Greg Sheridan's Fake Tears


The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan attacked what he called the "West’s hypocrites" the other day, for (as he sees it) not protesting against the Iranian Government when they had been so ready to criticise other authorities. The hypocrites, of course, were the Left and human rights organisations. As you might expect, Andrew Bolt excitedly linked to Sheridan’s spray.

Sheridan seemed to take particular delight in sledging Louise Adler, Antony Loewenstein, and Michael Leunig, because all three had criticised Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Sheridan complained that protests in Australia over the actions of the Iranian Government had been almost completely restricted to "ethnic Iranians". "The conclusion must be that many Western human rights organisations, and many of the most self-congratulatory and morally vain posturers, are not interested in human rights at all," he said.

Okay, so this is the challenge: let’s work out who are the real self-congratulatory, morally vain posturers.

We can start with the protests in Australia. Sheridan seems to think the only protesters were Iranians. I think we can safely conclude from this that he didn’t actually attend any of the protests.

As it happens, I attended two Sydney protests on Iran. The first one I attended was predominantly Iranian. Many of the speeches were in Persian, some of which I found kind Iranians to translate for me. I then saw a huge red flag. I spoke to its carrier, an Iranian who was a political prisoner during the Moussavi years. As he called Moussavi a "murderer" and chanted for the end of the Islamic Republic, I felt a greater affinity with him (and his very few comrades), than the generally green crowd. However, despite Sheridan’s assertion to the contrary, there was certainly a turnout of leftists at this march. In solidarity with my new communist Iranian acquaintance, I reluctantly borrowed a red flag from the Socialist Alternative bloc. I insisted that this shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement of their fanatical cult. There was also a presence from another Trotskyist-Leninist group — Solidarity.

My second Iranian protest had a similar turnout to the first, though there were fewer members of Socialist Alternative. I spent much of it talking to someone else I knew from Solidarity. I thought they had displayed surprising honesty in their pamphlet by denouncing Chavez for recognising Ahmadinejad’s dubious re-election. I was also offered a pamphlet by someone from Amnesty. This was a bit of a surprise: as Amnesty has a very limited mandate, it can only get involved in very few protests, avoiding political disputes. As one of Amnesty’s proud members, I had already received the email calling for protest letters to Khamenei. At time of writing, 3317 people have sent the email to Khamenei from Australia.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reading his column you’d get the impression that Sheridan cares deeply about the human rights of Iranians. Why on earth didn’t the protesters invite him to speak? Surely, anyone who writes like that must have a long and distinguished record of advocacy on behalf of human rights in Iran, on behalf of its dissidents and so on?

Well, I had a bit of a look. So far as I can tell, Sheridan didn’t think of mentioning the formerly detained Iranian-US journalist Roxana Saberi in any of his columns on Iran. Or Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. Or dissident journalist Akbar Ganji. This list can be extended.

However, that’s not to say that Sheridan hasn’t written about Iran. He does. All the time. And the general theme is: The US or Israel may bomb Iran, and this would be perfectly sensible.

So, just to go back a few years, in August 2007, Sheridan explained the "basic story" to his readers: "Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons." Sheridan didn’t unequivocally advocate bombing Iran. That would be "dangerous and fraught". But letting Iran pursue nuclear weapons "may be equally as dangerous". Plainly, this was quite a dilemma for Sheridan: to bomb, or not to bomb.

Then, a few months later, Sheridan faced a grave problem: the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran declared that they didn’t have any evidence Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, and were moderately confident it wasn’t, and hadn’t since 2003. Whoops. It turns out the nonsense Sheridan was recycling from the Israeli government as fact was … unsubstantiated. A serious journalist might have apologised, seeing as he’d argued this "information" was a reasonable justification for a new war.

You can draw your own conclusions about Sheridan as a journalist. He responded to the release by the NIE — and declared it "foolishly irresponsible", with a "reckless disregard of … consequences" (see if you can think of anyone else that those descriptions apply to).

And he still didn’t "necessarily believe it". We soon learn why: Avigdor Lieberman had told him that the Iranians were pursuing nuclear weapons. Yep — can’t think of a more reliable source on Iranian policy than Avigdor "Let’s bomb Aswan Dam" Lieberman. Sheridan goes on to declare that the threat of military strikes on Iran were crucial to "effective diplomacy". Sadly, the possibility of military strikes had been made impossible by the NIE release, which was "altogether a very poor show from Washington".

So, to keep track: Sheridan had first spread the lie to his readers about Iran’s alleged WMDs, then he declared it was all part of a bluff for effective diplomacy — yet he still thought Iran should be threatened with military attacks.

Fast forward half a year, to July 2008. Greg Sheridan had gone back to warning of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. He thought there was a "30 to 40 per cent chance" the US would bomb Iran. Dismissing the NIE report, he explained that there were two grounds for not bombing Iran. One was the possibility of financial or diplomatic measures being successful in preventing Iran getting nuclear weapons. The second reason was that bombing Iran may be too costly to the US, "in terms of Iranian retaliation", and in terms of the "US’s standing" in the Muslim and broader world. No other objection to bombing Iran is conceivable to Sheridan, that crusading knight for Iranian human rights.

Then in September 2008, Sheridan was scaring his readers again: "Iran is a problem from hell." He was critical of a report on Iran for failing to recognise the utility of the "military option". The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, of course, is considered from the perspective of the US and Israel. Sheridan doesn’t consider it worthwhile to ponder how Iranians feel about constant threats from the US and Israel, which actually do have nuclear weapons.

Sheridan’s apologetics for bombing Iran continued even through the Iranian protests. On June 22, he still viewed Iran through the lens of a bomb-scope. He wrote that the weakening of the Iranian regime by the protests was good — for the US and Israel. And why? Because now if the US or Israel bombed Iran, they would face a weaker government.

How are we to explain all this? The answer is pretty straightforward: Sheridan tends to err on the better remunerated side of any argument. Like when he explained that contrary to all of the "theology" on climate change, he was a "modest sceptic". He continued at about this level, saying he hasn’t been able to find people living near the coast looking to buy property elsewhere. Obviously his extensive search didn’t include, say, the Maldives.

Sheridan was candid enough to admit that his column was among "the Bush administration’s best friends". In fact I can’t do justice to all the services rendered to US governments by Greg Sheridan. He once made the incredible declaration that the "US always pushes for democracy". As I.F. Stone might have said, this will improve Sheridan’s reputation as a humorist in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti — and of course Iran. Ludicrously, Sheridan suggested that the US had supported democracy in Iran too, claiming that Carter had not supported the Shah. No, Mr Sheridan, the revolution began with protests against Jimmy Carter’s support of the Shah, who called the Shah’s Iran an "island of stability".

Sheridan also doesn’t mention the US overthrow of the democratically elected, secular Mossadeq government. This is despite his earnest devotion to the rights of Iranians. Of course, Iranian dissidents point out that US threats have been used as a weapon to crush human rights activists in Iran, but Sheridan plainly hasn’t worried about their pleas.

So much for Sheridan’s concern for Iranians.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.