I do enjoy writing these Editor’s Notes, really I do. But I keep running out of room. Those of you who get Nygaard Notes via email may wonder about this. But each issue of Nygaard Notes goes out in a paper edition as well as by email, and there is a limit to the number of words that can fit into that paper version. So, there’s the problem.
And the result is that this explanation of my occasional lack of room for an interesting Editor’s Note is all I have room for this week. See you in a couple of weeks!
“When Donald Trump made the false and baseless claim that three to 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, he told one of the biggest lies in presidential history. While Trump’s misleading claims about voter fraud were probably made to mend his bruised ego after losing the popular vote, he created an opening for Republican politicians to nationalize their efforts to complicate voting and suppress eligible voters.”
That’s former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander, president of Let America Vote, who is co-chair of the new (announced on May 25th) “Commission on Protecting American Democracy from the Trump Administration.” I discuss voter suppression in this issue of the Notes.
For those who watch the news, or read the news, or for anyone who tunes in to the news for even a minute, it must seem pretty obvious that Iran is a big threat to the United States, if not to the entire world.
In testimony before Congress, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress last March, “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.” (The Middle East, that is.)
President Trump, in Israel last month, referred to an “Iranian regime that is threatening the region and causing so much violence and suffering”.
Secretary of War—er, I mean “Defense”—James Mattis has said much the same thing: “The Iranian regime, in my mind, is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”
High-ranking U.S. officials are not the only people in the world with an opinion on threats to peace and stability in the region. Or in the world, for that matter. Consider the massive global opinion survey conducted by Gallup at the end of 2013 which asked 66,000 people in 65 countries, “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?” The result: “The US was the overwhelming choice (24% of respondents) for the country that represents the greatest threat to peace in the world today. This was followed by Pakistan (8%), China (6%), North Korea, Israel and Iran (5%).” One might imagine that an awareness of the U.S. image in the world might be of interest to the U.S. public, but the survey was virtually ignored in the U.S. press. We’ll leave that aside for the moment.
As the Pentagon Says…
For a few years now, the National Defense Authorization Act has required the Department of War—er, I mean “Defense”—to submit to Congress an “Annual Report on the Military Power of Iran.” These reports are pretty interesting reading, so I’ll pass on a few excerpts here. These are from the 2014 Executive Summary, released in January 2015. I called the Pentagon to try to get a more recent one—they’re not classified—but they wouldn’t give me anything unless I filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which is excruciatingly slow, and costs money as well. These reports don’t change much from year to year, in any case, based on my examination of several previous years’ reports. So, here we go. Says the Pentagon (I’ve added emphasis in a few cases):
“Iran’s military doctrine is primarily defensive… It is designed to deter an attack, survive an initial strike, and retaliate against an aggressor to force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests.”
“Iran has not substantively changed its national security and military strategies over the past year; however, Tehran has adjusted its approach to achieve its enduring objectives, by increasing its diplomatic outreach and decreasing its bellicose rhetoric. President Hasan Ruhani’s ongoing international message of moderation and pragmatism is intended to support these objectives: to preserve Iran’s Islamic system of governance, secure Iran from threats, establish Iran as the dominant regional power, and attain economic prosperity. Likewise, to achieve those objectives, Iran has unwaveringly sought to improve its deterrent capabilities and increase its regional influence.”
It’s worth noting here that the Islamic Republic of Iran has launched no wars of aggression since its founding in 1979. Or since the 1850s, for that matter. And the clerical leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, says that Iran “never will” invade another country.
What we see here, by the assessment of our own military analysis, is a country whose main military objective is not to threaten anyone, but rather to deter attacks and maintain its preferred system of governance.
So, What’s the Problem?
This raises an obvious question: What is it about Iran that causes U.S. political and military leaders to label it not only a threat, but a MAJOR threat in the region? I think it’s two things.
One way that Iran “threatens” the U.S. and its preferred balance of power in the region is the very fact that it may have the capacity to deter potential attacks. I explained this overall dynamic back in January of 2012 (Nygaard Notes #501) in a piece called “War is Peace. Self-Defense is a Threat.” But a succinct summary of the specific threat of Iran’s deterrence capability is provided by Noam Chomsky, speaking on Democracy Now! in April:
“Now, why is the United States and Israel even more so concerned about a deterrent? Who’s concerned about a deterrent? Those who want to use force. Those who want to be free to use force are deeply concerned about a potential deterrent. So, yes, Iran is the greatest threat to world peace, might deter our use of force.”
And here’s where it’s worth noting that Iran is portrayed as not only a threat to “peace” but, perhaps more importantly, a threat to “stability.” And the word “stability” has a particular meaning in the propaganda system. It means: A national or international system that serves U.S. interests without causing too much trouble. Since Iran wants to “counter Western influence” (as the 2014 version of the assessment of Iran’s military power puts it), it is by definition a threat to stability.
A Bit of Geography
The problem with Iran, from the U.S. imperialist point of view, is not simply that they seek to have the capacity to deter an attack. It’s how they might go about retaliating if they were attacked. After all, they don’t have much of a military, with a budget about 1/30th the size of the U.S. military budget. So, with such a small budget, and without nuclear weapons, how could they deter the U.S. if the U.S. decided to attack Iran, as U.S. leaders have often threatened to do.”
If you use your search engine to call up a map of the Persian Gulf, you’ll see that the northern shore is dominated by Iran. You’ll also notice a little narrow channel called the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. Energy Information Administration tells us that “Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels per day in 2011.”
Why is Hormuz a “chokepoint”? Well, “At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone.” (For comparison purposes, the Florida Strait, which is the channel between Florida and Cuba, is about 93 miles wide at its narrowest point.)
Author and geopolitical analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya wrote on the Global Research website in 2012 that “After years of U.S. threats, Iran is taking steps which suggest that is both willing and capable of closing the Strait of Hormuz.” And, according to Nazemroaya, if this drastic step were taken (drastic because, after all, Iran depends on oil shipping in the Gulf more than does the U.S.), there’s not much the U.S. could do about it, given the peculiarities of the geography of Hormuz. Almost all entrances into the Persian Gulf are made through Iranian waters, and all traffic is within range of Iran’s land-based missiles. Nazemroaya provides a good summary of U.S. vulnerability in the Gulf; I won’t go into it any further here.
OK, back to the “Annual Report on Military Power of Iran.” The Pentagon notes that “Iran continues to develop its anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capabilities to control the Strait of Hormuz and its approaches.” I’ve discussed “A2AD” in these pages on several occasions, with the first being in NN #511, when I explained “That phrase ‘antiaccess/area-denial,’ or A2AD as it’s known in military circles, refers to the idea—considered outrageous by the Pentagon—that some countries might not allow the U.S. military to operate in their countries. That’s the ‘anti’ in ‘antiaccess’ and the ‘denial” in “area-denial.’”
It was in Nygaard Notes #546 that I quoted an Obama-ordered study by the Pentagon that described part of the “mission” of the U.S. military as follows:
“Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges. In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged. In these areas, sophisticated adversaries will use asymmetric capabilities, to include electronic and cyber warfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, mining, and other methods, to complicate our operational calculus. States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well. Accordingly, the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments.” [Emphasis in original.]
Iran is a large country, with a lot of oil, and with the capability of disrupting “the world’s most important oil chokepoint” if provoked, and such A2AD capacity is intolerable to the nation that insists on unlimited access to the world’s resources.
So, it’s true that Iran is a “threat” to the United States, as is any nation that declines to prioritize U.S. needs when setting policy. It’s not a threat to “the United States,” but it is a threat to “American interests,” which is quite a different matter. Keep this in mind whenever U.S. officials try to justify aggression by conjuring the “threat” of Iran.
In the last issue of Nygaard Notes I mentioned a story about harsh drug sentences that appeared on page 13 of the New York Times of May 15th. But there was another story in that issue of the Times, this one on page 12, that I can’t get out of my head.
The page 12 article (I actually consider it a Page One article) was about a guy named Kris W. Kobach, who is the Kansas Secretary of State. Trump recently appointed him as vice chair of the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Three days earlier, on May 12th, the Times had quoted Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who “called the commission ‘a thinly veiled voter suppression task force,’ adding that it was ‘designed to impugn the integrity of African-American and Latino participation in the political process.’” The formation of the suppression task force was announced on May 11th by the White House.
Based on Kobach’s record in Kansas, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, has said that “Kris Kobach is the king of voter suppression. He has an obsession with trying to show that there is widespread cheating in our elections when there isn’t.” Also on the Commission is Ken Blackwell, a Republican who served as co-chair of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in Ohio in 2004. The chair is vice president Mike Pence, whose record on voting rights both as Governor of Indiana and as U.S. Representative leave much to be desired. (Pence on the campaign trail: “Don’t kid yourself, voter fraud is real.”)
What You Can Do
While the Times does a pretty good job of repeating the obvious (that actual voter fraud is a “rare” to “minuscule” problem), it typically does not help people know what to do about the dangers posed by this bogus commission. So here are a few organizations that you might want to support as a part of your anti-racist voting rights work:
The American Civil Liberties Union has not only successfully sued Kris Kobach “numerous times,” but the ACLU Voting Rights Project has been around since 1965, and they have “legislative and litigation capacity in all 50 states.”
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has a Barriers to Voting project that’s worth your support.
I’ve cited the Brennan Center, and their Voting Rights & Elections project on many occasions. Check out their proposal for “Automatic Voter Registration.”
A new group, just started in February, is “Let America Vote,” which says that “Extreme voter suppression laws that disproportionately impact people based on their race or ethnicity, gender, age, or income have started popping up all over the country. If we don’t fight back, more and more Americans will become disenfranchised.” True enough.
On the website of the Election Protection coalition you’ll find a lengthy list of organizations concerned with voting rights.
Voting Postscript: The Democratic National Committee on May 25th launched a counter to the President’s commission that they are calling “The Commission on Protecting American Democracy from the Trump Administration.” The name reveals its likely partisan purpose, which may limit its effectiveness, as naked partisanship often seems to do. Still, while the DNC may be more concerned with winning elections than with social justice, that does not preclude the possibility that their Commission will do some good voting rights work.
If you’ve never heard of this Commission, that may be due to the fact that the media has almost totally ignored it. A Lexis/Nexis search of major U.S. newspapers since the launch revealed a grand total of ONE article that mentioned The Commission on Protecting American Democracy by name. Well, OK, it wasn’t really an “article,” but rather four paragraphs in a collection of news briefs published in the Joplin (Missouri) Globe. “Why does the Joplin Globe care about this?” I asked myself. Well, as it turns out, the chairman of the Commission is the former Secretary of State in Missouri. (He’s also the president of “Let America Vote,” mentioned above and in the “Quote” of the Week.)