Participants at an otherwise informative discussion on "Iran at a Crossroads" at the Senate on Wednesday seemed at pains to barricade the doors against the proverbial elephant being admitted into the room -- in this case, Israel.
This, despite the fact that the agenda virtually dictated that the elephant be allowed in. The cavernous hearing room also could have accommodated it -- however awkward and untidy the atmosphere might have become.
Otherwise, as was entirely predictable, the discussion would be lacking a crucial element. Which is exactly what happened. Which is exactly what always happens.
The tongue-tied impediment displayed by some of the presenters can be chalked up mostly to the all-too-familiar timidity on Capitol Hill to countenance candid discussion of any issue on which Israel can be revealed to be a fly in the ointment.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, obtained use of the hearing room for the organizers of the discussion, the thoroughly professional National Iranian American Council headed by Professor Trita Parsi. This is to Levin's credit, in my view.
At the same time, Sen. Levin holds the all-time-high record for PAC contributions from groups affiliated with the self-described "America's Pro-Israel Lobby" -- the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I'm guessing that Levin's office may have asked that some caution be exercised, so that it would be difficult for Fox News to misrepresent the proceedings as "Israel bashing."
Setting the Stage
In any case, a truly distinguished panel launched a discussion on "The U.S. and Iran: Back to Confrontation?" which Professor Parsi moderated. The panelists began by setting a fact- and reality-based context, which in turn raised hopes of a no-holds-barred discussion. Their observations included, or implied, the following:
-The status of the U.S. as the "world's sole remaining superpower" may have "turned a corner." In many key respects, China, India, Russia and Brazil now represent a rival "superpower" strong enough to thwart American policy objectives.
-The consequences of nuclear weapons proliferation in the general area of the Persian Gulf would be so truly ominous that "everything imaginable" should be done to head it off.
-The main "positive" of robust sanctions against a country like Iran is simply that those who impose them can feel good. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to target sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps without hurting the Iranian people at large.
-The experience of the past several years demonstrates that the U.S. and Iran share -- and can act on -- a range of common interests (in Afghanistan, for example). Neither country would profit from hostilities involving Iran.
-Iran is nowhere near a nuclear weapon, so there is time to reconsider what guarantees could be offered to Tehran to dissuade it from pursuing a nuclear weapons option.
-No member of Congress has set foot in Iran since 1979.
No Discussion of Implications
With these observations on the table, it was as if the doors to the hearing room were clanked shut and bolted, lest the Israeli elephant be allowed to intrude. And this, despite a palpable yearning in the audience for the panelists to address uncomfortable questions like: