WASHINGTON -- The United States must not let itself slide into a war with Iran without more debate and deliberation, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told The Huffington Post late on Tuesday.
"The debate is not happening, and there needs to be a debate," Ellison said.
On Tuesday, Ellison -- along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a stalwart of the anti-war wing of the Republican Party -- began circulating among his colleagues a letter calling on President Barack Obama to demand more time for diplomacy and sanctions to diffuse the brewing crisis without military action.
"As tension with Iran continues to escalate, we urge your Administration to utilize all available tools of diplomacy to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program and prevent another costly war in the Middle East," the letter reads.
"War is bodies. War is destruction of infrastructure. War is refugees," Ellison told HuffPost. "I'm not going to stand here as war is looming and not try to at least raise these issues, so that people can make a different decision."
In recent months, the prospect of a war with Iran -- perhaps sparked by an Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear sites, before possibly drawing in the United States -- has started to seem like an inevitability, as newspapers have carried countless tales of Iran's supposed ties to terrorism and nuclear-weapon ambitions.
Earlier in the week, Israeli diplomats were targeted by car bombs in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Georgia -- attacks that the Israelis have blamed on Iran.
Iran has an operational nuclear energy project and is believed by many to be intent on constructing a nuclear bomb, although the most up-to-date American intelligence assessments have not yet concluded that Iran plans to militarize its nuclear program.
Obama said in his January State of the Union address that he would "take no options off the table" to "prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," a goal he shares with the even more hard-line Israeli government.
In his conversation with HuffPost, Ellison emphasized that he is no friend of the Iranian regime, particularly when considering what he called its "ruthless" human rights record. He pointed out that he has often supported strong sanctions against the government there.
But he added that the lack of serious debate about a possible war with Iran, in the media and among leading political figures, seemed to mirror the failure of discourse before the war in Iraq, when false claims by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were never fully challenged.
"I think the media is being lured into the same things they got lured into with Iraq," Ellison said. "What if we found out that they're not actually weaponizing? As the buildup for Iraq was going on, if you were to say publicly, 'I don't think Saddam has weapons of mass destruction,' you'd be laughed out of town. If the price of stopping a war is me being called some names, I can handle it."
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear President Obama:
As tension with Iran continues to escalate, we urge your Administration to utilize all available tools of diplomacy to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program and prevent another costly war in the Middle East.
We have supported your Administration's efforts to unite the international community to bring about the strongest sanctions on Iran to date. Now, we must redouble our diplomatic efforts to achieve robust transparency measures that can verify Iran's nuclear program is strictly a civilian one. Without a corresponding diplomatic undertaking, we are concerned that a lack of communication with Iran could lead to a dangerous escalation with potentially devastating consequences.
We hold no illusions about the abuses of the Iranian regime and are well aware that it rejected your previous diplomatic overtures. At the same time, we agree with most Americans that the United States should not enter a new war, just as we are finally ending two others. A military strike against Iran could lead to a regional war in the Middle East and attacks against U.S. interests. Even worse, such a strike would likely compel Iran to abandon the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, eject international inspectors, and rapidly pursue a nuclear deterrent.
Top military and civilian leaders have repeatedly issued warnings about the consequences of a military strike on Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned that the United States "could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases," and that "would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret."
Former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan made a similar prediction when he said that attacking Iran "would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program."
Retired General Anthony Zinni said, "If you follow this all the way down, eventually I'm putting boots on the ground somewhere. And, like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."
To avoid war, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, called for the United States to utilize "any channel that's open" for engagement with Iran, noting, "Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union."
We strongly encourage your Administration to pursue bilateral and multilateral engagement with Iran. While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war that would be devastating for the United States and our allies in the region.