Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mi), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sharply disagreed with recent rhetorical salvoes from the French President Sarkozy and his foreign minister threatening action against Iran if that country develops a nuclear bomb.
“I think we ought to keep an option on the table if they become nuclear and they become a threat with a nuclear weapon,” Levin said Wednesday morning. But he quickly added “I just wouldn’t talk about it [and] harp on it all the time, because it plays into the hands of the extremists in Iran.
Levin responded to my question at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington. In his words, “To talk about Iran as an ‘evil empire,’ to talk about it is certain what we’re going to do if they do certain things just hands a weapon to our enemies.” He added that, “this ‘certainty’ element was added by the vice president just yesterday.”
My question to Levin specifically dealt with warnings from French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his foreign minister, Dr. Bernard Kuchner, about Iran. During a recent International Atomic Energy (IAEA) meeting in New York, Kuchner, a Nobel Laureate and founder of the Doctors Without Borders group, said that the world should prepare for war over Iran’s nuclear program. Although he felt negotiations with Iran should continue, Kuchner said that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose “a real danger for the world.”
“We have to prepare for the worst and the worst is war,” Kuchner said.
Sarkozy himself told the Russian Gazeta daily “We are talking about protecting our collective security from the danger of nuclear proliferation. I will not give ground on an issue which is of such great importance.”
But what Levin calls “the evil empire language” strengthens “the very people who endanger the world” in the Senator’s opinion. “They use that rhetoric as a club against us. They whip up anti-Western sentiment against us, saying ‘We’re the David, they’re the Goliath’ We’re trying to impose a system on them and now we’re threatening them.’”
“Their people believe they are trying to produce something for peaceful purposes. Of course, I don’t believe [that], we don’t believe. But I wish the President would listen to a previous Republican President who said ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ I believe in both—carry a big stick, keep the option on the table. Tone down the rhetoric. It hands a club.”
“Would you tell that to Sarkozy?” I pressed Levin.
“Sure” replied the senator, “if he asks.”