Now playing on PBS: Why America should support a nuclear Iran

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here

Click photo to download. Caption: "The Israel Lobby" author John Mearsheimer. Credit: John Mearsheimer.

Within America’s foreign policy establishment there exists a coterie of academics and former State Department officials who endlessly toil to sever the close relationship between Israel and the United States. They blame Israel for failing to solve its conflict with the Palestinians and portray the enduring conflict as the main source of instability in the Middle East. They disseminate their message that America’s credibility in the region is undermined by unqualified support for Israel.

The unfolding events of the “Arab Spring” have dealt a blow to their narrative. As one Arab regime after another is toppled from within, the supposed centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been exposed as false.

Rather than reconsider their fundamental beliefs about the region, these “experts” have seized upon the debate over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program as an opportunity to drive a wedge between America and Israel. Former Columbia University professor Kenneth Waltz introduced this new tack in his essay, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” (published in Foreign Affairs), which was quickly adopted by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, author of The Israel Lobby. They argue that the current effort to deny the Iranian regime nuclear weapons is the wrong approach.

America, they say, should adopt a new policy and welcome Iranian nuclear capability.

In their view, Iran is not the problem; Israel is. They contend that Israel’s alleged nuclear capability is, in their view, the source of regional instability. Mearsheimer and Waltz favor a nuclear Iran to balance Israeli power in the region and limit American adventurism. Their position is predicated on the surety that Iran’s theocratic regime will act rationally, like other nuclear nation-states. They do not address the repeated public threats by Iranian leaders to “erase” Israel “from the map,” or those leaders’ penchant for Holocaust denial.

Leave it to the taxpayer-supported Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to provide a forum for such a fatuous viewpoint. On July 9, the PBS “Newshour” program’s Judy Woodruff moderated a discussion with Mearsheimer and former Defense Department official Dov Zakheim over Waltz’s proposition.

Mearsheimer posited, “I think there’s no question that a nuclear-armed Iran would bring stability to the region, because nuclear weapons are weapons of peace.” He assured viewers, “They have hardly any offensive capability at all.” In that regard, Mearsheimer and Waltz point to the Soviet-American nuclear standoff. However, their superficial theorizing makes no distinction between Soviet ideology and the aggressively messianic beliefs of the Iranian regime.

Influential Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has already told us what the professors choose to ignore. 

“If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world,” Hashemi-Rafsanjani told a crowd at traditional Friday prayers in Tehran in 2001. According to the Iran Press Service, Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s speech “was the first time that a prominent leader of the Islamic Republic openly suggested the use of nuclear weapon against the Jewish State.”

The current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a religious fanatic who experiences visions, frequently advocates for the destruction of Israel. For example, on Oct. 26, 2005, in a speech to a “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran, he vowed that Israel “must be wiped off the map.”

Nevertheless, PBS takes Mearsheimer and Waltz’s hypothesis seriously. An interview with Waltz was published on the PBS Web site to accompany Woodruff’s program.

Some of the commenters in the PBS talkbacks were less impressed by the argument for an Iranian bomb. A few thought it was satire; but it was not.

PBS failed to provide its viewers with background on Mearsheimer. He is a proponent of the belief that a nefarious “Israel Lobby” exists in America that puts Israel’s interests ahead of America’s and dominates the discourse in Washington. He ignores 50 years of polling data showing that the American public supports a strong American-Israel relationship. He also avoids discussion of the influence of Arab petrodollars and a traditionally Arab-sympathizing foreign policy establishment.

On PBS Newshour, Zakheim refuted Mearsheimer’s claim that an Iranian nuclear bomb would enhance stability, predicting that proliferation throughout the region would likely follow. The Saudis, especially, are adamant that all options must be considered to end Iran’s program.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Mearsheimer and Waltz charge that Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons are a main source of instability in the region. Unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to use nuclear weapons, and over 40 years during which Israel allegedly possessed nuclear weapons, no Arab state produced its own nuclear weapons. Even the nuclear program under Saddam Hussein, which was ended by an Israeli air attack, could have equally been motivated by enmity and open hostility with Iran.

Mearsheimer’s assertion is further refuted by a review of the major wars in the Middle East. The Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf wars, conflict in Afghanistan, Turkish suppression of the Kurds and endless civil wars in Yemen, Algeria, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Libya were not connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the “Arab Spring” uprisings, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a non-issue.

Mearsheimer and Waltz’s argument only makes sense as a ploy to draw attention away from Iran and refocus on Israel as the epicenter of the region’s problems.

PBS has a noticeable soft spot for guests eager to cast a pall on the American-Israeli relationship. Woodruff exposed the muddled thinking of the network. At the close of the segment, she mused it was “a very tough subject.”

Of course, in reality, advocating for Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is an extremely reckless position. If moderator Woodruff’s summary of the discussion over whether or not Iran should have those weapons as “a very tough subject” reflects the general thinking in the network news operation, that is disturbing.

Even Mearsheimer concedes, “There is always some small possibility that there will be nuclear use.” But if the professor has miscalculated Iranian behavior, it is the residents of Tel Aviv who would most likely be incinerated. Talk about disturbing.

The writer is a senior researcher for the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.

Posted on July 29, 2012 and filed under Opinion, World.