How Not to Write About Iran

The coming P5+1 talks with Iran on May 23 are bound to bring it back into the spotlight of the international press after a relatively long period of inattention. The stakes for this event are very high, and no doubt every half-wit who thinks they know a thing or two about the issue will be presenting their half-baked “assessments” of the situation.

Anyone who knows more than the average person about a certain topic is more than likely frustrated by the biased, incomplete, or plain old incorrect reporting that is often times carried out. These days, speed is more important than accuracy – but I digress.

When it comes to Iran, those in the know about the issue, scholars like Karim Sadjadpour, Stephen Walt, and Suzanne Maloney are often missed in favor of more sensational authors or news programs that sensationalize the issues, politicize the facts, and place more emphasis on increasing readers/viewers than actual reporting. Luckily this goes both ways, and often times outlandish “scholarly” works by extreme conservatives are given little attention.

Of the more egregious errors made by the media on Iran is the constant propensity to speak about Iran as having a current nuclear weapons program, when in fact all that has been proven is that Iran has a nuclear program. By putting the idea in people’s minds that Iran already has a nuclear weapons program, plans for some type of military strike may enjoy broader support. Apparently our president doesn’t even know the difference between the two.

Another media misconception is that Iran is militarily weak and therefore an easy target. Yes, Iran is conventionally weak and spends about 2% of what the U.S. does on its defense budget. Iran however knows that it cannot take on a stronger conventional adversary, and has known this for many years. Iranian leaders overhauled military doctrine in 1992 in order to keep an active defense posture to deter larger rivals from invasion or other attack. This strategy has worked incredibly well. Iran has a very capable asymmetric warfare capability, something the U.S. is not very well versed in and that Israel cannot compete with.

Nor has the media done very much to show the actual rationality of Iran’s regime. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tends to be portrayed as crazy, and the Ayatollah as a hermitic anti-Semite just itching to blow Israel to smithereens. However, Iran calculates its moves very carefully. It has not gone nuclear because it knows the consequences of such an action, and that building a nuclear weapon would almost surely guarantee the regime’s demise.

Perhaps most importantly, mainstream media has utterly failed to hash out how to avoid war with Iran and what a deal on the nuclear issue may look like. Instead, sensational headlines about war possibilities, Benjamin Netanyahu pounding his meaty fist about imminent Israeli demise, and constant pontification about how many years away Iran is from a nuclear weapon make the front page.

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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