About Iran, The Atlantic, and... China

I have gotten a lot of response -- nearly all of it hostile -- to this item last night, in which I said that Jeffrey Goldberg's current cover story should not be read as a warmongering argument in favor of bombing Iran. And that the magazine should not be seen as endorsing such a policy.

I am on long-standing record as opposing a military "solution" to this problem. In general I believe that the U.S. creates problems far more often by being too quick to use military force than by being too slow. (Main modern illustration of "too slow": not bearing down faster and with more force on Osama bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002.) There is almost never a reason to rush to use force, or to create artificial deadlines. Not in Iraq eight years ago, and not with Iran now.  "Going to war" and "not going to war" are not six-of-one / half-a-dozen-of-the-other indistinguishable options. War is an evil to be avoided if there is any decent alternative. (It should not be necessary to say that, but...) On the specific issues of "rush" when it comes to Iran, this recent post from Arms Control Wonk is, I think, very illuminating.

I'm reluctant to follow normal practice and quote a number of reader complaints, because mostly they're about Jeff Goldberg's intention and practice. I will forward them to him and he can decide what to do with them. Instead I will add to the discussion this post today from the Sinocism blog, which says that U.S. deliberations over Iran have been truncated because they haven't paid enough attention to the role of China, which has extensive interactions with both Israel and Iran. Eg:

An attack on Iran would be devastating to China's economy and thus its political stability.... Israel has tried in the last few months to impress upon the Chinese the seriousness of their intentions to never allow an Iranian nuclear bomb, and the possible consequences for China in the event of an attack. To lobby China for support for tougher UN sanctions, Israel in April sent Major-General Amir Eshel, chief of the IDF's Planning Directorate, to "warn China of the international consequences of military action, particularly the potential disruption to oil supplies on which much of China's manufacturing and international trade depend."

There's more at that site, and this one, from the Jamestown Foundation, about the dilemma the Chinese leadership faces -- and the possibility that they could turn out to be the significant force for "peace." (Short version of argument: if the Chinese come to think that Israel really will attack, they might view the resulting war and turmoil as a dire threat to their national economic interest, and therefore really throw themselves into the effort to head Iran off by other means.) Worth reading to round out understanding of this issue -- which the U.S. should approach with utter seriousness and an utter refusal to be rushed.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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