The background, as always, is Iran, which is up front today as world leaders take up the subject of sanctions. CNN is reporting that the U.S. is going to demand access to Iran's nuclear facility. But when thinking about options and sanctions, it's not as easy an issue as some make it out to be.
According to a report in the Washington Post,
Former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, Iran's main political opposition leader, called Ahmadinejad's foreign policy "wrong and adventurist" this week but came out against new sanctions, saying he worried that "deprived people" would pay the highest price. "Sanctions would not affect the government but would impose many hardships upon the people, who suffer enough as a result of the calamity of their insane rulers," Mousavi said in a statement.
So, it was at the end of the meeting yesterday, which I reported live via Twitter as I often do now that I'm in D.C. (with a full compilation of tweets on the event available here), after listening to Israeli Labor party MK Ophir Pines-Paz speak and answer questions from the group assembled by Daniel Levy at the New America Foundation, where things got very interesting. When he was asked about Iran, Pines-Paz said: "I hope everyone understands now. ... .. We are loud on the issue maybe too loud. ..."
Too loud, indeed. But when it comes to "everyone understands now," well, it seems that it's Mr. Pines-Paz who doesn't understand, though he's clearly not alone.
As the event wound to a close, M.J. Rosenberg, who was sitting a couple of seats away from me came over. Whispering in my ear, he asked if maybe he should say something about the American Left not having the same understanding at all as what Pines-Paz was outlining on Iran's nuclear capabilities. It was as if M.J. had read my mind, as I was thinking Mr. Pines-Pas had completely missed the political dynamics by assuming that everyone on the left is aligned on Iran's nuclear capabilities and threat, agreeing with Israel's assessment.
M.J., getting Daniel's attention, asked to say a word after Pines-Paz's closing. Watching the reaction as M.J. said that we're not at all in agreement over Iran's nuclear threat, Mr. Pines-Paz's jaw tightened. It was obvious he wasn't at all prepared for the dissent. Then it came.
Pines-Paz clapped loudly a couple of times, then strongly and emphatically said, "Wake up!"
The reaction couldn't have been more defensive or purposefully dismissive. Hearing such reality from M.J. Rosenberg, someone who is as solid on Israeli and Middle East politics as anyone writing today, seemed to shock the guest of honor, who immediately turned his head cutting off any engagement on the subject.
But facts are stubborn things.
What is the status of Iran's nuclear program?
In addition to enriching uranium, a nuclear weapons program includes developing a warhead and building a missile to deliver the weapon. According to Western intelligence agencies, Iran is one to five years away from developing nuclear capability, though it is unclear whether the Islamic Republic has even decided to build a weapon. U.S. intelligence believes that Iran is working on a ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead but that those efforts have slowed. Partly because of that, the United States recently backed out of an agreement for a missile shield in Eastern Europe.
Juan Cole adds a lot more in his post today: Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True. As another member of the progressive Facts Are Stubborn Things contingent when it comes to Iran.
Belief: Iran is aggressive and has threatened to attack Israel, its neighbors or the US
Reality: Iran has not launched an aggressive war modern history (unlike the US or Israel), and its leaders have a doctrine of "no first strike." This is true of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as of Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Belief: Iran is a militarized society bristling with dangerous weapons and a growing threat to world peace.
Reality: Iran's military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.
It goes on from there.
The other issue is that I happen to believe we will not be able to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, however far away weapons grade capabilities and weaponizing itself is today and assuming that's the real and looming threat, which is why Obama's denuclearization and the UN Security Council voting unanimous on the issue is so critical. Why serious sanctions are being considered. But as SecDef Gates has also said, there are no military options, contrary to what's being said by those on the right who are already squealing about regime change or a strike and all other manner of nonsense.
But yet, Pines-Paz offered the same right-wing phraseology that defies reality and drives us all into a ditch: "Real economic sanctions can be very effective... The world should leave all options on the table."
Stronger sanctions could work, but what of the Iranian people?
If you're feeling the Iraq merry-go-round revving up you are not alone.
Pines-Paz also neglects to understand that even as Israel will always have a special relationship with the U.S., it is a very different moment from when George W. Bush was in office where Iran is concerned.
That clap of Pines-Paz was a bit of political theater, but as for the need to "wake up," I'd say that applies to Mr. Pines-Paz as much as anyone, especially when it comes to understanding the American Left on Iran. But that likely has something to do with the "existential threat" reality, which isn't lost on anyone, but isn't an excuse to make a challenging reality worse through hyperbole.
Fascinating meeting. With it clear that even as the Israeli press eviscerates President Obama, the Israeli people long for him to prove that his hope can manifest into a tangible commodity for the Middle East.
Pines-Pas on Obama's demand Israel freeze settlements: "It was there.... but it blew away. ... Left as an open issue for so long..." Israelis care, "they've lost hope."
On the Goldstone report: "Report doesn't reflect real situation....It was a report against Israel...." But "you don't boycott a UN committee..."
However, hovering over it all remains Iran, with Israelis and some on the American Left holding very different positions, something over which we are no longer willing to stay silent.