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August 11, 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg Still America's Preeminent Propagandist

Jeffrey Goldberg has just written a long article about the chances of Israel attacking Iran. (Apparently it's 50-50.) The piece demonstrates that Goldberg remains at the top of his profession—he's still America's greatest foreign policy propagandist.

Part of what makes Goldberg so good is his pose of thoughtfulness. He doesn't foam at the mouth, like someone like Frank Gaffney. He fits culturally into the liberal world, such as it is. And this allows the liberal world to be persuaded that all the options have been judiciously considered by our greatest minds and—darn it—we do have to obliterate Iraq/Iran/Islamabad/Iceland/Iapetus.

Another reason Goldberg is so good is his technique. He generally understands that the best propaganda doesn't use lies. That said, at a few points in the Iran article Goldberg does resort to straightforward fabrication.

For instance, the logical conclusion to draw from Goldberg's article is that the men who run Israel are psychotic. They're considering taking an action with obvious catastrophic consequences that also obviously wouldn't accomplish its goal. In fact, it would guarantee that Iran would stop at nothing to get nuclear weapons.

But the men who run Israel can't be psychotic. That's the wrong answer. So how can this circle be squared? Like this:

I AM NOT ENGAGING in a thought exercise, or a one-man war game, when I discuss the plausibility and potential consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.

You see? They've done it before! So they're perfectly rational to believe that they can do it again!


1. Iraq had no genuine nuclear weapons program before the 1981 Israeli attack on Osirak. That was the conclusion of the chairman of Harvard's physics department at the time (who inspected the site after the bombing). This was later confirmed by defecting Iraqi nuclear scientists Imad Khadduri and Khadir Hamza. And it was then doubly confirmed by the head of what became the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, Jafar Dhia Jafar. In fact, all the Iraqis say the Israeli bombing caused Iraq to seriously pursue nuclear weapons. Moreover, it was likely a big factor in Saudi Arabia's willingness to give Iraq $5 billion to do it.

2. Even if Iraq had had a big nuclear weapons program in 1981, the idea that the Israeli attack succeeded in "halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions" is COMPLETELY INSANE. Iraq had a gigantic nuclear weapons program from 1981 to 1991.

How do I know this? Well, I'm relying on an article written in 2002 by a talented reporter making the case that it was crucial for the U.S. to invade Iraq. His name was Jeffrey Goldberg:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power. After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities.

Now, of course Iraq's nuclear weapons program was terminated by Operation Desert Storm and later UN inspections. But Goldberg was absolutely right in 2002 to say there was a lot going on after the 1981 Osirak bombing. So while it's always hard to tell whether these people are stupid or lying, in this particular case I think we can say for sure that Goldberg is lying.

P.S. Here's the first sentence of Goldberg's article: "It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons."

The official position of the U.S. intelligence community about this remains the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. And it said Iran stopped pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003. Maybe it was wrong, or maybe something's changed since then. But it is the essence of Goldberg-itude to simply ignore this and assert the opposite as unquestionable fact.

P.P.S. As awful as Goldberg is, there's no reason to get mad at him personally.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at August 11, 2010 11:30 PM

On point 1, you're forgetting the most basic rule of reality in American politics--past realities can be changed by determined repetition of a talking point. Didn't Orwell teach you anything? It's universally accepted by all Serious People that the Osirak reactor was part of Saddam's nuclear weapons program--the fact that a leading expert in the field, Dr. Richard Wilson, visited the reactor after the bombing and concluded that it would not have been capable of being used for weapons production carries no weight in view of the fact that Mr. Goldberg and others like him are willing to say it could.


Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 12, 2010 07:29 AM

I like how Goldberg's logic is basically "an Israeli attack on Iran would be a complete catastrophe, so America had better attack Iran first!"

Posted by: stras at August 12, 2010 10:41 AM

"The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years."

Its interesting to note that the intention of all the chaos, destruction, Mid East conflagration is to delay Iran's ability by a couple of years. Talk about a weak cost/benefit analysis.

Posted by: SideshowBob at August 12, 2010 11:23 AM

How come no one is mentioning the other elephant in the room. Goldberg has always been a U.S. citizen, right? Wikipedia states he was born in Brooklyn, for Pete's sake. And yet he enlisted in the Israeli armed forces at one point and served there during the First Intifada. Isn't that treason, or something?

Posted by: Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle at August 12, 2010 11:44 AM

What annoys me is the phrasing about Iran's right to pursue nuclear technology for "peaceful purposes". Developing nuclear weapons is ABSOLUTELY a peaceful purpose, because nukes are a deterrence. The reason Obama and Israel DON'T want Iran to have nuclear technology is so they can make war with them -- the opposite of peace.

Posted by: Magnum at August 12, 2010 12:25 PM

Not sure what it says that the warnings about Iran's nuclear program have been issued since at least 2003. They're always a few years away and impenetrably deep underground.

Posted by: Marc at August 12, 2010 12:41 PM

You missed one of the more humorous lines;

"But I tested the consensus by speaking to multiple sources both in and out of government, and of different political parties. Citing the extraordinary sensitivity of the subject, most spoke only reluctantly, and on condition of anonymity. They were not part of some public-relations campaign."

Note the last sentence; "They were not part of some public-relations campaign." In fact, they were! Goldberg's entire article is a PR piece [side note: the term "Public Relations" was coined in the early 20th century to provide a kinder, gentler term for propaganda. See: "Century of Self" documentary], and much of his career has been spent in service of Israel's ruling elite. Public relations is exactly what Goldberg does, and all parties quoted in this article know that.

How does the old phrase go? "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

Posted by: Justin Weleski at August 12, 2010 12:42 PM

If the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate is still accurate, why is the Obama administration pushing sanctions on Iran? If Goldberg is a liar, Obama is one too, and a much more dangerous one.

Posted by: Kid Charles at August 12, 2010 12:51 PM

The purpose of the attack on the Osirak reactor may have been simply to establish a precedent in a relatively cost free manner for Israel/USA. Iraq wasn't a position to respond and never would have been given Israel/USA military superiority. The possible attack on Iran benefits from the existence of the precedent insofar as the only important audience for the TV show of the event is in Japan, Nato-Europe, and the USA itself.

Posted by: passepied at August 12, 2010 01:02 PM


Posted by: Fabian Uttica at August 12, 2010 01:14 PM

@Justin Weleski

"Century of the Self" (and most Adam Curtis work in general) is great, but I'd go straight to the source and read Bernays side-by-side with Orwell and Huxley.

As for Goldberg, the psychosis of Israel's leaders and the United States of Amnesia, I'll leave that to writers on the Professional Left. I do want to repost something I posted in Greenwald's comment section:

"On Iran's potential nuclear weapons 2010, 57% of those polled [in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates] indicate that such an outcome would be 'positive' for the Middle East."

Goldberg's only fooling a few people, but sadly they might be ones that matter.

Posted by: the pair at August 12, 2010 02:05 PM

Jeffrey Goldberg - just another one of the 'Bomber Boys'.

Posted by: kindness at August 12, 2010 02:05 PM

i have had personal experience with mr. goldberg, and i think it is important to add (and of course it is still hearsay, i'm just some guy talking on the internet) that he is personally just as horrible and vicious as cur as one would think from his "professional" behavior.

i consider it one of my life's great works that i had a small part in preventing him from achieving one of his life's goals (a pulitzer) and though i was only tangentially involved it brings me great pleasure to think about on a regular basis.

Posted by: robert green at August 12, 2010 02:21 PM

So then, an attack on Iapetus also would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.

Fire up the nuclear engines!

Posted by: Baldie McEagle at August 12, 2010 02:34 PM

Donald Johnson

You hit that right on the head. But the tactic applies to present realities too, as the briefest exposure to cable news demonstrates.

There is enough lying about nuclear threats and proliferation to make anyone's head spin, and there's even more hypocrisy. It's too bad we don't have meaningful international control of nuclear prolieration. But then again, we don't have meaningful international control of anything.

By the way, in Goldberg's article, I naturally noticed this:

"At a party marking Ben-Zion’s 100th birthday, . . . Benjamin [Netanyahu] credited his father with . . . in the early 1990s, predicting that “Muslim extremists would try to bring down the Twin Towers in New York.”

The old goat had a hell of a crystal ball. He must have been pretty heart-broken about the loss of life when his prediction came true.

Posted by: N E at August 12, 2010 02:47 PM

It is so sick that this guy is given such a platform to spread his lies and warmongering. see video: Jeffrey Goldberg has the audacity to con Americans about the 9/11 terrorists' motives How much more vile can a person be? Note the vulgar disregard for international law. The Atlantic pushes lawlessness and sells wars by playing the same game mainstream media plays, that of acting like international law doesn't exist.

Also, Goldberg misrepresents what former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was saying in 2001. He selectively quotes him like this: “The
use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel completely while [a nuclear attack] against the Islamic countries would only cause damages,” Rafsanjani said. And then dishonestly claims that "this line of thinking" "suggests that rational deterrence theory, or the threat of mutual assured destruction, might not apply in the case of Iran." BUT DETERRENCE WAS THE SUBJECT OF Rafsanjani's original quote. He was talking deterrence when he said "stalemate" or "impasse." What he said has been translated as this: "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world" or this "If one day, a very important day of course, the Islamic world will also be equipped with the weapons available to Israel now, the imperialist strategy will reach an impasse, because the employment of even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth, but would only do damage to the Islamic world."

Posted by: Tom Murphy at August 12, 2010 06:08 PM

Lets look at Iran. Iran is a third world nation.
Iran can not refine its own gasoline.Iran tried to use Photoshop to hide its missile failure.
Iran has been 1 year away from a NUKE since 2004... Russia doesnt even think Iran can ever build a nuke.The US has a report that Iran stopped its nuclear report in 2003. This means Irans poses no threat to the USA.

Irans leader did not say he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. He said "he wants to remove them from the pages of history MUCH LIKE THE SOVIET UNION).

If Iran only cared about taking out Israel and not survival they could easily do it with there current weaponry. Iran with a nuke will not be any more safe from Israel secondary strike than they would right now.

They say that a nuclear Iran would cause a nuclears arm race but that seems unlikely, if we consider that Israel having 300+ nukes didnt Iran having a few is not going to.

Do you know whats bullshit. Jeff the Jew Goldberg

Posted by: Jammy at August 13, 2010 01:49 AM

You can barely contain your smugness in convincing yourselves that you've skewered the thinking of Serious People. But doing so with a strawman's argument is hardly an intellectual achievement to be proud of. You claim those serious people say that the Osirak attack halted "forever" Iraq's ambition. Sorry, but that's inaccurate. Rather, the assertion is that the attack significantly delayed the arrival of Iraqi nuclear weapons. Did you not know this? Is it you who are the prevaricators?

You also engage in post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. 1: The Osirak attack took place. 2: Afterwards, Iraq had a "gigantic nuclear weapons program." 3: Therefore, the attack caused the hastening of this program. Along with this glaringly clear historical record, you know there's a cause-and-effect relationship there because, well, "all the Iraqis say" so. Gee, didn't lots of Iraqis say stuff about, umm, WMDs being ubiquitous in their homeland circa 2003? Also, you know that the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, which produced well over 1 million casualties, played no role in Iraq's nuclear thoughts during that oh so peaceful decade. How do you know this? Did lots of Iraqis tell you?

Posted by: Philip Rothman at August 13, 2010 01:57 AM

"You claim those serious people say that the Osirak attack halted "forever" Iraq's ambition. Sorry, but that's inaccurate. Rather, the assertion is that the attack significantly delayed the arrival of Iraqi nuclear weapons."

Um, you do realize that the "halted forever" thing was a DIRECT QUOTE from Goldberg?

Similarly, re whether attacking Iraq increased its desire to obtain defenses against further attack, you do realize that "after the Osirak attack, [Saddam Hussein] rebuilt, redoubled his [nuclear] efforts" was also a DIRECT QUOTE from Goldberg?

But, don't worry about your humiliating failure to read(?) understand(?) the plain English words in the post. I'm sure you felt a warm-wet sense of smug smarminess, for a precious few moments.

And no-one can take that way from you.

Posted by: TelltaleHeart at August 13, 2010 07:10 AM

Did Bibi's father make that prediction about the WTC before or after the 1993 bombing of the WTC?

Posted by: darrelplant at August 13, 2010 07:11 AM

Better yet: did Bibi's father make that prediction before or after the World Trade Center actually existed?

Posted by: stras at August 13, 2010 08:41 AM

" Also, you know that the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, which produced well over 1 million casualties, played no role in Iraq's nuclear thoughts during that oh so peaceful decade. How do you know this? Did lots of Iraqis tell you?"

Who said that Iraq's war on Iran had nothing to do with Saddam's decision-making on nukes? I like your rhetorical strategy, however. You have no legitimate point to make, so you erect a strawman, pour gasoline on it, and light it on fire. Good move.

BTW, the US was supportive of Saddam's war, wasn't it?

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 13, 2010 10:27 AM

Tristero (at digby's Hullabaloo) points admiringly to the Greenwald post Jon inspired.

A dismaying number of the commenters to tristero's post are determined to characterize Goldberg's reversal on Iraqi nuclear efforts as an honest mistake, corrected in light of experience. When I can push aside the nausea and dread that the subject of bombing Iran induces, I find it interesting to see in real time the operation of the mechanisms by which Serious People retain their credentials forever.

Another example of the machinery in action is Steve Clemons' recent response to the Goldberg article. As a certified Serious Person himself, though one opposed to bombing Iran, Clemons treats G. as a good-faith participant and accepts his "just reporting" pose. The circle is unbroken.

Posted by: Nell at August 13, 2010 04:05 PM

Nell: Its just a NORMAL shift from Eastasia to Eurasia, as WE ALL do on occasion (even Presdents, Journalist, and Entertainers), as WE ALL have been trained to do.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 13, 2010 09:32 PM

Whoa, the "leave Jeffrey Goldberg alooooone" campaign is in full swing.

Posted by: Nell at August 13, 2010 11:10 PM


I agree. I see a bad moon rising. I see trouble on the way.

Posted by: N E at August 13, 2010 11:26 PM

One of the functions Iran plays for the power elite is a "change the subject" role. Since Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. economy are going so badly we need a Hitler on the horizon to trot out every morning in the White House stenographer meetings.

So even for those not dyed-in-the-wool zion propagandists, the Nuclear-Armed Iran canard is convenient cynical grist. But the result is the same, because no diplomacy or sanctions can remove Iran's purpose as a diversionary threat.

None of the vested interests, which include the cynical mainstream change-the-subject media, can suddenly say oh golly, Iran really isn't a threat at all, or that sanctions worked, so look over there at how badly Iraq, Afghanistan, and the economy are... they are locked into a self-escalating lie.

A juggernaut, and war is inescapable as is the fall of the American Empire.

Posted by: Cabin in the Woods at August 14, 2010 02:43 PM

Cabin in the Woods: AGREED.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 14, 2010 04:09 PM

Even though Goldberg will spend eternity in horrible agony for being such a shill for warmongers, worrying about Iran having nukes isn't crazy, and Iran having nukes isn't a good thing. People aren't crazy to worry about nuclear annihilation. It's always sane to worry about nukes; it's just crazy and foolish to start wars because of that worry. (And of course it's hypocritical and ironic for those who traffic in war to use the fear of war to ply their trade.)

It's really this preemptive attack business that is madness, and it's a madness which violates international law as laid down at Nuremberg. We and Israel have no right to attack Iran to prevent it from developing nukes even if our citizens are justifiably scared of being attacked someday and even if the EU and Japan and all the corrupt Gulf monarchies applaud us for doing it. Ultimately, war is a bad method for maintaining peace, and at this point if we don't abandon it, we can probably kiss homo sapiens sapiens goodbye.

Posted by: N E at August 14, 2010 04:47 PM

NE: No sweat My Man, WE've got plenty-o-nukes to fire back at the Iranians should they ever cause trouble. Say, I wouldn't be looking for the US to give up on war any time soon.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 15, 2010 01:10 AM

Mike Meyer

I'm not expecting the US to give up its nukes. We, the mighty USA, made this mess. We didn't need to nuke Japan, and had we been interested in preventing all nations from having nuclear weapons, we could have proposed something less ridiculous than the Baruch Plan (which was really Acheson's) to bring about real nuclear nonproliferation. But that would have levelled the playing field far too much.

FDR knew as the work on the Manhattan Project commenced that this was going to happen, because FDR was probably less naive about the US than any President ever, and it looks like he tried to head off at the pass how unbalancing giving a superweapon to the military would be. (See his son James Roosevelt's "novel" A Family Matter, published in 1982 when the Rollback crazies had finally taken over the country, for James Roosevelt's view of FDR's thinking and perhaps actions about that.)

But FDR died too soon, and the genie can't go back in the bottle now. As I've said a few times on threads here, the US long OPPOSED nuclear arms bans elsewhere in Central Asia. It seems to be only a problem if the Iranians have nukes. We have supported Iran's neighbors' right to have them, not to mention Israel, the US, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, France, Great Britain, and undoubtedly Germany and Japan in the blink of an eye whenever they decide to build them (if they already haven't). Hell, we even seriously considered giving Iran under the Shah nukes in the early 70s.

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