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  December 10, 2010

WikiLeaks and Iran - Hamid Dabashi and Robert Naiman


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WikiLeaks and Iran - Hamid Dabashi and Robert NaimanPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us to talk about WikiLeaks and Iran and the whole conflict, at least the war of words so far or war of sanctions so far between the United States and Iran, Israel, and of course some of the European countries, the WikiLeaks release focused--most of the media, at least, focused on the issue that saw the emir or king of Saudi Arabia was urging, apparently, United States to attack Iran. There was a lot of--several other reports. Other leaders of Arab regimes were urging the same. And this was greeted with great celebration in newspapers, but particularly The Jerusalem Post in Israel that said that WikiLeaks is a vindication for what Israel's been saying, Iran being a threat to the region, which has been part of the American and Israeli narrative for quite some time, but a little less sellable, at least up until this WikiLeaks leak. So now joining us to talk about that and the whole issue of US policy towards Iran and the attitude of the media towards Iran is--first of all, coming to us from Washington is--are you in Washington, Robert? Let me make sure of this.

ROBERT NAIMAN: No, I'm in Urbana, Illinois.

JAY: Urbana, Illinois. Sorry about that. Is Robert Naiman. He's the director of Just Foreign Policy. He edits the Just Foreign Policy Daily News Summary. He writes extensively on US foreign policy at Huffington Post. And joining us from New York--I'm sorry. You're in New York, is that right, Hamid?

HAMID DABASHI: Yup.

JAY: Okay. Joining us from New York is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is the professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. Thank you very much for joining us. So let me start with Hamid. So, first of all, talk about the way the media dealt with WikiLeaks leaks, the message being, with increasing fervor: Iran is a threat to the region; see, even the Arabs agree with it.

DABASHI: Well, as you know, we are told that there are 250,000-plus pieces of leaks that have come through WikiLeaks and the media. And they were initially released through five major newspapers, including The New York Times. And New York Times has put its own spin on it. And the spin that New York Times has put on this particular leaks is the spin that The New York Times has been putting on the position of Islamic Republic and US and Israeli situation vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic even before the WikiLeaks. So WikiLeaks has done nothing for New York Times to change its attitude that Arab states around the Persian Gulf have been hostile to Islamic Republic, wary of Islamic Republic--their governments, not their people--is not a new revelation. But of course the language with which, apparently, the heads of these states have been talking about cutting the heads of Islamic Republic as a snake in metaphor, this is a new revelation. So what exactly ensured--what exactly the extent of these leaks are--we really don't know, and, that is I, for one, have not sat and read 250,000-plus pieces of documents. What we are now dealing with, Paul, is different governments--United States government, Israeli government, Islamic Republic--putting their own spin on it. The Islamic Republic position on this, that this is all fabrication and this is all part of the US policy to create divisions within the Islamic world, and they don't have same attitude towards this issue that the rest of the world has, and Israel has immediately come out and say, yes, the Arab states are all as wary of Islamic Republic as we are.

JAY: Hamid, let me ask Robert a question. Robert, the US media plays this like good Arab regimes, like Saudi Arabia or the emirates or others, the good ones are with us against Iran. But is there also a danger that in some of the opposition to this, that there's sort of a painting of Iran as if it's not another regional rival with real power concerns and, what do you call it, expansionist or not, but certainly they want to expand their influence. You know, President Ahmadinejad has recently tried to position himself as being sort of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist and all of this. I mean, what are we--you know, are we dealing with sort of a benign Iran, or are we dealing with a bunch of rival elites?

NAIMAN: Well, there's no question whatsoever, you know, as has just been said, these are the overall framework. We know there's a long-standing struggle for influence in the region between the US and its friends and Iran and its friends [inaudible] For years in Iraq, some of the Gulf Arab countries, you know, these are autocratic regimes, some of them with significant Shia majorities, and in the case of Bahrain a Shia majority, and they're very concerned about Iranian influence and indeed tend to describe their issues with their own Shia minorities in terms of Iranian influence, a view that the US generally doesn't share. So, for example, you know, the government of Yemen and the government of Saudi Arabia are always describing the problems of the government in Yemen as a dark Iranian conspiracy. And if you look in the WikiLeaks cables and US Government public statements [inaudible] we don't see any evidence of this, we don't see any evidence that Iran is behind this. So these are long-standing. And this claim that, you know, the Arabs are with us, this claim from the Israeli government and its supporters that the Arabs are with us on this, it's a long-standing claim. It was immediately obvious as soon as these documents started to come out that this would be trumpeted by the Israeli government and its supporters as vindication. Even if The New York Times had never said anything, the Israeli government and its supporters would have been trumpeting this. And it's not at all surprising. You know, The New York Times saw this with the last WikiLeaks release when they focused on Pakistan. What does The New York Times think is newsworthy? The New York Times thinks is newsworthy is what US elites think is newsworthy. So that's not surprising at all. I don't think, actually, that these documents add to the case for a war with Iran at all. And even though, you know, there's kind of a temporary panic of seeing these arguments trotted out, I mean, you have to remember, when you dump 250,000 US government documents on the world, you're going to get a big dose of US government worldview.

JAY: Right. Hold on. Robert, I want to just jump in and ask Hamid a question. Hamid, you're the author of the book Iran, the Green Movement, and the USA. And the part of the thing that's been happening over the last--you know, since the--certainly at least since the Iranian elections, if not before, is sort of a mixed message in terms of the media. You've had Iran as a threat in terms of the nuclear program and such, and a lot of the American media was gung ho behind the Green Movement, saying this shows how despicable this regime is. On the other hand, you've had a message from some of--certainly some, if not most of the Green Movement, that we don't want you to be changing our regime, even if we don't like it. Talk a little about the sort of contradictory issues we're seeing in the media about this whole question.

DABASHI: Two things, Paul. Number one, not all US media was gung ho behind the Green Movement. The Leverett husband and wife have been regularly featured in New York Times, and they are big-time supporters of Ahmadinejad and categorically dismissed, denigrated, and ridiculed the Green Movement. So it is not true statistically that the US major media is categorically behind the Green Movement. That's number one. Number two, what we are witnessing since last June, in fact with your network, is the rise of alternative media, the new media--Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. And in fact much of the information that mainline news organizations such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and New York Times, etc. have of the civil rights movement in Iran comes from alternative media. That is, they pour over this data and try to understand it. So in my judgment, the change in the very architecture of world media is such that traditional news outlines, such as CNN, Al Jazeera, etc., they're lagging behind what is happening on the ground in terms of news media. Our own school of journalism at Columbia, we just hired a new dean to try to figure out what exactly is the nature of this new beast, and--meaning the new media and the rise of alternative media. In fact, look at this wiki leak itself. WikiLeaks itself is the rise of a new media, a new kind of information. For the first time, we have started eavesdropping on the government, compensating for the fact that our lives have been subject to surveillance by the government, exactly, as you know, the reversal of what liberal democracies were supposed to be. The lives of individuals were supposed to be private and the operation of the state apparatus to be transparent, but over the last hundred years or so, systematically the lives of individual citizens have become subject to state surveillance, and the operation of the state has become secretive [inaudible]

JAY: But, Hamid, it was in the alternative media particularly, there was a sort of a critique of criticism of the election results. There was a certain section of the alternative media that said that, you know, if you look at the polling, Ahmadinejad must have won fairly; the Green Movement may be under American influence. There was a certain section of that media that was quite critical of the Green Movement as a whole, in the context of opposing possible US or Israeli aggression on Iran, that somehow this--you know, if you say too much in favor of the Green Movement, you're somehow helping the positioning that the regime deserves to be attacked by Israel or the United States.

DABASHI: That is absolutely a correct observation. And any responsible support for the civil rights movement in Iran must be fully cognizant of the fact that there is a tradition of warmongering in the United States. And those who have been active in antiwar demonstrations from Afghanistan to Iraq and--now are very worried. After the midterm election, I am particularly worried that Iran continues to be the target of being attacked, which to me, as a supporter of the civil rights movement in Iran, I think would be a kiss of death to the civil rights movement. In no uncertain terms, representatives of this movement have said that this is a domestic affair, this is not regime change, they are not after toppling the Islamic Republic. And if Senator McCain brandishes a green wristband and supports the Green Movement, is none of the responsibilities--or some expatriate Iranians go to the US Congress and say that the leaders of the Green Movement are for sanctions are simply lying. In no uncertain terms, the leaders of the Green Movement have come and said they are not for sanctions, they are not for military strikes, and they are simply for securing their civil liberties as guaranteed to them by Article 27 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic.

JAY: Right.

NAIMAN: Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Karroubi, and Mr. Khatami have said that they are demanding and will exact their civil liberties within the Constitution of the Islamic Republic.

JAY: Robert, what do you make of--that some of the alternative media and policy proponents, were they a little--were they unfairly critical of the Green Movement in order to sort of not merge into this anti-Iranian propaganda? Do you think that was an issue, or not?

NAIMAN: Well, there's all kind of things in the alternative media. That's what [it's] all about. You can write anything you want. I think the key point is that in terms of US policy, there was a view that developed around the time of the elections and was--and afterward--and was promoted by some people who identified themselves as supporters of the Green Movement, part of the Green Movement, saying that, you know, this changes everything with respect to the push for US diplomacy with Iran. And, you know, the US can't engage Iran diplomatically, because this will legitimize the regime, and the US has to regard the regime as illegitimate. And that I was very critical of, and am very critical of, to the extent that it still exists. [inaudible] that's died down significantly, because at the end of the day, whatever one thinks about what happened in the elections, whatever one thinks about the government of Iran and its policies and so on and so forth, it's the government of Iran, and the issues that the United States has with Iran are government-to-government issues. If you support diplomacy, it has to be diplomacy between governments. When the US has an issue with China, it has to deal with the Chinese government. When it has an issue with Saudi Arabia, it has to deal with the Saudi Arabian government. And the same for other countries in the world. They have to deal with the US government even [inaudible] And this is an absolutely key point that's absolutely ten million times more important than anything else. The United States is on a conflict path with Iran. And there are three ways--there are three items on the menu in the restaurant for how this conflict could be resolved: diplomacy, sanctions, and war. So people have to choose. You know, if you're for war, be for war. If you're for sanctions, be for sanctions. The only other alternative is diplomacy, is the diplomatic resolution of the conflict. And we have to accept the fact that we live in the United States and the political context here is nasty on these issues. We just saw in the fast past few weeks Secretary of State Clinton did something very positive: she gave a speech where she said that the US accepts the right of Iran to enrich uranium in the context of a resolution of the issue where Iran satisfies international concerns about its nuclear program. Immediately, five senators sent a letter to President Obama, including Senator Lieberman and Senator Kirk, saying, you know, this is unacceptable; the United States has be clear to Iran that it cannot under any circumstances ever [inaudible]

JAY: Robert. Robert. Robert, can you hear me? Robert doesn't seem to be able to hear me.

NAIMAN: And that's a recipe for war.

JAY: Robert, can you hear me?

NAIMAN: Yeah.

JAY: Yeah, you've got to let me jump in. Robert, the--

NAIMAN: Go ahead.

JAY: --there was quite a few voices raised in, you know, various alternative media in the United States in the post-Iranian election period, getting into, virtually, polemics with the leaders of the Green Movement, persuading, trying to persuade the American audience or American public opinion that the election results were legitimate in Iran [inaudible] so I'm not--it's not entirely fair to say that, you know, what happens in Iran should just be Iranian business, because a lot of Americans--and I think you were involved in this--did take a position that the Iranian elections were fair elections. And the question I have is: how do you balance this issue of opposing US potential aggression or Israeli aggression on Iran? At the same time, to the Green Movement, certainly many people in that movement felt abandoned by sections of the American and other left, including in Latin America, for example, Hugo Chavez and others. Hamid, maybe you get in on this. I mean, does this matter? I mean, some Americans that say to me, like, who cares what we think about the Green Movement, the real issue is just to oppose US foreign policy.

DABASHI: No, I disagree. I disagree. I think, that as a civil rights movement, as a nonviolent civil rights movement inspired by American civil rights movement, inspired by Martin Luther King, inspired by Gandhi, it is moral duty of ordinary Americans at the same time that oppose their elected governments warmongering around the globe, especially in the region, to support, morally to support, to acknowledge that something absolutely extraordinary is happening. I consider myself part of the American left, and I am deeply, deeply troubled by the fact that they could not make a sentence with subordinate clauses that--opposing American aggression, and Israeli aggression meant support for Ahmadinejad, and in fact, in the case of the Leveretts, denigrating and dismissing and ridiculing this civil rights movement. This is irresponsible and inexcusable. One can at the same time that has a history and must continue to oppose war and military aggression, must acknowledge that something absolutely extraordinary is happening inside Iran for civil liberties, with a movement that has--almost two years into operation, not a single Molotov cocktail has been thrown by participants, and subject to systematic harassment, people kidnapped off the street, jailed, tortured, even reports of rape. How could a moral political person to be indifferent to these things? And these accusations, Paul, are not brought by discredited expatriate activists. These accusations are brought by people who are integral to the Islamic Republic. Mir-Hossein Mousavi was the prime minister for eight years. Khatami was president for eight years. Karroubi was the speaker of the House. What we are witnessing inside Iran is the implosion of the state apparatus. I don't believe like your other guest that we only have three scenarios. In fact, the United States does not have a position so far as the nuclear enrichment of uranium, etc., is concerned. When Islamic Republic is surrounded by four nuclear forces, Israel on one side, Pakistan on the other side, Russia on the north, and United States in the South, President Obama is not in a position to point finger at the Islamic Republic that is not even--that is a signatory to NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] to begin with and does not even have a nuclear arm. It's the only solution for this that acknowledges the civil rights movement in Iran but doesn't play in the hands of Ahmadinejad is to call for regional disarmament that includes Pakistan and Israel, a fact that President Obama has known since his speech in Cairo. But simply after these midterm elections, he has completely abandoned it.

JAY: Robert, how do you respond?

NAIMAN: Well, first of all, I'd like to correct your characterization of my views. I never said or I challenge you to find where I said that the Iranian election was legitimate and fair. What I--.

DABASHI: Well, you did publish an article I read that you will give $10,000--

NAIMAN: Pardon me. Can I represent my own position, please?

JAY: Yeah, go ahead, Robert.

NAIMAN: Thank you. What I wrote was that the case had not been proved, that the evidence [inaudible] There were a lot of people afterwards in the United States who were--jumped to say, you know, the election was stolen. And that case hadn't been proven. And as I said, to repeat what I said earlier, my interest in this is an American citizen trying to reform US policy, prevent harm from US policies. People use this to say that we don't have to deal with the Iranian government. And this is my paramount concern, not whether people think that the Iranian government is wonderful. If you want to have a debate with someone who's an Ahmadinejad supporter on, then you'll have to bring an Ahmadinejad supporter on. [inaudible]

DABASHI: No. Excuse me. If I may--.

NAIMAN: Please, please, let me speak.

JAY: Just one sec. Let--Hamid, let Robert finish, and then you'll come in.

NAIMAN: Let me speak.

JAY: Yeah.

NAIMAN: So if you want to have that, then bring that. But that's not my position. My position is that as an American citizen, someone working on reforming US policy, this is my responsibility, and I think it's the responsibility of other Americans. This is a real threat. This is a real danger. In the last ten years, we have the US launching two wars in the region, blatantly violating the UN Security Council. There's a huge and powerful lobby in the United States that would just love to start a war with Iran. So I think this has to be our paramount concern of US citizens concerned about US policy, and it is absolutely essential that greater pressure be brought to bear on Washington for serious diplomacy with the Iranian government to resolve these issues.

JAY: But what do you make of Hamid's point that you can do both, that you can support the democracy movement in Iran and also oppose any US or Israeli aggressive policy towards Iran, that what the Iranian--. What he's suggesting is Iranian people are asking, at least the supporters of the democracy movement there, they would like people outside to do both. How do you respond to that?

NAIMAN: I'm all for it. If people want to, you know, quote-unquote, support the democracy movement or the civil rights movement in Iran, that's great, so long as it's--isn't translated as some people at the time tried to translate it as, and therefore you have to oppose diplomacy and negotiations with the Iranian government. That is just not acceptable, because that is a recipe for war, that is a recipe for catastrophic war in the region. The only way that this conflict is going to be resolved without war is through diplomacy with the Iranian government.

JAY: Well, I'm sure on that point Hamid agrees with you. Listen, we're running late today. We're going to pick up this conversation. I hope both our guests will rejoin us in the next week or two. And we'll also invite you, our viewers, to get on a phone or an email and ask questions. But we're going to move on with the webathon. So thank you very much, Robert and Hamid, and we hope you'll join us again soon. And we're going to take a short break now. If you want to donate, you can donate somewhere on the page here. There'll be a donate button. Or if you're on the Livestream, you'll have a donate button below the player. Or you can phone 888-449-6772. And I think we're almost at our $200,000 target. So it's just been fantastic, the response. We have something--I mean, when we started the show, there was over 1,134 individual donations, just since we started this campaign on December 24 [sic], and it's blown us away, and we couldn't be more pleased. But we do want to push through the $200,000 mark, and I think we might be doing that, like, any minute. Please join us in just a couple of minutes when we return on the Real News Network Webathon.

End of Transcript

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