U of M panel warns of drift to war with Iran

Rep. Keith Ellison

“You would have to be deaf not to hear the drumbeat for war with Iran,” U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison told a University of Minnesota audience Monday.

Ellison, seeking to be a voice against the drumbeat, said that the United States has “every interest in the world” to try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but “that doesn’t mean a war tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.”

Listening to the public debate about the closing window of opportunity to stop Iran, you might lose sight of the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapon, no nuclear weapons program and has conducted no tests on any nuclear explosive device.

At the moment, the intelligence shows that Iran is enriching uranium at the low level consistent with a non-weapons grade peaceful nuclear energy program and not at the higher level necessary for weapons development. Trita Parsi of the National Iranian-American Council, one of the other panelists at yesterday’s event, noted that 19 countries in the world are enriching uranium to the same or a higher level than Iran.

Advocates diplomacy

Ellison advocates diplomacy and pressure on Iran to cooperate with the kind of inspections and verification regime that will reveal whether the nuclear research and development is moving toward weapons grade enrichment. He favors the use of economic sanctions to pressure Iran to cooperate along those lines, have supported some of the sanctions that have been imposed, but he voted against the most recent congressional sanctions proposal because he felt it limited the ability of the Obama administration to engage with Iran without prior approval. “We need to stay engaged,” he said, but noted that an elected official like himself can work for peace only with the support of his constituents. “As long as you want peace, I’ll be calling for it,” he said.

The panel at the U was cosponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Departments of Anthropology and Political Science and was moderated by Dean Eric Schwartz of the Humphrey School, himself a former assistant secretary of state, with experience in Mideast issues. It was not a balanced cast, as all three panelists argued against the drift toward military actions against Iran. During the question and answer session, Jay Shahidi, a prominent Twin Cities Iranian-American émigré, said that when he tried to get some of his fellow émigrés to come to the event they denounced the panel as “three stooges” for the government of the Islamic Republic.

In fact, none of the panelists seemed interested yesterday in justifying the actions of Iran, although all seemed interested in keeping the crisis on a diplomatic track and off of a military track.

Parsi, whose family left Iran to escape political repression when he was four and has written two books on U.S.-Iran relations, said the trouble with Washington is a tendency “to see the word compromise as a sign of weakness.” He thinks a compromise, in which Iran agrees to heightened levels of inspections/verification/transparency, is the winning formula for avoiding a bigger crisis.

Mixed record

The third panelist, William Beeman, chair of the University’s Anthropology Department and a long-time scholar of Iran, said that Iran sees the United States as the heirs to France, England and Russia as outside powers that have tried to dominate Iran for their own purposes. The United States has a mixed record on this score, he said. America saved Iran from being invaded by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. On the other hand, the United States overthrew the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953.

Since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah (a U.S. ally) and the year-long captivity of  U.S. embassy personnel, both sides have nurtured and deepened their grudges to the point that what is needed is a “massive diplomatic undertaking,” something comparable to the epochal Nixon opening to China after decades of estrangement.

Beeman noted that top U.S. officials, including the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said that Iran is a “rational actor” and that Iran – even if it had a nuclear weapon — would have nothing to gain and much to lose if it initiated a nuclear attack on Israel. He quoted former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as rejecting the idea that Iran represents a threat to Israel’s existence and Israel’s top military official as saying that he doesn’t believe Iran will develop a nuclear weapon.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/01/2012 - 11:52 am.

    Why would a war be necessary?

    This all sounds rather reasonable, and Rep. Ellison is correct – “peace” is only possible if the people casting the ballots elect representatives who are interested in that state of affairs, rather than the typical jingoistic saber-rattling of an empire. Iranian leadership may be over-the-top, in the manner of Mrs. Bachmann, but Iran is no threat to the U.S., so the justification for adopting a military response would, at this point at least, have to come from Fantasyland.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/01/2012 - 12:59 pm.

    The issue is that Israel is dragging the US closer to a war with Iran.

    Read, “Are Netanyahu and Barak bluffing on Iran, or are they already committed to war?” at:


    And then consider the end times rhetoric of the conservative Christian politicians who look forward to the battle with Iran.

    And realize that Netanyahu, a hard-liner is a friend of Romney from his days at Bain Capital.

    • Submitted by Chuck Johnson on 05/02/2012 - 03:09 pm.

      It’s not just Israel pushing for war with Iran

      Their are plenty of American Jewish voices calling for this war because they perceive it to be to Israel’s advantage and they don’t actually give a damn about how it affects the USA.

      By the way, I called Amy Klobuchar’s office over a month ago to inquire as to her position regarding the pending war with Iran. Apparently she has yet to give it any thought as I still haven’t heard back from her aides.

  3. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 05/01/2012 - 01:34 pm.

    preaching to the choir

    Rep. Ellison should direct his pleas to the Commander in Chief, President Obama, and his fellow congressmen, who have the power to declare war. The panelists and his constitutents, at least the ones who voted for him, sound like they already agree with him. What was the point of this panel anyway?

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/01/2012 - 02:47 pm.

    How many ways is attacking Iran a bad idea?

    Let us count the ways.

    An attack by us — or Israel, don’t forget that possibility — will cause Iranians to rally around the theocracy and undermine the democracy movement.

    Any doubters in the Iranian government will be convinced they need their own bomb to deter further attacks.

    Any government finding itself on our bad side will decide they need a bomb as quickly as possible before we decide to attack them too.

    We already have a war in Afghanistan and a crisis in Syria, plus of course we don’t know what’s going to happen elsewhere. Creating a crisis is just foolhardy.

    If one attack doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program, then what? The neocons have no apparent plan B. Just like they didn’t for Iraq.

    If the attack goes badly, like planes shot down, Americans captured, then what?

    War is expensive. How do we pay for it? We won’t raise taxes to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as it is, so we’re going to add Iran to the debt?

    Have the proponents of attacking Iran come up with anything beyond their fear of an Iranian bomb? Can they respond to even one of those question and concerns?

  5. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 05/01/2012 - 05:36 pm.


    How is it that ANYBODY thinks waging war is a path to peace.

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