they're assuming, with the blessing of the Supreme Leader there - religious leader - which is the Ayatollah Khomeini - because they say there is no way that he would be able to do this without his blessing. But it's interesting, because it does raise a lot of questions for the U. S. While Ahmadinjad has taken a very confrontational approach toward the west - talking about wiping Israel off the map, etcetera - they've also signaled, in a way, that they perhaps maybe they want to mend relations. We all remember the letter that he had written about - what was it? last week? - to the President and ...
CHETRY: ... you know there are a lot of questions at this point. Could, you know, this guy actually be on to something and is there possibly a future of some sort of normalized relations with the United States and Iran at the same time that he's spewing all this rhetoric?
(At this point, the FOX hosts pulled back from the brink, motivated, I am sure, by the realization that many of their staunchest viewers were in a state of shock by this time. Additionally, watch in the next commentary how Camerota uses the word "progressive" to describe the GOOD things that Ahmadinejad might be trying to accomplish and the words "conservative values" to refer to the restrictive Islamic law. I found her choice of words illuminating!)
CAMEROTA: Yeah, but they think that the letter - I mean, I mean, our U. S. officials think that the letter is really a ruse. I mean, just to try to throw everybody off the scent from the fact that they're trying to develop their nuclear arsenal and, as you know, Condi Rice and the President didn't take it very seriously and before we make him sound too progressive, Ahmadinejad is - you know, he's sending many, many mixed messages. He also wants to restore the conservative values of the Islamic Revolution and he's, frankly, also marginalized past presidents there - Mohammed Khatamei and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani - he has taken them out of some of their posts and also there were some academics at the - in the university system - that he's also trying to marginalize, so he's a little schizophrenic in his message.
CHETRY: And he also needs to do something to get that sagging economy up - a lot of poor people there, a lot ofunemployment, so we'll see what happens and we'll see if the United States is taking notice.
Last week both Bush and Blair publicly acknowledged the "mistakes" made in Iraq. Has the word gone out to back off on the overheated confrontational language in favor of something more conciliatory and diplomatic? Will we see real diplomatic movement between Iran and the United States in the near future?
Or is FOX News trying to smooth the waters after publishing an unvetted, possibly "planted" story, that attempted to paint President Ahmadinejad as the next Hitler?
At a recent get-together, a number of us were discussing the Ahmadinejad letter. A history professor in the group noted that it was an opening offered by Iran to begin the long process of re-establishing diplomatic ties. However, while we all acknowledged that the professor was right, no one in the group believed that the Bush administration would do anything other than make its standard jingoistic anti-Iranian statements and slam the door in Ahmadinejad's face. Perhaps we were wrong.
I, for one, felt that the letter - coupled with bin Laden's offer of a truce - represented an attempt on the part of the radical Islamic elements to fulfill a requirement of Islamic law - that one must always seek peace with an enemy before engaging in an attack. Once the offer of negotiation is rebuffed, then an attack on the enemy is considered legitimate.
While I am by no means an expert in Islamic law - far from it - I learned this 18 years ago when my brother was married to a woman whose father was from Iran, a supporter of the Shah who had to leave quickly during the Revolution.
If my former in-laws were correct on this point, then the State Department's far more educated experts must know about it as well.
Perhaps, the Bush administration is beginning the slow process of preparing its conservative base for the realities of diplomatic life, i.e., that we may have to sit down with the enemy in order to avoid a repeat of 9-11.
Let's hope that yesterday's foray into conciliation was not a blip on the radar screen but the real beginning of a new policy shift in the White House.
Because, as Winston Churchill put it many years ago, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
UPDATE: Somewhat later in the broadcast, Lauren Green reported that the United States "is pushing Europe and Japan to use broad financial sanctions against Iranian leaders if diplomacy fails. The plan would close Iran's overseas bank accounts, freeze foreign assets and lock Iran out of currency and equities markets." In other words, the United States wants the rest of the world to impose the same sanctions against Iran that are already extant in the United States.
Iran will no longer accept dollars in payment for oil. Japan and other countries will need to divest themselves of the dollars they are holding in reserve and convert them to euros. Unless we can persuade them to boycott Iran, thereby effectively nullifying Iran's switch to the euro, the value of the dollar may drop like a stone.