Sanity in Exile

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran . . .

Or as Mitt Romney put it, playing the irresponsible-lunatic game convincingly enough to become the leading Republican presidential candidate: “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.”

The consensus congeals: Our next war must be with Iran. A report issued by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which the New York Times called “chillingly comprehensive” (though this is debatable), stoked this long-simmering agenda. It charges that Iran has conducted secret experiments on nuclear triggers and created computer models of nuclear explosions, among other things, which proves that the nation, despite its leaders’ protestations to the contrary, is pursuing . . . oh God, oh God . . . a nuclear weapons program.

War hysteria springs eternal. It certainly makes great fodder for a presidential campaign, as virtually all the GOP commander-in-chief wannabes are playing tough as nails on the issue, yanking the debate screamingly to the right. This is the way the game works. The Obama administration thus has to defend itself for eschewing, so far, a military response to the threat and pursuing only economic sanctions.

No matter the current sanctions have “applied so much pressure that the Iranian economy has ground to a halt,” according to an administration spokesman. Iran’s alleged hideous crime, of pursuing weapons only the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are allowed to possess, requires a military pummeling of the first order. And this, then, is the national “debate”: war or war by other means. No other perspective is allowed or acknowledged.

Defending sanctions, for instance, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said: “Critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”

This closed, airtight national discussion fails to acknowledge a few things: most glaringly, that a stance of brutal toughness is horrific national policy and always creates unintended consequences that overwhelm the initial objectives.

Furthermore, there is significant counter-evidence, such as Seymour Hersh’s lengthy investigation that ran last June in the New Yorker, that Iran does not, in fact, have a nuclear weapons program; and that, like Iraq’s phantom nuclear program before it, it’s a bogeyman conjured up by the war establishment, both at home and abroad, to rev the engines of our next big military fiasco.

But even if the IAEA allegations are accurate and Iran is indeed developing a nuclear weapons program — well, why shouldn’t it? As Eric Margolis wrote recently at Huffington Post, “Iran has some pretty strong reasons for wanting nuclear weapons for defensive purposes — the same reason used by existing nuclear powers.”

After all, Margolis notes, Iran was invaded by the British and Soviets in 1941, with its oil fields seized to support the war effort; and in 1953, its democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by U.S. and British intelligence, thus preventing him from nationalizing Iranian oil production. The U.S. also supported Iraq in its bloody war against Iran in the 1980s. And nuclear-armed Israel is, of course, a serious threat from Iran’s point of view.

I say this not in support of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, but simply to point out the obvious holes and hypocrisies in the conventional logic, which isn’t logic at all, just propaganda surrounding a given: Iran is our enemy. No matter what.

It is in this context that I bring up a surprisingly ambivalent New York Times editorial on the IAEA report, which ran last week. The editorial, while adding its bit to the excoriation of Iran and calling on the U.N. Security Council “to quickly impose a new round of even tougher sanctions on Iran,” also made a feint, albeit confused and apologetic, in the direction of sane foreign policy and the larger picture.

“We’re not sure any mix of sanctions and inducements can wean Tehran of its nuclear ambitions,” the editorial lamented, neatly razor-slicing its own argument. It went on: “We are sure that a military attack would be a disaster — and the current saber-rattling from Israel should make everyone nervous.”

What refreshing confusion! Might the Times actually oppose a war with Iran? My guess is that it wouldn’t. Once the bandwagon began to roll, the Gray Lady would, I fear, clamber aboard. But here it is, acknowledging uncertainty that force and coercion would do any good at all, bringing what amounts to an antiwar consciousness to bear on the situation. Praise the Lord — sanity returns from exile, at least tentatively.

The next logical step is to acknowledge global nuclear disarmament as the key to our safety, and everyone’s safety. As Howard W. Hallman, chair of Methodists United for Peace with Justice, puts it at Strategic Peacemaking: “. . . for deterrence of other nations’ nuclear arsenals, a wiser and safer alternative is mutual elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

Such wisdom may not yet be part of the official debate, as it is monitored by the military-industrial establishment, but much of the world is massing with locked arms at its edges, shouting: No war with Iran. No war anywhere.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at