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Ramping up for the next war?

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U of M professor William Beeman sees the U.S. press, AIPAC and right-wing think tanks agitating for an attack on Iran

By DAVID RUBENSTEIN

The U.S. media is setting up the public for a military attack on Iran in a way that recalls the months leading up the Iraq war in 2003, according to Middle East expert William Beeman, chair of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Anthropology.

Beeman spoke and answered questions for more than two hours on Feb. 11, at the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis. Middle East Peace Now sponsored the talk.

Speaking before a sympathetic audience, he declared at the outset that an attack on Iran would be “madness,” and he cited a number of Israeli authorities who more or less agree with him. They include the former head of Mossad, Israel’s CIA, Meir Dagan, who last year called an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

But right now, says Beeman, a wide swath of the U.S. press is promoting the idea through continual repetition of the claim that Iran’s nuclear industry is a potential stepping-stone to a weapons program — even though there is no evidence that a weapons program has been initiated.

“They have done very well,” he says, regarding the mainstream news media’s campaign to vilify Tehran. “Sit down next to someone on a plane, and ask what they think about Iran, and it’s likely to be ‘Iran has nuclear weapons and they are going to bomb Israel.’”

William Beeman: AIPAC has a completely unrealistic view of the interests of Israel. (Photo: David Rubenstein)William Beeman: AIPAC has a completely unrealistic view of the interests of Israel. (Photo: David Rubenstein)

It’s important to realize that Iran’s nuclear industry goes back 40 years, Beeman points out. “We sold it to them.” It took some arm-twisting, he adds. “We went to the Shah and said if you want to be modern nation, you must have nuclear power.”

Today there are compelling economic reasons for Iran to continue its nuclear program, according to Beeman. He cites 800,000 as the number of cancer patients currently getting radiation treatment in Iran. He notes, too, that Iran is the largest auto manufacturer in the Middle East and a producer of steel, as well as aluminum, which is particularly demanding of electrical power. At the same time, according to Beeman, in the current market it’s making more economic sense for Iran to sell natural gas to China than to use it for domestic energy needs.

The major push for the attack-Iran campaign, Beeman asserts, is coming from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the defense minister, and their interest is, in part, political.

The Israeli coalition government, fragile from the beginning, is now threatened by economic unrest, including street protests, “and nothing works like an outside enemy.”

But Netanyahu’s interest goes much deeper than electoral politics, according to Beeman. He sees in Netanyahu something of a Churchill complex, in reference to the British wartime leader standing up to a world of Chamberlains, or appeasers. Beeman argues that Netanyahu’s thinking vis-à-vis Iran can be traced back to 1996, when he sought and received advice from American neoconservatives, in the form of a document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It promoted regime change, starting with Iraq, then Syria and then Iran.

A similar strategy, with many of the same authors, was resurrected a year or two later by way of the Project for a New American Century.

According to Beeman, the idea of promoting regime change in Iran, whether by bombing or creating intolerable economic conditions, is a naïve fantasy. The early leaders of the Iranian revolution understood well that shakeups occur when dictators are toppled. As a result, he says, they set up a government that is “a miracle of baroque complexity,” with roughly 150 important decision-makers, staggered elections and interlocking offices.

Ahmadinejad, Beeman says, is a cog in that system; he should be regarded as something like a city manager, in a town that is run by a mayor and city council. In any case, according to Beeman, his threats have been overblown. Beeman maintains that the Jewish community in Iran, the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel, is relatively well off and free to travel, including to and from Israel.

Today in the United States, Beeman sees the push for an attack on Iran coming primarily from three groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Enterprise Institute and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. AIPAC has extraordinary power, he says, making it clear to lawmakers that if they cross it they risk a frontal assault at election time, in part by having campaign donations diverted to their opponents.

It’s not easy to say that, Beeman acknowledges, without opening yourself up to a charge of being anti-Semitic, or anti-Israel.

“My personal opinion,” he says, “is that AIPAC has a completely unrealistic view of the interests of Israel. They reflect only the views of its most rabid right-wing politicians.”

Beeman suggested that those in the audience support a better alternative to AIPAC: “It’s called J Street.” He’s a member himself of the group that bills itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” he says, even though he is not Jewish; “because I believe in J Street’s mission. I want the Israeli people to be happy and safe.”

(American Jewish World, 3.2.12)


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