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I have long held the suspicion that US politicians and major media have developed a powerful alternative logic that they don't wish to share with the rest of us. It's a logic that allows one to do such wondrous things as prove a large-scope negative and infer a universally quantified statement from an existentially quantified one. Really, it's quite selfish of them to keep so significant a discovery to themselves.

Unfortunately, as long as the powers that be reserve the calculus for their own purposes, I cannot, in my commitment to diligence, recognize its controversial claims.

One of the coolest tricks of this secret logic--which, remember, we must restrain ourselves from adopting--is its allowance of inferences from possibility to certainty. This happens anytime an individual or organization asserts an unproven allegation as a fact. We saw such creative reasoning in the run-up to the war in Iraq: politicians and media alike asserting, as if it were fact, that Saddam Hussein's regime was developing weapons of mass destruction. Evidence supporting these claims was, as we later discovered, quite lacking; and it was only on a possibility, scantily supported, that opinion leaders based their assertions. Because these claims were asserted, and the act of asserting is normally reserved for those statements that we have good reason to believe to be true, many Americans readily believed them. And because they believed these claims, they supported--or, at the very least, did not oppose--US action against Iraq. The result of these fallacious assertions was irrevocable: trillions of dollars wasted, hundreds of thousands killed or maimed. Thus is the power of asserting.

For the last few years, we have seen the same sort of inventive logic in regard to Iran: people asserting, without the proper evidence, that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Oftentimes the assertion is subtle: instead of referring to Iran's nuclear program, they may refer to Iran's nuclear weapons program. For example:

Washington Post, 11/13/2011: "Senior Obama administration officials defended the White House's policy to contain Iran's nuclear weapons program Saturday night, arguing that the United States has built an international coalition whose sanctions have left the Iranians more politically isolated than ever."

But those who make this reference do not know that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and so they have no business referring to it as if it were a known fact that it exists.

Ever since the latest IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program was released last month, this activity has ramped up considerably. As illustrated in the graphic at the beginning of this piece, a significantly qualified conclusion has been illicitly turned into a confirmation of previous allegations by a plethora of news outlets--not to mention the politicians and other pundits whom they quote. Contrary to their claims, the new IAEA report does not say that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Iran currently has a nuclear weapons program--only that "There are ... indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing." (Emphasis is mine.) My head is sent spinning by this hedge. Indication is not proof, some is not all (nor most nor many), relevant is not singular, and may is not is. And people are taking this report as confirmation that Iran is definitely pursing nuclear weapons?

Barring the event in which the powers that be come forward to reveal their new logic and explain why they believe that an inference from unproven premises to a certain conclusion is licensed, I am calling a logic fail. And you should, too. To that end, I invite you to write to the Washington Post, whose website features a photo gallery headlined, "Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon," and call them out for their egregious violation of their duty to assert only that which is sufficiently supported by evidence.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Megan - it is my view that anyone (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hoodoo Man, Blubba

    who thinks that Iran is not actively working on a nuclear weapon is delusional. Can I prove it, no I can't, but my guess is that the CIA has better information than I do.

    What we should do about is yet another separate issue.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Dec 05, 2011 at 07:28:35 PM PST

    •  They would be insane not to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      surrounded by nuclear nations and under constant existential threat from nuclear armed states like the US and Israel, they need a credible deterrent to insure regional stability.  Anyone who thinks there isn't a massive neo-liberal oiligarchy  campaign to drum up an invasion and capture of Iran's resources, or that the CIA is not part of it is delusional.

    •  There aren't only two positions to take on this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      issue: to either believe that Iran is acquiring a nuclear weapon, or to believe that it is not. In the face of inadequate evidence, the proper position is skepticism. I don't know that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon, but none of the evidence out there suggests that it is. So I certainly will not believe that it is doing so. This is why the IAEA can't and doesn't say that Iran "is" working on a nuclear weapon. Because it doesn't have the evidence to assert that.

      Now, your belief that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons must be grounded in something: either you have some evidence, or you're relying on the conclusions of others, or you just have a "gut feeling." What you should ask yourself is, "what are my grounds for believing that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon?" And then examine those grounds and see if there are any reasons to doubt them. A "gut feeling" is woefully inadequate justification to, for example, support a war. And so is simply believing the conclusions of an authority, especially the US government, which has lied and manipulated in the past to get us into wars. Admitting that you don't know is the first step to discovering the truth.

      And no matter what "gut feeling" you may have, the media and politicians have a responsibility to assert only that which they have sufficient evidence to support. It is obvious that they overstepped when they asserted that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. There is something else going on here. The media and politicians misled or flat out lied to get us into a war with Iraq--why do you think they wouldn't do the same in the case of Iran? The point: these sources are unreliable, because they have misled or lied--led us to believe falsehoods--many times in the past. Thus, we must be skeptical in our interpretation of them. But we must also call them out for failure their duty.

      There is plenty of hard evidence to back up the claim that the US government and media railroaded the country into war with Iraq. But there is no hard evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. So where does the responsible believer lay its burden?

      •  Megan - in your comment and diary (0+ / 0-)

        You present an excellent case for being skeptical. However, based on the behavior of the Iranians, and their stated policy goals, I personally believe they are working on a weapon.

        What we do about it is a very separate issue.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 09:02:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  True, true. You could believe that Iran is (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          pursuing nuclear weapons and think that going to war or doing anything except engage them diplomatically is a mistake. Unfortunately, not everyone who has that belief would support that action!

  •  yeah the IAEA is just a bunch of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hoodoo Man, VClib

    saber rattling, know nothings ... and hey Iran has been so forthcoming right?

  •  Megan, are you being deliberately misleading? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    By definition, even if Iran is only conducting research into nuclear weapons applications, that activity means that Iran is conducting a nuclear weapons program in violation of the NPT.  

    The NPT explicitly permits nuclear research only for peaceful purposes, not research into weapons.  

    Research into nuclear weapons is a violation of NPT even if Iran is not actively trying to build a nuclear weapon.

    •  If that were true (0+ / 0-)

      "that research into weapons" is not permitted, then there are at least 15 or more countries in violation, including Japan and Brazil.

      Here's a link to a video with and discussion pro and con on the most recent IAEA report:

      Below is another link to a video, also from The Real News, that thoroughly debunks the efforts of this newest report that attempts to claim that Iran has a weapons program.

      It seems that few have learned the lessons from our recent Iraq involvement which was also justified by lies.

      “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

      by truong son traveler on Tue Dec 06, 2011 at 06:29:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Where does the IAEA report say that Iran is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      currently conducting nuclear weapons research? It doesn't. It only alleges that it is, and calls for Iran to clarify. The IAEA even includes an additional hedge concerning the information that the current allegations are based on: they're called the "alleged studies documentation". The strongest claim that the report makes is that Iran "has" conducted nuclear weapons related research. This is old news, pre-2003, based on information that have been public for a while. Admittedly, the language used in the report seems to be meant to mislead readers into believing falsehoods, by stirring the past so heavily into the mix, though not as brazenly as the media's interpretation of the report.

      Also, the NPT doesn't say that nuclear weapons related research is a violation of the treaty. First, such research can be dual-use, and when it is meant for peaceful purposes, it is specifically protected. Furthermore, it's the acquiring and/or manufacture and/or seeking assistance for the manufacture of nuclear weapons that is a violation of the NPT:

      "Article II

      Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

      Safeguards agreements are meant to protect against diversion from civilian nuclear research to military research. The latest IAEA report specifically states that "the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement". But "as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." This last task sounds an awful lot like the impossible task set for Iraq; but nevertheless, it would be great to get Iran to implement its Additional Protocol. But that's something we'll only get through diplomacy. And Obama hasn't followed through on his promise to pursue that route. A few meetings does not a sustained effort make, and that is what is called for here.

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