On Attacking Iran, Lally Weymouth Won’t Take No For an Answer

I don’t follow the politics of the Washington Post’s Graham family, but Lally Weymouth (daughter of Philip and Katherine, mother of Katharine Weymouth, the newspaper’s current publisher) specializes in touring the globe, performing exclusive interviews with consequential world leaders, publishing them in Newsweek, for which she is a senior editor, and the Post, and thus helping to define conventional wisdom in Washington. Almost as much as her brother Donald, so far as I understand, she has contributed to the steady rightward drift of the Post’s editorial line over the past two decades, a drift that, in my view, made the paper one of the most influential, if often overlooked, “enablers” of Bush’s first-term neo-conservative foreign-policy trajectory in Washington.

It now appears that Weymouth is trying to “enable” an attack on Iran. Consider her latest interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah published in the Sunday Post’s “Outlook” section. While the king repeatedly warns that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process poses the greatest threat to stability and moderation in the region, Weymouth seems impervious to this analysis and instead keeps returning to Iran throughout the interview. To almost comical effect, she simply won’t take no for an answer. Consider the three Qs and As:

Q. Is [the] Annapolis [peace process] dead?

A. I’m actually very concerned since President Bush’s visit to the region, to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I think the peace process has lost credibility in people’s minds in this area. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in the region and is working very closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians to move the process forward. . . . We’re all very pessimistic at this stage.

Q. Do you view Iran as the number one threat in this region?

A. I think the lack of peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] is the major threat. I don’t see the ability of creating a two-state solution beyond 2008, 2009. [And] I think this is really the last chance. If this fails, I think this is going to be the major threat for the Middle East: Are we going to go for another 60 years of “fortress Israel,” or are we going to have a neighborhood where Israel is actually incorporated? That is our major challenge, and I am very concerned that the clock is ticking and that the door is closing on all of us.

Q. But aren’t you concerned that Iran is a threat both to your country and to other countries in the region?

A. Iran poses issues to certain countries, although I have noticed over the past month or so that the dynamics have changed quite dramatically, and for the first time I think maybe I can say that Iran is less of a threat. But if the peace process doesn’t move forward, then I think that extremism will continue to advance over the moderate stands that a lot of countries take. We’ve reached a crossroads, and I’m not too sure what direction we’re heading in.

But she’s clearly not satisfied with the king’s answers, and, after a few questions about intra-Palestinian politics, Iraq, Jordan’s own economic challenges, and the region’s interest in nuclear power, she returns to her bete noire, even as Abdullah insists on the primacy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Q: I remember a couple of years ago, you warned against the danger posed by Iran to moderate Arab regimes. Aren’t Iran and Syria the big winners today in this region?

A: If we look at what happened in Lebanon [last month when Hezbollah routed government-backed forces in street fighting to win major political concessions], I think the perception here is that that round was won by Iran and her proxies. We just have to be careful as to what happens in round two. Again, this is why I am so concerned about the peace process.

Then, after a few more questions about Hamas and Lebanon and whether Saudi Arabia might reduce the price of oil, she abruptly returns to and concludes with her idee fixe, like a moth to flame:

Q: So you’re not in favor of military action against Iran?

A: I am not in favor of military action against Iran. I think you’d be playing with Pandora’s box.

Q: So you’re willing to live with a nuclear Iran?

A: What do we mean by nuclear Iran? Some people are saying they have a nuclear weapons program, and some people are saying they don’t. The latest American intelligence estimate released a couple of months ago was that their nuclear program has diminished or stopped. Now the British-Israeli view of that is not as positive as the American one, so I’ve been told.

Q: The American view was that the military program was diminishing in 2003, but not that it had stopped. [Ed’s note: This, of course, is a very debatable assertion, since the U.S. intelligence community concluded last December that the military program had indeed stopped in 2003 and since re-iterated that view.]

A: I think that you need to engage with the Iranians. A military strike in Iran today will only solicit a reaction from Iran and Iranian proxies, and I don’t think that we can live with any more conflicts in this part of the world.

One of the most remarkable things about the interview is that Weymouth fails to ask Abdullah a single question about his views regarding the Turkish-mediated talks between Israel and Syria and whether he believes that Damascus can be persuaded to distance itself from Tehran if given sufficient concessions by Israel. After all, if she is persuaded that Iran poses the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the region, then Israel’s engagement with Syria — which could result in an unprecedented summit between Olmert and Assad in Paris next month — could be critical to reducing that threat. But she doesn’t even raise it.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.