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Always reasons to hate Iran

In the State of the Union, President Obama said he would veto any effort to increase sanctions on Iran. Previous White House threats seemed a bit oblique, now his direct threat has pulled some Democratics back from the brink of voting for the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" introduced by Senators Mendez (D.) and Kirk (R.). Rand Paul, one of the few Republicans to stand back from supporting the bill, now opposes it. All to the good.


Paul Pilar, senior fellow at Georgetown and The Brookings Institutions as well as a former CIA officer, has a long memory. He enumerates all the ways over the years in which relations with Iran have come under fire, and not just for their nuclear program. In the National Interest. He expects that as negotiations continue other and older reasons to bring down Iran will emerge.

Previous disucssions at dotCWL. Let's Have a War and War or Peace? Raise Your Hand.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I have to say that there are a fairly large group of people who just will not be happy until we go to war with Iran.  They will push it any chance and for any reason, and won't be happy until they see US troops marching through Terhan. 

The regime-change impulse is strong. Do its supporters care more about that than they do nuclear weapons? Some seem to.

I don't think we need to worry about the U.S. starting a war against Iran, which, being Iran, will finagle, lie and cheat in sufficient ways to force us into a too-late defense of our legitimate interests and of Israel.

Ms. Steinfels - excellent analysis by one of my favorite presidential historians.  It also helps put much needed context into this question (too often, everything with the Middle East begins with 9/11).

Key perspectives:

- "For decades, U.S. policy in the Middle East had sought to shore up that region’s precarious stability. In a part of the world always teetering on the brink of chaos, averting war had formed the centerpiece of U.S. policy.

Now, however, the administration of George W. Bush contrived a different approach. Through war, the United States would destabilize the region and then remake it to the benefit of all. “The United States may not be able to lead countries through the door of democracy,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz remarked, “but where that door is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up.”  (note also his phrase in describing the photo with Bush, Rice, and Gates given Gates' recent book and comments)

- "Although most of the 9/11 hijackers had come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, “the problems there [were] intractable.” Iraq was seen as “different, weaker, more vulnerable,”  Here was the place to implement America’s new “democratic domino theory.”

- "The point is crucial. Only by appreciating the magnitude of the Bush administration’s post-9/11, vanity-saturated ambitions does it become possible to gauge their unforeseen consequences. Only then can we fully appreciate the deeply ironic outcome that those ambitions yielded."  (and talk about not understanding the growing conflict in that region between Sunni and Shia)

- "Transformation—there was a word redolent with ambition and vanity. By invading Iraq and overthrowing a dictator, an administration disdainful of mere stability would make a start at transforming the entire Islamic world." (same mindset but substitute Iran for Iraq)

- "Following in the wake of the U. S. invasion of Iraq came not transformation, but disorder that enveloped large swaths of the Middle East."

- "Scholars will long debate whether the misuse of American power caused or merely catalyzed this instability—or indeed whether the disorder roiling the Middle East derives from factors to which decisions made in Washington are largely irrelevant."

Andrew Bacevich.

"or indeed whether the disorder roiling the Middle East derives from factors to which decisions made in Washington are largely irrelevant."  That would serve us right--after killing all those people and spending all that money!!!

I doubt he really believes that, but it's a good last sentence.

I have a huge concern that our interests seem to always be assumed to be Israel's and Israel's ours.  In a broad sense, over the issue of survival of Israel, that might be true, but elswhere I am not so sure it is.  And the idea that we would effectively surrender our sovereinty to make war and peace decisions to another nation, particularly a smaller nation, is particularly dangerous.  Some scholars have suggested that Germany's decision to give Austria-Hungary a blank check with repect to Serbia led to what would have been a moderate regional conflict to flare into the First World War.  It may be in our interest to negotiate a nuclear  agreement with Iran.  Such an agreement, properly drawn and properly followed isn't appeasement.  Not going to war isn't appeasement either

Mr, Dunn - thanks for broadening and focusing on this aspect of the *Iranian issue*.  To support your comments:

Key points:

"the same insularity characterizes debate about Israel in Washington. In part that’s because of the weakness of Palestinian and Arab-American groups. And in part it’s because of the effectiveness of the American Jewish establishment. Since 2000, according to the website LegiStorm, members of Congress and their staffs have visited Israel more than one thousand times. That’s almost twice the number of visits to any other foreign country. Roughly three quarters of those trips were sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), AIPAC’s nonprofit arm. And many of the rest were sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, local Jewish Community Relations Councils, local Jewish Federations, and other mainstream Jewish groups. During the summer of 2011 alone, AIEF took 20 percent of House members—and almost half the Republican freshman class—to the Jewish state. Since 2000, the foundation has taken House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer or his staffers to Israel nine times and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor or his staff eight times."

"They learn why Jews feel so connected to Israel and why they worry so much about its security. And for the most part, they learn to see Palestinians the way the American Jewish establishment does: as a faceless, frightening, undifferentiated mass. As one “pro-Israel” activist told The New York Times last year, “We call it the Jewish Disneyland trip.”

"For centuries, when Jews lived in the Diaspora as a persecuted minority, we had to understand the societies around us. Because we lacked power, we had to be smart to survive. Now, I fear, because Jews enjoy power in Israel and America, especially vis-à-vis Palestinians, we’ve forgotten the importance of listening. “Who is wise?” asks the Jewish ethical text Pirkei Avot. “He who learns from all people.” As Jews, we owe Israel not merely our devotion but our wisdom. And we can’t truly provide it if our isolation from Palestinians keeps us dumb.

"If encountering Palestinians combats American Jewish ignorance, it also combats American Jewish hatred. In May, Sheldon Adelson, among the most influential Jewish philanthropists in America, said he would not support John Kerry’s plan for Palestinian economic development because “why would I want to invest money with people who want to kill my people?” Adelson wasn’t calling one Palestinian leader a killer, or even one Palestinian faction. He was calling Palestinians killers per se. And his views aren’t uncommon. At a breakfast last year, I heard a prominent Jewish leader in New York call Palestinians “animals.”

Above by Peter Beinart.

Just finishing up Duty by Robert Gates. Given the slog he describes that was Iraq and that is still Afghanistan, why would anyone in the U.S. Congress would want another ME war. All the talk of taking out nuclear sites by bombing and with no boots on the ground is fantasy. The U.S. military knows that and that's why head of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Martin Dempsey has been one of most cautious voices on any Iran adventure.

Jim Dunn said:  “I have to say that there are a fairly large group of people who just will not be happy until we go to war with Iran.”  (Jan 30, 5:10 pm)

I’ll go one even further:  there is a fairly large group of people who just will not be happy until we go to war … period.

I think we are cursed with governmental leaders in the House, Senate and Presidency since Bill Clinton (George W’s … national guard service is very different from actual service military service!) most of whom have no personal military experience, nor have they (in the main) been willing to send their children into harm’s way.  (

They are perfectly happy to have what are effectively paid mercenaries do the fighting for the US.  These people come largely from the ranks of the poor, minorities and unemployed, with a preponderance of the office and NCO ranks coming from the South, where military service continues to be an honorable profession.

Consequently we have what has been termed “chicken hawks” in charge of decisions to cause OTHERS to do the fighting and dying for whatever reason.  There is no “skin in the game” nor personal “dog in the fight” when it comes to deciding where and when to go do war.

There is a segment of the US that believes the most effective way to maintain our being “Numbah One” in the world is via force of arms, operating, of course, under the guise of “leading countries through the door of democracy,” as Paul Wolfowitz, another chicken hawk, remarked.

Wars are not conducted in the abstract even though in this day and age, most of the people in the US observe and “participate” from afar if at all.  If anyone wants to disabuse themselves of the fact that they are, visit any VA hospital these days.  When I was in Vietnam in the 1960s (no, I was not a direct combatant) people who were severely wounded stood a fairly good chance of dying from their wounds.  Not anymore.  Thanks to advances in medical science, people can be kept alive in conditions that they never would have survived 50 years ago.  What one can see in the VA hospitals today makes what we saw in the person of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg during the State of the Union address appear to be small feed.

In Bernard Prusak’s article elsewhere in this issue ( he makes a couple of points directly applicable to what I have been saying:

“For ‘war isn’t a relation between persons but between political entities’ which have turned human beings into mere instruments—‘food for powder, food for powder’ “

“(Daniel) Maguire finds problematic about just-war theory: that it has facilitated recourse to war.”

Jim McCrea: "Thanks to advances in medical science, people can be kept alive in conditions that they never would have survived 50 years ago.  What one can see in the VA hospitals today makes what we saw in the person of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg during the State of the Union address appear to be small feed."

One of the big points in Gates's Duty is the fights he had to mount with the Pentagon and DOD bureaucracy to get better and more protective equipment adapted to the troops' situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then to clean up the after-care conditions of the wounded in the military hospitals and veterans' hospitals (use to caring for older vets). There may be some self-serving here on the part of Gates, but the conditions he describes suggest that the wounded were regarded by many in the bureaucracy as simply fodder for the war.

The way the U.S. treats its non-injured veterans is disgraceful.  They are trained only for military employment, and when they come out too often they cannot find jobs.  Unlike the WW II vets, they don't get the GI Bill benefit of tuition and expenses for needed schooling.  Shame, shame, shame on us.

Ms. Steinfels - in terms of the overall approach and attitudes:

In reference to defensive counter-measures to protect troops (esp. IEDs):

The story about Mine Resistant Military Vehicles is sad....both the technology and the vehicles were ready at the start of the Iraq War......plenty of documented narratives exist to show that senior brass and Congress along with the administration delayed, stopped, or ignored getting these vehicles built and into Iraq for more than 3 years at the cost of tens of thousands of dead or injured.  Finally, after every IED counter measure alternatives had failed, they finally moved forward.

Gates found that the mine resistant vehicles, created for Iraq, had to be adapted for Afghanistan because of differences in terrain. Iraq is flat and sandy, Afghanistan rocky and mountainous. The Iraqi vehicles tipped easily in Afghanistan and Gates had to get on the military to adapt them so that soldiers weren't killed or injured, not from mines, but from other causes!! This also fits in with Gates's complaints about how congressionals protect factories in their own districts, which makes it difficult to adapt and/or change suppliers..

Thanks for the references.

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