Iran: Is the Media Ready to Supply the War?
Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi thinks he's seeing deja vu all over again in the way the Iranian threat is being spun. Some details:
As a journalist, there's a buzz you can detect once the normal restraints in your business have been loosened, a smell of fresh chum in the waters, urging us down the road to war. Many years removed from the Iraq disaster, that smell is back, this time with Iran.
You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms….
The news "hook" in most all of these stories is that intelligence reports reveal Iran is "willing" to attack us or go to war – but then there's usually an asterisk next to the headline, and when you follow the asterisk, it reads something like, "In the event that we attack Iran first."
An NBC report [Salon's Glenn] Greenwald also wrote about put it this way: "Within just the past few days, Iranian leaders have threatened that if attacked, they would launch those missiles at U.S. targets."
There's a weird set of internalized assumptions that media members bring to stories like this Iran business. In fact there's an elaborate belief system we press people adhere to, about how a foreign country may behave toward the U.S., and how it may not behave….
We have a….gentleman's code, a "Westernized industrial power" code if you will, that operates the same way. In other words, our newspapers and TV stations may blather on a thousand times a day about attacking Iran and bombing its people, but if even one Iranian talks about fighting back, he is being "aggressive" and "threatening"; we can impose sanctions on anyone, but if the sanctioned country embargoes oil shipments to Europe in response, it's being "belligerent," and so on….
now the public openly embraces circular thinking like, "Any country that squawks when we threaten to bomb it is a threat that needs to be wiped out." Maybe I'm mistaken, but I have to believe that there was a time when ideas like that sounded weird to the American ear. Now they seem to make sense to almost everyone here at home, and that to me is just as a scary as Ahmadinejad.
A specific New York Times story from over the weekend seems to feed into a "We gotta do something about Iran" narrative, pointing out that while many mumble that, well, Israel can take care of Iran if it's really a mortal threat to them (which not all Israeli decisionmakers believe is true, and one former Mossad chief thinks such an attack on Iran would be a terrible idea) by arguing that Israel just doesn't have what it takes to take them out:
Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran's air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously — and use at least 100 planes.
That is the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon, who say that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran's nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation. They describe it as far different from Israel's "surgical" strikes on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981.
"All the pundits who talk about 'Oh, yeah, bomb Iran,' it ain't going to be that easy," said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force's top intelligence official and who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Gulf War.
Speculation that Israel might attack Iran has intensified in recent months as tensions between the countries have escalated….
The possible outlines of an Israeli attack have become a source of debate in Washington, where some analysts question whether Israel even has the military capacity to carry it off. One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America's far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks, defense analysts said. Another fear is of Iranian retaliation.
"I don't think you'll find anyone who'll say, 'Here's how it's going to be done — handful of planes, over an evening, in and out,' " said Andrew R. Hoehn, a former Pentagon official who is now director of the Rand Corporation's Project Air Force, which does extensive research for the United States Air Force.
Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009, said flatly last month that airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran's nuclear program were "beyond the capacity" of Israel, in part because of the distance that attack aircraft would have to travel and the scale of the task.
Still, a top defense official cautioned in an interview last week that "we don't have perfect visibility" into Israel's arsenal, let alone its military calculations….
The rest of the story has more on the technical and logisitical difficulties, but to me the political point of this story is more important than those details: that various U.S. military-industrial complex pundits wanted the New York Times to let us know an Iranian war likely can't be just an Israeli thing.
Earlier this month, a Bipartisan Policy Center report by Charles S. Robb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia, and Charles F. Wald, a retired Air Force general, recommended that the Obama administration sell Israel 200 enhanced GBU-31 "bunker busters" as well as three advanced refueling planes.
The two said that they were not advocating an Israeli attack, but that the munitions and aircraft were needed to improve Israel's credibility as it threatens a strike.
Should the United States get involved — or decide to strike on its own — military analysts said that the Pentagon had the ability to launch big strikes with bombers, stealth aircraft and cruise missiles, followed up by drones that could carry out damage assessments to help direct further strikes. Unlike Israel, the United States has plenty of refueling capability. Bombers could fly from Al Udeid air base in Qatar, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or bases in Britain and the United States.
Nonetheless, defense officials say it would still be tough to penetrate Iran's deepest facilities with existing American bombs and so are enhancing an existing 30,000-pound "Massive Ordnance Penetrator" that was specifically designed for Iran and North Korea.
"There's only one superpower in the world that can carry this off," General Deptula said. "Israel's great on a selective strike here and there."
Steve Chapman questioned the threat of Iran here at Reason earlier this month.