Let's face it: America needs enemies. The threat of the "red menace" that frightened so many during the long decades of the cold war was also extremely functional in terms of justifying appropriations and reinforcing a permanent and ever expanding military Industrial complex.
Ten years later, the terror war as a cause has lost its ardor and appeal, as Americans tire of all the enhanced security and surveillance that makes them feel like suspects and enemies of their own government in their own land.
At the same time, arms manufacturers and the politicians that do their bidding love threats---and when they don't exist, tend to invent and exaggerate them.
This is the context in which Iran is being used again as a symbol of the menacing "bad guy" that an American culture dominated by conflict and driven by movies and TV seems to crave.
Often, the less we know about a society, the better its symbolic value as what used to be called a "boogie man." Countries with other values are often considered suspect by definition.
Iran is almost tailor made to play the role of a contrived enemy. The nation is an Islamic Republic; and, has a history of disagreements with the US. It refuses to bow down to American cultural or political demands and insists on playing an independent role in the world at large, according to its own customs and values.
That imperative tends to assure an outcast status, where suspicion greets everything its government says and does. That hostility doesn't seem to cease even when Iran denounces terrorism, a threat it has had many negative experiences with itself.
Tehran stands condemned no matter what it does. If it doesn't cave in to demands to stop its peaceful nuclear program, it is in the wrong. If it agrees to talks, it is assumed that it has a deceptive agenda.
There's an old saying that you never let the facts get in the way of suspicion and paranoia. Media propaganda posing as news reinforces hostility in the public.
The US Gallup Poll reports, "Americans most frequently mention Iran when asked to name the country they consider to be the United States' greatest enemy, and the 32% who do so is up from 25% in 2011. China is second on the list, with significantly fewer Americans mentioning North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq -- the countries that round out the top five."
And why did this occur. Media accounts rarely discuss the history of US support for the despotic Shah or the overthrow of the nationalist Mosaddeq government that sought to keep Iran's oil in Iranian hands.
As the business magazine Forbes admitted, "Well, it turned out that the uprising against Mosaddeq and the pro-Shah military maneuvers were organized by British and CIA secret agents...."
In the same way, when western media talks about potential wars or conflicts, they rarely discuss their consequences in human terms.
Elizabeth Murray, a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council has noted that there is a lack of human empathy among military planners and that the "subject of human suffering is almost taboo among ... elites, and is generally raised only when negative media publicity, or the prospect thereof, forces them to take action."
She adds, "As Israeli leaders engage in frenzied posturing over a possible military strike on Iran, we again have pundits, experts and commentators speculating how an Israeli offensive would play out. They search for the meaning behind the inflammatory rhetoric of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and ponder the impact of a war on Western political, strategic and economic interests....
In a thought-provoking piece on this subject, Professor Marsha B. Cohen, a specialist on Iranian-Israeli issues, notes that a 114-page paper commissioned in 2009 by the Center for International and Strategic Studies, "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities," devoted just two pages to the subject of anticipated human losses."
When a nation moves from being considered "friendly" to being thought of as "hostile," many "experts" drop any pretense of concern with the damages war might cause.
Not surprisingly, Iran responds to being labeled an enemy by denouncing those who castigate them as their enemies, as in a recent report on the ongoing Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference taking place in Tehran.
Fars News Agency reports: "The presence of the heads of states in the NAM conference is a reaction to the plots to isolate Iran, Alireza Zakani [Iranian lawmaker] said in a gathering in the Northeastern city of Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi province on Sunday.
Participation of 46 states in the NAM summit at the highest level indicates the failure of the Islamic Republic's enemies, he added."
While this may be true, the hysteria over Iran in the US is likely to continue not only because of Israeli influence in the US media but because a better enemy is hard to find, even as former Middle East CIA case office Robert Baer makes clear this "threat" is bogus:"The leadership in Tehran is rational and would be highly unlikely to actually deploy nuclear weapons."
We live in a world where perceptions often trump facts. And we have to acknowledge our system needs enemies. When they don't exist, we create them.