Iran-Drumbeat Watch: 'A Scary Club of Warmongers'

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Last week I mentioned Mike Lofgren's observations on the strange media-political history of the "Iran threat." The world is full of, ummm, imperfectly governed states, at least two of which actually have nuclear weapons: North Korea and Pakistan. But discussions of a potential nuclear weapon in Iran take on a ticking-time-bomb, apocalyptic tone usually missing when we talk about North Korea and Pakistan. All these countries pose serious problems, but on the editorial pages and in this year's campaign speeches we hear disproportionately, and with disproportionate shrillness, about Iran.

A young academic who has recently worked in the executive branch chimes in about the pattern Lofgren described:

I worked for the State Department as an intern early in the Administration. One of my main tasks was to keep track of Congressional activities regarding Iran.

The language that Republicans on the Hill used about Iran was absolutely stunning to someone new to D.C.. Every time they held a hearing on how to ratchet up sanctions, most of the politicians and "experts" compared Iran to the next Nazi Germany and invoked clear, but not perfectly explicit imagery of a nuclear bomb being dropped on the United States and a second Holocaust.

While I was at State, it seemed to be policy that it would be preferable to keep Congress out of foreign relations with Iran because our European allies were irritated at our attempts to force sanctions on their business and political institutions. But the administration never really came out and did anything to push back on the rhetoric. And despite multiple national intelligence estimates that publicly stated that it was unknown whether Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program, Hillary Clinton was going around claiming that Iran was building a weapons program. By the time I finished my stint there, it became clear to me that the administration was going to give in to any type of war mongering from Republicans because the fight wasn't politically worth it.

At the end of my internship State offered me a job to work exclusively on Iran issues. I immediately turned it down because I was really worried that we would end up in the exact situation we are in now after imposing more sanctions. My experience was so discouraging that I quit working in international affairs altogether, despite supportive mentors. I had moved to D.C. right after Obama was elected, thinking that Afghanistan and Iraq were two good reasons why our foreign wars would slow down. But the drums of war were growing louder and stronger even with a new administration that lauded "smart power" and international cooperation. The foreign policy community in D.C. is really a scary club of warmongers with very few exceptions.

Anyways, all that's to say, I agree with Mike Lofgren. And if you had been on the Hill in 2009, I think you would see the headlines today as a predictable development of a concerted campaign.<<

Also see Robert Wright today on the difference between Iran-coverage and the way we discuss most other problematic regimes. UPDATE: Also something I should have mentioned the first time, this excellent argument by Fareed Zakaria against the ticking-time-bomb view of Iran: "Nations have often believed that they face a closing window to act, and almost always such thinking has led to disaster."

[Housekeeping note #1: Having been on the road for most of the past two weeks, and with more of that in the week ahead, I'm getting a number of short items out of the the pipeline today.

Housekeeping note #2: The departure of Andrew Sullivan and the defection policy shift of Jeffrey Goldberg mean that mine is the now the only part of the Atlantic's site that doesn't take reader comments. I started doing items for the Atlantic's site back when it didn't even have a commenting function, and I've stuck to the policy for reasons explained here and here. In short, I think good comments sections have to be moderated, and I didn't want to commit the time to shape that community in the way that Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, does so well.

But, the world is ever changing, and ... we'll see.]

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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