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Baghdad in flames in March 2003. (AP)

Six questions reporters should ask of anyone advocating military action against Iran

ASK THIS | February 24, 2012

Avoiding another war of choice will require a media that digs beyond agenda-driven analysis and prevents the debate from being curtailed, write the authors. It will require a media that doesn't permit a question of life and death to be framed in a simplistic manner that leaves the U.S. with a false choice of either bombing Iran or accepting an Iranian bomb.

By Reza Marashi & Trita Parsi
National Iranian American Council

America is once again drifting toward war. Less than ten years after the U.S. invasion (and subsequent occupation) of Iraq, its myriad lessons seem forgotten. A familiar, toxic mix of sloppy politicians and politicized foreign policy experts is telling the American public that an irrational Iranian regime hell-bent on acquiring and using nuclear weapons poses an imminent threat to its safety -- despite the highest levels of America’s national security establishment speaking on the record to the contrary.

The ghosts of America’s neoconservative past have successfully shaped the policy around its selling points despite next-to-zero discussion about the consequences of war. Obama administration officials have always been delicate when pushing back against their hawkish counterparts on Iran policy, and election-year considerations have heightened those sensitivities to the point of near-paralysis. Reductionism has focused the debate in America on how the military can stop an Iranian nuclear bomb that is neither in existence nor imminent.

Many Americans who believe this dishonest discourse cannot be blamed for basing their views on the misinformation they receive. A free press that reports with neither passion nor prejudice is part of America’s democratic fabric. And yet, we despair about the credulousness of the U.S. media when it comes to this dangerous saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran. Rather than learning from sins previously committed in the run up to the Iraq war, most media outlets are sticking to the same formula on Iran. To avoid a disastrous repeat, their questions need to recalibrate the frame of the debate to put it in its proper context.

To that end, the following are six questions reporters should ask of anyone advocating military action against Iran:

Q. America has not had a diplomatic presence in Iran for three decades. As such, much of our knowledge relies on intelligence. Given the controversy over our intelligence on Iraq, how are we factoring in and addressing the uncertainty of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program?

Q. What are the views of the Iranian people in regards to a potential war and the current sanctions regime? Is this current path helping us win or lose hearts and minds in Iran?

Q. What are the forces behind Iran’s nuclear program? Could one factor be a desire for a nuclear deterrence due to a sense of insecurity and threat? If so, how can we affect Iran’s sense of need for a nuclear deterrence? Does the increasingly bellicose and confrontational approach of the West actually increase Tehran’s desire for nuclear deterrence?

Q. The U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel has hundreds. Iran currently has a mighty arsenal of zero nuclear weapons. The U.S. has successfully deterred Iran for more than three decades. Why are we assuming that suddenly, deterrence will not work with Iran anymore?

Q. The U.S. military leadership does not believe Israel has an effective military option when it comes to unilaterally destroying Iran's nuclear sites. A tense exchange is currently playing out in public between the Netanyahu government and the U.S. military, with Israeli officials accusing Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey of having "served Iran's interests." What lies behind the starkly diverging views of the Netanyahu government and the U.S. military on Iran?

Q. According to the Congressional Research Service, total war-related funding for Iraq has exceeded $800 billion -- an average of approximately $100 billion per year. With these numbers in mind -- and at a time of over 8 percent unemployment and unprecedented government bailouts -- how will we pay for a war with Iran?

Looking back at America’s recent wars, the American people trusted that their elected leaders accurately assessed the pros and cons of their policies. It didn’t take long before protracted quagmires collapsed that trust. With the notable exception of neoconservatives, most Americans eventually realized the sad truth: their leaders didn’t have a plan beyond bombing; they knew little if anything about the country in question; and they failed to conduct a realistic cost assessment -- in both blood and treasure -- of the endeavor. By the time Americans realized all of this, the damage had already been done.

Avoiding another war of choice will require a media that digs beyond agenda-driven analysis and prevents the debate from being curtailed. It will require a media that doesn’t permit a question of life and death to be framed in a simplistic manner that leaves the U.S. with a false choice of either bombing Iran or accepting an Iranian bomb. It is the responsibility of reporters -- not congressmen, senators, neoconservatives or foreign governments -- to not only get answers to their questions, but also to define the questions properly.

On Iraq, the mainstream media did not ask the right questions until disaster was a reality. On Iran, those questions need to be asked now so that disaster can be avoided.


Reza Marashi is Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council and a former Iran Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of State. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, is the author of the new book A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy With Iran (Yale University Press, 2012).

Free Man
Posted by Ben Gh
02/24/2012, 03:19 PM

There are a lot to this issue, and for sure none of them are reasoning, logic, common sense and American or Iranian people intrests.The American should learn two lessens in other to be able to deal correctly with Islamic world. First use yr brain and yr wisdom instead of force and muscles.
Second draw a clear line between American interests and Israeli hard liners one.

Posted by taikan
02/24/2012, 05:08 PM

Personally, I think the first question that should be asked of anyone currently advocating military action against Iran is: Are you crazy, stupid or both? However, the fact that I agree with the authors that military action against Iran would be a mistake doesn't mean that I agree that all of their questions make sense.

For example, regardless of what politicians or members of the public may think, the military knows that any military strike at a target in Iran would not be viewed by the majority of the Iranian people as being just an action against the current regime, but instead would be viewed as an attack on Iran. Therefore, it makes no sense to ask whether it would help us win or lose the hearts of the Iranian people because any military action will make the majority of Iranians our enemies.

Similarly, the existence of a divergence between the views of the US military and the Israeli government and the reasons for that divergence are irrelevant. Instead, the question to ask should be: Why do you, and why should anyone in the US, advocate taking military action against Iran when the US military is against taking such action?

Finally, the question the authors propose regarding why someone advocating military action against Iran believes that deterrence will no longer work with Iran once it has nuclear weapons mistakenly assumes that anyone who advocates military action against Iran has such a belief. Nuclear proliferation, in and of itself, is sufficiently negative that it makes sense to take all reasonable efforts to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the question to ask should be: Why do you think it is reasonable to take military action now, rather than waiting to see if sanctions or other non-military actions will be sufficient to cause Iran to cancel any program it has to develop nuclear weapons?

Other kinds of questions
Posted by Duglarri
02/24/2012, 09:16 PM

I have another set of questions.

1. Is the US government really, seriously, considering bombing an operational nuclear plant (Bushehr)? Thus creating a totally man-made Fukishima disaster, potentially irradiating much of the Persian Gulf?

2. How do the Saudis and Gulf States feel about the prospect of someone rendering their desalination plants inoperable, cutting off water to tens of millions of their people?

3. All the war games have shown the US actually loses this war. Dozens of American ships burning and sunk? That's how the war games turned out.
Is the American military going to smartly salute and send tens of thousands of American servicemen and women to their deaths? For Israel?

4. This time, there's not even a fig leaf of "maybe he has weapons" as there was with respect to Iraq. This time, there's no ambiguity: if the US attacks, it's pure and open aggression, the "highest war crime", according to the Nuremburg standard. Are Americans prepared to join Hitler on the pages of history?

5. Is Obama prepared to join G.W. Bush on the world's permanent, lifetime no-fly list? Because like George, he'd be arrested for the crime of making aggressive war in just about every country on earth?

6. Are Obama and Netanyahu prepared to walk up the steps to the gallows for the crime of making aggressive war? Are they prepared to be dealt with the way we dealt with the Nazis in 1946 for the same crime? Empires don't last forever. What if the price of the Chinese for carrying American debt, in two decades, turns out to be these men in front of a world court for this crime?

What options do we have?
Posted by Joseph
02/24/2012, 09:49 PM

The article has merit, but it also fails to ask questions that a real journalist should ask.

1. The Iranian Leadership has publicly declared their intent to "wipe Israel off the map." Does the government of Israel have the luxury of waiting it out and hoping for the best. Or is their government mandated to try and stop the Iranian regime knowing that past leaders that have declared genocidal intentions against Jews meant what they said?

2. Even if Iran can't deliver a nuclear bomb, they can easily supply their surrogates in Hamas and Hezbollah nuclear tipped weapons. This provides a direct threat to cities in Europe, Israel and the United States. Can world governments afford to not take action?

Dissapointed in Nieman
Posted by Haym S
02/24/2012, 09:58 PM

Very disturbed to see Nieman Watchdog publish the work of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mouth piece in the United States. I strongly urge them to be more careful in the future when any promoter of genocide wants to pen an article.

The author also himself needs suggestions to improve on factual reportings
Posted by George Archers Canada Toronto
02/25/2012, 08:43 AM

Re: "On Iraq, the mainstream media did not ask the right questions "-
Should have read: -On Iraq/Lybia/Syria/Iran/Palestine/ect, the mainstream media did not WANT to ask the right questions.
I'll bet $10 that even this author's article wouldn't pass the smell test to be published in any of the all pro Israel/USA government USA media.
Admit it, USA media is a tool of the government-it has an agenda.
If the reporters did follow the 6 suggestions--they'd be unemployed. Ask the Judge :^/

A military attack means vast radioactive contamination
Posted by Mohammad Alireza
02/27/2012, 09:09 AM

Destroying Iran’s many reactors and processing facilities could release large amounts of radiation and create radioactive dust storms. Winds would carry this toxic miasma over Afghanistan and its large U.S. military garrison. Dangerous radiation would also extend to Pakistan, western India, Iraq, Kuwait and to the Gulf, where large numbers of U.S. military personnel are based. Equally ominous, radioactive dust could blanket oil fields in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. High-altitude winds would spread radioactivity around the globe, as occurred at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, but at a factor of twenty times or more.

http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/radioactive ...

Posted by Oscar Shank
02/27/2012, 06:31 PM

RE: the comment by Joseph above:

1. The Iranian Leadership has never publicly declared their intent to "wipe Israel off the map."
Said leadership has merely stated that the Zionist regime in Israel will vanish from the pages of history, same as the USSR, due to either demography and/or economic collapse coinciding with the trending American economic collapse.

No Iranian leader has ever declared genocidal intentions against Jews; rather, Iran itself has many Jewish citizens who love their country and have never showed the slightest intention of moving to Israel. The mistranslation of Iranian statements has been intentional on the part of zealot Zionists in the USA, UK, Canada, and Israel.

2. Even if Iran had a nuclear bomb, they would not supply their friends in Hamas and Hezbollah nuclear tipped weapons. Iran leadership knows if such weapons fell into the hands of Hamas or Hezbollah, the US and Israel would nuke Iran without question as it would be assumed Iran gave the nukes to Hamas and/or Hezbollah.

Posted by Mikey
02/27/2012, 06:47 PM


Please provide the correct translated quote, date and time that any Iranian leadership has advocated "wiping Isreal off the face of the map."

Iran cannot provide nuclear tipped weapons to anyone because they do not have the ability to enrich mateial to weapons grade. Inspectors have verified this.

Iran has signed the Nuclear Non Profliferation Treaty, Isreal has not. Iran allows inspections of its facilities, Isreal does not. Iran has attacked exactly no country since the Islamic revolution. How many countries has Isreal attacked? Which country is the real threat to world peace?

Posted by Big Burt
02/27/2012, 07:16 PM

Which country is promoting genocide?

Isreal is foaming at the mouth to have the US attack Iran.

Ask Palestine about which country promotes and engages in genocide.

Posted by john
02/27/2012, 07:23 PM

america and isreal, are like nazis today, my father fought the nazis, and got mortally wounded, we in this world have to make a choose, do we want to fight with nazis or do we want our freedom back, and go aganist the nazis

Few of these commenters answered the six questions directly
Posted by Lili
02/27/2012, 07:46 PM

That is America in action.
You ask citizens to face a problem(or six of them) and they either directly evade or argue-without solving anything.
Q1-America makes up whatever intelligence they need to fuel their pointless battles so new and independent global mediating authorities need to handle US/Persian intelligence matters.
Q2.Have an open, independent uncensored media channel that allows for Persians and Americans to talk and decide without government interference.
Q3. If America chooses to intervene in Persia's nuke program then Persia should have the same equal right with America.
Q4.America assumes deterrence won't work with Persia because the American government knows that Persia does not in any way trust Americans due to repeated failed global diplomatic relations.
Q5.The U.S. military leadership needs to pass this entirely to a global diplomatic body for non-military resolution. Extended wars have bankrupted America and if the military doesn't understand this by now then they cannot reasonably continue effective management of the situation.
Q6-We cannot pay for this war without eviscerating the American people financially. There needs to be a diplomatic solution. It's been almost 300 years America. Find better ways to solve your problems. Evolve as citizens.

Posted by Hugh
02/27/2012, 08:26 PM

you don't know what you are talking about,the iranian leader never said anything abouth wiping israel off the map, i've read the transcripts of that speech and nowhere in there did he say that, so come with facts not lies to further your zionist agenda ;)and the U.S.,Israel,UK,Canada etc. are all using depleted uranium tippped munitions, care to comment?

Posted by Cold Wind
02/27/2012, 08:26 PM

The people of the US do not have a government. The government in question is a creature of Corporate and Central Bank power. It arose incrementally beginnig with the successful assassination of President John F Kennedy. This particular government is the aftermath of a succession of assassinations, betrayals, infiltrations and vote fraud that constitute a nearly complete coup d'état. It is pointless to ask this government anything, because to its foundation, it is illegitimate! The Patriot Act, the NDAA and rampant vote fraud means the American people have been cut out of the loop and have no access to real power. The people cannot change the course of this illegitimate government by any normal means. Short of a mass revolutionary act, an alienated and disenfranchised people have no hope in prevailing on their 'government' to not attack Iran. The only reason the 'government' might reneg on a promise (to Israel) to attack Iran is because of the risk to itself and of what Russia might do in the aftermath.

Posted by Hugh
02/27/2012, 08:29 PM

you're a troll go back under your rock ;)

Posted by t brown
02/27/2012, 11:48 PM

These questions are all policy-wonk stuff. A more direct 7th question is required: Since you want war so ardently, will you don battle fatigues, grab a rifle and join the front lines? Will you insist your spouse and children do the same?

Will You Be Deploying?
Posted by guest
02/28/2012, 01:46 AM

The first question that should be asked of anyone advocating military opeartions against Iran should be: "Are you prepared to personnaly deploy, or are you prepared to deploy your son or daughter?"

Posted by Brad
02/28/2012, 04:39 AM

So, if we can have Nukes...then why can't they? And if having nukes in their hands means they might use them, then clearly possessing nukes is not a deterrence to their using them. If we believe such, then why do we even have nukes?

1St Question
Posted by Lapchick
02/28/2012, 09:32 PM

The 1st question implies that the USA actually relies on "intelligence" to gather information, when in fact the "intelligence" is fictional or completely made up to suit the situation. Please remember the fabrications of Colon Powell and his slide show which contributed to death and destruction on an epic scale. America has gone down the chute, nobody with any discerning ability believes the USA anymore. Luckily for the USA government, there are millions of Fox News watchers in the states who believe everything the government tells them. Luckily for the USA government most Americans are uneducated and thick as a brick.

Let's hear from someone besides the neoconservatives about Iran

How the press can prevent another Iraq

A refresher on how the press failed the people

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