June 13, 2009

Reza Aslan takes Chris Matthews to task for fear mongering on Iran. Matthews seemed positively flummoxed when Aslan pointed out to him that our own intelligence agencies have said that Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon, and that Iran might actually have a reason to be afraid of Israel. Matthews also seemed to have a lot of trouble understanding why those in power might want to hype the threat of Iranian nukes for political purposes. Imagine that.

MATTHEWS: Reza, what good does speaking the truth do -- and he has spoken it in terms of our relationship with Iran -- do to our relationship with Iran?

ASLAN: You know, he mentioned the CIA coup of 1953, which most Americans don`t know anything about, but which, I got to tell you, is like the core event, the ur-event of the 20th century as far as Iranians are concerned. It`s their revolutionary war, civil war all wrapped up into a single thing. And to hear a president even mention it, let alone acknowledge it in that way, had a huge effect in the cafes in Iran.

Let`s face it, you know, what Iranians want, and this has been proven over and over again -- just yesterday, a poll came out from Terror Free Tomorrow showing 77 percent of Iranians wanting to open up relations with the United States. This is not just about sort of a better international relationship with America, it`s about Iran`s own domestic situation.

As you know, the economy in Iran is on the verge of collapse. You`ve got a 26 percent inflation rate, you know, 13 percent unemployment rate. They need America in a way that they haven`t before, and it seems like for the first time in many, many years, both sides, both Iran and America, are ready. You know, in the `90s, Iran wanted to talk to America. America wasn`t ready. Later on...

MATTHEWS: Reza, You know, I worry about us facing a situation that could be horrendous, which is to have to choose between living with a bomb in the hands of the Iranian mullahs or -- I mean a nuclear bomb -- or going to war with them in a way that causes hatred for another thousand years, not just a decade or two. And that scares me.

ASLAN: Neither of those are likely. Neither of those are likely scenarios.


ASLAN: Well, as the IAEA itself showed, in 2003 Iran stopped his weapons program. That was a year before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- two years, actually, before Ahmadinejad was elected. And I think that, in a sense, you know, Iran wants nuclear power. They want, you know, a civilian nuclear program, and I think even the Obama administration has recognized there`s nothing to be done about that.

But Iran is a long ways from developing a weapons program, a weapons program, by the way, that is predicated on a sense of fear and a sense of threat, which Obama has taken away. I mean, Obama has said in no uncertain terms, We have no interest in a military engagement in Iran, the military option is off the table, which again has played a huge role in these elections because Ahmadinejad can`t play the national security card. He can`t say...

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. I`m getting a disconnect. We`re going to have another voice on this in a couple shows from now, or pretty soon, because people who care about Israel -- and I`ve talked to a lot of people out here on the West Coast who do, and I`ve talked to people back East about it -- Americans who watch this issue are afraid, and they`re not just Netanyahu types or Likudniks on the far right -- are afraid that the government of Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. You say it`s not?

ASLAN: Israel has been saying that Iran is a year away from nuclear weapons for 10 years. So at a certain point, we`re going to have to start questioning Israel`s intelligence and perhaps trust our own CIA, which has said that Iran is many, many, many years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

But more importantly, as we speak right now, you and I, Israel has an untold number of nuclear weapons pointed at Teheran and a government that has threatened on numerous occasions, Netanyahu while running for office, that he would use those weapons in a preemptive way. Look, I`ll be honest with you...

MATTHEWS: Preemptive way? You have just used double-talk. No Israeli has ever talked about using a nuclear weapon for an offensive purpose.

ASLAN: That`s absolutely not right. In fact, Bennie Morris wrote quite a popular op-ed about it in "The New York Times" a few months ago...


ASLAN: Bennie Morris, the historian and thinker in Israel. But also, Netanyahu himself talked about it repeatedly, that you know -- that those options are going to be on the table. Look, I`m just telling you that from an Iranian perspective, Iran feels threatened by Israel as much as Israel feels threatened by Iran.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me tell you something. Israel will never use a nuclear weapon in an offensive first strike situation because they`d lose their number one ally, us.

ASLAN: Of course they wouldn`t. Of course they wouldn`t. It`s all talk.

MATTHEWS: Well, then why talk about it?

ASLAN: Because it`s talk in the same way that Iran is all talk. This is for domestic consumption. You know how politics works, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, if I were living in Israel...

ASLAN: These are people looking for votes.

MATTHEWS: ... right now, I wouldn`t -- I would take it quite to heart that me or my kids or all of us would end up the target zone for Ahmadinejad the minute he has his finger on that button.

ASLAN: First of all, Ahmadinejad doesn`t even have the national security clearance to even look at Iran`s nuclear portfolio, let alone make any decisions about it. The president doesn`t have national security briefings in that regard.


ASLAN: But second of all, Iran by all accounts is so far away from the possibility of weaponizing its program that the best way to make sure that it never happens is to engage Iran now. I think Obama`s speech in Cairo, going back to where we started, was brilliant in that regard.

MATTHEWS: Look, I hope you`re right. I would love your optimism to be the case. I hope it`s closer to the truth than I think it is. But thank you for coming on, Reza. You know your -- you grew up in that country. You come there from there. I hope you`re right. Reza Aslan from the Dailybeast. By the way, I love the Dailybeast. Thank you for joining us tonight.

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