One of the most troubling aspects of all the media coverage of an attack on Iran is that it can make a radically destabilizing act of unprovoked war seem like just another policy choice.
I thought of this when I saw a PBS NewsHour segment (3/28/12) that set out to ponder the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran. PBS reporter Margaret Warner oddly framed Israeli public opinion this way:
Though the Iranian regime has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, recent polls in Israel show only 19 percent would support their government attacking Iran unilaterally.
Hearing that, you might wonder why there's a segment of Israeli society that doesn't support their own self-defense. It's not clear what Iranian vow Warner might be talking about (presumably not their pledge to not develop nuclear weapons). It's possibly a reference to the contested translation of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comment about wiping Israel "off the map." Or it could be a reference to more recent comments from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He called Israel a "cancerous tumor" in February, and vowed to support those fighting Israel. Given that the Israeli government is openly speaking about the need to attack Iran sooner rather than later, and does not exactly deny a role in the killings of Iranian scientists, one could just easily be talking about Israeli belligerence. But that's rarely the subject.
Then look at the experts PBS lined up to talk about Iran: Hawkish Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg (who served in the Israeli army), a Columbia University defense analyst who speaks of Israeli weapons capabilities ("The Israelis have a really robust military capability"), an analyst from the right-leaning Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a fellow at the right wing American Enterprise Institute (who says that if Iran were attacked it would "depict itself as a victim of Israeli aggression").
To the extent that there's any debate at all, it's mostly about whether or not Iran will retaliate, and where. And then there is some talk about the technical difficulties for Israel in successfully carrying out this massive unprovoked act of war (something we've discussed before).
Goldberg sees the possibility of an accidental escalation from Iran–"one hyperactive commander acting on his own to ram or try to ram a U.S. ship"–and it is there that the segment closes, with Warner saying, "It is just this unpredictability that keeps Washington policymakers and many Israeli citizens up at night."
The calculations and worries of Beltway insiders and Israeli political leaders are well-represented here–but very little else. It'd be nice for discussions about launching a war to include some voices from outside those elite circles–especially when the discussion is happening on public television.