The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, who has been attending the Herzliya Conference, has been displaying a striking vitriol for anyone who suggests that the Iranian nuclear program is anything less than an immediate existential threat to Israel. Today, her “Right Turn” blog contains a post titled “Can we live with a nuclear Iran?” in which she performs some impressive logical contortions to convince her readers that the West cannot possibly live with a nuclear-armed Iran.
First, Rubin takes retired Mossad head Efraim Halevy to task for suggesting that a nuclear Iran would still find itself at a military disadvantage against Israel, let alone Saudi Arabia or the United States.
What is distressing is to hear a former head of Mossad caution that we really shouldn’t talk about doing everything to deprive Iran of a nuclear weapon. (Halevy has made a post-Mossad career of feeding the narrative that Iran is much to do about nothing.) We shouldn’t imagine, Halevy says, that Israel and the U.S. would be at a disadvantage when Iran goes nuclear because Israel has always checked Iran. In fact, he says obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a bigger problem for Iran, citing how isolated North Korea is. Umm. But isn’t a tiny, impoverished North Korea holding the world hostage?
It would be interesting to hear how Rubin sees North Korea “holding the world hostage.” Yes, the DPRK continues to pose a challenge for South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the U.S. and the ongoing reports of famines and humanitarian disasters within North Korea are distressing. But it’s a real stretch to describe North Korea as “holding the world hostage.” By most objective measurements, North Korea has found itself cut off from the international community and, despite having a nuclear weapon, still finds itself dependent on China for fuel and food aid. It stretches the realm of the believable to suggest that the “hermit kingdom” is holding anyone, except perhaps its own citizenry, hostage.
Second, Rubin performs some rhetorical jujitsu to show that, regardless of how long it might take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, the international community should support the same hawkish policies.
Rubin unloads on Halevy and the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis for suggesting that Iran is actually suffering under international sanctions, and that it is far from holding the entire Middle East hostage.
In the Halevy-Katulis universe we are winning the battle against Iran. Oh, Syria and Turkey are linked at the hip; an Iran surrogate now rules Lebanon; an Iran surrogate wages war on Israel from Gaza; the Iranian regime terrorizes its own people; and Iran, while slowed by espionage, is still close to becoming a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state. How do they manage a world view that is so divorced from recent events? Most shocking, Halevy declared that Israel would not “die” if Iran got the nuclear bomb.
With this, Rubin could take no more and challenged Halevy about his statements that an Iranian nuclear weapon might not spell the end of Israel, and that the time frame is less important than those like Rubin might suggest.
Afterward, I asked Halevy whether, as he asserted, we had 3-5 years before Iran became a nuclear power. Following the departure of the most recent Mossad chief both the British and the Israeli governments hastened to reaffirm that the time frame was not so long. His answer was shocking: “What difference does it make?” I pressed on, asking whether a longer time framework didn’t promote a lackadasical attitude toward checking the nuclear threat. He insisted the facts — the amount of time we have to prevent Iran from going nuclear — really weren’t essential.
Let’s hope that the time frame really is longer. Let’s hope we have some breathing space to help promote regime change. But one should be suspicious of those for whom the facts are irrelevant.
(Why exactly is she suggesting that her readers “be suspicious” of Katulis and Halevy? Given Rubin’s penchant for applying labels—she famously described a group of respected foreign policy experts as “Israel bashers” and charged that American Jews have a “sick addiction” to the Democratic party—it would be useful to know what, exactly, Rubin suspects Katulis and Halevy of doing.)
With the New York Times’ recent expose on Stuxnet, many pundits celebrated that through sanctions, Stuxnet, various forms of espionage, and targeted killings, etc, the West appeared to have bought itself some precious time to develop both an engagement and containment strategy for dealing with Iran. Now, says Rubin, the extra time has “promot[ed] a lackadaisical attitude.” Would she have preferred if the Iranian nuclear program hadn’t been pushed back?
More importantly, Rubin’s portrayal of Iran as running roughshod across the Middle East is as factually inaccurate as her understanding of North Korea’s influence in Northeast Asia. None of the relationships between Iran and Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Turkey are new or have been strengthened by Tehran’s nuclear program. Indeed, if Iran’s leaders were to look to North Korea for a lesson on the consequences of pursuing nuclear weapons, they might conclude that the international isolation that occurs from such an endeavor is not worth the potential benefits.