Political Correction

Assassination In Tehran: An Act Of War?

January 11, 2012 3:42 pm ET

I rarely learn anything meaningful from reading The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. In my opinion, his tight relationship with the Israeli government and its lobby here greatly influences his take on both foreign and domestic events. Although he occasionally deviates from the Israeli line, he not only appears very uncomfortable doing so, he tends to correct course fairly rapidly.

Nonetheless, in a Goldberg column about Iran this week, there was one paragraph that was dead-on and which he will have a hard time taking back (should he be so inclined).

Writing about a piece in the current edition of Foreign Affairs that endorses bombing Iran as a neat and cost-free way to address its nuclear program, Goldberg explains why he thinks the author, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Matthew Kroenig, is wrong. Goldberg says he now believes:

...that advocates of an attack on Iran today would be exchanging a theoretical nightmare — an Iran with nukes — for an actual nightmare, a potentially out-of-control conventional war raging across the Middle East that could cost the lives of thousands Iranians, Israelis, Gulf Arabs and even American servicemen.

Think about that for a minute. Uber-hawk Jeffrey Goldberg is saying that the threat posed by Iran is a "theoretical nightmare" while a war ostensibly to neutralize that threat would present an "actual nightmare."

No critic of U.S. policy toward Iran could say it better or would say it differently. And why would we?

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has not yet made the decision to go nuclear. Speaking to CBS' Face the Nation last Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the same point. Iran is not working on the bomb.

We do know, as Goldberg says, that a "potentially out-of-control conventional war raging across the Middle East" could "cost the lives of thousands of Iranians, Israelis, Gulf Arabs and even American servicemen."

And that makes the decision against war a no-brainer. As Goldberg puts it:

Now that sanctions seem to be biting — in other words, now that Iran's leaders understand the President's seriousness on the issue — the Iranians just might be willing to pay more attention to proposals about an alternative course.

That alternative course would be an attempt "to try one more time to reach out to the Iranian leadership in order to avoid a military confrontation over Tehran's nuclear program."

In short, dialogue.

The United States, to this day, has never attempted a true dialogue with the Tehran. Even under President Obama, all we have done is issue demands about its nuclear program and offer to meet to discuss precisely how they comply with those demands.

That is not dialogue and it's not negotiation; it's an ultimatum.

The one attempt at dialogue (i.e., a discussion that involves give and take by both sides) was initiated by the Iranian government in 2003. That was when it proposed, according to the Washington Post, "a broad dialogue with the United States," in which "everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups." In exchange, Iran wanted normalization of relations with the United States.

As is well known, the United States did not respond. In fact, we chastised the Swiss intermediary who delivered the offer for having the temerity to do so.

It was us, not Iran, that spurned a process that would have led to improved relations.

Rather than diplomacy, we've pursued a policy of sanctions, which we escalate every time the war lobby demands them.

But sanctions will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons capabilities, nor will "regime change," considering that Iranians across the political spectrum support the Iranian nuclear program. Sanctions' only effect is to please AIPAC, which has made confronting Iran central to its mission. AIPAC writes the sanctions bills, Congress passes them, the president signs them, and the Iranian people (not the regime) bear the brunt of the effects. (The politicians who endorse such measures, however, quite often are well rewarded.)

Goldberg deserves some credit for calling for dialogue. But his seriousness is undermined when he explains that the U.S. offer must be our final one. Although real dialogue is a process, Goldberg's suggestion is to try to talk just "one more time." And then: war.

Nonetheless, Goldberg does not seem to be on the same page as the Israeli government or its neoconservative backers here, who reject any dialogue at all.

Any doubt on that score came today when an Iranian civilian nuclear scientist was assassinated in his car on a Tehran street. This was the fifth Iranian scientist killed in such an attack in the last two years.

The attack today certainly looks like an Israeli hit, especially when top Israelis themselves have warned that "unnatural" events were about to befall Iran. At this point, circumstantial evidence is all we can go on.

That, and the answer to the ancient Latin question: Cui bono? Who benefits? (Check out Commentary, the neocon website that is celebrating the murder.)

In theory, at least, the Netanyahu government benefits. A 32-year-old Iranian nuclear scientist is dead. The opportunities for dialogue or successful multilateral negotiations diminishes. And, if Iran responds in any way, U.S. neocons (including Congress, which will recite its AIPAC talking points) will intensify calls for war.

On the other hand, actions like these against civilians in one country endanger civilians in others. Imagine how the United States or Israel would react if Iran or even Canada started bumping off nuclear scientists (or anyone else) in Washington.

Innocents in Israel, the U.S., Europe or elsewhere will pay a price for this criminal act of colossal stupidity. And from a security standpoint, such clear acts of aggression can only convince the mullahs that they need to develop a nuclear deterrent.

Here is Jeff Goldberg again in a column subsequent to the one I already cited:

If I were a member of the Iranian regime (and I'm not), I would take this assassination program to mean that the West is entirely uninterested in any form of negotiation (not that I, the regime official, has ever been much interested in dialogue with the West) and that I should double-down and cross the nuclear threshold as fast as humanly possible. Once I do that, I'm North Korea, or Pakistan: An untouchable country.

In short, for those hell-bent on getting the United States engaged in a war that even Jeff Goldberg views as a "nightmare" for both the United States and Israel, this is a very good day indeed.

Congratulations. Or something like that.

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