On Monday night, the 10th bi-annual Munk Debate was held in Toronto, Canada, themed on the risks a nuclear Iran poses to the world. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and Vali Nasr were arguing that a nuclear Iran does not present a threat to the world, while Charles Krauthammer and Amos Yadlin were arguing that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat not just to Israel, but the world.
There was one main difference between the two sides: context on one side and the lack of it on the other. Zakaria and Nasr were arguing using parallels to contextualize their arguments, while Yadlin and Krauthammer adopted the standard practice of the warmonger lobby to give isolated examples, purposely out of context, to present seemingly logical, but ultimately false arguments.
The mutual agreement was that nobody wants an Iran with nuclear weapons, including Iran.
In practice, the debate is about how to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, either through a pre-emptive war or a sanctions regime, set in the wider question of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
The pro-war side featured a familiar soup of nonsense: Iran is an irrational, messianic regime bent on the nuclear annihilation of Israel, once again citing that infamous misquote of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Krauthammer was specific about backing up this particular point of view, while Yadlin, a retired Israeli general, could not help but be biased because he is a construct of his experience in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Needless to say, the sophistication and added value of argument went to Zakaria and Nasr. The ability to contextualize the failed experience of two Mideast wars that did not meet the objectives they were launched to achieve — democracy, stability, human rights — would suggest a third war will have the same results. Krauthammer went as far as to say that Iran and Israel were allies before the Iranian Revolution. While that is true, the esteemed expert conveniently omitted that that alliance was the product of a CIA coup in 1953 that the Iranian people do not necessarily see as very friendly.
In all but name, Krauthammer and Yadlin hinted they would prefer pre-emptive war as a containment measure towards nuclear proliferation by Iran, but they failed to find a counter-argument against the fact that doing it twice before has not worked.
Zakaria raised another excellent point: given time, regimes mellow out towards integration. Citing Mao’s China and the USSR and the hypothetical consequences of launching pre-emptive wars towards them, he made the case that both these regimes evolved and adjusted towards integration with the world system in one way or another. Conversely, striking them would have made them inherently unstable, reactionary and unpredictable. To Zakaria’s credit, the most recent example of a non-cooperative regime re-entering the global community is Myanmar; the point being, diplomacy eventually works and the resolution is always, without exception, ultimately political in nature.
One aspect I did not like was the classification of Iran’s regime as authoritarian and oppressive, which is ironic, given the Orwellian pet project and its attributes that we have going on this side of the world.
Overall, these debates were a timely refresher to what has been already said and rehashed, and did not provide anything substantial in the way of new thinking. However, it is nice to hear the voice of reason in supporting the non-interventionist point of view, favoring diplomacy.