Author: Chris Iosso
Date: March 7, 2012
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Iran Bombing Threat: Creating a Mindset that Leads to War

By Chris Iosso, an editorial
Banner photo by “jonasjonas,” the chess of calculated rhetoric
Peace sign asking Who would Jesus bomb? (trick question)

Photo by Gary Cowles

The first thing one encounters in discussing the war drumbeat targeting Iran is the one-sidedness of the debate. Glenn Greenwald of Salon gives a quick summary on this point, and James Wall, former Christian Century editor, describes the same reality. This suggests that the talk of war with Iran, though helpfully called, “loose talk,” by President Obama in his Sunday, March 4, speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is actually quite deliberate and orchestrated talk designed to create a mindset favoring war. And even if this talk is a repeated strategy to distract the U.S. public from continued settlements or other Israeli political objectives, it continues to militarize U.S. foreign policy and affects our relations not just with Iran, but with the larger community of nations. In practical terms, it keeps us from building stronger alliances to deal with the crisis in Syria (for example) and revives a unilateralist mindset that disregards international law.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk’s letter to President Obama, sent on February 21, 2012, focuses on the basic Christian arguments against another Middle East war. He underlines the tragedy of war (think Iraq) and the lack of Just War or Just Peacemaking grounds for war. He does not emphasize what many Christian observers know: more unilateral attacks on Muslims and Arabs are likely to increase pressure on all Christian minorities remaining in the Middle East. It is heartening to see actions like Greater Atlanta’s that seek to address the longer term manipulation of U.S. opinion on Iran, as their overture will not be acted on by the General Assembly until early July.


This suggests that the talk of war with Iran, though helpfully called, “loose talk,” is actually quite deliberate and orchestrated talk designed to create a mindset favoring war.

Readers may remember Obama saying, as in a January 31, 2008, debate with Senator Clinton on Iraq, “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” Well, more nakedly than usual, the U.S. public has been treated to the spectacle of high officials and a lobby linked to another country seeking to propel the United States into another Middle Eastern war. The majority of those allowed into print demonize Iran and treat as natural the possibility of bombing a country that actually allows inspection of its nuclear facilities and is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. General Dempsey, Defense Secretary Panetta, and some Israeli former intelligence officials point out that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb. Israel itself is not a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, though is widely known to have a sizable undeclared nuclear weapons program.

Steven Walt, a political science “Realist,” analyzes Iran’s possible desire to have the capacity to build a bomb; having “capacity” has not merited being bombed in the past. The step beyond capacity to actual possession seems to be the trigger for war with Iran that the U.S. President has signaled, with the repeated mantra that “all options are on the table.” This is a position that ostensibly rules out containment—a successful strategy with the Soviet Union and a number of other countries for many years. It is a position that suggests that the Iranian leadership might initiate a suicidal war—though Iran has not attacked any other country for generations, unlike other nations that may come to mind. For Walt and Mearsheimer, the primary threat to Israel’s existence is not Iran but the continuing occupation of Palestine, which is changing the nature of Israel into a more warlike and exclusivist state.

Professor Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, analyzes the political and humanitarian impact of the sanctions on Iran. At a certain point, sanctions become an act of war, preventing rather than encouraging diplomacy. Commentators disagree as to how much sanctions harden opinion behind the Iranian leadership—leadership that was significantly weakened by a popular effort at Green Revolution in 2009—and soften the capacity of Iran’s middle class to take action. Despite President Obama’s words about “loose talk,” the tightening noose of sanctions puts millions of Iranian citizens under economic duress for foreign policy gains that are unclear, even for Israel’s Likud-led coalition leadership, which can boast of setting U.S. priorities in a U.S. election year. (Gideon Levy of Haaretz writes with surprise at Israel’s ability to set the terms for the debate in the United States, warning that the U.S. may eventually consider its own priorities. For the amount of U.S. military support to Israel, see the report by Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.)


Do you have two minutes to stop war with Iran?

The current March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine contains an article, “Clear and Present Safety,” that illuminates the overall exaggeration of military threats to the United States pervasive in U.S. politics and military spending justifications. Authors Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen maintain that despite political and economic insecurities, and a continuously stoked fear of terrorism, the U.S. is vastly stronger than any potential threat within “a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history” (p. 80). As for a threat from Iran, “then the U.S. can breathe easy: Iran is a weak military power. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s ‘military forces have almost no modern armor, artillery, aircraft or major combat ships, and UN sanctions will likely obstruct the purchase of high-technology weapons for the foreseeable future’” (p. 87).

Most U.S. denominational leaders had the courage in 2002 and 2003 to oppose the Iraq war, and they were proven right. That war, promoted by many of the same people promoting war with Iran, involved deliberate falsification of intelligence, actual ignorance of religious and ethnic dynamics, massive corruption and mismanagement, and led to thousands of deaths, a virtual failed state, and a rise in terrorism. The lessons of that war are simply being disregarded. However deluded the semi-figurehead President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be, his posturings do not equal an actual nuclear weapons program. They point to a nuclear enrichment program that is a symbol of national pride in a world that still celebrates nuclear power and allows nuclear weapons to proliferate. On the other hand, if we simply want the price of oil to rise and weaken the U.S. recovery—a clear political goal for some—then we should continue this deliberate war talk and continue to tighten sanctions.

ALERT: For those interested in an eyes-open trip to Israel and Palestine, there are spots available for May 18-June 2, sponsored by Trinity Presbyterian Church of Denton, Texas.

ACTION: Do you have two minutes to stop war with Iran?

Eight churches and faith-based organizations have urged Congress to oppose pending legislation which would push the U.S. away from dialogue, and closer toward war with Iran. Represented are the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Mennonite Central Committee, Disciples of Christ, Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Friends Service Committee, and Holy Name Province Franciscan (OFM) JPIC Office.

Check out the Coalition for Peace Action’s “No War on Iran” webpage and resources.


photo of Chris Iosso

The Rev. Dr. Chris­t­ian Iosso is the Coor­di­na­tor of the Advi­sory Com­mit­tee on Social Wit­ness Pol­icy of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church (U.S.A.) and the Senior Edi­tor of Unbound. His Mas­ter of Divin­ity comes from Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary and his Ph.D., from Union The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in New York City.

9 Responses to Iran Bombing Threat: Creating a Mindset that Leads to War

  1. Pingback: Another Anti-Israel Voice in PCUSA « The Reformed Pastor

  2. Chris Iosso’s excellent article is one that we all should be sharing within our churches, presbyteries (for PCUSA folks) and online friends around the country. People of faith were too timid in opposing the forces for war with Iraq with the results of thousands dead, more wounded, billions wasted and a more insecure, unjust world. We need to be bolder now in pursuing the ways of peace and countering forces of destruction.

    Today’s news reports “Iran’s Supreme Leader Lauds Obama” see We need more local religious leaders to follow Gradye Parsons’ example here in the USA. I am meeting with Senator Coons’ foreign policy staff next week. I hope others are trying to meet and communciate with others in Congress now.

    The PCUSA GA study paper “Iraq: Our Responsibility and the Future” looks at the Just War doctine and is good reading to see how it needs to be applied today, it is a downloadable file at

    The PCUSA’s Confession of 1967 speaks today:

    “God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.”

    Beyond our study and advocacy, we need to pray. St. Augustine says those who sing pray twice, here is a hymn written on the eve of the war with Iraq that continues to be relevant:

    God, Whose Love Is Always Stronger
    BEACH SPRING D (“God Whose Giving Knows No Ending”)

    God, whose love is always stronger Than our weakness, pride and fear,
    In your world, we pray and wonder How to be more faithful here.
    Hate too often grows inside us; Fear rules what the nations do.
    So we pray, when wars divide us: Give us love, Lord! Make us new!

    Love is patient, kind and caring, Never arrogant or rude,
    Never boastful, all things bearing; Love rejoices in the truth.
    When we’re caught up in believing War will make the terror cease,
    Show us Jesus’ way of living; May our strength be in your peace.

    May our faith in you be nourished; May your churches hear your call.
    May our lives be filled with courage As we speak your love for all.
    Now emboldened by your Spirit Who has given us new birth,
    Give us love, that we may share it Till your love renews the earth!

    Biblical References: Romans 8:28-39; 2 Corinthians 12:9; John 3:7; Revelation 21:5; 1 Corinthians 13:4-5; John 14:27; Matthew 5-7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; John 3:16, 17:18; Psalm 46:9; Romans 8:22.
    Tune: The Sacred Harp, 1844. Harm. James H. Wood, 1958.
    Alternate Tune: ABBOT’S LEIGH D (God Is Here!) by Cyril Vincent Taylor, 1941.
    Alternate Tune: HYFRYDOL D (Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!) by Rowland Hugh Prichard, 1831.
    Text: Copyright © 2003 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.

    Grace and Peace,
    Bruce Gillette
    Co-Pastor, Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE

  3. In this fine piece Iosso sorts through the rumors of war circulating among us.

    Since this whole topic is wrapped in intense emotion, it is worth repeating a number of truths: First, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated holocaust denials and threats against Israel are abhorrent and cause for concern. Second, Presbyterians have rightly and repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to peaceful existence, even as we have also added a call for justice for Palestinians. Finally, we should be concerned about nuclear proliferation and its potential for stimulating regional arms races (think how Pakistan and India have rattled their nuclear sabers against one another) and worse, the possibility of nuclear material getting into the hands of non-state actors (terrorists).

    That said, Iosso helpfully points to how rhetoric coming from both American political parties is creating a mindset that may box us in and limit America’s ability to act responsibly. It is unclear to me (and other analysts) that a nuclearly armed Iran necessarily poses an existential threat to Israel. We lived for 40 years with a much more heavily armed Soviet Union. The possibility of mutually assured destruction, distasteful and morally problematic as that was, limited even the use of conventional weapons creating a cold war.

    That said, it is clearly preferable for Iran not gain nuclear arms. Yet, some analysts, like Stephen Walt, worry that our current strategy may be perversely pushing Iran to secure nuclear arms (as a way to prevent conventional attacks) and that an attack could have the unintentional effect (as it did after Israel attacked Iraq) of solidifying their resolve.

    As we try to get a fair grasp of what’s going on, it is worth considering that important voices within Israel dissent from the “mindset.” For example, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has called air strikes against Iran stupid. Ehud Barak questions whether Iran represents the threat that some on the right claim.

    As American Christians, who seek first the Kingdom of God, we should seek peace among the nations. We should continue to support Israel’s right to peace and security and justice for Palestinians. In particular we should note how Iran exploits Palestinian grievances and how addressing these grievances would benefit Israel’s security. We should also, wherever possible, work to decrease weapons and hostility between nations that could erupt into war, particularly we should work to decrease the proliferation of nuclear weapons, approaching our calling as wisely as serpents and innocently as doves. One of the best ways for the church to respond, at least right now, is to be actively engaging our members in enlightened conversation on this difficult topic.

    This last suggestion connects with an important point Iosso makes at the close of his article, wherein he notes that denominational leaders proved their wisdom in their opposition to the Iraq War. While I completely agree with his assessment, I note that hardly anybody at the time considered what mainline religious leaders said to be relevant. It was a faithful witness, but not very effective. Why? My sense is that protests from mainline religious leaders before the Iraq War largely fell on deaf ears because they spoke without a constituency. (In 2002, for example, the Presbyterian Panel found that only 44% of members thought going to war in Iraq was a bad idea.) This contrasts with the religious right whose ground work has given them a voice that cannot be ignored.

    All of this is to say that the mindset that Iosso names must also be addressed in the church.

  4. Pingback: Iran Bombing Threat: Creating a Mindset that Leads to War – by Chris Iosso |

  5. Pingback: A Response to “Iran Bombing Threat” – by Ray Roberts |

  6. Unbound is guest directing Ecclesio ( this week and has shared Chris’ article and responses from Bruce and Ray on that site. Ecclesio: conversations on the current scene through a Gospel lens. Founded and directed by Cynthia Holder Rich. Unbound is proud to be in partnership with Ecclesio!

  7. Dave True says:

    I share Iosso’s concern about the propaganda campaign. After more than a decade of perpetual warring, the majority of Americans appear in no mood for another war. I worry, however, that our reluctance may be overcome by a combination of fear, self-righteousness, and arrogance. I’m not sure any of this rises to the level of sacrifice (Paul Kahn) or meaning (Stanley Hauerwas), but I do worry about the capacity of our politics to sustain genuine debate in the face of what we fear is a threat to our existence or that of Israel.

    On the question of mindset, I wish Iosso would say more. Does this “mindset” relate to an American political theology? Do we Americans fear those we demonize or do we think it our special responsibility to fight them? Is this a form of American exceptionalism? If so, do we Reformed Christians have a special responsibility to act as critics? If Reformed theology has been secularized or otherwise co-opted, should we abandon the language of election, providence, etc. Or should we try to reclaim this language?

  8. Pingback: There is Power in the Blog » Resisting the March to War with Iran Resisting the March to War with Iran

  9. Pingback: A Response to “Iran Bombing Threat” – by Bruce Gillette |

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