The LA Times notices the “double standard” on Iran

How can the U.S.'s global practice of "state-sponsored assassination" be reconciled with outrage over Iran?

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(updated bel0w – Update II – Update III)

Today we have a pleasant and exceedingly rare surprise: a major media outlet noting that the very behavior which the U.S. Government and all Serious People are now righteously condemning is behavior in which the U.S. itself routinely engages. From The Los Angeles Times Editorial Page, entitled “Iran’s plot — and a U.S. double standard?”:

But wait a minute. Two weeks ago, the United States assassinated one of its enemies in Yemen, on Yemeni soil. If the U.S. believes it has the right to assassinate enemies like Anwar Awlaki anywhere in the world in the name of a “war on terror” that has no geographical limitation, how can it then argue that other nations don’t have a similar right to track down their enemies and kill them wherever they’re found?

It’s true that the assassination of Awlaki was carried out with the cooperation of the government of Yemen. That makes a difference. But would the U.S. have hesitated to kill him if Yemen had not approved? Remember: There was no cooperation from the Pakistani government when Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

It’s also true that there’s a big difference between an Al Qaeda operative who, according to U.S. officials, had been deeply involved in planning terrorist activities, and a duly credited ambassador of a sovereign country. Still, the fact remains that all nations ought to think long and hard before gunning down their enemies in other countries.

As the United States continues down the path of state-sponsored assassination far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, all sorts of tricky moral questions are likely to arise. But this much is clear: The world is unlikely to accept that the United States has a right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.



Actually, a significant chunk of the world has long rejected the asserted American “right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.” In fact, the only ones who still affirm that right — to the extent that they are even aware that it’s at the center of their worldview — are Brookings “scholars,” Washington Post Editorial Page Editors, the scam industry calling itself “Terrorism experts,” and other similar Washington hangers-on such as think tank and academic mavens of the Foreign Policy Community, Pentagon reporters, and assorted neocon and “liberal hawk” nationalists whose purpose in life (and careerist fuel) is to supply justifying theories for any and all U.S. Government conduct undertaken to sustain its crumbling imperial rule.

As As’ad AbuKhali says of this LA Times Editorial: “Notice how timid the US press is in criticizing the government: notice that with every criticism there is a qualification and defense of US actions embedded.” That’s definitely true, but given how rare it is to hear any relatively clear discussions of glaring American double standards in venues of this sort, I’m willing to emphasize the positive here.  As I noted yesterday, the Awlaki assassination is far from the only American action that directly violates the principles now being so righteously espoused in order to condemn (and vow recriminations for) the alleged Iranian Plot; much of what the U.S. does in the always-numerous nations in which it is bombing, droning, occupying, invading and assassinating as part of its The-Whole-World-is-a-Battlefield, Endless War squarely breaches those very precepts. There does come a point when propaganda is grounded in such blatant falsehoods that it may lose its efficacy; that the LA Times is pointing out — delicately but still clearly — that the U.S. claims the right to do that which it is now demonizing Iran for supposedly doing is a good sign that this day, under the right circumstances and with the right push, could be nearer than it may seem.

 

UPDATE: It seems this LA Times posting is not an actual Editorial of the newspaper which appears in the print edition, but rather merely a blog posting from one of the editors of the Editorial Page, Nicholas Goldberg. That dampens the surprise that something like this would appear as an Editorial of a major newspaper (since that did not actually happen), but it’s still being produced by one of that paper’s editorial writers, so that’s progress of a sort.

 

UPDATE II: Goldberg is not just an Editor at the LA Times, but the Editor of its Editorial Page, so while this wasn’t an official LAT Editorial, it is the next best thing.

Meanwhile, here is a profile of the Lex Luthor super-villain behind the dastardly Iranian Plot, compiled based on interviews with those who have long known him. He’s described variously as a “scatterbrained, hapless businessman,” “absentminded and shifty.” “a joke” who “was pretty disorganized, always losing things like keys, titles, probably a thousand cellphones,” who “never spoke ill of the United States”  and who wasn’t remotely religious — in other words, the pefect target for the FBI to transform into an “operative” by waving money and glory in front of his face, and exactly the kind of person the actual Quds Force would never use for a real plot.

 

UPDATE III: A New York Times article today on the Iranian Plot contains this passage:

One provocative theory that American officials are considering is that the assassination was intended as retaliation for the killing of several Iranian nuclear scientists during the past two years. Those deaths are widely believed to have been the work of Israel, with tacit American approval, to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon.

In a protest letter denying the American charges late Tuesday, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, referred pointedly to the assassination campaign. “Iran has been a victim of terrorism,” he wrote, “a clear recent example of which is the assassination of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years carried out by the Zionist regime and supported by the United States.”

Note that the NYT article references these multiple assassinations of Iranian scientists in order to speculate about a possible motive for Iran to have plotted the attack in Washington (why Iran would target the Saudi Ambassador in order to avenge killings which it (and most others) believe are carried about by Israel and the U.S. is not explained). But what the NYT does not examine is whether this serial killing of Iran’s scientists is, in fact, the work of the U.S. and/or Israel and how that might relate to the American expression of outrage that an assassination would be carried out on American soil. Also worth considering: is Iran correct that whoever is murdering its civilian nuclear scientists is, in fact, engaged in an act of “terrorism”?

The same NYT article notes that “the Obama administration on Wednesday sought to reconcile what it said was solid evidence of an Iranian plot to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States with a wave of puzzlement and skepticism from some foreign leaders and outside experts,” while a separate NYT article – further detailing what a hapless, inept loser is Mansour Arbabsiar — matter-of-factly notes:

On Wednesday, American officials, who say the plot was endorsed by top Iranian authorities, were exploring why the sophisticated Quds Force might have chosen to rely on so amateurish an agent as Mr. Arbabsiar.

Yes, that is indeed quite a mystery. One looks forward to the results of the “exploration” by American officials of this riveting question. Along those lines, Juan Cole has a great post on all of this which should be read in its entirety, but pay particular attention to the concluding paragraph.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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