Ahmadinejad: Not Hitler After All

A now discredited article by Iranian-American and neocon chum Amir Taheri that appeared last Friday in the Canadian National Post suggested that new legislation in Iran would require Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive color badges. At the article’s end appeared this invitation to readers:

"Dangerous Parallel: Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany? Share your opinion online at nationalpost.com."

The readers who wrote in immediately savaged the article, its author and the National Post's facile, transparent attempt to resurrect the Wermacht. No one took the bait, and the disbelief quickly spread across the internet.

The swift rejection of this attempt to turn Iran into the Fourth Reich incarnate is surely a natural reflex of a public still smarting from the ordeal of the Iraq PR campaign. Another explanation for the rapid response is the massive growth in streams of alternative information available to the public -- organizations like Media Matters and PR Watch literally make their living exposing lies and propaganda as they are released through media and government channels.

And then there are the bloggers who can singlehandedly get to the bottom of large-scale lies. In the case of the National Post story, blogger Taylor Marsh phoned the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which had confirmed Taheri's story after the report came out. A researcher Marsh spoke with on Friday "was eager to confirm it, using words like 'throwback' to the Nazi era, 'very true' and 'very scary.' ... "

Within the day, the story was repudiated. Middle East expert Juan Cole revealed that there was no evidence of any such anti-Jewish Iranian legislation, citing a report in the Australian press that quoted an Iranian politician denying its existence. Later in the day, Marsh again called the Wiesenthal Center and got the runaround. Looking at a fax the researcher sent her as background, Marsh discovered that the National Post had suggested to a rabbi at the Wiesenthal Center that it was important to "draw attention" to Taheri's report, exposing the scaffolding behind the propaganda effort.

Marsh concluded with the pointed question, "Who got the Simon Wiesenthal Center to stick their necks out on this bogus Iranian badge story, risking their very reputation and funding credibility, and who had what to gain by doing so?"

Marsh's deconstruction matters, because the story quickly made the rounds in conservative media, as analyst Jim Lobe wrote for IPS:

Taheri's story ... was reprinted by the New York Post, which is owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and picked up by the Jerusalem Post, which also featured a photo of a yellow star from the Nazi era over a photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Another neoconservative publication, the New York Sun, also noted the story Monday, claiming that the specific report that special badges were required by the legislation had been "incorrect." At the same time, however, the Sun quoted two Iranian-American foes of the Islamic Republic as suggesting that dress requirements for religious minorities were still being considered by Iran's ruling circles. It offered no evidence to support that assertion.
The rapid discrediting of the Taheri article had real impact; instead of Condi Rice’s trumpeting it as evidence of a proto-Nazi human-rights disaster, all we heard was a peep from U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who professed ignorance of the now-toxic article and slyly referred to the idea of Iran forcing people to wear badges as evocative of "Germany under Hitler."

Since the evil dictator line has been used and abused to the point of meaninglessness over the past five years in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and elsewhere, Bush and his team have been reduced to plundering words that still have some resonance in American life: "Hitler," "Nazis" and "Holocaust." Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker quoted a former senior intelligence official who said that Hitler is the "name they are using" for Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But, as the National Post story makes apparent, this tactic is not really working. The columnists and propagandists who support attacking Iran appear to sense that the Nazi backdrop through which they have been asked to present "The Iranian Question" reflects the utter baselessness of the charge and the facility with which opponents can easily refute their claims. Unlike the point-blank lies and bullet-point shotgun blasts on the op-ed pages and cable segments we got with Iraq about evil and weapons programs, with the Iran campaign, it has to be subliminal, surreptitious, stab-in-the-back.

Take conservative pundit Niall Ferguson's attempt in the L.A. Times. His May 15 opinion article was ostensibly about the rise of many little Cold Wars with the proliferation of nuclear powers. But within six sentences, Ferguson reveals that he wants to talk about Iran. Soon enough, in the most backhanded way possible, he tiptoes toward the Nazis:

"It is, of course, always dangerous to draw analogies with the 1930s. Too many bad decisions have been made over the years on the basis of facile parallels -- between Hitler and Nasser, between Hitler and Saddam Hussein."

In other words, even the Nazi comparison may have been looted of its meaning in the name of making bad decisions. So haven't we learned our lesson? No, because Bush still has one very bad decision to make, and a fanatic obsession with war does not generally give rise to creative impulses. So Ferguson relents: "Still, in one respect, Ahmadinejad really has taken a leaf out of the Führer's book."

It would be a distraction to explain just which leaf Ferguson is referring to, because then we'd be missing the point, which is to push us to link our historic venom against Nazis with anything Iranian, at any cost. Even the projection of Ahmadinejad as supreme leader is dubious; analysts and reporters have argued that he's merely a figurehead, and Seymour Hersh qouted a European diplomat who declared, "Ahmadinejad is not in control."

If enough people laugh off the attempts to draw Hitler's moustache on Ahmadinejad's upper lip, we might see the domestic propaganda division of the Get Iran effort shut down. The rapid and torrential takedown of the Taheri story is a good step in that direction.

But what if the propaganda were to stop, yet the attack on Iran were launched anyway?

Given the growing sense of total independence the Bush administration has displayed over the years, and its contempt for the press, it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to envision them attacking Iran while ignoring congressional power, public opinion, protesters and dissidents alike. That would be a very scary "first" in American history -- the only administration to go to war without a propaganda campaign. They don't even feel the need to lie to us anymore.

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