To take the Iranian government at its word is folly. With the zeal of a conservative religious revolution that rocked the country more than three decades ago, the Islamic Republic reserves its most egregiously, immediately and consistently malevolent behavior not for the Great Satan in America or the Zionist regime in Israel, but its own people, whom it harasses daily, hangs in droves for offenses not more than suspicion of homosexuality, and shoots to kill when democratic demands are taken to the street in peaceful, often silent marches.
But it’s difficult to read a document coming from that government, like the op-ed issued in the Washington Post on Friday April the 13th — in which Iran’s foreign minister declares that his Supreme Leader “issued a religious edict — a fatwa — forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons” — and not wonder: Is a non-violent resolution to Iran’s nuclear crisis with the West actually possible?
The document, given its venue, is designed for American consumption, to be sure. Yet in condemning nuclear weapons, Iran’s leaders have deployed the only cachet they seem to muster with their own internal followers (who number in the millions despite robust opposition): that same zeal of a conservative religious revolution. Few of the Serious Washington Liberals could be not heartened. And among them stands tallest Jeffrey Goldberg, Jeffrey Goldberg who harps on this same religious zeal when it comes to the threats inherent to Iranian nuclear weapons development.
“Oh, and by the way,” Goldberg glibly writes at the end of a blog post. “I haven’t written about the upcoming P5 + 1 talks with Iran over its nuclear program mainly because I don’t think anything will come of them.” The journalist who dedicates so much of his effort to the story of the Iran crisis refuses to cover this news. His blog might as well be one of the American Enterprise Institute satellite websites cataloguing Iranian transgressions, building–as we know from the last movie with same players– a case for war.
And those Iranian transgressions he does cover with vigor. Take, for example, Goldberg’s February blog post on what his headline accurately describes as “Iranian Website Calls for Murder of All Jewish Israelis.” The journalist has spotted some big news, and he seeks to amplify it. Fair enough. The blog post in question, a nasty one, does call for what Goldberg would label a pre-emptive strike on Israel (really, it’s a preventative one). It games out ways to kill Israeli Jews, but not their Muslim, Arab Palestinian adversaries. And worse: the blogpost, by a 27-year-old no name, garnered republication by Alef, a conservative website associated with the views of the Supreme Leader.
But association is not enough for Goldberg. To close out his first paragraph — the lede, in journalistic parlance — of his piece, he writes (link in original): “The author, Alireza Forghani, is linked to office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the article’s release coincided with Khamenei’s latest ‘Israel is a cancerous tumor‘ speech.”
Wow. A coordinated propaganda move by the office of the Supreme Leader. Or so you’d think, if you believed Goldberg about the links between the no-name blogger and the office of the Supreme Leader.
As I said, the website that reprinted the post, Alef, toes the line of the Supreme Leader, and that’s is no small thing in police state like Iran. It may as well be a direct link to the office of the Supreme Leader. But that does not make this blogpost a policy statement, as Goldberg asserts. The link to the office of the Supreme Leader appears to be one Goldberg lifted from the conspiracy theory site WND, best known for (still to this day) promulgating “birther” nonsense. Goldberg does not hyperlink the claim — or even its republication, with credit to WND, by the only-slightly-less-noxious Daily Mail.
The pro-Zionist translation site MEMRI served as Goldberg’s source in reprinting sections of the offending blog post. But MEMRI does not link the author directly to the office of the Supreme Leader and in fact asserts [emphasis mine], “While Forghani, who notes that his article expresses his own views and not necessarily those of the regime, states that Iran must take it upon itself to annihilate Israel, Khamenei has avoided pitting Iran as an active combatant against Israel, keeping his country in a supportive role of assisting other forces against Israel.” MEMRI claims, with some sourcing, that the author is a “staunch supporter of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” not that he’s linked to the Leader’s office. And this other measured take on the issue from a real Iranian scholar, Shaul Bakhash, reports the blogpost but pointedly does not ascribe that thinking to the office of the Supreme Leader.
The idea that pro-regime websites pick up this garbage is bad enough. Why embellish by tying it to the Supreme Leader?
Well, the answer should be obvious to anyone keeping track of how Iran works — or of Goldberg’s writing. It’s not enough for Goldberg for pro-regime websites to tread this ugly ground. It needs to be shown that the man with the ultimate power in Iran is directly linked to it, to establish that there is indeed an “existential threat” to Israel. See, if Iran does get a bomb, it will never be launched without the Leader’s approval. Neither the website Alef, nor the semi-official Fars News, nor some blogger, will be making this decision — ever. It will be the Supreme Leader’s final say. And so the Supreme Leader is drawn in by Goldberg, based on the shoddiest of sources.
A conspiracy website may be only slightly better than the sources employed by Goldberg back in 2002. That was when he visited a prisoner of the notoriously unreliable Kurdish intelligence service in Iraq, a prisoner who told him of direct dealings between Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat and Al Qaeda. And never mind that the prisoner could not describe Kandahar, where he claimed to have dealt with Osama Bin Laden’s group.
Dick Cheney twice waved around that prisoner’s story in Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in the New Yorker on Sunday talk shows in late 2002. The journalist spotted some big news then, and he sought to amplify it.