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Reframing the Iran Debate

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So far, the neoconservatives have done a good job of re-running their Iraq playbook and framing discussion on Iran, by laying out these premises:

1. Iran is close to getting nukes.

2. Iran's President is crazy and irrational and committed to wiping Israel off the map. He can't be reasoned with.

3. Bush is trying real super hard to get the UN to do something about it, but if they won't...

If we are to have any hope of preventing a senseless war with Iran, we cannot accept this frame. If all of the above points are reported as fact and accepted by Americans across the ideological spectrum, anti-war arguments will be seen as knee-jerk, immature and reckless, and not get a fair hearing. In turn, Democrats in Congress will get steamrolled again.

How can we reframe the discussion? Our arguments should flow from the following framework:

1. Iran presently has a strong, rational incentive to get nukes.

Bush is planting permanent military bases on Iran's doorstep in Iraq, and trying to proliferate nukes to nearby India. Iran's feeling the heat, and desperately wants to pull a North Korea: get a nuke to keep the neocons at bay.

2. Iran has acted rationally and can be reasoned with.

According to former Bush aide Flynt Leverett, in 2003 the Iranian government offered Bush "a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences ... about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations." Bush's response? "[C]omplain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line."

Hmm, wonder why Iran doesn't want to talk now.

Further, while neocons play up President Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements to create a perception that Israel would get nuked, Israeli officials disagree. According to Middle East specialist (and former adviser to GOP Rep. Bob Ney) Trita Parsi, Israel's primary concern is a loss of diplomatic leverage.

This was echoed on MSNBC's Hardball last night, by retired Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor -- " I think [the Iranians] are using it ... for prestige and also diplomatic leverage within the region." -- and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey -- "the Iranians have a very poor capability to deliver these weapons at that range."

Finally, while Ahmadinejad surely is not a loveable character, he is not calling all the shots. He's not even a mullah.

This is not an irrational regime hell-bent on apocalypse.

3. There is plenty of time to negotiate.

As the NY Times reports today, Iran ain't getting a nuke tomorrow. "The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020."

4. The Bush Administration's word is not credible.

We know now that they were never serious about dealing with Iraq through diplomatic, multilateral means and weapons inspections, despite their attempts to make it appear so. They are surely re-running the playbook and going through the motions with the UN now. They cannot be trusted to exhaust all diplomatic avenues.

5. The way to stop Iran, without causing more death, destruction and instability, is to remove the incentives for Iran to go nuclear, and negotiate.

The only way that will happen is if we change leaders in the White House, junk the India deal, dismantle the permanent bases, and clearly renounce neocon foreign policy aims.