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January 18, 2012 at 9:22 AM

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Iran a "mortal threat?"

My column on Iran, "Political posturing and Iran: What does it have to do us?" came out on the same day as Mark Helprin's column in the Wall Street Journal, "The Mortal Threat from Iran." Helprin portrays Iran as a kind of cancer that has to be irradiated out, by war. His plan for Iran is:

Massive ordnance penetrators; lesser but precision-guided penetrators "drilling" one after another; fuel-air detonations with almost the force of nuclear weapons; high-power microwave attack; the destruction of laboratories, unhardened targets, and the Iranian electrical grid; and other means, can be combined to great effect.

Mine is diplomacy, and if it comes to them having a bomb, to deal with an Iranian government that has a bomb by creating no reason for them to use it, and one big, overarching reason for them not to use it.

Helprin is a partisan of Israel, which most of our warmongers seem to be--the American supporters of Israel often being more fanatical than people in Israel itself. His biography, here, says he served in the Israeli miiitary. I have no loyalties to Israel; I can accept a Jewish state next to a Palestinian state, but my sympathies in today's situation are with the Palestinians. Set that aside. My loyalty is to the United States. And I don't see the American interest (or the Israeli interest, in the long term) in starting a war with Iran (or with anyone).

Helprin has a pile of academic credentials--higher and deeper than mine, to be sure--but he is essentially a novelist. He's a guy who works his imagination. He says, "Iran can sea-launch from off our coasts." And, "we cannot dismiss the possibility of Iranian nuclear charges of 500 pounds or less ending up in Manhattan or on Pennsylvania Avenue." Et cetera. Blah, blah and blah.

People could do a lot of things. I remember all the imaginations about what Saddam Hussein could do, and some of it, if I remember correctly, was from Helprin. Saddam Hussein could use chemical weapons, germ weapons, etc. In 2003 Saddam's army didn't have those weapons, but in the 1990-91 war, it did, and against the U.S, British and French forces, it didn't use them, even though our forces were attacking his.

I can hear the response. "You can't always assume your enemy will do what you want." Certainly. You have to be realistic. But Iran is not our enemy in war right now. We are at peace, just barely, with them. What Helprin proposes is that America start a war with them, that we make them our enemy, so that the stuff his novelist mind imagines won't happen.

Another thing. I'm all for debate and free speech; it's what I do for a living. I hate the argument that opinions should be squelched because they offend somebody. But Helprin's column makes me uneasy. It is publicly urging President Obama--and the president will read it--to commit a gross act of war against a foreign power. If I were an editor at the WSJ, I would not print such a piece. I would get op-eds from former generals and admirals of the United States, professors at the U.S. Army War College, or one of the elite U.S. universities. Not from this man. Not now.

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