The Atlantic’s Iran Debate . . . or Echo Chamber?

As we anticipated, Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic, “The Point of No Return,” laying out the neoconservative case for attacking Iran, is attracting a lot of attention and comment.  We are pleased that, as of this afternoon, our response to Goldberg is the top-ranked “Most Commented” piece on the Foreign Policy website and the second “Most Read” piece.  But we also noticed this morning, on The Atlantic‘s website, the following announcement by the magazine’s deputy editor:

This coming Monday, we’ll kick off a debate series on the issues raised in Jeff’s article, with Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations); Nicholas Burns (John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University); Patrick Clawson (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy); Reuel Marc Gerecht (Foundation for Defense of Democracies); Marc Lynch (The George Washington University); Gary Milhollin (Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control); Karim Sadjadpour (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); Robin Wright (United States Institute of Peace); Jeff himself; others here at The Atlantic — and, we hope, you.

This is a remarkable list.  In order to “debate” the issues raised by Jeffrey Goldberg’s article — above all, whether Israel and/or the United States should bomb Iran — The Atlantic is assembling:

  • a leading public proponent of an Israeli strike (Gerecht), who has also argued that the Green Movement could overturn the Islamic Republic;
  • a non-proliferation analyst who, before America’s invasion of Iraq, publicly ridiculed the International Atomic Energy Agency for failing to find the weapons of mass destruction he insisted were there and today regularly warns about “what we now know is Iran’s determination to build the bomb” (Milhollin);
  • one of the most prominent Iranian-American cheerleaders for the Green movement, whose analysis of Iranian politics over the last year and a half has regularly been at odds with reality (Sadjadpour);
  • a journalist whose expectations for the Green movement — she described it in late December 2009 as Iran’s “Berlin Wall” moment — also foundered on the shoals of reality (Wright);
  • the senior Iran analyst at a Washington, DC think tank founded out of AIPAC (Clawson), who is a public supporter of both regime change in and military action against Iran;
  • the overseer of Middle East policy at the National Security Council during much of George W. Bush’s presidency, who holds, like Goldberg, that Arab leaders believe that “someone should bomb Iran and stop it from developing nuclear weapons” and that most Iranians would not “rally around the flag” if Iran were attacked (Abrams);
  • the point man for Iran policy at the State Department during most of President George W. Bush’s second term, who forthrightly acknowledges that, during the three years he held this position, he never met an Iranian official (Burns); and
  • a leading student of Arab politics, who argues against striking Iran, but on the grounds that, “for all of the flaws in President Obama’s strategy, Iran today is considerably weaker than it was when he took office” (Lynch).

We are left wondering — what, exactly, is this group of people going to debate?

Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs.  Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy.  In September 2010, she will also take up an appointment as Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.  This article was first published in The Race for Iran on 12 August 2010 under a Creative Commons license.

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