How Media Spread CIA’s Sectarian, Anti-Iran ‘Mideast Cold War’ Narrative 

By Ben Norton

A new Vox video (7/17/17) is the latest addition to a media onslaught that propagates numerous misleading talking points to demonize Iran—just as the US government, under Donald Trump’s vehemently anti-Iran administration, is ratcheting up aggression against that country.

The 10-minute film, titled “The Middle East’s Cold War, Explained,” is a textbook example of how US government propaganda pervades corporate media. With the help of a former senior government official and CIA analyst, the Vox video articulates a commonplace pro-US, anti-Iran narrative that portrays the violent conflicts in the Middle East as sectarian proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In order to do so, the film grossly downplays US involvement in the region, treating Saudi Arabia as though it acts independently of the US. It also fails to ever mention Israel, totally removing one of the most important players in the Middle East from its “Cold War” narrative.

Vox multimedia producer Sam Ellis likewise constructs a false equivalence for Iran, depicting it as a kind of Shia Saudi Arabia that is just as guilty of spreading sectarianism. The video correspondingly exaggerates Iran’s international influence, which is assumed to be dastardly and malign.

“The Middle East’s Cold War, Explained” made a huge splash. It garnered nearly half a million views in one day, and was trending as one of YouTube‘s most-watched videos. It serves as an illustrative case study of how corporate media not only grossly simplify the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, they also effectively act as a mouthpiece for the US government.

Echoing the CIA

The crux of the video is an interview with a former top US government official, CIA analyst and think tank apparatchik who has spent years crafting US policy in the Middle East. Vox presents his deeply politicized views as unchallenged facts.

Kenneth Pollack (photo: Brookings)

Kenneth Pollack, the only person featured in Vox‘s video, is identified simply as a “former Persian Gulf military analyst, CIA.” After several years as an Iran/Iraq military analyst at the CIA, Pollack went on to direct Persian Gulf affairs and Near East and South Asian affairs for the Clinton administration’s National Security Council. Pollack’s bio at the Brookings Institution notes “he was the principal working-level official for US policy toward Iraq, Iran, Yemen and the Gulf Cooperation Council States at the White House.”

The man around which the entire video is framed is also a resident scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute—although Vox does not disclose this in the video. AEI, a conservative bastion that has received generous funding from large corporations and the ultra-right Koch brothers, clearly appreciated Vox‘s work: the think tank posted the video on its website, and its official YouTube account even wrote to Vox in the comments, “Thanks for featuring our scholar Ken Pollack in your video!”

Pollack is also a senior fellow at Brookings, an establishment friendly think tank that gets generous financial support from US-backed Gulf regimes. Pollack previously directed Brookings’ prestigious Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which was named after and funded by Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban—who proposed bombing “the living daylights out of” Iran.

A lifelong anti-Iran hawk, Pollack was one of the most influential advocates for the illegal US invasion of Iraq, writing in his 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

The only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed forces, depose Saddam’s regime and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

His support continued steadfastly throughout the Iraq War, even when many former champions had become opponents. Pollack penned an op-ed in the New York Times (7/30/07) in 2007, staunchly defending the US troop surge and insisting, “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq.”

Ironically, neoliberal pundit Matthew Yglesias—a co-founder of and senior editor at Vox—criticized Pollack in a 2007 column in the Los Angeles Times (8/2/07), noting the former CIA analyst was a key influence in persuading him to support the Iraq War. Yglesias wrote:

Those of us who read Pollack’s celebrated 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, and became convinced as a result that the United States needed to, well, invade Iraq in order to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s advanced nuclear weapons program (the one he didn’t actually have) might feel a little too bitter to once again defer to our betters.

Moreover, while Pollack spent years formulating US policy on Iran and the broader region, analyzing it for US intelligence  and writing several books on the subject, journalist Philip Weiss noted in a 2006 column in The Observer(4/28/06) that “Pollack has never been to Iran and doesn’t speak Persian, [and]has only dribs and drabs of Arabic.” This crucial detail was only mentioned in an author’s note at the end of Pollack’s book The Persian Puzzle. “You’d think a book that purports to explain the ‘Persian Puzzle’ might have offered that disclaimer at the front,” Weiss quipped.

Without providing any of this context, Vox centers Pollack’s expertise, extensively quoting him throughout its explainer video to paint a particular narrative of the Middle East that is, predictably, pro-US and anti-Iran.

Blaming Sectarianism

Vox‘s depiction of Mideast conflicts as “proxy wars” between Saudi Arabia and Iran conveniently leaves out the US role.

Vox‘s video expertly reflects the CIA’s perspective of Iran, first and foremost by regurgitating a popular yet false talking point: The violent conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and part of a larger new Cold War.

Ubiquitous in US media, this narrative is misleading for two primary reasons: These wars are not all proxy conflicts, and Saudi Arabia is not acting independently of the US…

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This article (How Media Spread CIA’s Sectarian, Anti-Iran ‘Mideast Cold War’ Narrative) was originally published on FAIR and syndicated by The Event Chronicle

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