DANIEL VAUGHAN: The Obama-era Iran ‘echo chamber’ returns

January 6, 2020

There’s something about tensions with Iran that reveal all the foreign policy biases of the self-proclaimed expert class. The killing of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general who coordinated much of Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East, has brought these biases out of the shadows — again.

I emphasize the word “again” for a reason. At the height of the Obama administration’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran, the White House used many talking heads in the press to push blatant propaganda in favor of the its position. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy National Security adviser for strategic communications, called what the Obama White House had created a media “echo chamber.”

But it wasn’t just in glossy New York Times profiles on Rhodes where this clear media manipulation was brought to light. Eli Lake, a national security columnist for Bloomberg, received in 2016 a trove of documents relating to the Iran “echo chamber” from a nonprofit group known as Ploughshares. Lake wrote that May:

Beginning in August 2011, Ploughshares and its grantees formed the Iran Strategy Group. Over time this group created a sophisticated campaign to reshape the national narrative on Iran. That campaign sought to portray skeptics of diplomacy as “pro-war,” and to play down the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program before formal negotiations started in 2013 only to emphasize those dangers after there was an agreement in 2015.

Lake’s line about diplomacy’s skeptics being “pro-war” should sound familiar: it’s the same criticism being leveled against the Trump administration for the death of Soleimani. Within minutes of the announcement that the U.S. had killed the terror leader, the left took to Twitter with fears that Trump was leading the world toward World War III.

Of course, all of this ignores the fact that Soleimani and Iran killed hundreds of American troops and spent considerable resources attacking American assets. In fact, as Noah Rothman at Commentary magazine points out, Soleimani was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq going back years:

According to a Pentagon estimate, roughly one in six U.S. casualties sustained in the effort to subdue the insurgency during the Iraq war was attributable to Iranian actions. Soleimani took an active part in that campaign, establishing training camps and setting up factories to produce the explosive charges that penetrated American armored vehicles.

In a 2013 profile, the New Yorker called Soleimani a “shadow commander,” pulling strings across the Middle East and actively trying to get his people into the Iraqi government to turn it against the United States. Soleimani had been a high-profile target for the U.S. military for decades, though neither the Bush nor Obama administrations pulled the trigger.

Still, for eight years, the Obama administration engaged in a large-scale drone campaign targeting terrorists and other enemies of the United States. And while the program does have its flaws, conservatives defended portions of it as smart foreign policy because it provided low-risk military strategy and the very high reward of eliminating dangerous enemies.

Many of the people outraged that Trump is continuing this intelligent use of American power didn’t say much during the Obama years, even when the 44th president’s strikes took out American citizens engaged in terrorist activities.

But now, the Soleimani strike has brought out the Iran echo chamber once again, and they’re beating the same drum: Anyone who does anything against the Iranians must want war — and not just any war, but another decades-long conflict in a Middle Eastern country like Iraq or Afghanistan.

To be sure, it’s perfectly fine to question the Trump administration on whether or not they have long-term plans in place for dealing with the fallout of the strike that killed Soleimani. We’ve had too many administrations that have made foreign policy decisions that failed to account for the consequences; after nearly two decades of the war on terror, questioning Trump is reasonable.

But inflating the Iran echo chamber’s accusations that a third world war is imminent isn’t smart questioning — it’s just old propaganda from people peddling the same lies of the Iranian regime. Soleimani had the deaths of countless American soldiers on his hands, and he supported despotic regimes in places like Syria, who used chemical weapons against civilian populations. His fate was no mistake.

If the media had learned any lessons on Iran, they might think to question the motives of the people involved spinning up narratives. Instead, we’re seeing another news cycle where the Iran echo chamber is peddling the same talking points for a new situation.

These people aren’t experts; they’re hacks. They should get the same treatment as any other partisan hack with an ax to grind.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.