Over 800 people crammed into the George Washington Masonic Temple in Alexandria Tuesday night to hear three panelists discuss the options for the U.S. in the case of Iran. The event was organized by Rep. Jim Moran, the long-standing Democratic incumbent congressman representing the 8th District of Northern Virginia. The forum was titled, “Is Iran Next?”
Most of the concerns expressed by the audience centered on the consequences of a U.S. military attack on Iran, noting that President Bush said recently that if Iran builds nuclear weapons, it could provoke “World War III.”
Moran, who has always been an outspoken opponent of the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Iraq, held a similar forum on national policy issues featuring Rep. John Murtha in early January 2006. That one drew over 600 to an auditorium in the Ballston section of Arlington.
This time, Moran brought Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and advisor to the Center for Defense Information, Dr. Trita Parsi from Iran, a diplomat, foreign policy advisor and author of “Treacherous Alliance, The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S.,” and Rep. John Tierney to discuss Iran. Danielle Pletka, a panelist from the American Enterprise Institute, pulled out the morning of the event.
In his opening remarks, Moran noted that with the Iraq invasion and occupation, “We near the longest U.S. war in history.”
But he said that going to war with neighboring Iran is a different story, still. Iran, he said, is “a 2,000 year old nation state where territorial integrity unites the vast majority of Iranians of all ethnic, religious and political persuasions. Any attack on Iran by the U.S. would unleash levels of violence in the tinderboxes of Pakistan, Iraq and the Middle East such as we cannot contemplate, to say nothing of the potential disruption of the global economy, with oil prices making $100 a barrel seem cheap, even as we head into winter.”
Moran described Iran as “radically different than its neighbor Iraq.” He said, “It is a nation on a potential trajectory of a sea change. Unlike almost any major nation, two thirds of Iranians are under 33 years of age. This is an enormous potential for change in a country with high rates of Internet access and satellite television viewership. It is a country transfixed on one side by massive U.S. troops and the total destruction of Iraq next door, while, since 2005, Iran has itself experienced massive capital flight, a precipitous drop in foreign investment, rampant inflation and increased unemployment.”
He said that one scholar told Congress last month that Iran has the least anti-American population in the Middle East. It is a country, he reiterated, “where territorial integrity unites the vast majority of all ethnic, religious and political persuasions with a new young generation poised to lead it to dramatic change.”
Moran urged the audience to ask, “Given the overwhelming majority of the next generation in Iran, what are the most strategic ways to reach this group?” He also proposed the following question: “Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Great Britain, France, Israel and North Korea all have nuclear weapons. What’s so grave about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon that President Bush might order a pre-emptive military strike to stop it.”
He expressed concern that where is a “drumbeat of rhetoric” coming out of the Bush administration now that reminded him of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.