Tripping the Demonization Trap

“The Great Satan” by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, 1 October 2003. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does US Representative Seth Moulton slip or trip war culture’s demonization trap when he endorses the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?

As mentioned in the preceding post, the congressman allows that the deal does not require the US to trust Iran and concedes that Iran is a determined enemy of the US and Israel that supports international terrorism and violates human rights. The basic premise of the case for rejecting the nuclear accord and its underlying Manichean mythos of good versus evil remains unremarked and unchallenged.

War culture remains rhetorically intact, whether one decides to support the nuclear accord on the congressman’s terms or reject it. The perseverance of war culture on this matter is reflected in the expression of public opinion.

The Washington Post reported on September 1 that a new poll shows public support for the accord is waning, especially among Republicans. It suggests “a massive campaign to stop the deal has gained traction with the public.” Wariness about Iran’s willingness to comply is a key factor for many doubters. “I feel like history is repeating itself. It’s Neville Chamberlain trying to make a deal with Hitler. I think we’re running into the same situation here, because they’re still saying ‘Death to America’ and calling for the annihilation of Israel.” So says Diane Kugler, a retired teacher in Wisconsin who identifies herself as an independent voter. What Jutka Enochs, a retired teacher in California, rejects as Republican “scare tactics” resonates with Fred Morris, a retired insurance executive in Texas, who believes “we negotiated from a position of weakness. We acquiesced every time the Iranians said they wanted something, and they gave up nothing in return, as far as I can tell. The only thing Mr. Obama and others who support the treaty seem to think is that talking is better than fighting. I’m not sure that’s a reasonable position.”

It is an unreasonable position, indeed, to think one can strike a deal with the devil, assuming of course that Iran is the devil and the US isn’t the Great Satan.

To reflect thoughtfully on the possible projection of evil at work here is to confront, among other uncomfortable thoughts, the question of why the US insists Iran should live up to its nuclear agreement when, as peace activist Alice Slater observes, the US chooses not to honor its “own obligations under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate for the elimination of nuclear weapons.” Is this a case of deflection by projection?

The US arsenal, Slater states, consists of 15,000 of the world’s 16,000 nuclear bombs, even though we promise by the terms of the 1970 NPT “to pursue negotiations in good faith”—not just to cease the nuclear arms race but also to achieve nuclear disarmament. Instead, President Obama has just proposed to spend a trillion dollars to build more nuclear bombs and delivery systems over the next thirty years. The US continues to “demonize Iran,” Slater notes, rather than work to correct its “own broken promises” by accomplishing “verifiable and monitored nuclear disarmament” over the next fifteen years.

What may appear like slipping out of the trap of demonization, Congressman Mouton and President Obama, amounts to sustaining an attitude of imperial warfare by the myth of American innocence, whether or not the Iranian nuclear accord survives or succumbs to public and congressional scrutiny. The partisan skirmish is ritualized political theater that reflects and reinforces the presumption of an exceptional nation.


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