A conscious decision not to negotiate with Iran has the United States on the brink of yet another disastrous war in the Middle East, according to Dr. James Zogby, author, commentator and president of the Arab American Institute. Zogby spoke recently in Des Moines to over 100 Iowans at an event organized by AFSC and co-sponsored by several other groups.

“The winds of war are blowing,” Zogby said, adding that, “I think it’s less likely than a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, it’s a danger we’ll continue to face, and those who want this war [with Iran] will not give up very easily.”

Zogby began his talk by remarking upon the “tragic irony” of the U.S. war in Iraq, a war which was supposed to usher in a new American Century but instead dramatically weakened the U.S. and left it much less respected around the world. The aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – including dealing with the shattered lives of veterans – “will be with us a long time.”

It was a mistake to impose strict sanctions on Iran prior to serious negotiations, Zogby said. “The biggest mistake we made when we finally did engage was what we engaged on – and that’s the nuclear issue only,” Zogby said. This was an important victory for many in Congress, the Religious Right and AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Instead, according to Zogby, the U.S. should have been negotiating with Iran on a range of issues, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and we should have adopted an important recommendation of the Iraq Study Group by forming a regional contact group so that countries in the region could meet around a table rather than operating underneath one. “Everyone has an interest in stability in the region,” Zogby said.

Unfortunately, “political rhetoric in the US. is becoming hysterical,” according to Zogby, “with some candidates going so far as to say Iran represents an existential threat to America.” This overheated climate makes it very hard to argue that we should be talking with Iran rather than going to war with it.

The U.S. Senate is now debating an unprecedented AIPAC-sponsored resolution, SR 380, taking containment off the table and declaring that our only policy is war; a similar resolution on the House side has over 200 co-sponsors. Rep. Barbara Lee’s resolution urging diplomatic options, HR 4173, meanwhile, has only nine co-sponsors.

Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Area Program Coordinator and a lead organizer for Zogby’s speaking tour in Iowa, said, “I appreciated Dr. Zogby’s insistent message that public engagement can reverse the march toward war.” McQuillen urged those in attendance to heighten their work for diplomacy rather than war by contacting their U.S. Representatives to urge support for Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill, HR 4173, which insists that “diplomatic options need to be on the table with Iran." Iowans should also contact Senators Grassley and Harkin to urge opposition to SR 380, which pushes for war with Iran. One toll-free number for the Capitol switchboard is 855-686-6927.