Reagan Realist Calls Attacking Iran “Craziest Idea of the Century (So Far)

Responses to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article on the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran’s alleged nuclear facilities has taken the blogosphere by storm. One of the individuals to add his voice to the debate is Jack Matlock, a retired U.S. diplomat who served as Ronald Reagan’s hand-chosen ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 until 1991.

Matlock, who titles his blog post, “Bomb Iran? Craziest Idea of the Century (So Far),” makes the case that a bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities would choke off a significant portion of the world’s oil supply, fail to ensure that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon, turn the Muslim world against the United States to an even greater degree, and help hard-line Iranian leaders.

Matlock, along with most realists who have entered into the debate, appears to share a consensus mindset that an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran would fail to achieve any definable objective and hurt U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East.

Matlock writes:

Those of us spending our August out in the boonies may have missed the blog frenzy emanating from Washington the past few weeks predicting that Israel is insisting on bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities to remove an “existential threat.”  If the U.S. is not willing to do so, the story line goes, Israel will have to do the job itself. The blog hysteria took wings when the Atlantic magazine published an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in its September issue which portrayed the Netanyahu government as irrationally bent on bombing the Iranian nuclear sites.

Such an action would border on insanity, as, apparently, American military leaders understand. Both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it is reported, strongly oppose any U.S. support for an attack on Iran.  The results, in fact, would be disastrous since Iran has the capability to close the Straits of Hormuz to shipping, thus choking off a major portion of oil exported to world markets.

It also would not ensure that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapons capability.  An attack on Iran would be viewed in most Islamic countries as an attack on Islam.  Under such conditions, the security of Pakistan’s weapons could not be assured.

Therefore, an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities not only would fail to achieve any rational objective, but would actually produce a greater threat than the one it was supposed to eliminate.

Most likely, hard-line Iranian leaders like Ahmadinejad would actually welcome an Israeli attack. It would strengthen their hand against the democratic elements who believe (rightly) that the last election was stolen.  It would allow Ahmadinejad  to rally much of the Islamic world against the U.S. and Israel and greatly increase the threat of terrorist attacks within the U.S.

The resolution now making its way in Congress to encourage an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is sheer idiocy.  Truly, its sponsors know not what they do! It may seem a cheap bone to throw to ill-informed constituents, but it is truly dangerous.  It just gives more apparent justification in Iran for the necessity of getting hold of the bomb, lest it be invaded like Iraq was (to the delight of the Iranian hard-liners!).

Iran, even with nuclear weapons, does not pose an existential threat to Israel, as fanatics claim.  Iran’s leaders, though unprincipled hoodlums, are not suicidal and Israel’s reported hundred or so nuclear weapons are sufficient to pose an existential threat to Iran.

I do not believe that Bibi Netanyahu is as deranged on this issue as Jeffrey Goldberg pictures him. He is a master manipulator, and I believe that he and his Likud-minded colleagues are using the issue to distract attention from Israeli policies that are making the peace process impossible: the continuation of settlement activity in the West Bank and the illegal isolation of the Gaza strip.  These are policies that make a true settlement with the Palestinians impossible. They are policies that empower Iranian diplomacy in the area, even in Arab countries  which traditionally fear Iranian influence.

The most serious existential threat to a Jewish state in Palestine comes from the policies of the existing Israeli government. All the bru-ha-ha about an alleged “existential threat” from Iran is most likely designed to deflect U.S. and world attention from that fundamental fact.

Among the many comments on this issue, I would recommend in particular those by Gary Milhollin, by Robert Wright in the New York Times Blog, and by Arnaud de Borchgrave.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. John Prine anyone? “…all the news just repeats itself, like some forgotten dream, that we’ve just seen”

    Did everyone read this article in Haaretz?

    One of the questions that the poll presented was “Does the U.S. need to support Israel?” In August of 2009, 63% of Americans polled said that the U.S. does need to support Israel. In June of this year, 58% of respondents shared the same view; by July only 51% of respondents said the U.S. needed to support Israel.

    Another question posed by the pole was “Is the Israeli government committed to peace with the Palestinians?” In December of 2007, 66% of respondents said that the government, then led by Ehud Olmert, was committed to peace with the Palestinians. In June of 2009, a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House, only 46% of Americans said they believed the Netanyahu government was committed to peace.

  2. Jack, baby, I luv yuh. More and more grownups are speaking out. The tide is turning against war.

    Very apt to render in bold Matlock’s view of the true “existential threat” to Israel. It’s so true. Will the Israelis admit this to themselves before it’s too late? I dunno, but more and more I have the feeling that forces are at work that will deliver not a perfect solution, and probably not a just one, but something that will prevent the worst from happening, and that may over time lead to something approaching justice. It’s just a feeling, I admit.

  3. There is no legal reason for military action against Iran, or really for any U.N. sanctions. Why? Because Iran has totally complied with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has ‘passed’ all International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. The U.S. has a counterproductive policy regarding the IAEA, in that the US is the biggest donor to the IAEA, but complains that the IAEA inspectors are missing Iran’s supposed clandestine nuclear weapons program. State Dept’s Fact Sheet
    of Apr 28 this year on “Spirit of Prague: America’s Commitment To Seek the Peace and Security of a World Without Nuclear Weapons”, claims that the elements of U.S. strategy are:
    ‘The United States supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its underlying bargain consisting of three basic pillars: countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; countries with nuclear weapons will pursue negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament; and every nation can access peaceful nuclear energy under appropriate safeguards. Our objective: bolstering the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime, including its verification and compliance mechanisms.’ But while Iran works hard to comply, the U.S. gives billions in aid to the only three countries that haven’t signed the NPT: Israel, India, and Pakistan. The U.S. even signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India. In summary, the U.S. is largely ignored by the world community for such hypocrisy.

  4. There’s one other principle of the NPT that you didn’t mention. Most of all Nuclear powers must not threaten non nuclear powers with Nuclear weapons. By leaving “all options” on the table we void the treaty’s basic premise. So, that has us in violation of every principle of the treaty–ahhh American exceptionalism savor the hypocrisy.

  5. Not a comment but a question: I wonder who or what Pulse readers see as the main political force behind the push for the US to attack Iran, or to come to Isreal’s support if that entity launches such an attack.

    Some posters on another online forum posit that this push for a First Strike emanates from “the Bilderbergers”, or from that group plus the Trilateral Commission, the “Illuminati”, the Bohemian Club, and similar old-line “our sort” WASP inhabitants of “Super-Rich” circles linked to Big Oil and US industrial capitalism.

    Others, basing themselves to an extent on Prof Walt and his colleague Dr Mearsheimer, contend that the “Israel Lobby” is the primary factor, and that in fact US petroleum interests take a dim view of the possibility that what Jeffery Goldberg urges so passionately might come to pass.

    I have an opinion, of course, but it’s mainly based on “Kremlin Watching” applied to the US imperial state; I would like to find evidence more solid and comprehensive than I have so far.

    ??? Thanks:)

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