"If there's one thing you take away from today's talk, I hope it's that you need to get out there and get active," said Reese Erlich in a speech on the University of South Dakota campus sponsored by the Wm. O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership. "Do things that put pressure on the political system and stop this new attack before it starts."
Erlich reports regularly for National Public Radio, Latino USA, Radio Deutche Welle, Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio. He also writes for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune. He recently released a book titled The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and The Middle East Crisis.
Reese said that the Bush administration has either "made up or exaggerated all of the major claims about why Iran is evil and why we have to do something."
Two weeks ago, the White House said Iran is seeking atomic weapons despite comments from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency saying there was no proof for such an allegation.
Great potential exists for the people of the United States and Iran to be friends if only their governments were cut out of the equation, Reese said.
"In my three trips to Iran, we met with nothing but friendly responses when I would go out into the streets of all different types of neighborhoods," he said. "People were anxious to be interviewed because they wanted the American people to hear their views and what's really going on."
While its true that Iran has an oppressive, authoritarian leadership, Reese said many individuals in Iran are resisting the government in the hopes of reforming it. They are struggling for human rights and women's rights, among other things, he said.
"But they are very anxious that the United States not interfere with that struggle," Reese said. "Everything the United States is doing today is working to actually undermine the people in Iran who are trying to fight for freedom and democracy. The perception is in Iran that the United States is interfering in Iran, not trying to bring democracy or freedom."
He claimed that the U.S. is funding, supplying arms and training at least a couple of organizations, including a group headed by a former head of the Taliban, to carry out attacks in Iran.
"The irony here is, the United States is doing to Iran exactly what it is accusing Iran of doing inside Iraq, which is fomenting terrorism," Reese said.
He added that the three main arguments put forth for U.S. military strikes on Iran are without merit.
First, no proof exists that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, Reese said. Second, despite many accusations, the U.S. has failed to prove that Iran is supplying arms to enemy forces in Iraq. And third, Iran does not plan to eradicate Israel.
"If Iran was in fact such an immediate threat to Israel that it was going to launch a missile attack the minute it gets nuclear weapons, why haven't they launched a conventional attack on Israel?" Reese asked. "They haven't done it because it is not their policy … and they know it would guarantee the absolute destruction of Iran because Israel, the United States and maybe some European powers would immediately retaliate against Iran, kill the leadership and flatten the country."
If the U.S. does carry out military strikes on Iran, it would have devastating long-term impacts, according to Reese.
Oil prices will skyrocket far beyond where they are now, he predicted. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 25 percent of the world's oil supplies pass. Iranian leaders could encourage their allies to attack U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and Hizbollah could go to war with Israel.
"The good news out of all of this … is that there is a very fierce battle going on as to whether the U.S. should or should not bomb Iran," Reese said, referring to different factions of the Bush administration, as well as the many Americans who oppose such an attack.
Additionally, he said the United States has very little support internationally for such an action.
"I'm optimistic about the ability of people to stop this new attack on Iran," Reese concluded.
But he added a cautionary note about the danger of apathy.
"To do nothing … is to let those in power continue what they're doing," Reese said. "They don't need the active support of the American people. All they need is for the majority who oppose this government policy to do nothing about it, and then they'll proceed to do it."