Whose hysteria?

Dana Milbank thinks he detects “new levels of hysteria” in relations between the U.S., Iran, and Israel. But the only hysteria on display in Milbank’s latest “Washington Sketch” is his own and that of Seymour Hersh.

The U.S. certainly isn’t exhibiting new levels of hysteria. President Bush says, as he’s said for years, that “all options are on the table, but the first option for the United States is to solve this problem diplomatically.” The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is far from eager to see the military option invoked by either the U.S. or Israel. He says, “this is a very unstable part of the world and I don’t need it to be more unstable.”

The Iranian foreign minister isn’t exactly rattling the saber either. He has discounted the likelihood that his country will be attacked, and is touting the prospects for diplomacy.

Milbank duly reports all of this non-hysteria, and offers no countervailing evidence of any value. He notes that Iran has talked about closing down shipping lanes and that the U.S. has said this would be an act of war which would require a military response. This is old hat. Iran makes this threat from time-to-time, and the U.S. has never suggested that it would let such action stand. To make such a suggestion would be quite odd.

Milbank also cites the views of Liz Cheney, the Vice President’s daughter. But putting to one side the obvious fact that she does not speak for the administration, her statements on Iran to the Center for Strategic and International Studies simply reiterated, if forcefully, that the use of force should be on the table. (Milbank, of course, presents no argument or analysis in favor of taking the use of force off the table. Milbank doesn’t do argument or analysis; he does snark).

The main basis for Milbank’s hysteria is an article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh suggesting that Israel and the U.S. may be planning to attack Iran. But as Max Boot shows, Hersh’s reporting here is based on “misunderstanding, or outright deception.” Hersh bases his claim that large-scale military action is being planned on reports that the U.S. has undertaken a covert action program in Iraq. But, says Boot, “it’s far more likely that such a program, if it exists, is designed to be a substitute for military action.”

There is a serious possibility that Israel, a nation Iran has talked about destroying, will launch an attack. That serious possibility has existed for years and, absent a change in Israel’s government, it increases very slowly but very steadily as Iran moves towards developing nuclear weapons. However, David Hazony makes a pretty good case that the struggling Olmert government isn’t likely to launch a strike before the American presidential election takes place in November. It seems to me that if McCain wins, Israel won’t be in a rush to attack after the election either. If Obama wins, however, Israel may feel it has a limited window in which to act with U.S. cooperation.

In any event, the fact that Dana Milbank couldn’t find a good congressional hearing, i.e., one in which an administration official is being harassed, to report on yesterday doesn’t mean that the likelihood of an Israeli or U.S. strike has changed appreciably in recent days.

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