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October 3, 2009

Obama has chance to keep peace with Iran

With Iran, it's starting to sound awfully like seven years ago, when Bush and Cheney were waving their swords at Iraq as their campaign of lies and deceit was under way leading up to the invasion.

It seems the only phrase we're not hearing is WMD for weapons of mass destruction.

Yet again, those of us who thought President Obama was the peace candidate can just shake our heads and wonder what happened and how we got fooled again.

So the United States and its allies seem to agree Iran has begun some secret nuclear activity that they fear is weapons-related. Iran admits it has a growing nuclear program, but insists it's related to energy production.

Israel, which Iran considers to be our 51st state, has subtly posed the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, so Iran tests some medium-range missiles as a show of potential response.

It's the stuff future wars are made of, and smells way too much like the months leading up to the Iraq war, which turned out to be a tragic mistake from which we've been unable to free ourselves long after no WMD were found.

The killing continues in Iraq despite or because of our invasion six and a half years ago. Obama has less than a year to keep his pledge that we'll be out of Iraq, with the chances of avoiding a civil war once we leave no better today than in 2003.

And now the top commander in Afghanistan says we need to send another 40,000 troops there, which would bring the total to more than 100,000. Obama already sent about 20,000 more earlier this year.

That would certainly fit into Obama's campaign statements that we should shift our focus to Afghanistan, where it should have been all along, rather than on Iraq. Today, however, is not 2003, and our years of lacking an Afghan focus have allowed our so-called enemies to regroup.

More American and NATO troops are dying in Afghanistan now than in 2001 when we first bombed and invaded.

In the wake of Afghanistan's fraudulent elections in August, even Obama's people are starting to question why we're fighting the Taliban anyway, when we really were after al-Qaida for planning all those attacks against us, such as 9/11.

Dealing with the 40,000-more-troops issue, Congress knows that people are about as fed up with Afghanistan as they are with Iraq, so some lawmakers are urging Obama to come up with some sort of timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In one recent poll, more than half of respondents opposed sending more troops and more than third wanted us to get out now.

Of course, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush-Cheney holdover, insists that the Afghan war is vital to our national security. Yeah, just like Iraq was.

Against that backdrop, now we have Iran and Israel shaking missiles at each other, the U.S. and European allies pointing swords and sanctions at Iran, and Iran saying, OK, come and take a look; we have nothing to hide; the nukes are for juice.

Unfortunately, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is less trustworthy than our last president, so it's easy to be skeptical. Unlike in the propaganda whirlwind leading up the Iraq invasion, however, this time around even our spy agencies are saying there is no evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons production since 2003.

During the presidential campaign last year, Obama was criticized by some for saying he would be willing to talk to and even meet with adversaries to work out differences without having to resort to military options. Some thought it outrageous that he would be willing to communicate with a Bush axis-of-evil country such as Iran.

Actually, it wouldn't be outrageous at all, and it is exactly what is needed now, before all the chest-beating and play-acting leads to a breakdown in whatever civility remains and ultimately to military action.

Obama can't be blamed, perhaps, for not yet getting us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but with Iran he has a chance to use his negotiating skills and follow through on other attributes that led so many people to vote for him, to bring about peaceful relations.

You know, too, that sometimes it's naive to be idealist and believe that some back-room, existential thinking and talking might help work things out among adversaries.

But I really think if we put all these major players out on some mountaintop on a clear night, so they all could just lie back and look out at the stars and universe beyond, and talk about what they are imagining, they just might realize that fighting and killing each other is not the answer.

It definitely could be more productive than sitting around big summit tables over bottled water.


Cary Brunswick, a former managing editor of The Daily Star, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at