Former Massachusetts governor and presidential aspirant Mitt Romney is the latest important politician to level the accusation. In an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on February 17, he characterized Iran as "a genocidal nation, a suicidal nation, in some respects."
Bill Clinton's former communications director didn't follow up on the "genocide" reference, maybe thinking that recent hysterical statements by Benjamin Netanyahu and John Bolton have sufficiently dignified and mainstreamed what common sense should tell you is a preposterously stupid, overblown allegation. (Both want the UN's International Court of Criminal Justice to charge Iranian President Ahmadinejad with "inciting genocide.") But Stephanopoulos simply asked: "Suicidal? What do you mean by that?"
"Well," replied Romney, "it's a nation where people participate in suicide bombing and that kind of a suggestion, I think it was former President Rafsanjani who talked about Israel being a one-bomb nation, meaning they could not survive one bomb, but they, Iran, could survive one bomb. It's like, 'Are you kidding? Are you suggesting that you'd be willing to take a bomb in order to eliminate another people?' This is a nation where the genocidal inclination is really frightening and having a nation of this nature develop nuclear weaponry is unacceptable to this country and to the Middle East."
This is gibberish, and just goes to show how you can misquote an Iranian leader with impunity in this country, secure in the knowledge that no mainstream broadcaster will bother to call you on it. And you can egregiously insult an entire nation, so long as it's Muslim. So, in Iran "people participate in suicide bombing"? Most people, or just a few? How often? And against whom? Romney gives the impression that suicide bombing is part of Iran's national culture or school curriculum. He might validly say that the Iranian government and mass media justify Palestinian suicide bombings as part of resistance to illegal occupation, which is something rather different and hardly justifies labeling Iran (or even Palestine) "a suicidal nation. "But Romney weaves the suicide theme in by suggesting that Iran (as a "genocidal nation") wants to nuke Israel, even though it anticipates such a strike would mean the deaths of countless Iranians. (For what it's worth, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa or binding religious edict forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons in 2005. Meanwhile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said on August 26, 2006 and since that Iran "is no threat to any nation, even the Zionist regime.")
To support his nonsensical thesis of a "genocidal, suicidal nation," the ex-governor adduces a statement made by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997. Rafsanjani has said many things and one can tendentiously use his quotations to make any number of allegations. Romney might for example have cited his statement in a Friday sermon on October 28, 2005: "We have no problem with Jews and respect Judaism as a holy religion." Or his comments in a Reuters interview in May 2005: "I believe the main solution [to the nuclear issue] is to gain the trust of Europe and America and to remove their concerns over the peaceful nature of our nuclear industry and to assure them that there will never be a diversion to military use." But Romney alludes instead to Rafsanjani's Jerusalem Day speech on December 14, 2001.
Here's what Rafsanjani actually said, as translated by BBC: "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
In other words, if the Islamic world acquires strategic parity with Israel, the imperialists' strategy (of intimidating Arab states and Iran through the threat of Israeli action) will no longer be effective. Israel, fearing self-destruction, will be unable to deploy its nukes, or if it does, will "only harm the Islamic world" -- too huge to annihilate -- while suffering extinction itself. That is indeed a scenario much on the minds of "not irrational" American and Israeli strategists. This is why some are so desperate to insure that Muslim countries never so much as acquire the technology that could permit the production of nuclear weapons. (Pakistan is a special case.) Israel, which unlike Iran has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and which has produced nuclear weapons (in theory over US objections), wants to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and hence insists that Iran must not even be allowed to enrich uranium. (The latter is however its inalienable right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.)
That is why Israeli demands that the US strike Iran become more shrill with each passing day. Genocide! Genocide! the attack-advocates shriek, echoed by the necons in Washington. (See the cover story of the Weekly Standard, February 19 edition: "Iran's Obsession with the Jews. Denying the Holocaust, Desiring Another One," which cites the Rafsanjani quote and is likely Romney's source.) That is why the Lobby is intensifying pressure on the US Congress to attack Iran. Thus Uri Lubrani, a senior advisor to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, tells the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors that the US "does not understand the threat and has not done enough," and therefore "must be shaken awake." "An American strike on Iran is essential," declares Gen. Oded Tira, chief artillery officer of the Israeli Defense Forces, "for our existence," so "we must help [Bush] pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors. We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue into a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure. "Tira urges the Lobby to turn to "potential presidential candidates. . . so that they support immediate action by Bush against Iran."
All the frontrunner candidates of both parties are lending their ears to such counsels, and echoing the "no options off the table" mantra. Romney is merely the most slavish in echoing the paranoid and vilifying rhetoric of those tirelessly lobbying for a broader, bloodier Terror War in the Middle East.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.