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‘Iran’s proxies’ is dishonest and slanted description of ‘Iran’s allies’

Media Analysis
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Here’s yet another example of bias in U.S. media coverage of the Iran Crisis: using the expression “Iran’s proxies” to describe various militia forces across the Mideast, instead of the accurate “Iran’s allies.” The mistaken, slanted description adds to the distorted view that Iran is a dangerous, expansionist adversary, a view that the U.S., Israel, and their ally Saudi Arabia have promoted for years. 

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made a contorted and dishonest argument for the “Iran’s proxies” interpretation right after the U.S. killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani. (Friedman’s response was a sharp change from last May, when he was too cowardly to say a word as the Trump administration started moving dangerously toward war with Iran.)

This time, Friedman did pipe up, and he outlined why he thought Soleimani was “Iran’s most overrated warrior.” It all started in 2015, when the U.S., Iran and the European powers signed the Iran deal. Instead of using the relaxation of tension to rebuild Iran, Friedman contended,

[Soleimani] and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana…

Friedman is either being stupid or deceitful. Can he really expect anyone will think history in the Mideast began in 2015? Let’s start with Israel’s threats to attack Iran in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The influential U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg channeled Benjamin Netanyahu and warned Iran even earlier, in 2009, that “Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.” 

How could Iran respond to the drumbeat of threats? Anyone who relies on the U.S. mainstream press can be excused for thinking that Iran is a military giant, with a Wehrmacht capable of unleashing a blitzkrieg across the region. In fact, the world’s experts are unanimous that Tehran’s conventional military is relatively weak. Iran spends $15 billion a year on its armed forces. By contrast, Saudi Arabia spends $80 billion — five times as much — and the United Arab Emirates budgets another $23 billion. And Israel? At least $23 billion. 

A Reuters report, which ran the other day in the Israeli daily Haaretz, explained that 

To compensate for the [military] imbalance, Iran has developed “asymmetrical” responses — ballistic missiles, deadly drones and a web of militia allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, among other things. . . 

What’s more, calling Iran’s regional militia allies “proxies” implies that Tehran created them, as little more than puppets. But let’s look briefly at two of them: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Hezbollah emerged in the 1980s, largely as a response to the terrible 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. And no Iranians had to sneak into Gaza to instruct Palestinians there to build an armed political force to resist the ongoing Israeli occupation. 

To describe groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as “militias” or “political organizations” is by no means an endorsement of them. But as the danger of war remains high, it is more important than ever to call things by their right names. 

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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  1. Misterioso on January 13, 2020, 9:40 am

    Words of wisdom:

    Death by Illogic, Lies and Stupidity—An Analysis (13 January 2020) by Professor Lawrence Davidson

    Part I—The Back Story: The Need for Distraction

    Donald Trump continues to be under fire. He has been impeached for a gross abuse of power: attempting to blackmail the Ukrainian government into libeling his likely 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, with allegations of corruption. To induce the Ukrainians to do this, Trump ordered the withholding of military aid. This was an illegal act. When a congressional investigation followed, Trump and his rather clownish minions in Congress tried to obstruct it. This constituted yet another impeachable offense.

    There is an old adage: when a leader is in trouble domestically, the thing to do is start a crisis in the field of foreign policy, and this is what Trump proceeded to do. On 3 January 2020, Trump personally ordered the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani—which, by the way, may well have been unconstitutional because it was done without prior consultation with Congress. Soleimani, who was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed by a US drone attack at the Baghdad International Airport. At the time, he was carrying the Iranian reply to a Saudi request for talks aimed at reducing tensions in the region. Reportedly, Trump himself had encouraged this contact.

    The rhetorical firestorm that immediately followed this attack brought predictions of World War III and, of course, overshadowed the impeachment crisis. However, it did put Trump in a position of having to make up all manner of rationalizations for what was, after all, blatant murder (aka a “targeted killing”). Those rationalizations came in two interrelated forms: illogic and lies.

    Part II—Illogic and Lies: “We Did It to Stop a War.”

    General Soleimani was one of Iran’s top military commanders. Assassinating him was the equivalent of Iran’s killing a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The comparison gives one the sense of the audacity of Trump’s act. Soleimani was also the most effective military strategist in the war against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. He, along with elements of the Iraqi Shia militias, also stood against the military presence of the United States in the region—a presence originally established through George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Soleimani’s role in this resistance led to charges that he was a terrorist (anyone who opposes U.S. policies in the region is ipso facto a terrorist or supporter of terrorism). A contrasting picture was offered by Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst: “He [Soleimani] has been in combat his entire life. His soldiers love him. He’s a quiet, charismatic guy, a strategic genius and a tactical operator. These are all the kind of things, looking at him from the enemy’s perspective, [that] are going to create a great deal of angst in this part of the world.”

    Oblivious to other people’s angst, Trump immediately put out the claim that Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of “thousands” of Americans and was planning “imminent” new attacks on American soldiers and diplomats. These claims, for which the White House refused to give evidence—conveniently claiming it was classified—were at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies.

    The claim that General Soleimani was a dangerous terrorist was picked up by the American press and soon formed the basis for more administration lies. The first of these was that the general’s murder was committed in order to stop a war and not to start one. It is probably true that Trump was not looking to start a war, but rather to provide a distraction from his domestic troubles. Nevertheless, the claim that he sought to stop a war belied the fact that Soleimani was carrying proposals that may have led to a reduction in tensions—and that Trump was aware of this. Thus, the president’s deceitful claim made no sense—it was illogical. The second lie was the related claim made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had reportedly urged Soleimani’s murder, that the assassination of Soleimani made the Middle East safer for Americans. He made this claim at the same time that Americans were being urged by the State Department to evacuate Iraq, and Iran was throwing off the last remnants of the nuclear treaty Donald Trump had overthrown upon coming to office.

    The illogic was pushed further by Pompeo, who went on to claim that the murder demonstrated that the U.S. was committed to “de-escalation.” However, if the Iranians have the audacity to respond, the U.S. will escalate. It is at this point that Trump made the threat to attack 52 Iranian targets among which are the country’s cultural sites. Trump seemed totally unaware of the fact that attacking cultural sites violated the 1954 Hague Convention on the protection of cultural property and thus would constitute a war crime.

    On 5 January 2020, the Iraqi Parliament voted to set a timeline for the removal of all foreign troops, which meant principally the 5000 U.S. troops now in the country. This upset Trump, who immediately announced that he would put significant sanctions on Iraq if they did so, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper proclaimed that the U.S. had no intention of leaving Iraq. He said the Trump administration “remains committed to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and the region.” The meaningfulness of such a statement, coming on the heels of the administration’s murder of the most effective strategist in the fight against ISIS, seems in doubt.

    Part III—American Reactions: Fear and Gullible

    The picture of General Soleimani as a terrorist, responsible for killing and maiming Americans was accepted by most of the American public, including those who had served and been injured in Iraq. This was due to much of the media’s over-cautious and un-analytical reporting of Washington’s claims, even though those claims came from known liars. This was a practice many U.S. media corporations swore never to repeat after the debacle of Vietnam and invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush. This obsequiousness even reached the level of “how to talk to kids about the situation with Iran.” Time magazine’s children’s edition, Time for Kids, offered an essay on this subject that turned out to be little more than a compendium of administration assertions.

    Though it did little to analyze the claims of political con-artists, the media coverage of the crisis was received as largely true by a population deeply ignorant of Iran and the Middle East. Under such circumstances, average citizens can know only what they are told. they have no context or ready facts to know otherwise. Nonetheless, ignorance has its consequences.

    This put the Democrats in a bad position, which was no doubt a welcome consequence for Trump and his 2020 campaign organization. One thing that has always characterized Democratic Party consciousness is a fear of appearing weak on foreign policy. This party inferiority complex goes back to the immediate post World War II years, when the Republicans accused the Democrats of “losing China” to the Communists. The complex now reasserted itself in the form of an overly cautious response to the Soleimani assassination. At least initially, the position of the Democrats essentially echoed that of the Republicans: General Soleimani was a terrorist and deserved what he got. The fact that his murder violated both U.S. and international law and thus was a clear abuse of power—which can be added to the abuses that form the basis of Trump’s impeachment—was missing from early Democratic responses.

    It was only after the administration’s shallow excuses for the assassination began to unravel from lack of evidence that the Democrats became bolder. The House of Representatives has now invoked the War Powers Act to limit Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, probably will not follow. Trump, on his part, seems to hold Congress, particularly the Democrat-controlled House, in utter distain.

    Part IV—Acts of Stupidity

    The murder of General Soleimani stands as part of a long American tradition of political violence, as does the president playing the role of assassin. American leaders have been bullying, stealing and killing for a very long time—particularly in Central and South America, Asia and the Middle East. In these endeavors they have never had any trouble finding henchmen and followers. Or, for that matter, military pawns like those in the chain of command down to the person who guided the drone murder weapon to its target at Baghdad airport. And, as suggested above, they have never had any trouble peddling lies and illogical explanations to the rest of us.

    Collectively, this all adds up to a steady, apparently never-ending, array of stupid, inhumane acts—almost always supported by a fearful and gullible public. Fear and gullibility are not, of course, and never have been rational responses to the commands of history’s real or would-be tyrants. Giving in to fear and gullibility tends to result in doubts about democracy as it is presently practiced.

    And now the citizens of the United States have managed to elect an egocentric, narcissistic, would-be tyrant as president of their country. Over the last three years his behavior—racist and authoritarian—has managed to get him impeached. But, his Republican henchmen in the Senate, particularly the repugnant Mitch McConnell, have, for all intents and purposes, betrayed their constitutional oaths in an effort to protect their party boss.

    As a consequence, Iran and the rest of the world will have to wait for the U.S. election in November of this year to get this congenital bad boy out of the Oval Office. But then, given just how easily misled by election-time propaganda American voters can be, they may ignore Donald Trump’s criminal behavior, his seeming intent to ruin the climate of the entire planet, his almost gleeful destruction of programs related to health, welfare and the environment, his creation of labor shortages by immigration restrictions, his irresponsible running up of a trillion dollar debt, and his authoritarian undermining of the Congress and U.S. Constitution. And then, mesmerized by Trump’s Faustian charisma, the American electorate may go on to reelect him! You just can’t underestimate the power of fear and gullibility to produce yet another American act of stupidity.

    Lawrence Davidson
    [email protected]


    • MHughes976 on January 13, 2020, 12:35 pm

      Davidson has a strong moral point about assassinations – they are a way of living by the sword and we know what that implies. However, the role he actually assigns Iran seems essentially passive, just waiting with angst, like the rest of us, for the November elections. And with only modest hope, I’d have thought, that a successful Democrat challenger to Trump would be that much more amenable. James N for his part talks of asymmetric military responses but that, as both he and others have described it, an active second front against Israel. Yet of that we see no sign.

  2. Misterioso on January 13, 2020, 9:45 am

    From Canada:

    Must listen regarding Iran and U.S.:

    The Sunday Edition, Canada’s CBC radio, January 12/20

    “Trump’s actions will only embolden Iran’s right-wing populists, says historian”

    Host Michael Enright interviews eminent Professor Ervand Abrahamian.

  3. Misterioso on January 13, 2020, 1:07 pm


    “‘I am livid’: Maple Leaf Foods CEO spouts off against U.S. over Iran crash.”

    • RoHa on January 13, 2020, 10:09 pm

      Clearly time for sanctions and drone strikes against Canada.

      • eljay on January 14, 2020, 7:48 am

        || RoHa: Clearly time for sanctions and drone strikes against Canada. ||

        Shame on you, RoHa, for anti-Canuckically singling out the world’s only Canadian state.  :-(

      • Talkback on January 14, 2020, 8:27 am

        eljay is right, RoHa. What’s wrong with Canada? There are contries that act worse. Stop your habitual hatred of Canada. Fifteen Canadian scientists have won the Nobel Prize!

        Before you think about boycotting Canada: Do you want to stop using light bulbs, Insulin, Wonderbraw, Zipper … ?

      • eljay on January 14, 2020, 9:51 am

        || Talkback: … Before you think about boycotting Canada: Do you want to stop using light bulbs, Insulin, Wonderbraw, Zipper … ? ||

        Hockey, IMAX and, perhaps most important of all, poutine!  :-D

      • RoHa on January 14, 2020, 7:22 pm

        “perhaps most important of all, poutine! :-D”

        Definitive proof that Canada is an unrepentant promoter of international terrorism.

      • Mooser on January 15, 2020, 2:27 pm

        Really, “RoHa”? Perhaps thou doth poutine too much?

  4. Mooser on January 14, 2020, 1:38 pm

    ” Fifteen Canadian scientists have won the Nobel Prize”

    What did they do, invent a buzzer or horn to tell you when it’s time for church?

    • Talkback on January 14, 2020, 5:59 pm

      That’s habitual hatred against Canadians! Shame on you!

      • Mooser on January 15, 2020, 1:25 pm

        Shame on me? Listen, bud, in Washington State, USA, I may be an atrophying husband, but in Canada, I’d just be a trophy.

      • eljay on January 15, 2020, 1:54 pm

        || Mooser: Shame on me? Listen, bud, in Washington State, USA, I may be an atrophying husband, but in Canada, I’d just be a trophy. ||

        The snow is nipple-deep outside,
        the dog-sleigh’s by the door;
        my toque is in a puddle
        with the mukluks on the floor.

        I’m sittin’ on my chesterfield
        a Moosehead cold in hand;
        up on the wall, the Moose(r) head
        hangs proudly – ain’t it grand (eh?)!

      • Mooser on January 15, 2020, 2:08 pm

        “– ain’t it grand (eh?)!”

        Look, I try to be open-minded, and avoid toxic moosculinity but I don’t need a couple of inebriated Canadians staring at me and saying, “Wow, what a rack!”

        Besides, to live in Canada, a person has to drive in snow all year round! I rest my case. I prefer Putrid Sound, my home and naked land.

      • eljay on January 15, 2020, 6:25 pm

        || Mooser: … Look, I try to be open-minded, and avoid toxic moosculinity but I don’t need a couple of inebriated Canadians staring at me and saying, “Wow, what a rack!” … ||

        Ah, well. A poor Canuck can dream…

      • Mooser on January 17, 2020, 3:14 am

        “Ah, well. A poor Canuck can dream…”

        It might gruntle you to learn that Kia’s AWD system is designed and built by a Canadian company Magna Transmission The system was designed during the winter of their discotheques, so it really hustles down the road.

        BTW, have you heard about the Jewish sports car which needs ten adult males to steer it? It’s got a rack-and-minyan steering system.
        Oh god, I hope “yonah” doesn’t see that.

  5. Tuyzentfloot on January 14, 2020, 5:02 pm

    Labour considered it more important that Corbyn lost than that Labour won. In the US the same can happen with Sanders

    • echinococcus on January 15, 2020, 3:22 am

      “In the US the same can happen with Sanders”

      can? It’s been played already in 2016. Didn’t you watch it?

      Remind me, what did they call people at the bottom of a big hole that continue digging with even more energy?

      • Tuyzentfloot on January 15, 2020, 10:00 am

        I consider the effort against Corbyn of a higher order than the one against Sanders.

      • echinococcus on January 15, 2020, 11:53 am

        Certainly. It’s completely different, given that Sanders is a warmonger and a Zionist, unlike Corbyn; so the pushback he’ll receive from the Zionists should be limited to the “right” wing only of the Zionists playing US “partisan” politics. A liberal warmonger and a liberal Zionist, of course, making him palatable to the voters. Unlike UK Labor, the class ownership of the Democrats is not under threat of being taken over (at leat i appearance) by the great unwashed with the Sanders candidacy.

        Also, Sanders’ function is well known by the ruling class as that of shepherd dog; he has again pledged his usual guarantee that he will support the “Party’s final candidate”, just as he did in March 2015. At this point, expecting opposition to him from the country’s owners on the scale of a fight to the death, as with Corbyn, would be exaggerated.

      • Tuyzentfloot on January 15, 2020, 6:36 pm

        The current stuff is more of the level of how Corbyn was treated: multiple organisations combining efforts.

        So you have the DNC cooperating with CNN in this . CNN represents multiple interests, not just business. Matt Taibbi , author of above article recently listed 30 people at CNN who have worked for the CIA before they went to CNN. This single case shows the kind of portfolio which also united against Corbyn.

      • RoHa on January 15, 2020, 7:09 pm

        “Unlike UK Labor, the class ownership of the Democrats is not under threat of being taken over (at leat i appearance) by the great unwashed …”

        Actually, as I noted before, the Labour party was set up to be representative of the horny-handed sons of toil (who were usually as meticulous about washing as their circumstances permitted) and has been taken over by the fashionable artsy fartsies.

      • echinococcus on January 15, 2020, 11:47 pm


        Correct. This side of the world, at least, the ruling class deliberately was giving the impression that they were seriously afraid of a comeback of worker-class politics to now fully ruling-class Labo[u]r — under the banner of Jeremy Corbyn.

        No such impression of Sanders, who is after all a fellow player of Dem politics, even if they attribute him the paternity of all seven plagues.

  6. Tuyzentfloot on January 14, 2020, 5:13 pm

    They are sly and cunning, we are worried and concerned.
    They are offensive we are defensive.
    They have agency, with us things just happen.
    They have coercive control of proxies, we modestly assist allies.

    It comes pretty natural once we have decided our reputation is good and theirs is bad.
    Since they have no credit whatever they do feels much less acceptable than when we do the same. If our side is good we can let the transgressions pass because in the bigger picture our side has a good reputation.

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