In an attempt to garner public support against the Iran nuclear accord, a group calling itself “Veterans Against the Deal” (VATD) have begun airing an ad featuring a disfigured veteran of the Iraq War. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Staff Sergeant Robert Bartlett was wounded, and forever physically scarred, by what he claims was an Iranian Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Bartlett asserts that the Iran nuclear agreement, and any lifting of economic sanctions against the Teheran regime in the wake of a deal, will provide the Iranians with billions of additional dollars to finance terrorist operations across the Middle East. The commercial implies that the Iranians will use any newfound source of wealth to kill and maim more patriotic Americans, people just like Mr. Bartlett, a soldier who did his duty in an ugly, dirty war on the far side of the world.
The advertisement’s purpose is to illicit an emotional response from American television viewers. The piece’s creators hope to engender anger, indignation, and outright hatred toward Iran and Iranians. VATD wants those white hot feelings to convince the American public to pressure Congress to vote against adoption of the Iran accord. The advertisement seeks to override the public’s rational faculties and garner a knee-jerk reaction – this is the ultimate purpose of propaganda – to shutdown discourse and critical analysis and spur unthoughtful action. VATD wants to “Swift Boat” the Iran nuclear accord. It’s for this reason that the commercial demands a critical analysis.
The commercial raises a number of important questions. First, how does the victim, Sgt. Bartlett, know that he was wounded by an Iranian IED? Where’s the proof linking his wounds to Iran? The IED blew to smithereens. It’s highly probable any evidence tying the IED to Iran went up in smoke or disappeared in the intensity of the blast.
Additionally, Bartlett suffered his wounds 10 years ago. A nation-state’s political leadership can under go radical change in a decade – just look at the United States. Ten years ago we had a middle-age white male neo-conservative former governor as president. Now we have an African-American former social activist liberal democrat in the Oval Office. You can’t hold the present leaders of Iran responsible for Sgt. Bartlett’s wounds any more than Bartlett can hold Obama responsible for deploying him to the misbegotten war in Iraq.
Even if Bartlett was wounded by an Iranian IED, and that is a big if, why should we reject the negotiated nuclear deal? In 1971 and 1972, President Nixon negotiated with the leaders of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, even though Russian and Chinese RPGs, mortars, and AK-47’s killed tens of thousands of GIs in South Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Nixon recognized that dialogue with the US’s ideological opposites was more important than continued animosity, isolation, and military confrontation. Nixon wanted to further integrate China and the USSR into the American dominated world system. He understood that such integration, and the personal and institutional exchanges resulting from it, might further the demise of Communism. Obama, in a page right out of Nixon’s foreign policy playbook, believes Iran’s integration into the world system will modulate the Iranian government’s behaviors. Sgt. Bartlett’s wounds are sad and unfortunate, but the US government can’t base its geo-strategic goals and policies on what took place in Iraq ten years ago. If we followed that rationale to its illogical conclusion, the U.S. government wouldn’t now be working with the Vietnamese Communists either, since Vietnam’s top leaders are all former Vietcong or PAVN soldiers, many who likely killed US troops in South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sergeant Bartlett states that Iran will use the lifting of sanctions to fund terrorism. But realistically, Bartlett has no idea what Iran will do once the sanction’s regime is lifted by the United States and its European allies. The ad implies that Iran cannot be trusted and so the deal should be scuttled by Congress. Again, did the US trust the Russians during the Cold War? Or the North Vietnamese? The agreement is not about trust – its about verification. There are provisions in place to ensure that Iran abides by the agreement. And to be bluntly honest, the Iranians have more of a reason to distrust the U.S. than we have to distrust them. Hell, we helped Saddam slaughter hundreds of thousands of Iranians back in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War.
The group airing the piece, Veterans Against the Deal, want us to believe they’re just a bunch of US veterans who came together to oppose the nuclear agreement. We’re also to believe they just happened to produce and market a high quality, visually stunning infomercial to get their point of view across to the American people. Don’t be fooled. VATD has big money behind it. And the most important question is: whose money?
There are four likely donors to VATD, they either acted alone or in concert: 1) Big Oil – it doesn’t want an Iranian nuke deal because as soon as the sanctions are lifted Iranian oil and gas will enter world markets, which will further depress their corporate profits; 2) Neo-Conservatives – they want the Iranian theocracy toppled – by force if necessary – and the country subjected to Western democratization. We tried that in Iraq during “W’s” years in the White House and we all know how well that went; 3) The American Military-Industrial Complex – the war profiteers want war, especially since the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down and the Pentagon is facing cuts in spending. Certain interests in the DoD want an Iran War because perpetual war ensures the continued concentration of political power in their hands; 4) The Zionists – their agenda is to maintain Israeli military supremacy in the Middle East, pursue a Greater Israel that includes the West Bank, and to push the U.S. into wars in the Mideast to weaken or destroy states that challenge Israel’s uncompromising policies on Gaza, the West Bank, and the right of Palestinian return.
The thirty-second negative political ad – which is nothing more than propaganda – has been shown to be effective as a means of public persuasion. That’s why its still in use. But such ads are only effective with an uninformed, uncritical public. The American television audience needs to take the time to analyze the arguments of groups such as VATD and to question the assumptions underlying its advertisement. Most importantly, the public needs to question who is funding such commercials and what are their motives. Propaganda is the tool of despots, warmongers, and corrupt, treasonous corporations – all the groups who cannot achieve their policy objectives through an objective, transparent examination of the issues. Let’s face it, propaganda in the guise of the 30-second negative ad doesn’t have a place in a country that claims to be democratic.