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Time Magazine's Joe Klein

Ronald Radosh

Joe Klein of Time magazine can be a knowledgeable and talented commentator on the American political scene. But when it comes to discussing the crisis in the Middle East, the situation in Iran, and Obama’s foreign policy, he is like his journalist colleague Roger Cohen at the New York Times — nothing but the mullahs’ useful idiot. Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe today, Klein said the following (listen to his harsh tone of voice in the video, referring to Bibi Netanyahu’s statement yesterday that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel”):

I don't think I've ever, in the 40 years I've been doing this, have heard of another example of an American ally trying to push us into war as blatantly and trying to influence an American election as blatantly as Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party in Israel is doing right now. I think it's absolutely outrageous and disgusting. It's not a way that friends treat each other. It's cynical and brazen.

It is not cynical or brazen for the president of the United States to use a flimsy excuse (that he won’t be in New York City at the time) to not meet with Netanyahu, but to Klein it is an outrage and provocation for Netanyahu to show concern about how close Iran is coming to becoming a nuclear power, despite the ineffective boycotts and pressure. Klein went on to call those who favor any form of war with Iran people on a “fool’s errand,” and argued that to fight or bomb Iran would be “a ridiculous war.”

As Klein sees things, the Revolutionary Guards who control 30 to 40 percent of the economy are desperately hurting because of the sanctions and will soon not be able to buy weapons. As he continued to speak in a 12-minute segment of the program, Klein continued to make a fool of himself. If Iran goes nuclear, he argued, containment would work. Why? Klein’s answer: “They don’t want to have their country destroyed by nuclear weapons.” Iran, after all, is a “real country.” As we all know, real countries are all rational, despite an irrational leadership. Klein has been to Iran twice, and that of course makes him an expert. Iranians, he said, are proud of their ancient civilization, and its people are “natural allies” of the United States. Moreover, personal experience has taught him that the Iranian people “love us.”

So what about the mullahs? Klein has another easy answer. There is a “mismatch” between the people and the nation’s leadership. There is, however, a real danger. That, if you haven’t already guessed, is the election of Mitt Romney, who backs Bibi’s desire to have the U.S. “do his dirty work.” Klein sees only dangers if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear plants. Iran would soon reconstitute its nuclear program, and bombing would serve only to “empower them to unleash Hezbollah,” producing total chaos in the Middle East.

Romney is a danger because, according to Klein, he would farm out policy to Netanyahu and would be his “puppet.” Acknowledging that the Iranian president is a “fascist,” he proceeded to say that, nevertheless, Iran was run by “extremists, not crazy people.” Hence he knows — possibly because they told him so — that if Iran goes nuclear, “they’ll have a deterrent” against any attack by either the U.S. or Israel, and he is convinced that they would never use the bomb “unless they are provoked.” Get that? Iran can provoke the U.S. and Israel all it wants, but the danger is only from those evil neocons like Romney, who would be responsible if Iran used its weapons because the West forced them to do so!

Hence, Klein assured us that there is no crisis in the area, only one “blown up” or manufactured “by a small group of people in this country.” Klein’s view is reminiscent, one must say, of Charles Lindbergh’s famous speech to America First before the Second World War, in which he said that the threat of war came not from Nazi Germany, but from the Roosevelt administration, the British, and the Jews.

Klein might find it profitable to read the recent blog post by The Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a man who knows a great deal more than Klein about Israel and the Middle East. Goldberg is no conservative, and hardly a supporter of Bibi Netanyahu. Goldberg writes:

It is understandable, though, why Netanyahu feels anxiety about Obama; their relationship got off on the wrong foot over the Administration's public demand for a settlement freeze, and the lack of a follow-up plan when the demand went more or less unmet (the current mayor of Chicago, who was Obama's first chief of staff and the White House expert on Israel, didn't help by nursing a grudge against Netanyahu that dated back to the Clinton presidency).

And Netanyahu's specific anxiety is not unreasonable: The White House position is that the U.S. will keep Iran from possessing a nuclear bomb. It is fair to ask, as Bibi is asking: Does that mean you will let them have a warhead design, sufficient enriched uranium, and a missile system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, so long as they don't actually finish building the device and then mating it to a delivery system? In other words, what if Iran is only technically non-nuclear? What if it would only take Iran a month to put together a nuclear bomb from the moment the decision is made? What will you do then? And how will you know, for sure, that they are doing it? American officials have promised Israel and the Arab states that their intelligence is good enough that they will know when Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold. But obviously the record of the American intelligence community is not without its flaws (the same holds true, of course, for Israel, and the Europeans.)(my emphasis)

Klein might also take a look at the informative article in the new issue of The New Yorker by David Makovsky about the decision-making process in Israel that led its leaders to bomb Syria’s nuclear installation in 2007. Of course, Syria in 2007 is not Iran in 2012. But even during the Bush administration, Makovsky pointed out, the Israeli leadership (and Ehud Olmert, not Bibi, was PM) and the U.S. “agreed on the fundamental facts and risks,” but had “reached opposing policy conclusions.” Olmert hoped the U.S. would lead the attack, but George W. Bush refused. Bush, however, unlike Obama, never “did suggest that the U.S. would block Israeli action.” There was no red light given to Israel by Bush.

Israel, as we know, acted unilaterally and decided it had to stop Syria from going nuclear. Remember also that in this era Assad was widely viewed as modern and a “reformer.”

Makovsky cites the central dilemma facing Israel today. Does the Begin doctrine, as the Israelis call the policy of not letting Israel’s opponents obtain the power to destroy the Jewish state militarily, apply? As Makovsky writes: “The pressing question today is whether the lessons of that success can be applied to Iran, which has insisted, against all evidence, that is nuclear ambitions are limited to civilian purposes, and whether Israel and the U.S. view the threat the same way.” He quotes Olmert, who is an opponent of Likud and Netanyahu, as saying: “Israel cannot tolerate an enemy with militarized nuclear power. We did not tolerate it in the past, whether it was in Iraq or Syria, and we cannot tolerate it in Iran.” Joe Klein should take note. Olmert cites not the Mullahs or Iran’s crazy president, but the chief of the Iranian Armed Forces, who said on May 20ththat “his country is committed to the ‘full annihilation of Israel.’”

So Joe Klein ignores this, because he saw some Iranians friendly to the U.S. in his two journeys to the country, and, like the appeasers of the 1930s who assured us that Hitler was sane and his rants could be ignored by all, Klein assures his TV audience that we too can ignore such statements as that made by General Hassan Firouzabadi. The real issue, as Makovsky puts it, is whether the United States has “sufficient resolve to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” Israel, as he puts it, cannot afford to be as patient as President Obama seems to be — and as gullible, deluded, and shortsighted as Joe Klein.

Certainly, as Olmert argues, an Israeli attack must be a last option, coming at a point in which no other way of stopping Iran exists. But Israelis and their leaders will make this decision on their own, as they did when deciding to stop Syria’s nuclear capability. So, as Ehud Barak said in July to Israel’s National Security Council, a nuclear-armed Iran “from the hour of its emergence- if it emerges-will be far more complicated, far more dangerous, and far more costly in human lives and resources.”

So it is not just Bibi and his “puppet” Mitt Romney who comprehend the serious nature of the situation if Iran goes nuclear, but Israeli leaders who are hardly supporters or members of Likud. In failing to comprehend this, and in using his pulpit and his influence to tell Americans they have nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran, Joe Klein truly deserves the title I have given him: The Mullahs’ Useful Idiot.

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