March 26, 2012
If you are searching for a fair and balanced analysis of the Iran issue, you won’t find it in Nicholas Kristof’s article in Saturday’s New York Times titled “The False Debate About Attacking Iran.” He begins his argument with an analogy that is totally irrelevant, climate change:
“There really isn’t such a debate [among experts]. Or rather, it’s the same kind of debate as the one about climate change – credible experts are overwhelmingly on one side.”
That statement is absurd. Consider this short list of pieces about climate change that have appeared in the past week alone:
- Suzuki vs. the Senate – who’s silencing whom?
- Sensationalist And Distorted Climate Stories Increase As Climate Science Failures Exposed
- A Newfound Cog in the Ocean Conveyor
- New Paper: Many Tree-Ring Analyses Highly Biased, Unreliable
I won’t even bother to list articles in the Wall Street Journal over the past week dealing with climate change that have presented the opposing view because there are too many of them, and besides, the WSJ has a subscription policy that I think is untenable. I read the WSJ, but I try to avoid including hyperlinks to their articles in things that I write and in SnyderTalk, my blog. That said, Kristof could have touched base with them before boldly declaring that “credible experts are overwhelmingly on one side” because that is not what the evidence shows.
Next, Kristof presents statements from a few experts that he knows concerning the Iran issue:
- “I don’t know any security expert who is recommending a military strike on Iran at this point.” — Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor who was a senior State Department official earlier in the Obama administration.
- “Unless you’re so far over on the neocon side that you’re blind to geopolitical realities, there’s an overwhelming consensus that this is a bad idea.” — W. Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle East affairs for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
- “Most security experts agree that it’s premature to go to a military option. We are in the middle of increasing sanctions on Iran. Iran is already under the most onerous sanctions it has ever experienced, and now we’re turning the screws further with sanctions that will touch their central bank, sanctions that will touch their oil products and so forth. So it has been bad for them and it’s about to get worse. The overwhelming consensus is we should give some time to let that work.” — Michèle Flournoy, who has just stepped down as the No. 3 official in the Defense Department.
I don’t fault Kristof for consulting with people like Slaughter, Land, and Flournoy, and their views may represent the majority opinion right now. However, I will criticize him for trying to create the impression that there are no credible experts who think that attacking Iran sooner rather than later is a good idea.
I’m not arguing for or against attacking Iran. I’m simply pointing out that in the universe of “credible experts” there exist more than a few people who believe that attacking Iran before they travel too far down the path toward nuclear weapons is a very good idea. For example, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton believes that we should have attacked Iran long ago, and in a recent article for Foreign Affairs titled “Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option“, Matthew Kroenig, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that there are no good options and that attacking Iran is the best of the available bad alternatives.
Kristof blithely asserts that the real fear among experts — or to be precise, experts that he knows — is not that Iran’s leaders would use nuclear weapons against Israel if they had them, but rather that they would initiate a nuclear arms race among nations in the Middle East region if they tested and deployed nuclear weapons. There are many experts who believe that, and it’s probably true. Even so, it is naïve and foolish to suggest that because some experts or even a majority of experts hold a particular view, there are not credible experts who hold a different opinion. It helps to keep in mind that where nuclear weapons are concerned, you can afford to be wrong only once. We need to consider all rational perspectives — even those with which we may not agree. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
If you read Israeli newspapers — Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and Israel Hayom, for instance — you know that hundreds of people rallied in Tel Aviv over the weekend to protest a potential Israeli strike on Iran. They were protesting for a reason. In Israel today, there are experts who believe that attacking Iran now is a very good idea, and they have skin in the game. Even if Kristof doesn’t know that, the experts he cited should.
Toward the end of his article, Kristof says, “Granted, everything I say here may be wrong.” That’s the proverbial disclaimer that’s intended to insulate him from criticisms such as this, but I want to be perfectly clear: Kristof’s opinion about the efficacy of an attack on Iran isn’t the issue here. His declaration that there are no reasonable voices on the other side of the debate is. That premise is blatantly false and misleading, and it’s the lynchpin of his argument.
Serious people need to grasp these fundamental facts even if Kristof doesn’t: Iran’s leaders have threatened to wipe Israel off the map; they have funded and provided weaponry to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad to name just a few so they can foment terrorist attacks against Israel before the big campaign begins; they have developed long-range missile capabilities; they are developing nuclear capabilities as fast as they can; and many experts believe that Iran is just months away from having deliverable nuclear weapons. It is ludicrous to suggest that there are not numbers of experts who believe that these developments represent imminent threats to Israel’s survival that should be met with force post-haste.
As a tangentially related aside, I am still waiting for Kristof to write a follow-up to his article titled “We are all Egyptians” now that Islamists have taken control in the Land of the Pharaohs, and they are moving toward abrogating Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. His foresight in February 2011 was no better than it is today. Why can’t left-wing journalists like Kristof admit that there are other perspectives besides the ones they cling to? It makes me believe that they live in another world — not a better world, mind you, but an alternate universe.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.