Talk of war with Iran on a sweet spring evening

If it’s true that Americans aren’t interested in foreign affairs, there clearly are pockets of stark exception in the Twin Cities.

Wednesday night, a particularly sweet spring evening, would have been a perfect time to stroll around lakes, sip drinks at outdoor cafes or just smell the lilacs.

Instead, a standing room only crowd accepted Rep. Keith Ellison’s invitation to a public forum on U.S. relations with Iran. More than 200 people stood or sat on folding chairs in the First Unitarian Society’s basement in south Minneapolis for two hours of speeches and Q and A. And get this: Ellison, D-Minn., had to finally shut off their questions so he could end the program.

It’s not that the panel of scholars delivered cheerful news.

Trita Parsi warned that Iran and the United States are at a particularly dangerous juncture. Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C., is the author of the book “Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.” 

For 25 years the United States and Iran have managed to co-exist in a “state of no-war-no-peace,” Parsi said.

Spheres of influence

Don’t count on that uneasy coexistence to continue, though. Prospects for maintaining it are shrinking, he warned.

“The United States and Iran are deep inside of each other’s spheres of influence, mainly because of the invasion of Iraq,” Parsi said.

Trita Parsi
Trita Parsi

Instead of hurling rhetoric from opposite sides of the world as they did for years, they are operating close to one another. And the friction, Parsi said, creates a “very volatile and dangerous situation in which war is not necessarily something either side would choose but it is something that would choose them.”

A series of events in the 20th Century left the two countries at a standoff where neither side understands the other’s perspective and they are “ritually not talking to each other,” said Prof. William Beeman, who chairs the Anthropology Department at the University of Minnesota. His most recent book is “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.”

Rather than communicating officially, the governments “talk to each other through the media … through slogans and press conferences,” Beeman said. For years, such “talk” had been chilly. During the Bush administration it has become openly hostile, with constant rumors of war.

One danger for the public is that the media often fails to critically examine the government’s statements about Iran, and thus helps build support for factions that are pushing for confrontation with Iran, Beeman said. 

News this week about Iran’s suspected research into developing nuclear weapons was misleading, Beeman said. The New York Times said Tuesday that a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency called the research “a matter of serious concern” and said that Iran continued to owe the agency “substantial explanations.”

 “The nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be intended more for military use than for energy generation,” the article said.

In an interview after the forum, Beeman said the report – which is supposed to be restricted but has been widely circulated – never uses the words “willful lack of cooperation” or anything close to them. Further, he said the serious concerns raised in the report relate to allegations against Iran that could not be fully answered because IAEA inspectors were not allowed to show Iran the complete documentation.

Isolation and Iran
It is not surprising that a panel assembled by Ellison would reject war as an option. 

“War will not destroy the government in Iran,” Parsi said. “It will destroy the country.”

It also is not surprising that they would call for some form of dialog with Iran. The current policy of isolation has backfired, Parsi said, because it enables certain Iranian leaders to build political currency by demonizing the United States.

“Isolation is the bloodlife of the hardest line elements inside Iran,” Parsi said.

If the crowd at the forum included defenders of the Bush administration’s policies toward Iran, they kept silent. Questions and comments from the audience were peppered with sharp criticism and suspicions of the true motives behind government claims. For example, one man asked whether the buildup in bluster toward Iran isn’t based in the administration’s fears that Iran will trade oil in currencies other than U.S. dollars, thereby undermining American oil interests.

Still, audience members tried to pin down Ellison on the limits to his oft-stated commitment to peace.

“What would it take, what would have to happen for you to vote for war?” a man asked.

“If a country, any country declared war on the United States and launched an assault on the United States, then the United States would have to defend itself,” Ellison answered.

But, in terms of threats from Iran, that scenario was extremely unlikely, he added. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made “reprehensible” statements about the United States, and nasty rhetoric deserves condemnation, he said.

“But when you send somebody’s child into a war, it had better be absolutely necessary for the defense of the nation,” Ellison said.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Rod Loper on 05/29/2008 - 02:46 pm.

    The Bushies had better hury up their war. The Iranians are electing moderates these days. What are we to do?

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/29/2008 - 12:39 pm.

    The NY Times article referred to (and one by George Jahn in the Washington Post) incorrectly accused Iran of refusing to supply information about its current program. The information the IAEA is waiting for concerns its alleged weapons program from back in the 1990s.

    The NY Times also printed an editorial yesterday that castigates Iran, saying it is “leaving the world no choice but to expect the worst,” but saying we should rule out war as a response.

    The Post did better, however, by printing an article on May 27(Iran Withholds Key Nuclear Documents: Program Still Peaceful), by Molly Moore. Moore seems to be the only reporter or editorialist to actually speak with Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA. “ElBaradei said IAEA investigators have made 14 unannounced inspections in the last 13 months, noting, ‘The agency has been able to continue to verify’ that Iran has not diverted any of its declared nuclear material to military use.”

    Iran is running out of oil for export, its chief source of revenue for purchasing imported gasoline, because it has not maintained its oil infrastructure (Roger Stern, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 01/04/2007). It will therefore need to develop other sources of energy, says Stern.

    As a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (unlike the U.S.), Iran is legally and morally entitled to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. And that is all the IAEA is claiming that they are doing.

    Cheney, McCain/Hagee, Lieberman, Bush and others including some Israelis, are trying to pull the same trick the administration got away with in 2002/2003 — with imaginary “nuclear bombs” substituted for nonexistent “WMD.” They hope to attack Iran before Bush leaves office, according to some writers.

    So who should we believe? The IAEA and Iran or the vice president who “fixed the intelligence to fit the policy?” I’ll go with ElBaradei, thank you.

  3. Submitted by Tom Poe on 05/30/2008 - 08:15 am.

    “An IAEA report Monday said Iran may be withholding information needed to establish whether it tried to make nuclear arms.”

    That’s the leadin from AP. Now, granted, the AP news service is a corporate media shill, but if we believe this quote, and there’s good reason to in this case, it deserves our consideration.

    Are you interested in moving us closer to declaring war on Iran, because they haven’t answered questions about what went on in years past? Would you have the IAEA ignore their work in monitoring and reporting, confirming there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and indeed adhering to treaties that the U.S. won’t participate in?

  4. Submitted by Bibi Jon on 05/30/2008 - 09:48 am.

    For a reality check on the next war of choice see

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/30/2008 - 04:08 pm.

    I find it interesting that people are so afraid of Iran getting 1, that’s ONE, nuclear weapon. We used to face down the Soviet Union when they had 10’s of thousands of nukes. There is zero evidence anywhere that can prove beyond a doubt that Iran even wants a nuclear weapon. They have a large population, nuclear power would probably be a wise choice to supply electricity to their millions of people.

    Israel can take care of themselves, we need to stop all this war mongering. We’ve been in a perpetual state of war since the Korean conflict started.

    As this article points out, bombing Iran will be about them trading oil in other currencies besides the US Dollar. Just like Saddam did before we bombed him.

    If anyone is eager to go to war, let him or her be the first in line with combat boots and a rifle.. and let their children be the first to go. Diplomacy / Democracy thru the barrel of a gun is NOT the way to go.

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