Is The New York Times inciting a U.S. war against Iran? As it did the war against Iraq?

A decade ago, the paper’s Judith Miller, along with a few of her fellow reporters, so unabashedly agitated for President George W. Bush attacking Iraq that the daily was forced to fire her when things turned sour in short order.

Take the large front-page article, on Jan. 12, with the headline “A Trail of Bullet Casings Leads From Africa’s Wars Back to Iran.” A photo of what appear to be the bottoms of two bullets topped it, with the caption “Iranian-made cartridges recovered from the northern Ivory Coast, of a type found in several African countries.”

The photo looked innocuous to me, though it may have conveyed something ominous to many denizens of the gun-laden United States.

What was the story? Did the Times, after time-consuming, painstaking investigations encompassing several countries, uncover that Iran is up to a vast scheme to endanger the U.S.? Well, no.

In 2006, a British researcher in arms-trafficking noticed certain ammunition for Kalashnikov rifles “bore no factory code.” AK-47, which the Soviet gun designer Mikhail Kalashnikov first perfected in 1947, is reputed to be the most popular assault rifle ever, though for some decades now the great majority are counterfeit, produced as they are outside the USSR, now Russia.

Anyway, James Bevan, until 2001 a U.N. investigator who now works for a private firm, collaborated with other arms-trafficking researchers and tracked down the source of the unmarked cartridges to the weapons manufacturer in Iran. These cartridges have been found in Guinea, Ivory Coast, the Congo, Niger, Sudan.

Does that mean much of anything? No, Bevan says. The ammunition in question may have been made in Iran, “but a good portion of this, and in perhaps the majority of these cases, the ammunition was transferred around Africa by African states,” the researcher says. He was annoyed, it appears, by the Times reporter’s “repeated” question: Should somone take any “military action against Iran”?

As the Times article itself noted, Iran is no rival of the U.S., Russia, China and others as an arms exporter.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. was the top arms-exporting nation in 2011 (as in any other year) with sales of $10 billion, followed by Russia with $7.9 billion, France with $2.4 billion, and China with $1.4 billion. On this list Iran ranked 25th.

At $45 million, its export total was just about a seventh of Switzerland’s and a twelfth of the Netherlands’s — and, yes, a 222th of the U.S. exports. Even if Iran produced and exported all those “mystery cartridges” found in some of the sites of “brutal” killings, Iran’s culpability would pale in comparison with the havoc that weapons originating in the U.S. have been bringing to the world.

So, why showcase such an article? The reporter, C. J. Chivers, says that Iran’s choice of small-arms ammunition to export is “significant,” because it constitutes “a basic ingredient of organized violence,” and results “each year and at each war in uncountable deaths and crimes.”

But for ammunition to have its effects, it requires small arms, on which Chivers has nothing to say. The Small Arms Survey, a research project in Geneva, says Iran is one of the “untransparent” countries in arms trade, but even if its figures are known, it is hard to imagine that Iran would come anywhere near to the top exporters of small arms. The U.S. again tops the list, with $706 million in sales, followed by Italy, with $507 million, and Germany with $452 million. The figures are for 2009.

Again, why showcase such an article? The answer: The New York Times supports the U.S.-led economic sanctions against Iran. For what? For preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Nicholas Kristof, the Times’ “liberal interventionist” columnist, took a 2,700-km road trip through Iran last year to conclude: “with apologies to the many wonderful Iranians who showered me with hospitality, I favor sanctions because I don’t see any other way to pressure the regime on the nuclear issue or ease its grip on power.” (“Pinched and Griping in Iran,” June 16, 2012.)

What right do the U.S. and other Western nations have to gang up on Iran? The U.S. has 5,113 nuclear warheads, the United Kingdom 225, and France 300, according to the Arms Control Association, whereas Global Policy Forum has reported that the United Nations’ IAEA “provided no evidence that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons.”

As for “regime change,” Kristof simply, blatantly, ignores what the U.S. and its “coalition of the willing” have brought about in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Nigerian American novelist Teju Cole rightly named Kristof part of “the fastest growth industry in the U.S. [that] is the White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Kristof evidently is an ardent believer in Kipling’s “white man’s burden.” For him, the Iranians are “fluttered folk and wild — / Your new-caught, sullen peoples, / Half-devil and half-child.”

Bill Keller, reviewing David Patrikarakos’ book, “Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State,” for The New York Times (“Rethinking the Unthinkable,” Jan. 11), was compelled to remind himself: “Our present Iran problem … is partly of our own making.”

Considering the U.S.-Iranian relationship is utterly one-sided, “partly” is a lame interjection to share the blame. “We installed the shah, who embraced nuclear power as a flag of Persian modernity,” Keller said. In 1953, the U.S., with the U.K., overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

“We indulged Saddam Hussein in his brutish attack on Iran,” Keller said. A war someone else wages is always “brutal,” “brutish.” The U.S. “invaded Afghanistan while paying court to terrorist-breeding (but nuclear) Pakistan.”

“Then, in the Bush axis-of-evil years, our hardliners convinced their hardliners that nothing short of regime change would satisfy Washington.” Bush’s axis of evil consisted of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

“Add these understandable fears” that Iran has developed over the past half- century “to a long history of xenophobia and Persian status anxiety,” Keller said.

But don’t xenophobia and status anxiety also apply to the United States?

Hiroaki Sato is a translator and essayist. His biography of Yukio Mishima with Naoki Inose, “Persona,” has just been published.

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