Bob Dylan and Ayatollah Khamenei

In Bob Dylan’s 1963 song “Talking World War III Blues,” he dreams of being the last person alive after a nuclear apocalypse, then discovers that his shrink has been having the same dream, and so has most everyone else. Dylan concludes with a solution: “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.” If we are to avoid a catastrophe in the Middle East and beyond, it may be of supreme importance that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, be introduced to the dreams of his adversaries. For it is in the fevers of President Bush — and much of the leadership on both sides of the aisle in Washington — as well as those of most of the Israeli political spectrum that the danger of war is most vivid.

Of course, I’d be the first to insist that the converse is true, too — that if Bush and company were to properly understand the anxieties and ambitions of the Iranian leadership, the world would be a lot less dangerous than it is right now. But the track record alone should be sufficient evidence of the fact that if we’re depending on the ability of the current U.S. leadership to reason, empathize and understand the world as it appears from the perspective of his adversaries, we are in deep, deep trouble. As the ever-excellent Israeli analyst Daniel Levy suggests, it is vital for Israel, more than anyone else, to urge the U.S. leadership to engage in comprehensive talks with Iran aimed at finding a modus vivendi to avoid war. But none of us is holding our breath for an Israeli (or American) epiphany. After all, as Aluf Benn points out, in Israel it simply isn’t kosher to suggest that Iran is anything less than an immediate threat to Israel’s very existence. “Anyone who thinks otherwise does not dare speak out openly, at least not until it emerges that either there is a way to stop the Iranians, or that it is already too late.” (That’s not strictly true, of course: Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami recently argued that instead of a confrontational path, Israel should seek a grand bargain of coexistence with Iran. And just last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said bluntly that Iran is a substantive but not an existential threat to Israel, also urging direct diplomacy. Still, following Benn, it is safe to say that these grownup views are hardly the political consensus.)

In short, if we are reliant on the ability of the current U.S. and Israeli leadership to reason not with the empathy of the Dalai Lama, but even, say, according to the ruthless Machiavellian pragmatics of the Kissinger school, then many thousands of Iranians, Americans and Israelis face the prospect of a violent death in the not too distant future.

And the truly scary thing is that the Iranians appear to be banking on Washington making rational calculations. I’m not yet sure what to make of the resignation of Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on the eve of new talks with Europe, but most of the reporting I’m seeing suggests it is a sign that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is leaning more towards the confrontational positions of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than toward the more pragmatic positions of others like Larijani, who question the cost of pursuing confrontation in order to maintain uranium enrichment. There have certainly been many reports in recent weeks of rising tension within the regime in Tehran over how to handle the nuclear standoff. I’ll reserve judgement on the meaning of Larijani’s move until I can gather some expert opinion.

But I did find particularly disturbing the sense of the thinking in Tehran conveyed by the L.A. Times piece on Larijani’s resignation. Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz told the paper that “Iran’s leadership, watching oil hover near $90 a barrel, thought it had little to lose by taking a tough stance, convinced that the U.S. wouldn’t dare launch a military attack against Iran and risk sending the world economy into a recession. ‘Whether that is right or wrong it does not matter,’ Leylaz said. ‘That is how the Islamic Republic of Iran perceives the situation.’ ”

Oy. If these guys are thinking that the U.S. decisions are going to be made on the basis of what’s best for the world economy or avoiding a recession, we’re in serious trouble. I can understand exactly why the leadership in Tehran might find it difficult to believe that its counterparts in the world’s hyper-power, or, for that matter, in Israel, with its 200 or so nuclear warheads and its second-strike submarine launched cruise missile capability, and probably the world’s fourth or fifth best-equipped conventional military, would see Iran as a threat. Bush last week, with that trademark idiot-bully grin of his, was tossing around bon mots about World War III, claiming that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons in order to eliminate Israel. The fact that more sober heads in Washington and Israel pooh-pooh such hysteria may not matter when the decisions are taken: In Israel and the U.S., the political echelon is talking itself into a lather of hysteria which may, in itself, narrow their options for avoiding confrontation.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation as it perceives them, under the circumstances responsible leadership in Tehran has an obligation to understand the thinking of those who might launch military strikes on their territory. And to understand, also, that in President Bush’s fevered imagination, causing a recession (that may already be in the works regardless of the state of conflict with Iran) may be an acceptable price to pay for stopping what he perceives as an epoch-defining power-shift as a result of Iran attaining the ability to enrich uranium. Deranged as that reasoning may be, it may yet drive the U.S. to war. More rational voices may nonetheless prevail, of course, particularly those of the U.S. military all the way up to the Joint Chiefs (with the exception of General David Petraeus in Iraq, who appears to have been entirely conscripted by the neocon party of war), who correctly see war as more dangerous than even a nuclear-armed Iran. But the voices of rationality and restraint on the U.S. side will not be helped by Iran appearing to harden its position.

It’s high time the leaders on both sides got more acquainted with one another’s thinking, even followed Bob Dylan’s advice of dreaming more inclusive dreams.

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43 Responses to Bob Dylan and Ayatollah Khamenei

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  2. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Will try to comment later about another great post by Tony.

    But, first, I wanted to congratulate South African readers of this blog on the well-deserved victory of your rugby team. You guys were the best in this World Cup. No question about it. Well done!

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  4. Victoria says:

    Good one, though scary.

  5. Ed Carson says:

    “I wanted to congratulate South African readers of this blog on the well-deserved victory of your rugby team.”

    Thanks! But sad to say, SA rugby has already been contaminated with the virus of racism so adamantly spread by racist politicians who have managed to turn the vision of a ‘new’ SA into a new apartheid regime. So there is widespread belief among Saffas that this was perhaps the last glorious ride of the Boks for a long time to come, if not ever. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. RIP SA rugby!

  6. Paul says:

    This is terribly serious business as Arthur Silber has been frantically trying to tell everyone. It is made ever more serious by the fact that 75% of Americans now oppose Bush policies. We are all 75%, by his definition, evil and therefore fair game for destruction (remember, they are either with us or against us). I am certainly not alone in fearing that destruction in the USA will initially take the form of martial law, elimination of the vote and the loss of remaining individual freedoms. The failure of the Bush administration to abandon criminal activities is the other strong indication that he intends something cataclysmic. Otherwise his crowd will slowly be indicted, tried and convicted of war crimes… and that is not going to be allowed.

  7. Matthew says:

    Someone once said: irony died when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel peace prize. How else can one read curent events? The furor over Iran is opportunism. Our window to obtain control of the primary oil-producing regions is closing. Israel sees the rise of the new ME–the gusher of money going into Saudi, UAE, and Iran,–and knows that if America doesn’t reorder the neigbhorhood soon the Zionists will lose their local hegemony. Let’s not kid ourselfves: Iran is as evil as we need them to be…..Notice that we have just certified the Land of the 19 Hijackers as a partner in the War on Terror. . .What was I saying about irony?

  8. FredJ says:

    Tony K apparently believes Iran’s motives are harmless, that they don’t intend to build nuclear warheads and that if and when they do build them, they won’t give them to Hezbollah, Hamas or other terrorists.

    Tony believes all of this but in his lengthy column does not manage to offer us any evidence supporting his position.

    I would feel much better if I could believe that Iran is as harmless as Tony does, but he has not convinced me. What disappoints me is that he has not even tried.

    If Tony is correct and the Bush administration is heading the world toward war for no good reason, he has a responsibility to save lives by being persuasive. Calling Bush “Deranged” because he merely has a different point of view is not persuasive. In fact, it smacks of irresponsibility.

    Specifically, it is not deranged to believe recession may be an acceptable price to pay for stopping an epoch-defining power-shift in the world.

  9. David Winstead says:

    I remember everyone in the sixties reading Hal Linden’s book “The Late Great Planet Earth” and thinking the end is coming. It states the “US will be destroyed by a rain of fire.” This inevitably would mean nuclear missiles. We all thought it would be Russia or China, but with the Bush administration, it is probably an ally of ours trying to get rid of the world’s problem — BUSH and all of his followers, the fact that the rest of us get it is collateral damage. We have our congress to thank for that…they are too chicken to stand up to him.

  10. Rick J. says:

    Let’s be honest….how many enemies does the Bush administration have, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, North Koreans, Russians, China, Venezuela, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hamas, Osama bib laden, and my favorite, the insurgents. There are others but I believe I made my point.

    I hope I’m not included….hopefully …my govenment will see me as a patriot…and reward me for seeing and saying that something is wrong here in the U.S. NOT!

  11. Bernard Chazelle says:

    (Ed: not sure I understand your comment about SA rugby. Tony once told us about the racial divide between soccer and rugby in SA. But I still think I am missing something.)

    Now iran.

    Considering the serious points of contention between the two leaders at the outset (eg, Busher, Caspian sea), what happened between Putin and Ahmadinejad in Tehran is quite remarkable. (Anyone who doubts Iranian skills at diplomacy should study this meeting very carefully.)

    Re. Larijani, I can only guess… A longtime political rival, Ahmadinejad may have seen a golden opportunity
    to sideline him.

    I want to go back briefly to Bush’s astonishing comment about World War III. It’s one thing for Pod-the-Ancient to foam at the mouth about World War IV (couldn’t they at least agree on the number?), it’s something else for the guy with the finger on the nuclear button to do the same.

    But at least the ever-vigilant New York Times was there, on guard, ready to pounce and expose the terrifying lunacy of that comment.

    See for yourself.

    The Times did say that Bush was guilty of an “overstatement.” Overstatement?
    Oh yes, but that referred to his confession that he and Putin “agree on a lot of issues.”

    Now Mr President, don’t you go exaggerating things like that!!! Good thing the NYT caught you on that one!

    Thank goodness we have the paper of record speaking truth to power.

    Next, the World War III comment! That didn’t go
    unnoticed either. In fact the NYT illustrated its article with a photo of a mushroom cloud from the TV movie “The Day After.” That’s because the NYT thinks its readers have the IQ of a mushroom and the words World War III alone might conjure up in them pictures of Disneyland and cotton candy. Hence the required visuals.

    Once you get past that subtle hint, the Times informs you that “one reasonable conclusion was that Mr. Bush was not really envisioning a match about to light a nuclear fuse.”


    You see, there you thought Bush was envisioning a match about to light a nuclear fuse.

    Couldn’t be further from the truth: the NYT helpfully tells you that Bush is not REALLY envisioning a match about to light a nuclear fuse.

    So next time Bush says that he wants to eat the crushed skulls of dead Iraqi children for breakfast, the New York Times will dispatch one of its finest to assure its readers that Bush doesn’t REALLY want to eat that sort of breakfast.

    And the only reason the Times will feel compelled to say that is because, God, its readers can be such annoying nitpickers!

  12. Ed Carson says:

    Bernard, sorry I didn’t know you weren’t aware. No, I wasn’t talking about the soccer-rugby divide. I was talking about affirmative action (selecting players based on skin colour and not merit). Apparently the idea is to make the Boks ‘more representative’ (colour-wise).

  13. dass says:

    Uh I disagree Tony…somewhat..

    I dont think Iran is making the assumption that the US is making rational decisions. The Iranian leadership (at least their intelligence agencies) read the US newspapers. If you have been reading the newspapers just as much as I have, you will notice that Bush is determined to strike Iran (read Sy Hersh’s latest New Yorker article). Commander Codpiece believes that God has chosen him to do this hit job and him and his sidekick (or is it the other way around?) dont care what the consequences of this strike will be for the GOP in the upcoming pres elections. So if the Iranian leadership is smart they know Bush has lost his mind and is thinking at the level of a month old baby trying to get his or her diapers changed.

    The other thing is, cmon seriously, who can think this US admin is thinking rationally when they decided to blunder their way into Iraq? The Iranians know that it was a very IRRATIONAL decision on the part of the US although it benefited Iranians greatly. So I think the Iranians withdrawal of Larijani only shows that they have thought this out well ( i don’t think Bush even care if the world’s economy goes to hell) but the Iranians know that China and Russia will not allow US to get its hand at the cookie jar which is Iranian oil. plus considering Putin is hopping mad at the US withdrawal of the ABM treaty, the support of all this rainbow revolutions in its backyard and now the deployment of missiles on the ever servile Czechs and Poles territory. There is no way Putin will let US do anything to Iran unless US compromises. Plus now all these ex-generals like Sanchez are braying at how this admin mangled the Iraq war, Iranians are hedging that the US public is in no mood for anymore war. The wildcard in all this is . what will the Turks end up doing. If they decide to enter and attack the Kurds, there is no way the US will be able to start another war. But then if US sides with the Turks, the Kurds may end up making problems for US..who knows?

    Having said all this, Bush will most probably strike Iran soon and probably start WWIII. But I think the Iranians have their bases covered.

  14. dass says:

    another thing…regd these Turks…

    Maybe I have been reading too many Sy Hersh’s articles, but where are the Israelis in all this? Arent they training the Kurdish peshmargas to go into Iran and create trouble? aren’t they in bed with the Kurds? Sy Hersh mentioned that this was the case, that they Israelis had become good friends with the Kurds.

    What perplexes me is..why?? I mean the Turks are Israelis best friend in the Middle East. Their armies and intelligence agencies work together all the times and they practice war games and stuff? Dont you think the Israelis could tell the Kurds..hey cut it out dont bug our friends the Turks…can any maybe help me out with this? Tony? Bernie?

  15. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Dass: Re. the Turks and the Kurds, the Israelis have been walking the tightrope for a while now. Their interest in a Turkish alliance is ancient and strategic. The Kurdish overture is more recent and opportunistic. I think they do it mostly to gather intelligence (about Iran and Syria): Israel has a large Kurdish population, which makes recruiting informants a triviality. No doubt the Israelis are getting worried about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq (that’s what the current tension really is all about). But I think Sy Hersh overplays the subversive power of Israel in Kurdistan. Yes the Mossad is recruiting and providing training. Yes, some destabilization in Iran and Syria would please Israel. But, let’s be real. The Israelis have nothing to teach the Peshmergas when it comes to guerrilla warfare.
    I think one tends to overestimate the power and reach of Israel. It is still –despite what one hears– a very small country, albeit one well-armed.

  16. Tony says:

    Yes, agree with Bernard, this is all in keeping with Israel’s policy of seeking alliances with the non-Arab peoples of the region — Turks, Persians, and Kurds. And it’s not hard to see why they would be prepared to treat each as a Bismarckian spoke in a wheel. And agree with Bernard that this will be primarily directed against Iran and Syria — the latter, of course, finds itself in a rather ironic position, backing Turkey to the hilt now against the PKK after almost having been invaded by Turkey in the late 1990s because Syria was using the PKK as a proxy chip (allowing its leadership to be based in the Bekaa Valley) in its conflict with Turkey over water resources… You could make an arch-Machiavellian case that an upsurge of PKK activity strengthens the hand of Turkey’s military against the ruling Justice and Development Party (and Israel obviously prefers the “deep state” of the military to the moderate Islamists of Erdogan’s party), but I doubt whether the Israeli agenda is that astute…

  17. dass says:

    well yeah I suppose the Israelis are walking a tightrope here. but my point was that they could actually be a positive influence here, trying to convince the Kurds thats its not in their best interest to try to pick a fight with the Turks, especially when the whole region is already up in flames.
    but also, of course the Israelis dont have much to teach the pershmargas about guerilla warfare. but i think they sure are arming them with good weapons and money et al, and building intelligence bases in the kurdish areas. But i tend to agree with your overall point, otherwise I guess the Turks would be a hell lot madder at Israel. I always thought maybe they were quiet because they need Israels and US support for EU entry, so maybe they tolerated the actions of these kurdish militants. but now it looks like that EU thing isnt going anywhere for turkey and sarkozy is determined to stop them from becoming part of EU ( not to mentioned the french politicians prancing with the whole armenian genocide declaration thing to piss Turkey off). so with PKK attacking Turks and the EU option going nowhere, I think you will now see Turkey asking nation states to show where their loyalty lies ( and that could worry Israel if it gets too close to PKK)

  18. dass says:

    yup, i totally agree with Tony regd the whole Turkey military point. In fact, I cant help but feel the Turkish military cant wait to start a war with the PKK, if only because it will give them an opportunity to sideline Erdogan’s party and take control of the country affairs in the name of national security. I dont think Israel has anything to worry about either way because Erdogan wants Turkey to join EU as much as the Generals do, and there is no way the Islamic party could do anything to damage relations with Israel lest they lose that chance to join EU

    its funny though..Turkey’s biggest ally, the US, has done more to damage Turkey’s view of the West than Israel could ever have done, thanks to Commander Codpiece (lets face it most Israelis are westerners anyways)

  19. ASA says:

    When Bush said the world has to contain Iran from getting nukes in order to avoid WWIII – did he mean, if Iran gets close to the technology, he himself is going to start the war by hitting Iran? :))

    And if he really starts it, and world economy takes a tailspin – won’t Cheney and the Gang still make a lot of money with oil barrels selling in the hundreds? So why should Bush care about world economy, as long as oil economy is up and flying?!!!

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  21. Doug Kellam says:

    I agree with ASA about Cheney and co. They have calculated that they can survive any political and economic chaos flowing from a strike on Iran and make trillions for themselves and their class in the bargain.

  22. Cary Krosinsky says:

    how ironic, this analysis on the same day Bob shills for the Escalade

  23. Paul says:

    Putin’s determined resistance to the neo cons NWO and grab for hegemony in Eurasia is the wild card in all of this. After all, Iran, with no nukes, and, according to the IAEA, no such program, is not a serious challenger against Israel or the US ot the west generally.

    No, this is the old great game. Iran is now openly an observer, but allegedly actually a memeber of the SCO. As thing stand, Russia, in the event of a conflict, will have to use its nukes or lose them. Putin will never allow that. Anyone see Scott Ritters piece here?;

    Having survived the madness of the cold war, we are now once again at the brink of the destruction of our planet, and many of the people on it. The crazies in Wasington, having seen the end of the cold war with the demise of the Soviet Union, decided to take over the world. God help us, the luatics have taken over the asylum.

  24. David says:

    The oft quoted Bob: “The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
    He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.
    He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin,
    He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
    He’s the neighborhood bully.”

    Now, Ahmadinejad has had some interesting things to say recently –

    “The Zionist regime is the flag bearer of violation and occupation and this regime is the flag of Satan.”

    “With God’s help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine . . . By God’s will, we will witness the destruction of this regime in the near future.”

    “It is quite clear that a bunch of Zionist racists are the problem the modern world is facing today. They have access to global power and media centers and seek to use this access to keep the world in a state of hardship, poverty and grudge and strengthen their rule.”

    Yes, Mahmoud – it’s the Neighborhood Bully.

  25. Doug Kellam says:

    A Cadillac Escalade? I think I’m gonna throw up.

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  27. Matthew says:

    Irony watch: Isarel sends people all over the world to convince people that the Iranian regime should be changed….and this is appopriate? The president of Iran claims that the Zionist Regime–which controls millions of Palestinians but does not let them vote–should be changed…and we are supposed to outraged?

  28. Jorge says:

    “No reason to get excited,”
    The thief he kindly spoke
    “There are many here among us
    Who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I
    We’ve been through that
    And this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now
    The hour is getting late.”


    Is it really, Bob?

    Yes it is, jr.

    Here’s what’s likely to happen. Bush will leave office with a warning to “watch Iran.” The new president, likely Hillary, will “watch Iran” but do little else. A war would ruin her within her own party. Iran will wiggle its way through Hillary’s one and only term.

    President Jeb Bush will then bomb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
    But if he doesn’t kill modern day Iran, he will only make it stronger and Armaggeddon will be on its way.

  29. Abdul Gani says:

    Ed said: “Thanks! But sad to say, SA rugby has already been contaminated with the virus of racism so adamantly spread by racist politicians who have managed to turn the vision of a ‘new’ SA into a new apartheid regime”

    Undoing the legacy of apartheid is the ‘new apartheid’! You are either shockingly ignorant of what apartheid was, a white South African, or both.

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