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.

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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. I don’t think Russia and China would be troubled if we attacked Iran. Not that they want to see Iran attacked, but the damage it would do to us would fit their interests, in spite of the temporary spike in oil prices. That spike wouldn’t hurt Russia, and would cause some pain to China. However, that too would be short lived. Our decline would decrease long term demand for oil lowering the price for China.

    I never bought into the single issue conspiracy theory. I look for the Sundae theory, maybe some individual issue tips the balance, but it is usually just the cherry on top.

  2. The main political force behind the push for an attack on Iran is the Israel lobby and its right wing supporters, especially the Christian Zionists.

    Conspiracies happen, even in America. (On this subject the naivete of people like George Will — people who are by no means fools, but nevertheless see America as free of such sordidness — constitutes a remarkable feature of America’s intellectual consensus). But the idea that the Bilderbergers or the Trilateralists or Big Oil is pushing for war with Iran is ludicrous (hell, the U.S. military wants no part of a war with Iran). This type of thinking is what makes it easy to dismiss all conspiracy theories as the work of paranoiacs and fools.

    There is a push for war with Iran coming from the groups I mentioned at the outset of this comment. I would not, however, call this a conspiracy. The proponents of war are quite frank about their aims. Have they gotten together in secret and agreed on certain lies they will tell publicly to further their agenda? I doubt it. For the most part I think they actually believe what they say.

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